NIME publication and performance: Vrengt

My PhD student Cagri Erdem developed a performance together with dancer Katja Henriksen Schia. The piece was first performed together with Qichao Lan and myself during the RITMO opening and also during MusicLab vol. 3. See here for a teaser of the performance:

This week Cagri, Katja and myself performed a version of the piece Vrengt at NIME in Porto Alegre.

We also presented a paper describing the development of the instrument/piece:

Erdem, Cagri, Katja Henriksen Schia, and Alexander Refsum Jensenius. “Vrengt: A Shared Body-Machine Instrument for Music-Dance Performance.” In Proceedings of the International C Onference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression. Porto Alegre, 2019.


This paper describes the process of developing a shared instrument for music–dance performance, with a particular focus on exploring the boundaries between standstill vs motion, and silence vs sound. The piece Vrengt grew from the idea of enabling a true partnership between a musician and a dancer, developing an instrument that would allow for active co-performance. Using a participatory design approach, we worked with sonification as a tool for systematically exploring the dancer’s bodily expressions. The exploration used a “spatiotemporal matrix,” with a particular focus on sonic microinteraction. In the final performance, two Myo armbands were used for capturing muscle activity of the arm and leg of the dancer, together with a wireless headset microphone capturing the sound of breathing. In the paper we reflect on multi-user instrument paradigms, discuss our approach to creating a shared instrument using sonification as a tool for the sound design, and reflect on the performers’ subjective evaluation of the instrument.

NIME publication: “NIME Prototyping in Teams: A Participatory Approach to Teaching Physical Computing”

The MCT master’s programme has been running for a year now, and everyone involved has learned a lot. In parallel to the development of the programme, and teaching it, we are also running the research project SALTO. Here the idea is to systematically reflect on our educational practice, which again will feed back into better development of the MCT programme.

One outcome of the SALTO project, is a paper that we presented at the NIME conference in Porto Alegre this week:

Xambó, Anna, Sigurd Saue, Alexander Refsum Jensenius, Robin Støckert, and Øyvind Brandtsegg. “NIME Prototyping in Teams: A Participatory Approach to Teaching Physical Computing.” In Proceedings of the International Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression. Porto Alegre, 2019.

Anna Xambó presents the paper “NIME Prototyping in Teams: A Participatory Approach to Teaching Physical Computing” at NIME 2019.


In this paper, we present a workshop of physical computing applied to NIME design based on science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) education. The workshop is designed for master students with multidisciplinary backgrounds. They are encouraged to work in teams from two university campuses remotely connected through a portal space. The components of the workshop are prototyping, music improvisation and reflective practice. We report the results of this course, which show a positive impact on the students on their intention to continue in STEM fields. We also present the challenges and lessons learned on how to improve the teaching and delivery of hybrid technologies in an interdisciplinary context across two locations, with the aim of satisfying both beginners and experts. We conclude with a broader discussion on how these new pedagogical perspectives can improve NIME-related courses.

RaveForce: A Deep Reinforcement Learning Environment for Music Generation

My PhD student Qichao Lan is at SMC in Malaga this week, presenting the paper:

Lan, Qichao, Jim Tørresen, and Alexander Refsum Jensenius. “RaveForce: A Deep Reinforcement Learning Environment for Music Generation.” Proceedings of the Sound and Music Computing Conference. Malaga, 2019.

The framework that Qichao has developed runs nicely with a bridge between Jupyter Notebook and SuperCollider. This opens for lots of interesting experiments in the years to come.


RaveForce is a programming framework designed for a computational music generation method that involves audio sample level evaluation in symbolic music representation generation. It comprises a Python module and a SuperCollider quark. When connected with deep learning frameworks in Python, RaveForce can send the symbolic music representation generated by the neural network as Open Sound Control messages to the SuperCollider for non-realtime synthesis. SuperCollider can convert the symbolic representation into an audio file which will be sent back to the Python as the input of the neural network. With this iterative training, the neural network can be improved with deep reinforcement learning algorithms, taking the quantitative evaluation of the audio file as the reward. In this paper, we find that the proposed method can be used to search new synthesis parameters for a specific timbre of an electronic music note or loop.

Micro-education is the future

I have a commentary published in the Norwegian academic newspaper Khrono today with the title “Micro-education is the future”. The reason I ended up writing the piece was because of my frustration with working “against” the Norwegian system when it comes exploring new educational strategies.

As I have written about here on the blog before, I have tested a number of different educational methods and formats over the last years, including Music Moves, Carpentry-style workshops, and, of course, our joint master’s programme Music, Communication & Technology. With all of these, I have experienced difficulties getting them registered in our course system (Felles studentsystem (FS)). For the master’s programme, we have solved this by splitting up courses on the two universities involved. This makes it possible to run the programme, but it creates some unfortunate side-effects, such that it is difficult to have non-programme students sign up for the courses. I am not going to write more about these issues here today, as I am quite confident that we are going to find “in-house” solutions to these problems.

For Music Moves and the workshops, however, we have not been able to find proper workarounds. The end result is that people do not get credits for following these courses. Hopefully, they take the courses because they want to learn, and not because they need credits. But I see that other universities are able to provide credits for MOOCs and workshops, so why should we not be able to do this at the University of Oslo?

Since there are no credits awarded to the students, there are no money paid out to the university for the courses. In Norway we have a model in which a part of a university’s funding is based on the number of credits “produced” every year. We have the same reward system for “research points”, which researchers care a lot about. Much less attention is given to study points, but there is a lot more money paid out in this category. Hence getting students through courses is a big incentive for the institutions.

Since no money comes in from these courses, there is little interest in spending time on such things from an institutional perspective. We have a quite elaborate way of counting our working hours, at least in the part of the position that is set aside for teaching. I have been head of department myself, so I know that these things matter when you are talking to people about what they should spend their (limited) working ours on. Considering whether you should teach a course for-credits versus a not-for-credits MOOC or workshop, is an easy question for any head of department. Since I am back in the teacher role myself, the choice is not so obvious. My main motivation for teaching is not to generate study points, but to disseminate knowledge and start academic discussions. Here I see that the knowledge-per-person ratio is much higher with a MOOC attracting, say, 1000 people than a course with 30 students.

As I write in the Khrono commentary, we need to think anew about how we incentivize higher education. In Norway, we currently have a committee (Ekspertutvalg for etterog videreutdanning) working on how to improve solutions for life-long learning. MOOCs and Carpentry-style workshops are, in my opinion, an obvious solution for how people outside of universities can learn new things. There are a couple of ways to improve the system:

  1. We need to open for awarding credits for MOOCs and workshops, of course given that they follow proper university education guidelines. For a MOOC with a workload of around 40 hours, this could typically be 1 ECTS, while for shorter workshops it could be 0.1-0.2 ECTS. I know that most study officers would probably say that such credit values are too small to handle. And that is exactly my point. Our current system is set up for handling full study programmes, and semester-long courses, most of which are 10 ECTS. We need to revise the system so that it is practically possible to handle smaller credit points.
  2. Our system is currently set up so that you need to have study rights at the University of Oslo. It is possible to apply for getting access to individual courses, but this is a time-consuming process that was made for people following semester-long courses. For MOOCs and workshops with lots of participants it is not possible (neither for the university nor for the learners) to go through the process the way it works today. We need a way of securing student “mobility” in the digital age. This is not something we can solve in Norway alone, it needs to be an international initiative.

Hopefully, the committee will address some of these issues. As for developing an international solution, I hope the European Commission or the European University Association can push for a change.

Why I am positive to Plan S

Plan S has been the biggest political topic in the research community here in Norway this fall. Several researchers have raised their concerned voices. I am among the positive ones, and I will here try to explain why.

Just to rewind a little first. Coalition S is a group of national research funding organisations, with the support of the European Commission and the European Research Council (ERC). On 4 September 2018 they announced Plan S, an initiative to make full and immediate Open Access to research publications a reality:

“By 2020 scientific publications that result from research funded by public grants provided by participating national and European research councils and funding bodies, must be published in compliant Open Access Journals or on compliant Open Access Platforms.”

There has been a political shift to making research openly available over the last decade. In many countries this has also been added to various types of policy documents. Here in Norway it is part of the Government’s longterm research plan. The difference with Plan S is that it is not just “fluffy” words, it is a concrete plan with a concrete deadline.

The 10 Principles

Plan S is based on 10 principles:

  1. Authors retain copyright of their publication with no restrictions. All publications must be published under an open license, preferably the Creative Commons Attribution Licence CC BY. In all cases, the license applied should fulfil the requirements defined by the Berlin Declaration;
  2. The Funders will ensure jointly the establishment of robust criteria and requirements for the services that compliant high quality Open Access journals and Open Access platforms must provide;
  3. In case such high quality Open Access journals or platforms do not yet exist, the Funders will, in a coordinated way, provide incentives to establish and support them when appropriate; support will also be provided for Open Access infrastructures where necessary;
  4. Where applicable, Open Access publication fees are covered by the Funders or universities, not by individual researchers; it is acknowledged that all scientists should be able to publish their work Open Access even if their institutions have limited means;
  5. When Open Access publication fees are applied, their funding is standardised and capped (across Europe);
  6. The Funders will ask universities, research organisations, and libraries to align their policies and strategies, notably to ensure transparency;
  7. The above principles shall apply to all types of scholarly publications, but it is understood that the timeline to achieve Open Access for monographs and books may be longer than 1 January 2020;
  8. The importance of open archives and repositories for hosting research outputs is acknowledged because of their long-term archiving function and their potential for editorial innovation;
  9. The ‘hybrid’ model of publishing is not compliant with the above principles;
  10. The Funders will monitor compliance and sanction non-compliance.

My reason to support Plan S

I have both idealistic and practical reasons for supporting Plan S.

I am working at a public university, and think it is obvious that the results of what I am doing should be available for anyone. That is why I also for a long time have been uploading my publications to our institutional archive (DUO), have made my source code available on GitHub, uploaded educational material to YouTube, and so on.

I have published my research in a number of different channels over the years. Several of these, and particularly all the conference proceedings, are freely available online. In my field we are also lucky to have some high quality open access journals, such as Empirical Musicology Review, Music & Science, and TISMIR. There are also the more general open access publishers, such as Plos ONE, Frontiers, etc. All of these are still fairly new, but have been helped by the political push for open access.

Many of the critics of Plan S argue that they don’t have anywhere to publish if they cannot use their traditional channels. The answer to that is that now is the time for traditional publishers to change their business model. The ones that do today, will be the winners tomorrow. If they do not, there will be new alternatives developed, either by the researchers themselves (as has happened in my field), or by the new commercial players (Plos ONE, Frontiers, PeerJ, etc.).

The challenging thing right now, and the reason why it is important that Plan S has a short deadline, is that it is tricky to leave with two different publication systems at the same time. Currently, most of the money in the system is spent on paying for old-school, expensive subscriptions to (some few) commercial publication giants. That means that there is little money left for those of us who want to pay so-called article processing charge (APCs). Changing the model quickly is therefore important, freeing up money for a pay-to-publish model.

An important thing in the discussion, is that the individual researcher should not suffer. Changing the publication system, and the underlying payment system, needs to be done at an institutional/national level. That has been very difficult up until now, because the players have been too small and not coordinated. Plan S changes this, since many of the major European players are on board, and more are joining forces from the rest of the world as we speak.

Plan S is disruptive. That is the point, and that is why it will succeed!