Paper of the Day (Po’D): Computational Ethnomusicology In Hungary Edition

Hello, and welcome to the Paper of the Day (Po’D): Computational Ethnomusicology In Hungary Edition. I learned of today’s (dusty and poorly scanned) paper from Gómez et al 2013:

I. Halmos, G. Köszegi, and G. Mandler, “Computational Ethnomusicology in Hungary in 1978,” in Proc. Int. Computer Music Conf. 1978.

This work was presented in a session titled, “Computers in Musicology,” which featured two other papers looking at Armenian and Azerbaijan folk music.

Of the authors, Halmos identifies as an ethnomusicologist, and Köszegi and Mandler identify as mathematicians. They discuss how they are using computers to study melodies. One project they mention is “to provide easy access to from 15 to 20 specific characterists of the 150-200 thousand melodies in our archives. [We] suspect it will take two years to arrange the input system (hardware and software), followed by an additional five years of processing the melodies.” The main topic of this paper, however, is their work in encoding melodies according to several characterists for grouping. They contrast this computerised approach with a “traditional” one “used by ethnomusicologists who have no faith in musical indexes” to describe “the substance” of a melody.

Aside from describing aspects of their system, Halmos et al. provide an illuminating introduction. They break down ethnomusicology research into five “areas”:

  1. collecting data
  2. “research-administration”
  3. notation
  4. selection and systematisation
  5. scientific treatment

They divide ethnomusicological data into three “groups”:

  1. “the melodies themselves”
  2. “registration (i.e., when and where performed) and original performers (i.e., age, education, profession)”
  3. “the social conditions surrounding the melodies, performers and audiences.”

Halmos et al. argue that “the computer could never be used for collecting data” because this data exists in the human sphere, information “preserved by the inherited knowledge of the people.” A computer can’t do “field work,” e.g., meet personally with practicioners. They also argue that the computer can’t be applied to the scientific treatment of ethnomusicological questions because the computer is external to the cultural domain in which music exists. A computer cannot have “social logic.” “Only the human brain is capable of making real decisions.”

What can the computer help with then? Research-adminstration, notation, and selection and systematisation.

We have certainly come a long way!


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