While it may seem odd that we are three months into the funded period of the project and we haven’t all met yet – and it is a bit odd, really – it was also pretty much unavoidable: the confirmation of funding only came through in August, at which point it is difficult to get things up and running in a University in time to advertise a PhD studentship, deal with application enquiries, shortlist, interview, appoint a good candidate and deal with all the associated paperwork in time for September enrolment. The timing meant that there was an inevitable built-in three-month lag before some key project personnel were available (the next PhD enrolment date is now, in January) so it made sense to delay the launch meeting until this point, too. Not to mention that many of the project partners are high-powered professors with many diary commitments; getting them all in one place on one day is a triumph of organization in itself, for which Richard deserves much credit.
I spent some time yesterday trying to cook up a demo of audioDB, an old, unlamented (but a bit lamentable in its current state) tool from an earlier project. I’m at the stage of identifying the low-hanging fruit in audioDB that would need picking to make it a tool useful to musicologists; as well as the UI issues – it is definitely a tool currently optimized towards use on the command-line – there is the existential question of whether what it does could be useful in any way to musicologists in the first place. I think so, but at the moment it’s more handwaving and faith than firm knowledge.
The case study I’m working on is based on a question of attribution of some chansons and motets. The issue in question has largely been settled; I think everyone these days accepts that the eight-part Lugebat David Absalon is by Nicolas Gombert, not Josquin Des Prez, and that some other works (Tulerunt Dominum, Je prens congies and J’ay mis mon cueur) are also likely to be of the same musical hand: Martin Picker wrote on this in 2001, but recordings that I have of these works which predate that also agree on the attribution. (The works were originally attributed to Josquin based partly on their high quality; it has been said that for a while Josquin composed more and better works after he was dead than while he was alive...)
A nice demonstration, then, would be to reproduce the similarity relationships between recordings of the works discussed in Picker’s article, and show that those similarities are stronger than acoustic similarities that arise by chance. This isn’t going to change anyone’s mind either way on the Lugebat question, of course, but if it works it can give some confidence to musicologists that audioDB could be used to investigate collections of recordings for acoustically similar material without already knowing the answer.
Does it work? Sort-of-not-quite-yet; the chansons and the Credo do bubble up near the top of the search results, but without the clear delineation between them and other, less related hits. Yesterday’s investigations revealed the need for a couple of improvements: firstly, some finer-grained filtering of “interesting” regions, as otherwise the strongest matches between audio of this era tends to be strong final G-minor chords; secondly, there needs to be some work done on audio feature design, to improve the machine listener’s ear, because at the moment the feature I'm using does not capture pitch perception reliably enough. The good news is that addressing these things are in scope for the Transforming Musicology project, so there's some chance that they'll get done.