12.0271 music encoding & retrieval

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Fri, 23 Oct 1998 09:30:44 +0100 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 12, No. 271.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

Date: Tue, 20 Oct 1998 12:53:45 -0400 (EDT)
From: "David L. Gants" <dgants@english.uga.edu>
Subject: music retrieval

>> From: Perry Roland <pdr4h@poe.acc.virginia.edu>

Joseph Raben wrote "all printed music today depends on computerized
printing, so that the input problem must have been solved in the
commercial, if not the academic field."

Yes, the goal of printing music by computer has been achieved.
Getting music into and out of the computer is not a problem except
for the massive amounts of time needed for input. In the corporate
world the expense of input can be justified by the profits. We're
not so lucky in the academic world. We can only hope that optical
music recognition will help alleviate this burden in the future.

The major problem is the lack of a standard representation for the
music _inside_ the computer. There is a vast number of
representation schemes and it seems like someone invents a new one
every day. So the problem is not that music (or at least the vast
majority of it) can't be represented. The problem is the investment
that individuals and corporations have in each of their own

Timothy Clark suggested that we "use the same tools musicians use", but
when musicians use so many different and proprietary tools, how do we
pick which one? Mr. Clark suggests Finale because it exists on several
platforms. I remember the days when the same argument was used against
implementing a standard markup language for text. The argument then
was: "We have WordPerfect, why do we need SGML?" But where is WordPerfect
now? And what wond'rous things has SGML/HTML wrought?

MIDI also fails as an interchange format because of its performance
orientation. MIDI just can't represent all the data that researchers

Our best hope for ever achieving parity with the markup and interchange
efforts taking place in the text world is to create a general purpose
music markup language. Better yet, how about a meta-language for creating
music representations? David Huron's Humdrum Toolkit is a model for
this kind of thing. You can read more about humdrum at
http://www.lib.virginia.edu/dmmc/Music/Humdrum. The ideal meta-language
would combine the best parts of SMDL (Standard Music Description Language),
already an international standard, and Humdrum.

Perry Roland
Digital Media Center
University of Virginia

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