Bridging disciplinary boundaries: A case study of the Music Information Retrieval Annotated Bibliography Project

  1. 1. J. Stephen Downie

    Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS) - University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

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Bridging disciplinary boundaries: A case study of the
Music Information Retrieval Annotated Bibliography Project


Graduate School of Library and Information Science,
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


University of Tübingen







Music information retrieval (MIR) research and development strives to afford
the same level of access to the world's corpus of music as is afforded to
text. Recently concluded international symposia devoted to MIR research and
development bear witness to the promise of powerful, robust, large-scale,
and flexible search and retrieval tools designed to be used by scholars and
novices alike (ISMIR 2000; ISMIR 2001). Like many other humanities computing
endeavours, it has attracted a multi-disciplinary group of researchers who
are applying their domain-specific expertise to the wide range of challenges
inherent in MIR development. MIR researchers come from library science,
musicology, music theory, music psychology, computer science, digital and
traditional librarianship, audio engineering, information science,
information retrieval, publishing, media studies, broadcasting, law, and
business, to name only a small handful of the disciplines represented. MIR
research is all the stronger for the cross-pollination of disciplinary
paradigms, research methods, and technological approaches. Effective
communications across disciplinary boundaries, however, are impeding the
coalescence of MIR research into a coherent discipline in its own right. The
nascent MIR community is plagued with two forms of communications breakdown:
1. The scattering of the MIR literature caused by a lack of
bibliographic control; and,
2. The confusion brought about by the use of discipline-specific
assumptions, techniques, and language throughout its

My paper reports upon the background, framework, goals and ongoing
development of the Music Information Retrieval Annotated Bibliography
Project (). It extends and augments the
preliminary explication presented in Downie (2001). This project is being
undertaken to specifically address and overcome the bibliographic control
and communications issues plaguing the MIR research community. However,
since most humanities computing projects also draw upon multi-disciplinary
groups of researchers, I to hope provide and delineate a model that should
assist others in facilitating efficient and effective communications among
their particular research communities.

Problem Overview
MIR research has no disciplinary home. Because of this, researchers have been
publishing their findings within the contexts of their own disciplines.
Important MIR papers are thus scattered, for example, across the computer
science, library science, musicology, humanities, and audio engineering
literatures. There is no comprehensive indexing tool that successfully
gathers up these papers. For example, significant musicology-based advances
can be located through various music, arts and humanities indexes but not
through the engineering and computer science indexes. Advances in audio
engineering techniques are similarly absent from the music, arts and
humanities indexes. Since researchers are generally unaware of the
differences in scope of the various discipline-based indexes, they tend to
focus upon those with which they are most familiar and thus overlook the
contributions of those based in other disciplines. Unfamiliarity with the
wide range of vocabularies used by the various disciplines further compounds
the communication difficulties by making it problematic for MIR
investigators to conduct thorough and comprehensive searches for MIR
materials. Until these issues are addressed, MIR will never be in a position
to fully realize the benefits that a multi-disciplinary research and
development community offers, nor will it be able to develop into a
discipline in its own right.


Our solution to the issues outlined above centers about the creation of a
Web-based, two-level, collection of annotated bibliographies (Fig. 1). The
first level, or core bibliography, will bring together those items
identified as being germane to MIR as a nascent discipline. Thus, the core
bibliography comprises only those papers dealing specifically with some
aspect of the MIR problem, such as MIR system development, experimentation,
and evaluation, etc. The second level, or periphery bibliographies, comprise
a set of discipline-specific bibliographies. Each discipline-specific
bibliography in the set will provide access to the discipline-specific
background materials necessary for non-expert members of the other
disciplines to comprehend and evaluate the papers from each participating
discipline. For example, an audio engineering bibliography could be used by
music librarians and others to understand the basics of signal processing
(e.g., Fast Fourier Transforms, etc.). Another example would be a musicology
bibliography that computer scientists could draw upon in an effort to
understand the strengths and weaknesses of the various music encoding
schemes, and so on. Thus, taken together, the two-levels of the MIR
bibliography will provide:
1. The much needed bibliographic control to the MIR literature;
2. An important a mechanism for members of each discipline to
comprehend the contributions of the other disciplines.

An important operating principle of the project is the use of non-proprietary
formats and software. We are committed to the ideals of the Open Source
Initiative (OSI, 2001) and the GNU General Public License (GNU Project,
2001) and thus intend to make our innovations freely available to others. In
keeping with this commitment, we have chosen the Greenstone Digital Library
Software (GSDL) package (New Zealand Digital Library Project, 2001), the
Apache HTTP server (Apache Software Foundation, 2001), the PERL scripting
language (PERL Mongers, 2001) and the Linux operating system (Linux Online,
2001) to create the basic technological foundation of the project. We have
purchased copies of the commercial bibliographic software package, ProCite
(ISI ResearchSoft, 2001) for initial, in-house, data-entry. ProCite also
provides us with a representative instance of commercially available
software that many end-users might utilize in manipulating the records they
retrieve from our bibliography.
At present, there are two central components of project undergoing
development and alpha testing:
1. The bibliographic search and retrieval interface using the GSDL
package; and,
2. The Web-based end-user data entry system.

For both of these, the goal is to create a system that will permit ongoing
viability of the bibliography by minimizing-but not necessarily
eliminating-the amount of human editorial intervention required. Item ^#1
issues being addressed include modifications to the basic GSDL system to
permit the importation of specially structured bibliographic records and
their subsequent access through a variety of field selection options. Item
^#2 is a CGI-based input system that guides end-users through the process of
constructing well-structured bibliographic records through a series of
step-by-step interactions and the on-the-fly generation of input forms
specifically designed to provide the appropriate fields for the various
types of bibliographic source materials (i.e., journal articles, conference
papers, theses, etc.).
Now that the general framework for the core bibliography has been laid, we
are moving forward on the acquisition of the supplementary and explanatory
materials. For these we are drawing upon the expert advice of those that
have graciously signed on as advisors to the project. These advisors are not
only lending their disciplinary expertise but are also affording us a very
important multinational perspective on the potential uses and growth of the

I would like to thank Dr. Suzanne Lodato for helping the project obtain its
principal financial support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. I would
also like to thank Dr. Radha Nandkumar and the National Center for
Supercomputing Applications Faculty Fellows Programme for their support. The
hard work and insightful advice of Karen Medina, Joe Futrelle, Dr. David
Dubin, and the other members of the Information Science Research Laboratory
at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science, UIUC, is
gratefully appreciated. Those members of the MIR research community who have
volunteered to act as project advisors are also thanked.


Apache Software Foundation

Apache project


Available at .


[Poster abstract] The music information retrieval annotated bibliography
project, phase I

Proceeding of the Second International Symposium on
Music Information Retrieval, 15-17 October, 2001, Bloomington,

Bloomington, IN
Indiana University

Available at:

NU Project

Free software licenses


Available at:

ISI Researchsoft

Version 5


Available at: .

ISMIR 2000

The International Symposium on Music Information Retrieval, 23-25 October, 2000, Plymouth, MA


Available at:

ISMIR 2001

The Second International Symposium on Music Information Retrieval, 15-17 October, 2001, Bloomington, IN


Available at:

Linux Online

The Linux homepage


Available at:

New Zealand Digital Library Project

About the Greenstone software


Available at:

Open Source Initiative

The open source definition
version 1.9


Perl Mongers

Perl Mongers: The PERL advocacy people


Available at:

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Conference Info

In review

"New Directions in Humanities Computing"

Hosted at Universität Tübingen (University of Tubingen / Tuebingen)

Tübingen, Germany

July 23, 2002 - July 28, 2008

72 works by 136 authors indexed

Affiliations need to be double-checked.

Conference website:

Series: ALLC/EADH (29), ACH/ICCH (22), ACH/ALLC (14)

Organizers: ACH, ALLC

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None