© Ingo Knopf, KlarText-Preis für Wissen­schafts­kommunikation/Klaus Tschira Stiftung gGmbH

Computer Science meets Musicology

Where else could the disciplines of computer science and musicology meet than in digital humanities – the intersection of digital technologies and humanities? This is precisely where Meinard Müller and Christof Weiß of the International Audio Laboratories Erlangen search for computational answers to musicological questions within the works of Richard Wagner and Ludwig van Beethoven.

In the beginning, it was just a good vibe and exciting conversations that brought together Rainer Kleinertz, Professor of Musicology at the University of Saarland, and Meinard Müller, Professor of Semantic Audio Signal Processing at the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg. Kleinertz talked about the complexity of large musical works and the challenge to systematically trace melodically and harmonically relevant structures. Müller, on the other hand, was able to report on methods of signal processing with which audio recordings could be automatically analyzed and graphically displayed. It was obvious that the two found a starting point for a joint research project.

In this interdisciplinary project, it will be tested to which extent musicology may benefit from using computer-based methods and, vice versa, musicological research may introduce new scientific challenges into computer science. In addition to the development of computer-based analysis techniques, the further goal is to explore novel navigation and visualization concepts that allow researchers to browse, search, and analyze large music collections with regard to harmonic structures in an intuitive and interactive way.

The musicological relevance of the concepts to be developed is to be exemplified by the analysis of two major cycles: the piano sonatas by Ludwig van Beethoven and the tetralogy “Der Ring des Nibelungen” by Richard Wagner. On the basis of the piano sonatas, it will be investigated to what extent known harmonic structures can be automatically reproduced and visualized. In the Ring scenario, new musicological territory is to be explored in the exploration of hidden harmonic structures and relationships. In addition to harmonies, musical aspects such as motifs, instrumentation, and performance practice as well as their correlations are analyzed assisted by computational methods. The project, which requires a close cooperation between musicology and computer science, stands out for its interdisciplinary nature. The fact that two such different research areas come together is also something special for the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation). For the second time in a row, the DFG is funding the research project “Computer-assisted analysis of harmonic structures” by Prof. Müller and Prof. Kleinertz with more than half a million Euros. This will allow the AudioLabs to conduct research on this topic for another three years.

The AudioLabs are a joint institution of the Fraunhofer IIS and the Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU). Established in 2008, the research center is unique in its mission and international approach: a team of renowned scientists work to shape the future of audio and multimedia technologies in research areas such as audio coding, audio signal analysis and audio signal processing.

Header image: © Ingo Knopf, KlarText-Preis für Wissen­schafts­kommunikation/Klaus Tschira Stiftung gGmbH

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