The “Fingerprint Algorithm” project

Posted by lrisk on March 20, 2015

Here is a PDF of the presentation that Lillio Mok and I gave today at the Workshop on Digital Musicology: Revisiting the Collaborative Process Between Music Researchers and Computer Programmers. Thanks to CIRMMT (Research Axis 2) for hosting the conference and to Dr. Frans Wiering, the workshop keynote, for his insightful comments. The attached PDF combines our Powerpoint from today with a more detailed presentation that we gave to the ELVIS group a few weeks ago.

Some background on the project:

I’m a doctoral candidate in musicology at McGill, and Lillio Mok is an undergraduate student in Computer Science. We started working on this algorithm in summer 2014.

My dissertation research focuses on traditional music in Quebec, and particularly on some of the musical and cultural shifts that occurred in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and that helped define traditional music (usually called “musique folklorique” or “musique nationale” at the time) as we know it today. Part of my dissertation looks at the commercial recordings of the 1920s. These 78s were the first large-scale documentation of what is now considered the canonical instrumental repertoire of traditional music in Quebec.

There are hundreds of early commercial recordings, so in my dissertation proposal I suggested creating an online musical index (similar to the Scottish Music Index). I wanted to be able to musically search for tunes that had been recorded by more than one artist. This meant searching not only for identical musical material, but also for similar musical material, because many tunes were re-recorded with a substantial degree of melodic and rhythmic variation.

Prof. Julie Cumming suggested I work with a computer programmer – Lillio – on this part of my dissertation, and ELVIS generously funded our collaboration. You can see the preliminary results in this PDF. Please feel free to email me at with any questions or suggestions. This is still very much a work in progress!