ISMIR Keynote – Ten Years of Ismir

Ten years of ISMIR – Reflections on challenges and opportunities

Three founding fathers of ISMIR: J. Stephen Downie, Donald Byrd and Tim Crawford

Prehistoric background Tim Crawford described the early challenges in finding music and difficulties in using computers in the early days.  Stephen talks about his early days as a flutist and his personal challenges in finding music from incipits and his strong bias for retrieval and evaluation instilled by his advisor.

In 1999, Don Byrd, working with Bruce Croft at UMASS, Tim working at Kings College in London got a grant to look at music information retrieval.

1999 – two conferences – ACM SIGIR + ACM Digital Libraries. Stephen organized an exploratory workshop on music information retrieval – that’s where Stephen and Don met and proposed ISMIR.  13 August 1999 – ISMIR was born (in a bar in Berkley CA.)

ISMIR timeline:

  • 1999 – MIR Workshop
  • 2000 – First ISMIR – Plymouth MA – 88 Attendees, 11 different countries, 9 invited talks, 10 papers, 16 posters.  Highlights: Beth Logan presents MFCCs, Tzanetakis and Cook: Marsyas, Foote: Arthur paper
  • 2002 – switch symposium to conference – to make it easier to get funding
  • Growing collaborations.  50% of all papers are from 3 or 4 authors
  • 2009 – ISMIR becomes the  International Society of Music Information Retrieval

Evaluation History

  • 1999 Trec-like evaluation proposed
  • 2001 Bloomington meeting – manifesto for content providers to supply data
  • 2002 / 2003 – funding from the Mellon corporation
  • 2004 – Barcelona – MTG created the audio description contest
  • 2005 – First MIREX
  • MIREX Breakdown
    • 469 algorithm runs
    • 129 – train/test machine learning tests
    • 139 search tasks
    • 22 unique tasks
    • 16 tasks in audio domain
    • 3 hybrid tasks
    • No symbolic tasks in 2009

ISMIR: External Success Factors – Audo Compression, growth of online audio, Standards like MPEG-7, bubble (Google for music)

ISMIR: Internal Success Factors: – Communications resources – the mailing list and collected proceedings.   Diversity in backgrouns in the steering committee, quality in programme chairs and committees.  Policy of inclusiveness – not premised on high rejection rates, multiple avenues for presntation.   General support for the Audio Description Contest and MIREX.

Five Key Challenges for ISMIR

  1. Embracing Users – engage more with potential user-communities (performing musicians, film makers, musicologists, sound archivists, music eduatiors and music enthusiasts of all types)
  2. Digging deeper into music itself– find the ‘music’ within the signal, move beyond simple timbral approaches,  move beyond simgle features to create hybrid musically principled features, deeper understanding of what features mean musically, hybrid symbol and audio systems.
  3. Increasing musial diversity – widen our horizons beyond western popular music
  4. Rebalancing our music portfolio – Use audio ‘symbolic’ and (catalog) metadata together
  5. Developing comprehensive MIR systems: work towards complete, usable, scalable systems, even if they are not perfect.  In text IR world, prototype systems have been pivotal (smart, managing gigabytes, terrier

The Grand Challenge:  Complete Systems

  • Something for people to use
  • Engage with our potential user-community
  • Users and humans music become more aware how humans hear music, listen to music respond to it and think about it.
  • New discipline of music informatics based in higher-level (human) query rather than low-level feature-matching


  • Need to find a way to encourage and reward development and improvement – to move things to the next level – problem is it is hard to publish something that is built on previous work but has no novel contribution
  • Academic vs. industrial priorities
  • Music retrieval vs multimedia retrieval we have a lot to learn from conferences like  ACM MM.

IMPACT! – is the new academic Rock’n’roll – to get funding, must show impact, perhaps more important than publishing.


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