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Harmony in Holland

1 März 2012 1,237 views No Comment

I have had a great time in Utrecht talking (at a symposium see my slides) and listening to stuff about harmony — quite inspiring at times.

Yesterday it was a pleasure to see Bas de Haas (check out his mafioso photo) get his PhD in a public defense ceremony that was quite different to my own (which was two people asking me about my thesis for about two hours in a small meeting room at Queen Mary): audience, jury and the candidate convened in a grand hall clad with paintings of (I assume) the old greats of Utrecht scholarship. The opponents, clad in robes and wearing hats, had the duty to probe the candidate’s knowledge — but in a kind of non-physical show wrestling style, i.e. they were joking, and Bas’s responses seemed (I couldn’t actually understand them) to aim at providing a good show to the audience rather than making a compelling argument. That’s because (unlike in the UK) the serious review and revision happens months before the defense. In any case, very interesting, and well done Bas!

Today was the day of the actual symposium, and luckily that was all in English. Much easier, though the talks on grammars and syntax of harmony by Bas, José Pedro Magalhães and Martin Rohrmeier that started the day off were still a bit hard to deeply understand — will have to read up on it in Bas’s thesis.
Meinard Müller gave some nice insights into chord labelling performance as a factor of different kinds of preprocessing and processing steps, whitening, smoothing over time, and different inference techniques, especially HMM vs simple chord pattern. (The main theme of Meinard’s talk, which was the cross-version chord display, which I already knew plenty about.)

I also quite liked Aline Honing‘s talk on extracting low-level interval characteristics from MIDI, which (after multi-dimensional scaling — sorry for the scary word!) appeared to cluster pieces from different classical periods together nicely, though it remains to be seen how that qualitatively differs from existing algorithms in Humdrum and other symbolic processing toolboxes. Xavier Serra talked about his exciting multi-cultural project CompMusic, and it really made sense to me today: there is really a lot to be learned by stepping out of our own culture, to find that the methods we thought worked do not generally work. I expect lots of colourful new MIR to come our way from Barcelona soon! Similarly Anja Volk presented her new Musiva project on similarity and variation — I’m looking forward to the slides, because she had some really nice citations from the cognitive science literature and beyond.

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