'What’s in a name?' IRCAM, MPEG-7, and the Standardization of Audio Description - Landon Morrison

The CUIDADO Project, led by IRCAM researchers from 2000-03, aimed to establish an industry standard for audio content description, contributing to the development of Studio Online (SOL), IRCAM Descriptor, and the MPEG-7 standard, with research exploring its diverse applications and impact on academic and popular contexts.

Presented by: Landon Morrison 
From 2000-03, a team of IRCAM researchers led the CUIDADO Project, working with an international assembly of academic, corporate, and governmental actors to establish an industry standard for describing audio content in digital applications (Peeters et al. 2000). Internally, this work had roots in research on the association of sound with semantic descriptors, which informed the development of a large database of instrumental samples called Studio Online (SOL) and a music information retrieval system called IRCAM Descriptor. Externally, the work was aimed at producing a taxonomy of descriptors for the new MPEG-7 standard, which encompassed dozens of low-level descriptors grouped into several categories (e.g., temporal, energy, spectral, harmonic, and perceptual), and which bridged these with high-level semantic representations of sound (instrument, event, mood, key, etc.) using music indexing algorithms.
In this paper, I trace the converging interests of IRCAM and its collaborators as they seek to build a general system that allows users to "manipulate audio/music contents through high-level specification, designed to match the human cognitive structures involved in auditory perception" (Vinet et al. 2002, p. 197). At the same time, I track diverging applications of the system in academic versus popular contexts; the former includes compositional uses in the computer- assisted orchestration program Orchids (now Orchidea), while the latter includes a range of so-called "audio-fingerprinting" applications, such as automatic song identification and speech recognition. By mapping connections between scientific discourses and sonic practices circulating within (and without) the CUIDADO project, my research sheds light on a web of intellectual, cultural, material, and economic factors that contributed to the emergence of a new audio metadata standard and cemented its status as part of a global information infrastructure. The paper concludes by considering the perceptual technics underpinning this conjuncture of tendencies, drawing attention to their historical and cultural specificity as a way of questioning assumptions around music and the pursuit of universal sonic knowledge.


Back to the event