BFE/RRMA Research Students’ Conference

I have just got back, well a couple of days ago, from my most recent conference the British Forum for Ethnomusicology and the Royal Musical Association postgraduate students conference. This is a lively conference where postgraduate researchers get together to support each other in presenting their research. This conference is a great place to showcase the early stages of your work and get feedback from students and academics within the field, in a friendly and supportive environment.

I gave my paper on the first day:

This was the first paper I have given on my thesis research directly. Here I explored how I am using one method of quantifying musical similairities from a melodic line. I have built upon the work of Hirata and Matsuda, and showed how we can extend their model to discuss other prominent methods of music analysis in this way. I always find the most useful components of any conference paper is the chance to discuss and answer questions on your topic. I was given interesting topics that questioned why I was using traditional music theories, and why I was not interested in the traditional ‘genre’ classification.

For anyone interested the abstract I provided for the conference was as follows:

The release of Napster in 1999 saw exponential growth of online music streaming. This has inspired the development of tools to discover new music, typically as part of applications such as Spotify. Music recommendation often suggests new music to users based on their own and others’ preferences (Herlocker et al., 2004; Celma, 2010) or audio-based methods of “similarity” analysis (Downie, 2008). I propose that score-based musical analysis can provide a more useful similarity comparison than audio analysis.

To date, there has been a lack of success in extracting high-level musical features from audio. In contrast, traditional music analysis methods (e.g. Schenker) enable the evaluation of high-level musical features, including harmony, timbre, and melody. These features could be compared to determine the similarity of two pieces of music. I will discuss how traditional music analysis methods can be utilised to determine musical similarity and propose ways of quantifying similarity to enable computation. Additionally, I will report on the provisional findings of a listener study examining the perceived audibility of theoretical definitions of musical similarity.

This work will enable cross-genre musical recommendation based on the fundamental features of a piece of music. For the consumer this means more relevant and accurate recommendations, and for the emerging artists greater exposure.

The conference was a great opportunity to begin to share my thesis research, and introduce the concepts I am developing to the wider research community. The University of Southampton was strongly represented, and we have a great time – especially enjoying afternoon tea.

My next presentation is on the 23rd January at DANS in the Netherlands.


Big Musicology, a trip to China and a position paper

This blog post, is the start of what will be a series of blog posts discussing the work I present at a variety of conferences and publish in journals over the next few years of my PhD at the University of Southampton.

For my first conference paper, I submitted to the Digital Libraries for Musicology workshop in Shanghai, the event is discussed in this blog post.

Group photo at DLfM taken by the Transforming Musicology team.

This presentation began with a rather, impactful, statement ‘Musicology is in need of a transformation’. The paper continues by proposing that we learn from the work of biology’s human genome project to develop a data-driven approach to musicology, enabling computational analysis at scale – and inevitably new unforeseen research and opportunities.


Screenshot 2017-12-28 19.24.17
Screen shot of the first slide of my presentation. 

I stated that this would be possible through a change to the humanities current ethos, and often exhibited reticence to collaborative research. Through collaboration, importantly through a large interdisciplinary team of researchers, the required conditions for a ‘big musicology’ project will be achieved. In keeping with the DLfM workshops topics, I suggested a project focusing on the digitisation of music and it’s primary documents.

I also emphasised the importance of the lone scholar, and not dismissing its importance, as the lone scholar provides a significant enhancement to knowledge. However, through collaboration for example in the digtisation of musical resources, we could aid the lone scholar in their research – giving them access to larger databases of resources.

This presentation concluded in a Panel discussion on the future of musicology, and especially digital libraries, of which myself, Dr. Hongjie Sun, a visitor at the University of Oxford China Centre in 2016 and Professor Weiping Zhao from the Shanghai conservatory of music.

Photo of panelist’s and the chair, taken by the Transforming Musicology team. From left to right, Dr Hongjie Sun, Me, David Lewis and Professor Weiping Zhao. 

From this presentation I have been invited to give a longer presentation at DANS (Netherlands institute for permanent access to digital research resources), at a colloquium entitled ‘Data-Driven Musicology: Exploring Digital Resources Using Computational Tools and Methods’ on the 23rd January 2018.

Find the full paper here.

Hartley Residency: The Future of Digital Musicology

We were delighted to have Professor Simon McVeigh, from Goldsmiths, University of London, to join us for our first Hartley Residency of the 2016-17 academic year. On the 15th-16th November Simon shared with us his work on concert life, with specific emphasis on his collaborative project ‘In Concert’. As this was my first Hartley Residency, I was interested to see how this eminent researcher’s work could influence my knowledge and perception of digital archiving, and I especially looked forward to the second day’s round table discussion on ‘Big Data, Small Data and the Challenges for Musicology’.

Tuesday began with a postgraduate seminar, focused around a set of readings on digital archiving and interdisciplinarity – as well as introducing the ideas and concepts which would be prominent in Simon’s keynote. Particular emphasis was placed on Simon’s current project on Edwardian recitals, interrogating what it means for someone to study concert life in the digital age. Discussions in the seminar resonated around Simon’s collaborative project ‘In Concert’. This project aims to develop a set of new standards for curation – through taking a ‘fresh’ approach to building a digital archive. This new approach included discussions of how to document such a large range and quantity of sources, including through crowd funding. We discussed how crowd funding would aid speed of digitisation, but add an element of potential risk of quality and consistency.

For me, the most interesting insights came from the use of digital methods in the ‘In Concert’ programme. Through a bottom-up approach, a richer picture of the diversity of music making across London was created. In Simon’s presentation, we were shown a variety of visualisations to show how the places of concert making in the eighteenth and nineteenth century changed. In our seminar, I highlighted how by making this data digital the project is enabling us to combine data through semantic web methods. This shows how open data could enable us to compare our new knowledge of music making in the eighteenth and nineteenth century to other data such as maps, the population distribution at the time, and economic wealth of individuals across the city.

Simon McVeigh’s keynote, titled ‘Out of the Box into the Fire: Writing about Edwardian Musical Culture from Multiple Perspectives’, took us on a journey from his early collection of concert data, the ‘Calendar of London Concerts’, through to his recent, and on-going project ‘In Concert’. Interestingly, the end of his presentation introduced ideas of using hypertext fiction in the creation of his next book. He discussed the use of datasets behind a ‘book’ that would enable you to travel through the space in a variety of threads – enabling both a breadth of story and individual narratives to be explored in Edwardian musical culture. This part of his talk led to great discussions between the audience and Simon. Popular hypertext fiction concepts such as ‘getting lost in hyperspace’ were debated. However, overall the emphasis was placed on the development and utilisation of the Web in a movement from the scholarly multi-chapter monograph to a ‘reader perspective’ text.

In tradition of the Hartley Residency, the second day starts with a presentation from a researcher in our department. This talk by Thomas Irvine, on ‘Anglo-German musical relations around 1900: After the transnational turn’, started with the question of whether nationalism haunts British music history. Through examining the work of Hubert Parry, Tom discussed how the music we perceive as ‘British’ has large influence from German, other European and oriental musical cultures. He explored how the transnational and global turns in history have cast doubt on the utility of national frameworks in understanding music of the Edwardian period.

To finish off the residency, a stimulating debate was established around Simon’s paper ‘Big Data, Small Data and the Challenges for Musicology’. Here resident lecturers David Bretherton, Richard Polfeman and Mark Everist provided responses to Simon’s paper. The discussion was framed around how we present musicology and how we do musicology. For me, some of the most interesting insights came from these discussions. David Bretherton raised how big data has changed the way we think about sonata theory. His example highlighted how periphery music such as concertos frequently do not adhere to standard ‘sonata theory’ form, and Beethoven – whom most of these theories are based on – was an exception to the rule, not the norm. Richard Polfreman introduced the concept of ‘graveyards of data’ and how we are stuck with a large amount of our data being non-digital. Therefore we should look at making sure our future data is digital, open and useable for everyone – incorporating ideas of the semantic web. He highlighted that we should possibly look at the future first, and then crowd source to digitise our graveyards of data.

The concepts that resonated with me involved ideas of how can we impact the future. We must look at how we do work now, and what we do to make sure our data is reusable – enabling it as open, and in standardised formats. The concept of making sure my dissertation was encoded in TEI, or the music I work with encoded in MEI, any databases I collect being published openly using semantic web standards – these are all ways in which I could create sustainable and reusable data for future musicologists to utilise and engage with. Academia is moving from the solitary researcher, to the combined community to build and develop the interdisciplinary network of researchers.


A blog post written by myself for the University Blog: