On Computational Modeling of Melodic Variation among Folk Song Melodies - New Trends in eHumanities

1. Peter van Kranenburg, Meertens Institute. 2. Dániel Biró, University of Victoria


December 1, 2011

Peter van Kranenburg

On Computational Modeling of Melodic Variation among Folk Song Melodies – From WITCHCRAFT to Tunes & Tales
Within the WITCHCRAFT project, we performed a computational investigation of melodic similarity among a large collection of Dutch folk song melodies, hosted at the Meertens Institute (Amsterdam). We aim to relate our computational solutions to existing knowledge from Ethnomusicological studies on Western folk song melodies. The most important concept from the musical domain is the concept of tune family. It appears that the existing algorithm for sequence alignment (Needleman-Wunsch) with appropriate musicological knowledge incorporated is adequate to retrieve members of the same tune family from the full collection of melodies. Based on the automatic similarity assessments, the musicological collection specialists of the institute reconsidered the classification of several melodies. Furthermore, they could classify several melodies they were not able to recognize before. Although sequence alignment serves as a valuable algorithm for computing melodic similarity, it does not explain the intricacies of the melodic variation among the folk song melodies.

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Dániel Péter Biró & Peter van Kranenburg

Computational Analysis of Jewish and Islamic Chant
The cantillation signs of Jewish Torah trope have been of particular interest to chant scholars interested in the gradual transformation of oral music performance into notation. Each sign, placed above or below the text, acts as a “melodic idea” which either connects or divides words in order to clarify the syntax, punctuation and, in some cases, meaning of the text. Unlike standard music notation, the interpretations of each sign are flexible and influenced by regional traditions, practices of given Jewish communities, larger musical influences beyond Jewish communities, and improvisatory elements incorporated by a given reader. In this talk we present our collaborative work in developing and using computational tools to assess the stability of melodic formulas of cantillation signs based on different performance traditions, including particular Dutch examples. We also show that a musically motivated alignment algorithm obtains better results than the more commonly used dynamic time warping method for calculating similarity between pitch contours. Using a participatory design process we developed an interactive web-based interface that enables researchers to explore aurally and visually chant recordings and explore the relations between signs, gestures and musical representations.

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Peter van Kranenburg
studied Musicology at Utrecht University and Electrical Engineering at Delft, Technical University. From 2006 till 2010, he was Ph.D. student in the CATCH WITCHCRAFT project (Utrecht University and Meertens Insitute). In this project, he designed computational similarity measures for Dutch folk song melodies. Currently, he is post doctoral researcher in the Tunes & Tales project at the Meertens Institute.

Dániel Péter Biró is Associate Professor of Composition and Music Theory at the University of Victoria. Dr. Biró completed his PhD in composition and Judaic studies at Princeton University in 2004. His dissertation was a comparative study of early notational practices. He conducted research of Hungarian folk music at the Academy of Science in Budapest and of Jewish music in Israel and, most recently, of Jewsih and Islamic chant as practiced in the Netherlands. Awarded the Hungarian Government’s Kodály Award for Hungarian composers, his compositions have been performed around the world. He is currently Visiting Professor at Utrecht University. Dániel Péter Biró is co-editor of Search – Journal for New Music and Culture.