Computational approaches to aid ethnographic research on Maqam melodies

Carlos Guedes, Andrew Jarad Eisenberg, Kaustuv Ganguli, Sertan Senturk

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


here has been a recent trend towards examining the Indian Ocean as an “aesthetic space” in which artistic patterns and practices circulate and evoke the broader Indian Ocean through the specific sensual experience they create. One such endeavor is a project by Eisenberg et al., en titled “The Swahili Musical Imagination: Intercultural Style and Aesthetics in the Compositio ns of Ally Salim Basalama” that aims to chart a path toward an ethnomusicology that product ively combines ethnographic and computational methods, and forging new ways to systematic ally approach the interdependence of music and poetry. Whereas qualitative (ethno)musicolog ical studies of patterns in musical style necessarily home in on representative examples, the “s onic digital humanities” methods that the Music and Sound Cultures (MaSC) research group a t the New York University Abu Dhabi have been developing work at the level of the corpus, a nd are therefore particularly useful for drawing out similarities between multiple traditions or genres. We employ computational audio analysis, machine learning, and visualization techniq ues to explore similarities in music corpora from different regions. Methods proposed by Gan guli and Senturk that develops a heuristic melodic stylization algorithm combining domain kn owledge- and data-driven optimizations, are adapted to study the corpora of the “music from t he region”. One of the aims of the computational analysis is to model the melodic similarity s pace between Ally Salim’s songs, Egyptian song, and Hindi film song, with a view to underst anding sources of melodic inspiration for Ally Salim. This paper discusses methodological de tails at various audio processing stages – fundamental frequency (F0) extraction, tonic estimat ion, histogram characterization, and stable note transcription. The outcome of the analyses als o finds its place in pedagogical and mainstream music information retrieval applications. We believe, this approach where scientific/computational research complements ethnographic stu dies, can lead to a better understanding of cultural migration in the Indian ocean space.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationFirst (1st) Symposium of the ICTM Study Group on Sound, Movement, and the Sciences (SoMoS)
StatePublished - 2020


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