Strings On-Line installation

We presented the installation Strings On-Line at NIME 2020. It was supposed to be a physical installation at the conference to be held in Birmingham, UK.

Due to the corona crisis, the conference went online, and we decided to redesign the proposed physical installation into an online installation instead. The installation ran continuously from 21-25 July last year, and hundreds of people “came by” to interact with it.

I finally got around to edit a short (1-minute) video promo of the installation:

I have also made a short (10-minute) “behind the scenes” mini-documentary about the installation. Here researchers from RITMO, University of Oslo, talk about the setup featuring 6 self-playing guitars, 3 remote-controlled robots, and a 24/7 high-quality, low-latency, audiovisual stream.

We are planning a new installation for the RPPW conference this year. So if you are interested in exploring such an online installation live, please stay tuned.

The hybrid university

After a year of primarily online activities, we are slowly preparing for a new reality at the university. We will not go back to where we left off, but what will the new university be?

The front page of the EUA report Universities without walls.

This post is inspired by a tweet by Rikke Toft Nørgård and a presentation she held on the development of the post-pandemic hybrid university. In the presentation, she points to a recent EUA report envisioning how universities should develop towards 2030. The aim is that universities should be:

  • Open, Transformative and Transnational
  • Sustainable, Diverse and Engaged
  • Strong, Autonomous and Accountable

These are good points. The challenge is to figure out how to make it happen. That is why I think it is good that EUA is bold enough to suggest three quite concrete action points:

  • Reform academic careers
  • Promote interdisciplinarity
  • Strengthen civic engagement

When I say “concrete” here, we need to consider that EUA is an organization with 800+ universities as members, so it is still fairly high-level advice. In the following, I will reflect briefly on each of these.

Reform academic careers

This is a topic that I have been engaged in for quite some time. As a member of the Young Academy of Norway, I was involved in developing several reports on the need for heterogeneous career paths in academia. People are different; fields are different, universities are different. Therefore, we also need to allow for various types of career paths. It is also important to help people more easily move in and out of academia.

As a member of a working group on career assessment at Universities Norway, we have been developing what we call the Norwegian Career Assessment Matrix (NOR-CAM). This has been inspired by the Open Science Career Assessment Matrix (OS-CAM). Our Norwegian model goes beyond only considering Open Science (which I would have preferred to be Open Research, but that is another story). Rather, we propose that researcher assessment should be based on many variables. More on that soon, since the report will be out in not too long.

Promote interdisciplinarity

This is another topic I have been interested in myself for a long time. In fact, my post trying to define interdisciplinarity is (by far) my most read article on this blog. I am lucky enough to co-direct RITMO Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Rhythm, Time, and Motion. Even the name suggests that we take interdisciplinarity seriously. At RITMO, musicologists, psychologists and informatics researchers work together in various ways. Not all of the research is interdisciplinary, however. Some are multi-, cross-, and transdisciplinary. The main point is that we challenge traditional disciplinary boundaries.

A lot of people talk about the need for working interdisciplinary. However, those of us that try to do it face several issues. It is challenging from an individual perspective. People are still largely assessed disciplinary. That is why a reform of the way we perform research assessment is important, as mentioned above.

There are also numerous institutional challenges. Most universities are disciplinarily organized into faculties and departments. There are good reasons for doing this, and I am not suggesting that we should get rid of faculties and departments altogether. However, universities need to be much more flexible in allowing people to research and teach across department and faculty borders.

I have for some time been promoting the development of matrix universities, in which the organization is both horizontal and vertical. Some European universities (for example, Cambridge and Oxford) and many American universities are organized both vertically (faculties and departments) and horizontally (colleges and schools). This is a more complex organization, but it promotes more meeting points. The problem with a matrix organization is that it may feel too rigid. A better metaphor may be “web” universities. This would allow for more complex interconnections across (and beyond) the organization.

Strengthen civic engagement

I find it particularly interesting that the EUA report so clearly focuses on creating universities “without walls”. For many of us that are on the inside of a university, we don’t really see these walls. After all, we have open doors in and out of the university. But it is important to acknowledge that there are walls that other people face.

Too many people think of universities as a castle. This one being Bodiam Castle, UK, built in 1385 (from Wikipedia).

Tearing down the walls may be difficult, however. After all, the good thing about walls is that they support the construction of the house and create a safe and sheltered space. But building a lot more doors in the house can be a good starting point.

To continue the analogy, I think that we should build universities with as many terrace glass walls as possible. That means that people can easily move in and out of the university. It also means that it is possible to look into the parts of the university that may be closed off. A move towards Open Research and Open Education is one approach to increasing the public visibility of what is going on inside universities. Citizen Science is another, in which researchers engage more actively with the general public.

Is it possible to think of a university as a glass house with easy access? (from Alleideen)

There have been many unfortunate consequences of the corona. Fortunately, some changes may also happen quicker because more people realize that things need to change as we move on.

Splitting audio files in the terminal

I have recently played with AudioStellar, a great tool for “sound object”-based exploration and musicking. It reminds me of CataRT, a great tool for concatenative synthesis. I used CataRT quite a lot previously, for example, in the piece Transformation. However, after I switched to Ubuntu and PD instead of OSX and Max, CataRT was no longer an option. So I got very excited when I discovered AudioStellar some weeks ago. It is lightweight and cross-platform and has some novel features that I would like to explore more in the coming weeks.

Samples and sound objects

In today’s post, I will describe how to prepare short audio files to load into AudioStellar. The software is based on loading a collection of “samples”. I always find the term “sample” to be confusing. In digital signal processing terms, a sample is literally one sample, a number describing the signal’s amplitude in that specific moment in time. However, in music production, a “sample” is used to describe a fairly short sound file, often in the range of 0.5 to 5 seconds. This is what in the tradition of the composer-researcher Pierre Schaeffer would be called a sound object. So I prefer to use that term to refer to coherent, short snippets of sound.

AudioStellar relies on loading short sound files. They suggest that for the best experience, one should load files that are shorter than 3 seconds. I have some folders with such short sound files, but I have many more folders with longer recordings that contain multiple sound objects in one file. The beauty of CataRT was that it would analyse such long files and identify all the sound objects within the files. That is not possible in AudioStellar (yet, I hope). So I have to chop up the files myself. This can be done manually, of course, and I am sure some expensive software also does the job. But this was a good excuse to dive into SoX (Sound eXchange).

SoX for sound file processing

SoX is branded as “the Swiss Army knife of audio manipulation”. I have tried it a couple of times, but I usually rely on FFmpeg for basic conversion tasks. FFmpeg is mainly targeted at video applications, but it handles many audio-related tasks well. Converting from .AIFF to .WAV or compressing to .MP3 or .AAC can easily be handled in FFmpeg. There are even some basic audio visualization tools available in FFmpeg.

However, for some more specialized audio jobs, SoX come in handy. I find that the man pages are not very intuitive. There are also relatively few examples of its usage online, at least compared to the numerous FFmpeg examples. Then I was happy to find the nice blog of Mads Kjelgaard, who has written a short set of SoX tutorials. And it was the tutorial on how to remove silence from sound files that caught my attention.

Splitting sound files based on silence

The task is to chop up long sound files containing multiple sound objects. The description of SoX’s silence function is somewhat cryptic. In addition to the above mentioned blog post, I also came across another blog post with some more examples of how the SoX silence function works. And lo and behold, one of the example scripts managed to very nicely chop up one of my long sound files of bird sounds:

sox birds_in.aif birds_out.wav silence 1 0.1 1% 1 0.1 1% : newfile : restart

The result is a folder of short sound files, each containing a sound object. Note that I started with an .AIFF file but converted it to .WAV along the way since that is the preferred format of AudioStellar.

SoX managed to quickly split up a long sound file of bird chirps into individual files, each containing one sound object.

To scale this up a bit, I made a small script that will do the same thing on a folder of files:

#!/bin/bash

for i in *.aif;
do
name=`echo $i | cut -d'.' -f1`;
sox "$i" "${name}.wav" silence 1 0.1 1% 1 0.1 1% : newfile : restart
done

And this managed to chop up 20 long sound files into approximately 2000 individual sound files.

The batch script split up 20 long sound files into approximately 2000 short sound files in just a few seconds.

There were some very short sound files and some very long. I could have tweaked the script a little to remove these. However, it was quicker to sort the files by file size and delete the smallest and largest files. That left me with around 1500 sound files to load into AudioStellar. More on that exploration later.

Loading 1500 animal sound objects into AudioStellar.

All in all, I was happy to (re)discover SoX and will explore it more in the future. I was happy to see that the above settings worked well for sound recordings with clear silence parts. Some initial testing of more complex sound recordings were not equally successful. So understanding more about how to tweak the settings will be important for future usage.

23 tips to improve your web presence

I was challenged to say a few words about improving their personal web pages at the University of Oslo. This led to a short talk titled 23 tips to improve your web presence. The presentation was based on experiences with keeping my own personal page up to date, but hopefully, the tips can be useful for others.

Why should you care about your employee page?

Some of my reasons include:

  • Your personal page is your “business card”. It contains information about how, where, and when to reach you.
  • It is used by internals (other employees, students, admin) for finding out more about what you do and who you are.
  • It is used by externals (colleagues, prospective students, industry, journalists, “everyone else”) to find out more about what you do and who you are.

In my experience, an academic’s personal page is more important than many people think. They often appear near the top when you search the internet, so people will actually look at them. A boring, un-updated, standard personal page may not be bad for you. You may get away with people thinking that your university’s communication department is to blame. But a rich, updated personal page is a valuable asset. It may help attract new students, secure you a grant, or get you a new job.

The 23 tips

Ok, so how do you do it? The tips may be more interesting to look at in the PDF of my presentation, but here is a bullet list for convenience:

  1. Check (and update) your page regularly
  2. Check that your affiliation is correct
  3. Check your contact information
  4. Use an official photo (close-up with white background)
  5. Add other photos, videos, etc. further down on your page
  6. Add a short bio that you can easily copy-paste for other places
  7. Have another personal web page? Link to it!
  8. Have a blog? Feed from it!
  9. Use the page as a hub for other things
  10. Link to project pages
  11. Link to your research groups/labs
  12. Add links to images
  13. Highlight a few publications, with a summary and a cover image
  14. Keep your Cristin (research registration system) up to date and watch the automagic listings
  15. Remember to add URLs in Cristin, so that they show up in the listings
  16. Add abstracts in Cristin, too, they also show up
  17. Add folders with more stuff to your personal page
  18. Make press images readily available
  19. Keep local “originals” of social media stuff
  20. Add sub-folders with supplementary research material that you don’t know where to put
  21. Remember to update both your English and Norwegian pages
  22. Don’t know how to edit, check the documentation pages
  23. Stuck? Ask someone nearby

Several points are most relevant for people at UiO or in the Norwegian system, but most are general. The most important is to do something and understand the importance of your online presence.

What is a musical instrument?

A piano is an instrument. So is a violin. But what about the voice? Or a fork? Or a mobile phone? So what is (really) a musical instrument? That was the title of a short lecture I held at UiO’s Open Day today.

The 15-minute lecture is a very quick version of some of the concepts I have been working on for a new book project. Here I present a model for understanding what a musical instrument is and how new technology changes how we make and experience music.

The original lecture was in Norwegian, but I got inspired and recorded an English version right afterwards:

If you rather prefer the original, Norwegian version, here it is:

And, if you do want to learn more about these things, you can apply for one of our study programmes before 15 April: bachelor or master of musicology, or master of music, communication and technology.