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Last modified: Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Informatics researcher scores Mellon grant to build massive online music database

August 29, 2006

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- An Indiana University School of Informatics researcher is leading efforts to develop technology for large-scale online databases that will benefit music scholars and musicians.

Donald A. Byrd, visiting associate professor, and two British colleagues have been awarded a $395,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to fund the first phase of MeTAMuSE (Methodologies and Technologies for Advanced Musical Score Encoding). Byrd will work with Tim Crawford and Geraint Wiggins, both affiliated with the Department of Computing, Goldsmiths University, London, England.

Ultimately, MeTAMuSE will provide a scholarly knowledge base of music for academic and practicing musicians, musicologists, music theorists, analysts and others interested in music and its related fields of study. In the initial phase, they will develop improved optical music recognition technology to transfer paper-based scores to computer-based encodings, a new encoding, and techniques for managing musical data, and will test their use and effectiveness with select colleagues.

In later phases of MeTAMuSE, the team plans to develop a method to crosslink score- and audio-based computer representations to enable the processing and analysis of musical data within a single work and across collections of work. They also will construct security, access and validation measures for users.

"The basic source material for musicology and for most musical performances, at least in classical music, exists primarily as notated scores," said Byrd, who is affiliated with the IU Jacobs School of Music's Department of Music Theory. "Historically, these have been produced over a 500-year period, and a great amount of scholarly and editorial effort has been applied over the last two centuries to produce editions of this material."

Byrd said that a vast quantity of musical scores are stored in the world's libraries -- the Library of Congress alone has more than 6 million scores -- yet only a fraction of these resources are available in digital form. He said those in digital form are usually only image files; an even smaller amount can be found as encoded scores which incorporate the structural and semantic knowledge in written music. Finally, even the encoded scores that exist are rarely high quality.

"With the advent of recording technology at the end of the 19th century, including today's digital capabilities, performances have become available in large quantities," Byrd said. "The discipline of musicology is now beginning to recognize this audio legacy as an important resource not only as a means to preserve and manage recordings but for written scores as well."

Byrd has worked extensively both in academia and the music industry. He was one of the main sound designers and sound-design software developers for the first Kurzweil synthesizers and was the principal designer of the influential music-notation program, Nightingale.