Music Information Retrieval: Conceptual Framework, Annotation and User Behavior

Micheline Lesaffre
Ghent University, Belgium (December, 2005)


Understanding music is a process both based on and influenced by the knowledge and experience of the listener. Although content-based music retrieval has been given increasing attention in recent years, much of the research still focuses on bottom-up retrieval techniques. In order to make a music information retrieval system appealing and useful to the user, more effort should be spent on constructing systems that both operate directly on the encoding of the physical energy of music and are flexible with respect to users’ experiences.

This thesis is based on a user-centred approach, taking into account the mutual relationship between music as an acoustic phenomenon and as an expressive phenomenon. The issues it addresses are: the lack of a conceptual framework, the shortage of annotated musical audio databases, the lack of understanding of the behaviour of system users and shortage of user-dependent knowledge with respect to high-level features of music.

In the theoretical part of this thesis, a conceptual framework for content-based music information retrieval is defined. The proposed conceptual framework - the first of its kind - is conceived as a coordinating structure between the automatic description of low-level music content, and the description of high-level content by the system users. A general framework for the manual annotation of musical audio is outlined as well. A new methodology for the manual annotation of musical audio is introduced and tested in case studies. The results from these studies show that manually annotated music files can be of great help in the development of accurate analysis tools for music information retrieval.

Empirical investigation is the foundation on which the aforementioned theoretical framework is built. Two elaborate studies involving different experimental issues are presented. In the first study, elements of signification related to spontaneous user behaviour are clarified. In the second study, a global profile of music information retrieval system users is given and their description of high-level content is discussed. This study has uncovered relationships between the users’ demographical background and their perception of expressive and structural features of music. Such a multi-level approach is exceptional as it included a large sample of the population of real users of interactive music systems. Tests have shown that the findings of this study are representative of the targeted population.

Finally, the multi-purpose material provided by the theoretical background and the results from empirical investigations are put into practice in three music information retrieval applications: a prototype of a user interface based on a taxonomy, an annotated database of experimental findings and a prototype semantic user recommender system.

Results are presented and discussed for all methods used. They show that, if reliably generated, the use of knowledge on users can significantly improve the quality of music content analysis. This thesis demonstrates that an informed knowledge of human approaches to music information retrieval provides valuable insights, which may be of particular assistance in the development of user-friendly, content-based access to digital music collections.

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