Thursday, December 11, 2008

Nöjeströtta älskar nya tal

News of my talk at the Math Club last month has been reported in Dagens Nyheter, "the New York Times of Sweden". Check out the article by Caroline Hainer - you can even see a picture of my arm pointing to some nice math!

In case your Swedish isn't as good as mine, here's the Google translation.
Note how I am described as a " long male, redheaded researcher" and Conor Deasy is now Conor PRESIDENT!

My next academic talk will be delivered in the style of the Swedish chef...

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Math Club

I'll be giving a talk on "Machines that Understand Music" at the LA Math Club on Sunday, November 19, 2008. If you're in Hollywood, come along and meet all the musos and industry types that I hope will show up.

The Math Club is organized by the genial Roni Brunn, aka "the Girl From". Previous speakers have included Futurama's David X. Cohen and heaps of smart profs. I'm hoping to match the former for smarts and the later for humour...

Here's the abstract:

Humans can identify that a radio station is playing country music in less than one second (and switch channels!). Although the amorphous details of music and the emotions that it evokes in us are sometimes subjective, there are many concepts (e.g., instrumentation, genre, tempo, ...) that most listeners agree on. Given these statistical regularities, it should be possible to build a machine that can analyze and understand many aspects of music.

I will talk about and demonstrate a computer audition system that understands music. Using signal processing analysis of audio waveforms and machine learning models to identify patterns in the signal, my "musical search and discovery engine" goes beyond artist and song name search and can find "funky music with a horn section for a party" or "jazz saxophone for romancing". The system can also associate new music with relevant semantic tags, creating automatic record reviews. This musical search and discovery engine has many applications for personalized discovery and distribution of all music online.

Finally, I will explain how the data used to train the computer audition system to understand music is collected using an online music annotation game that is about to be launched on Facebook. Bring your laptops and we can all play together!

iLuke API

In my ongoing quest to:
a) get my Facebook music annotation game "Herd It" running and
b) master all web technologies,
this week, I taught myself how to write AJAX apps.

Despite all the buzz I'd heard about this, AJAX is really just one JavaScript function call: XMLHTTPrequest. Basically:
HTML web page has JavaScript
JavaScript has XMLHttpRequest object
XMLHttpRequest object sends requests to a server script (e.g., PHP)
Server responds with XML info
XMLHttpRequest updates to the DOM as it gets new info.

Easy, right?!

I've used this to integrate the iLike API as the music player for Herd It. Now I can play all the (30-second clips of) music we want and not get sued!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Cool Stuff at ISMIR (contd.)

Tuesday began with an excellent panel discussion on commercial applications of MIR work featuring Markus Cremer (Gracenote), Etienne Handman (Pandora), Elias Pampalk (, Anthony Volodkin (Hype Machine) and Brian Whitman (Echonest). Seems like there actually is money to be made out of all this!

Doug Eck and Thierry Bertin-Mahieux presented more great work, this time along with Pierre-Antoine Manzagol. On the Use of Sparse Time-Relative Auditory Codes for Music. Using a greedy gammatone decomosition of music, they were able to represent a spectrum as a sparse, spikey sequence of basis kernels. Then they went further and started trying to learn the kernels for music (ala Lewicki's work on speech and natural audio). Periodic but not sinusoidal, long time kernels seem to be what work best but there's more to come I bet...

Charlie Inskip had a fascinating stories to tell about his experiences of 20 years managing bands that toured the world. One of his tasks was to try to get their music into film, tv and ads. Now he's following an academic path (alas, "everyone gets tired of staying out in bars and clubs til 4am, five nights a week") and is interviewing music supervisors (the people who find the right music for film etc.), film makers and record label people to find out about thier process of using words to describr the type of music they're looking for. Music, Movies and Meaning: Communication in Film-Makers’ Search for Pre-Existing Music, and the Implications for Music Information Retrieval. Right up my street.

Bryan Duggan was the only other Irishman I could find at ISMIR. He had a crowd-pleasing demonstration of his traditional Irish music identification and retrieval system that could listen to his flute playing (realtime, noisy environment), transcribe it, remove ornamentations and match the tune to a database of traditional reels, jigs and hooleys. Nice to see good MIR work happening in Ireland.

The always excellent guys from the Music Technology Group at UPF (give me a job!) showed how to construct structured taxonomies from unordered folksonomies: The Quest for Musical Genres: Do the Experts and the Wisdom of Crowds Agree?

On Wednesday night, there was an excellent concert featuring the Princeton laptop orchestra, led by the crazy Perry Cook and cool Ge Wang. As well as developing a new language for strongly-timed music synthesis and analysis (ChucK), building cool new interfaces for music and composing all this crazy music, these guys have also developed a highly-viral new iPhone app - the Sonic Lighter.

As well as a very well-attended demo of my music annotation game, Herd It, Thursday had cool demos of dancing robots, Oscar Celma's geo-music search engine that lets you create playlists from paths across a globe and Frank and Paul's excellent semantic search engine.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Cool Stuff at ISMIR

I'm at the International Conference on Music Information Retrieval (ISMIR) in Philadelphia where I'm presenting 2 papers:
Combining feature kernels for semantic music retrieval,
5 approaches to collecting tags for music (Doug Turnbull is the first author)

Our entry in the MIREX auto-tagging competition came first in a competitive field of eleven, which is pretty cool.

Also, we're going to be giving the first real-world demo of our upcoming music annotation game "Herd It".

However, tons of other people are doing lots of cool stuff here. Some highlights for me so far are:

Paul Lamere and Elias Pampalk's tutorial on collecting tags for music.
This was another awesome overview that included:
cool work on a Sun, in-house semantic search engine with a really nice interface where you could rescale tags in a cloud to change your query (I've been thinking about this for ages but they've actually done it!)
distance between semantic profiles built from tags powering artist, tag and user similarity and how this can be used to build a structured taxonomy from an unstructure folksonomy.
A survey of 200 users (conducted by Paul and to be published in his upcoming JNMR article) that showed that users prefer music recommendations based on similarity than collaborative filtering.
Paul's even set up a website - - where you can find the slides and more.

Magno & Sabel's paper on perceptual similarity using various music models that showed that MFCC+GMM-derived similarity was preferred to recommendations from or Pandora! (and I think that our system works even better than that)

Masahiro, Takaesu, Demachi, Oono and Saito's work on uses a shoe-sensor to detect "steps per minute" and this communicates with the runner's iPod to play music with the same beats per minute. The presentation included an hilarious video of a determined Japanese researcher testing the system by running on a treadmill but still keeping it formal in shirt and tie! Check out figure 5 in their paper.

Mark Godfrey and Parag Chordia's paper on improving MFCC+GMM modelling by detecting and removing "anti-hubs" (and thereby, also removing hubs) by finding GMM components that are very distant from all other components.

Matt Hoffman, David Blei and Perry Cook's work on hierarchical Dirichlet models of music. I think I finally understand HDPs although I still don't fancy trying to train one...

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Tetrion at the Burn

Among the many, many awesome sights at this year's Burning Man, my favourite has to have been the Tetrion by Jim Abrams - a gigantic, interactive Tetris game.

Imagine the sight of huge tetris blocks glowing from far across the playa. Now you climb a ladder and get on top of one block where each section is 10 feet long - so the 4-block in the centre stands 4-storeys high. And then, the ultimate delight, there is actually a live, playable game being projected onto two sides of the center block! 2 minutes to get as many lines as possible. It was art and fun and overall genius.

And, of course, there was a massive rave there on the night of the burn...

Check out me not doing very well, despite the heckles!

Tetris Installation at Burning Man 2008 from Damien O'Malley on Vimeo.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

I can feel it coming in the air...

Last night was the San Diego regional qualifiers for the US Air Guitar championships. My cousin Cedric has always been the pride of the family, not just because he organizes the whole operation but because he finished 4th in the world Air Guitar Finals in Oulu, Finland in 2004. Obviously, when Cedric called me to say that he was in town on the Air Guitar tour bus (really), I had to go and check it out.

I had an ulterior motive in making the trek out to Viejas Casino and planed to finally fulfill my life's ambition of playing air guitar on stage for legions of screaming fans. A wildcard entry (and a few stiff whiskeys) was all it took and an hour later, my alter-ego "ShredMother" was tuning up the air axe and ready to let rip on of Radiohead's "My Iron Lung". 60 karate-kicking, head-banging, epileptic seconds later, I was smashing my air guitar in front of the baying crowd.

Though physically I gave it everything, I was a little disappointed with my performance. The judges scores of 5.3 / 5.3 / 5.4 (out of 6) were good but not enough to distinguish me from the 30+ entrants and get me into the final 5 and nowhere close to the majesty of the eventual winner (and US champion in 2005) the "Rockness Monster". Maybe a little practice would help next time. The highlight of the evening was getting to rock out for the Freebird finale with none other than (2006 US champ) Hot Lixx and Björn Türoque.


Saturday, May 31, 2008

it's all relative...

Father Ted offers enlightenment on relativism, perception and pedagogy.
One of the best jokes ever.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Highway Sixty One re-revisited is a very cool site that lets artists upload songs and then listeners use points to bump up their favourites.  If you bump songs that become popular (based on all users), you earn more points.  A pretty simple game but a nice way to use the wisdom of the crowd to rate new music and a well-designed site.
Wish I could build it...

Air Jacobs

On Friday, Gert and I presented our approach for tagging all the songs on the web at the von Liebig Center to the Jacob's School Council of Advisors. Despite a slightly buggy demo, it was a great experience and we got to meet some really great people including Hossein Eslambolchi and Taner Halicioglu, the first (non-founder) employee of Facebook - and UCSD alumnus!

That evening, we went to the Jacobs banquet where the theme was "Air Jacobs" - check int desk, hostesses, and Dean Frider Seible flying a huge flight simulator in the ballroom of the Torrey Pines Hilton. Lots of back-slapping and awards speeches but some interesting conversations to with Melinda (HR) and Tony (Mail) from Yahoo! and some insight into getting a web / technology start-up off the ground from UCSD /'s David Kriegman. My 5 key insights:

1) A killer app is more important than having great technology (although you really need both)
2) Inspiration for (1) may need to come from outside your core group: VCs, advisors, etc.
3) You will need to get more good people to help with scaling up networking, coding, design, promo, ...
4) Getting investment will dilute you, reduce your control, distract from tech development and worse. But it's essential (though timing is crucial...)
5) It's going to take luck. But luck improves with effort and intelligent opportunism.

Monday, April 21, 2008

New Music Strategies

My motivation for setting up this blog has been building for weeks but the final straw came from reading Andrew Dubber's post "Do I really have to blog?" on the New Music Strategies site.
It seems that, apart from being a necessity for new bands like my own Audition Laboratory, this could be a good way to disseminate information about my research in Computer Audition as well asinspire ideas for how I can continue to work in the world of music / semantics / web / jive talking once I get my Ph.D from UCSD.

Also, maybe my mum will read it.

first post

I have now gone through the seven stages of blogoholism;
Appreciation and,
and finally become a full-blown blogger.