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Frans Wiering, Universiteit Utrecht, Netherlands: Musicology centred design

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  • Distinguished Lecture
When Mar 19, 2015
from 04:30 PM to 06:00 PM
Where Tanna Schulich Hall, New Music Building, 527 Sherbrooke Street West.
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The lecture will take place in TANNA SCHULICH HALL, followed by a wine and cheese reception in room A832 & A833 (8th floor of the New Music Building).


I have spent most of my professional life in the vague but exciting interdisciplinary area between computing and music research known as computer applications in musicology, music information retrieval, music informatics and digital musicology (and various other terms). Developments since the late nineteen-eighties, when I became interested in the field, have been enormous. These were made possible not just by the very considerable efforts of large numbers of very devoted researchers, but also by contextual factors like the emergence of the world wide web; cheap, powerful and portable devices;  the advent of social media and digitization of cultural heritage.

Despite this blossoming state of affairs, I have a number of worries that, taken together, seem to indicate that something radical needs to happen. Here are some:

  • a strong focus on development of new technologies on the one hand and a lack of uptake of these amongst the intended users on the other
  • glass ceilings everywhere: the performance of computational methods for many tasks remains lower than desirable despite continuous research efforts
  • a very serious lack of accessible high-quality data
  • an implicit but fairly insistent message to musicology that science knows how to do things better
  • an increasing disciplinary divide, affecting conference and publication infrastructure, social networks, communication and disciplinary values

There is a certain tradition of HCD in digital humanities, but in digital musicology only a handful of studies of user needs, workplace anthropology and adoption of technology seem to have been done so far. My claim is that, if we want digital musicology (in the widest sense) to stop being marginal to music research, we need to accomplish this not by creating more and more advanced technology, but by developing a notion of Musicology Centred Design. Starting from an understanding of musicological research, Musicology Centred Design will identify bottlenecks in the research process and guide the creation of suitable technology support to overcome these. Musicology Centred Design doesn't exist yet, but I will present an initial agenda for the creation of this urgently-needed approach to digital musicology.

As a first step, we can already learn a lot from studying some musicological subcommunities that habitually use technology, in areas such as folk song research, lute music research, source studies. It appears that technology needs not be particularly advanced (it can often be quite crude) as long as it serves the basic purpose, is flexible, and provides meaningful results. 



Frans Wiering received a Ph.D. in Musicology from the University of Amsterdam (Netherlands) for his thesis The Language of the Modes. Studies in the History of Polyphonic Modality (1995). He is currently an Assistant Professor at the Department of Information and Computing Sciences of Utrecht University (Netherlands). His research is at the intersection of computer science and music, connecting computer science methodology to state-of-the-art domain knowledge of music. The three main areas of his research are music information retrieval (projects WITCHCRAFT, C-Minor, COGITCH, MUSIVA), computational musicology (Tunes and Tales) and music technology for games and virtual worlds (COMMIT work package Sensing Emotion in Music).

He is the founder of the Thesaurus musicarum italicarum, a corpus of online music treatises by Gioseffo Zarlino and his contemporaries. He was a Visiting Scholar at Stanford University and a Visiting Fellow at Goldsmiths College, University of London. He was an organiser of the Dagstuhl Seminar Knowledge representation for intelligent music processing (2009) and was General Chair of Eleventh International Society for Music Information Retrieval Conference (ISMIR 2010). He is chair of the International Musicological Society’s Study Group on Digital Musicology. He is a programme committee member of the Digital Humanities programme of the KNAW.

For more information see also Frans Wiering’s personal page.



Slides of this lecture can be downloaded here.  Please note that the material in these slides are the property of Frans Wiering.

APA video citation:
Wiering, F. (2015, April 29). Musicology centred design -
CIRMMT Distinguished Lectures in the Science and Technology of Music. [Video file].
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