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Conference Report


D-Lib Magazine
December 2003

Volume 9 Number 12

ISSN 1082-9873

Report on the 4th International Conference on Music Information Retrieval, ISMIR 2003

October 26 - 30, 2003, Baltimore, Maryland, USA


Brad Eden, Ph.D.
University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Red Line


The 4th International Conference on Music Information Retrieval (ISMIR 2003) took place in Baltimore, Maryland, from October 26-30.

Prior to the conference, four tutorial sessions were offered for interested participants. Each of these tutorials was three hours long, and was either an introductory session to the field of music information retrieval (MIR) or was a session geared around specific issues and topics. Tutorials I and II were held concurrently the morning of October 26. Tutorial I was titled Music IR 101: A Survey Tutorial. It provided a basic introduction to MIR. Major areas of current research in the field were presented, and the close multidisciplinary ties with computer science, librarianship, engineering, musicology, and many others were explored. Tutorial II was titled Music Information Retrieval for Audio Signals and was aimed for participants with technical backgrounds interested in learning the main approaches and current status of MIR for audio signals. Tutorial III and IV were held concurrently on the afternoon of October 26. Tutorial III was titled Music IR 201: Music Retrieval and Analysis, and it introduced various techniques for content-based music retrieval and analysis. The tutorial focused on acoustical properties, chord, contour, etc., as well as approaches for processing monophonic and polyphonic music. Tutorial IV, titled Sound, Symbol, and Idea: Three Approaches to Music Query, reviewed current lines of research in the broader context of the ordinary activities of musicians, theorists, and scholars from the audio perspective.

The conference officially began on Monday, October 27, with a keynote address by Anthony Seeger of the Department of Ethnomusicology at UCLA. (Dr. Seeger is the grandson of famous ethnomusicologist Charles Seeger, and the nephew of folksinger Pete Seeger.) His presentation "I found it, how can I use it? Dealing with the ethical and legal constraints of information access" was very enlightening and thought-provoking. The first major session of papers was titled "Evaluation I: Methods & Techniques" and examined the major issues and concerns with which most MIR researchers are currently dealing. On Monday afternoon, conference attendees were treated to a tour of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., and a reception held in the Library's Great Hall. The reception was sponsored by LC.

Tuesday, October 28 offered a full day of papers and sessions and—as was the case for all the conference session—were by researchers and graduate students from around the world. The major sessions were "Evaluation 2: Query-By-Voice," "Music Perception and Cognition," "Music Similarity," "Music Analysis I: Transcription and Instrument Recognition," and a special session on digital sheet music. The day ended with a poster session of specific MIR projects currently underway.

Wednesday, October 29, featured another full day of papers. The day began with a presentation by Avery Wang of Shazam Entertainment, developer of the Shazam software product currently being tested in the United Kingdom. This product allows a user to phone in and play a piece of music over the phone in order for an "industrial strength audio search algorithm" to decipher the title of the music being played. Wang's presentation was very impressive. He provided many audio examples of music actually phoned in and played, along with the results of what the software was able to decipher. Other sessions on Wednesday were titled "Music/Score Alignment," "Music Classification," "Music Analysis 2: Harmonic Analysis," and "MIR Systems and Techniques." The day ended with a banquet dinner and a digital music concert by Peabody music composition faculty held at the Peabody Conservatory of Music.

Thursday, October 30 was comprised of three concurrent panel sessions addressing issues of concern and areas for future research in the MIR field. These panel sessions were "Music Information Retrieval in Devices: Opportunities & Challenges," "Intellectual Property and Music Information Retrieval Systems," and "Making Music Information Retrieval Evaluation Scenarios a Reality." I was invited to sit on one of the panels at the last minute, when one of the originally scheduled panelists had to cancel. Being a musicologist, librarian, and music metadata expert, I was delighted by the unique opportunity to participate in this exciting new field of study that is only beginning to find its place as a broad multidisciplinary area of research.

There are currently many research challenges with regard to MIR, including:

  • constructing a large testbed of audio files that does not violate copyright restrictions yet allows international researchers to experiment with it;
  • coordinating among many multidisciplinary fields;
  • using metadata in its many forms;
  • dealing with both monophonic and polyphonic music;
  • working with music in its many and varied forms (Western classical music, pop music, indigenous and ethnic music, etc.); and
  • designing a front-end interface able to adequately help users query in multiple formats (text, music, humming, singing, etc.) and able to provide precision and recall in its search results.

The emerging international MIR community is a tightly-knit group whose members—thanks to a number of grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and other organizations—have been able to move forward quickly in this area of research. The fourth ISMIR conference presented a number of fascinating papers on independent research and study. Learning to work together as a community, while at the same time continuing to do research independently, may prove to be the most important challenge of all.

A website containing all of the presentations is available at <>.


Copyright © 2003 Brad Eden

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DOI: 10.1045/december2003-eden