Frans Wiering, Utrecht University


February 19, 2015. 15.00- 17.00 hrs. at the eHumanities Group

Frans Wiering,
Department of Information and Computing Sciences, Utrecht University

Musicology Centred Design

I have spent most of my professional life in the vague but exciting interdisciplinary area between computing and music research known as computer applications in musicology, music information retrieval, music informatics or digital musicology (and various other terms). Developments since the late nineteen-eighties, when I became interested in the field, have been enormous. Yet, despite this blossoming state of affairs, I have a number of worries that, taken together, seem to indicate that something radical needs to happen. Here are some:

  1. a strong focus on development of new technologies on the one hand and a lack of uptake of these amongst the intended users on the other
  2. an implicit but fairly insistent message to musicology that science knows how to do things better
  3. an increasing disciplinary divide, affecting conference and publication infrastructure, social networks, communication and disciplinary values

Some of these worries seem to be widely shared. Numerous pleas have been made for better training, more publicity and generally preaching the benefits of technology, not to mention many signs of disappointment when these efforts failed. The good news is that this state of affairs is not specific for digital musicology (currently my preferred term). Similar concerns have been expressed elsewhere in the digital humanities.

Contrary to what is popularly believed, it seems not so much a matter of technophobia, but rather one of the relevance and acceptability of technology as part of the research process. An important answer to this challenge comes from interactive systems design: the Human-Centred Design (HCD) approach. In this approach, daily work processes are studied to understand for example implicit and explicit goals, values, dependencies, and bottlenecks. The aim of HCD is to design solutions that remove these bottlenecks while respecting the purposes and values of the humans involved. My claim is that, if we want digital musicology (in the widest sense) to stop being marginal to music research, we need to accomplish this not by creating more and more advanced technology, but by developing a practice of Musicology-Centred Design.

As an initial step, Charles Inskip (University College London) and I have done an online survey amongst musicologists entitled What Do Musicologists Do All Day (closing on 13 February 2015), with the aim of finding out more about how musicologists engage with technology. The response to the survey has been sensational: we have already received nearly 600 usable responses. As part of my talk I will present some outcomes of a preliminary analysis of these data.


Frans Wiering received a Ph.D. in Musicology from the University of Amsterdam (Netherlands) for his thesis The Language of the Modes. Studies in the History of Polyphonic Modality (1995). He is currently an Associate Professor at the Interaction Technology division of the Department of Information and Computing Sciences of Utrecht University (Netherlands). His research is at the intersection of computer science and music, connecting computer science methodology to state-of-the-art domain knowledge of music. The three main areas of his research are music information retrieval (projects WITCHCRAFT, C-Minor, COGITCH, MUSIVA), computational musicology (Tunes and Tales) and music technology for games and virtual worlds (COMMIT work package Sensing Emotion in Music). He chairs the International Musicological Society’s Study Group on Digital Musicology. He is a programme committee member of the Computational Humanities programme of the KNAW.