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Digital Music Research

Music is a fundamental means of human expression. All human cultures and sub-cultures define themselves in part through music. For some, music is the ultimate time based art form, but many questions remain unanswered about the nature, affect, understanding and use of music.

Music is important within contemporary society. Technological developments have allowed a detailed understanding of music and sound. Sophisticated tools for the creation, generation and dissemination of music have established clear synergies between music and leisure industries, technology within art, the creative industries and the creative economy of the twenty first century.

Music mediated by technology, created by computers or presented through a computer medium, has become a key expression of twenty-first century culture. New forms of music dissemination and access have allowed people to establish new relationships with music. This can be seen in internet radio, internet self publishing, easy email access to geographically distributed audiences with minority interests, podcasts, downloads, mobile technologies and digital archives.

Digital music research is a vital area for future development to support the evolution of the creative economy and an innovative UK music industry.

Bullet What is digital music research?

In digital music research technology is applied to musical research problems resulting in both engineering and aesthetic developments. Engineering research is crucial for many areas of musical creation and musical understanding. Digital music research encompasses research in:
  • Musical composition, production and creation;
  • Musical performance and presentation;
  • Recording and music capture, including the storage, transmission and dissemination of music;
  • The reproduction of sound, including surround sound and sound playback technologies;
  • Musical perception and listening;
  • Analysis and understanding of music.

Bullet Challenges

  1. An important challenge in the development of digital music research in the medium term future is the nature of the transdisciplinary skills required to pursue key research questions in the areas listed above.
  2. Our research suggests that within the UK there is an industrial development gap between contemporary research activity within the academic community and industry's ability to apply and make use of research outcomes. This is in part due to difficulties in both the academic and industrial domains, but there is a common problem - research institutions cannot fund the development of research outputs and data through to production engineered products, services or knowledge that can be fully exploited by industry; equally, industry cannot invest to bridge this "production engineering gap". There are few industrial/academic collaborations in this field within the UK. Many large audio corporations support their own research.
  3. The research methods applied in many science based engineering disciplines are not always appropriate to creative, perceptual or artistic research activity. There is a need for all stakeholders to embrace research methodologies appropriate for this transdiscipline, to address newly emerging research questions. Research in this area is not well served through support under the ill-defined categories of "multi-disciplinary" research or through the imagined margins often described as the "Art/Science" interface. All stakeholders, from research proposal assessors and funders, to researchers, university Vice Chancellors and politicians should recognise the evolution of new disciplines created by new technologies which integrate knowledge from many traditional fields. Digital music research is a new discipline of this type.

Bullet Research themes

We have identified a series of research themes which will develop current UK strengths in digital music research as described in the UK Research Snapshot of the Digital Music Research Roadmap. These research themes are applicable to a series of research goals for the next ten years, listed below, and which form the heart of the roadmap documentation (Research Goals).

The overarching themes in digital music research for the next ten years will be:
  • the analysis and understanding of music,
  • human factors, the solutions to problems which humans face in realising creative ideas with computer technologies;
  • research within a professional musical context, to ensure relevance and the applicability of research outcomes
  • music distribution mediated by technology
  • music as a valuable demonstrator for many areas of research and time based computing activities, particularly for research activities which involve simultaneous control of multiple parameters and their understanding,
  • real-time, interactive musical applications for performance and production.

Bullet Research Goals

The research goals which we have identified for the next ten year period of digital music research fall into the following categories:
  • Machine listening
  • High-level parametric control of musical information
  • Fertile technological environments for creativity in music
  • Musical innovation
  • Music exploitation and dissemination
  • Sound reproduction and recording

Bullet How can digital music research be supported?

Key factors to enable digital music research include:
  • The development of educational approaches to transdisciplinary skills,
  • Appropriate funding to support musical applications and use of technology as a serious and fruitful area of research, providing important insights into the human condition, the development of new technologies and the generation of important data for other fields of study (inc brain sciences and computer interfacing)
  • Facilitating transdisciplinary work - within institutions, through new approaches to research funding, institutional logistic and administrative mechanisms,
  • Research collaboration between institutions, drawing upon the specialized expertise of different research groups within the UK digital music research community.

Bullet Preventing innovation

Research institutes will inhibit work in this area by dividing the research community along traditional subject boundaries, establishing administrative and financial structures which prevent transdisciplinary or multi-disciplinary activity


Bullet New disciplines

Music based research is not alone in its need for transdisciplinary approaches to research. Traditional subject boundaries are not helpful in new disciplines.

The UK digital music research community has a long track record of international publication and is a mature and a developing community. The UK industry and creative economy has yet to capitalise on the international strengths of this research community and its lead in many music and audio fields.

This roadmap seeks to draw together common themes and address issues from an academic perspective which will further knowledge; these include expanding our understanding and use of music, facilitating musical creation, and capitalising on the talent, energy and expertise of UK researchers. The Roadmap will lead to a productive and fruitful integration of digital music research into the UK, European and global creative industries.

Detailed descriptions of work within each of these areas can be found in Research Goals:A Ten Year View.

Further discussions of transdisciplinary research can be found at http://www.interdisciplines.org/interdisciplinarity/papers/5/version/original.

See also
: Nowotny, H. et al (1994) The Production of Knowledge. The dynamics of science and research in contemporary societies. London: Sage.
Nowotny, H. et al(2001) Re-thinking science. Knowledge and the public in an age of uncertainty. Polity Press.