’Ediphon’: Editing pop music scientifically with the help of an app

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Photo (University of Paderborn): Symbolic image: In order to be able to edit in
Photo (University of Paderborn): Symbolic image: In order to be able to edit in the auditory medium, sound recordings must be the subject of the edition, not musical texts as has been the case up to now. Download (4 MB)

Research Award Winner at the University of Paderborn Presents Results

In classical music, editions are considered the basis of scholarly study of music. Unlike classical music, however, pop music is not composed on music paper, but in audio data. The substance of pop music is its sound. Rebecca Grotjahn, professor at the Department of Musicology at the University of Paderborn and the Detmold University of Music, is investigating how this can be edited as so-called -phonographic- music. In 2020, Grotjahn received the university’s 150,000-euro research award for her project to develop a new practice that enables the edition of popular music in the auditory medium. She now presented the results of her research project entitled -Edition of Phonographic Music- in a lecture open to the university. She presented the prototype of the newly developed app -Ediphon-, which is intended to enable users to engage with pop music in a source-critical manner.

-I am delighted that once again a scientist with a bold idea has been given the opportunity to live it out-, Johannes Blömer, Vice President for Research and Young Scientists, expressed his enthusiasm. With the research award, the university management promotes visionary ideas, daring hypotheses, unconventional technologies and innovative methods, away from the mainstream. Particularly exceptional research projects are to be given a chance of realization with the highest endowed prize that the University of Paderborn awards.

It all began with -Let It Be-

A few years ago, Grotjahn noticed a high C in the final chord of the Beatles classic -Let It Be-, attributed to band member Paul McCartney. -At first I wondered if this was a topic for the field of alternative masculinity, but then, while researching, I came across the claim that the note was actually sung by Linda Eastman. But how can such an anecdote be verified?⤠says the musicologist, whose research focuses on gender studies. A source-critical examination of musical pieces has so far only been possible in the classical period through scholarly music editions. There is no Beatles edition. -In pop music, sheet music is not what needs to be edited. For the most part, they do not even exist. And even if there are notes, they are usually not very meaningful. The high C, for example, is not in the notes of -Let It Be--, explains Grotjahn. Furthermore, the notes do not give any information about the sound or the vocal tone. -The decisive characteristics and what makes pop music pop can’t be written down. Pop music is written in the studio," she says.

Challenges in the Edition of Pop Music

In order to be able to edit in the auditory medium, the sound recordings must be the subject of the edition, not the musical texts, as has been the case in the past. According to Grotjahn, the challenges are to process the huge amounts of data from a single recording and to create a link between visual and auditory signs. Another problem is copyright, which is usually held by large record companies. Grotjahn’s idea to solve the problems: Editing not the phonographic text itself, but a metatext that contains philologically relevant information about the text.

Development of the app -Ediphon-

To create the metatext, a program converts audio objects, such as the single and album versions of a track, into visual data. Synchronization points can be used to relate the encoded objects to each other and annotate metadata of the objects as well as results of the source comparison. The metatext created in this way will ultimately be available in the app -Ediphon- developed by Grotjahn and her team. In this way, users can easily load audio files into the app themselves. -The app recognizes the files and links them to the metatext, which can be accessed centrally and online, so that users have parallel access to the information in the annotations while playing the audio files," explains the scientist. In the editing work, the auditory files must first have been transferred into visual data. In this way, the app enables a source-critical examination of pop music without editing the audio objects themselves.

Cooperation between musicology and computer science

Over the past two years, Grotjahn and her research team have developed the prototype of the app. Its development is a close collaboration between musicology and music informatics. They also received support from Detmold’s Sebastian Müller Band, which provided all the materials from a piece it produced, rights-free. -Currently, we are continuing to work on the programming of the app-, says the research award winner. Through the computer visualization of tonal relationships, similarities and differences, the phonological data can be made readable. However, there is no artificial intelligence (AI) or automation behind it. People create the editions through intensive research work.

Overall, the scientists involved have been able to make great progress in implementing the interdisciplinary project over the past two years. -A daring research idea has become a concrete project with great significance. Two years of reflection and discussion have paid off," Grotjahn sums up.