A Digital Transformation of Music Studies

A Digital Transformation of Music Studies

In this culture of cloud computing, social networking, and big data, the UK's Arts and Humanities Research Council has recently devoted  some its annual budget to investigating how all these advanced  and - potentially - disruptive computing techniques are affecting the  study of arts and humanities subjects. They're calling this digital  transformations and have recently funded three large-scale research  projects to look into it.  

One such project is Transforming Musicology. It's headed up by  Prof. Tim Crawford in the Computing Department at Goldsmiths'  College and involves collaborators at Oxford University, Queen Mary  University of London, Lancaster University and Utrecht  University. Prof. Crawford and his team are investigating how  advanced computing is altering the way that music historians, music  theorists, and music psychologists approach their research questions  and their musical materials, but also how social networks and online  music data are affecting musical cultures; how do people share music  and talk about music on the Web?  

Prof. Dave De Roure is leading the Oxford contingent. Prof. De Roure  is director of the University's Centre for e-Research and his team  will be contributing their expertise on advanced Web  technologies. They are especially interested in publishing rich  musical information for computer-to-computer applications; if we can  build sufficiently detailed music databases, what can a network of  computers work out about that music for themselves?

At Lancaster University Dr Alan Marsden will be leading a number of  collaborative mini-projects. These will be applied for by small  teams comprising a music researcher and a digital technologist and  will be focused on exploring how such collaborations work and  understanding the kinds of musical research questions that the  technology can answer. 

Also at Oxford, Prof. Laurence Dreyfus in the Music Faculty will be  leading a case study looking at the so-called leitmotive practices  of the composer Richard Wagner. Wagner is famous for attaching  distinctive musical themes to particular characters in his dramas (a  practice now common in film scores and TV programmes - Goerge Lucas's Star Wars being a classic example). Prof. Dreyfus will be  investigating how music historians' readings of these themes  compares to psychological studies of ordinary listeners, and to  results from audio database searches. He's looking to see if there's  an objective grounding for the themes.  

The teams at Goldsmiths and Queen Mary will contributing programming  expertise in musical databases. Prof. Crawford and his colleague Dr  Christophe Rhodes have been developing an audio search engine for  several years. This software allows databases of music tracks to be  constructed and allows users to submit audio queries to that  database. The team are interested in understanding how this sort of  technology can affect how music is studied.  

The Transforming Musicology project is set to run for three years  and promises some very exciting results in music search and, just  possibly, a digital transformation of musicology.