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Re: Music Notation on the Web

From: Joseph Berkovitz <joe@noteflight.com>
Date: Fri, 10 Dec 2010 21:19:37 -0500
Cc: <public-xg-audio@w3.org>
Message-Id: <7F5DDFA4-ECE4-4D5A-9178-5558141B9317@noteflight.com>
To: "Cutler, Roger (RogerCutler)" <RogerCutler@chevron.com>
Hi folks,

As a creator of web-based music notation editing software, I welcome a  
discussion on this topic, but with a large caution on its breadth and  
depth. Semantic representation of music is such a complex area that  
it's very likely to occupy the full bandwidth of any group that takes  
up the challenge, and then some. I believe that music notation, if  
addressed by the W3C, will almost certainly consume the full attention  
of a single XG or WG.  I would of course be very pleased to  
participate in the discussion or in groups that spin off.

It's also necessary to mention that my fellow Audio XG member Michael  
Good has devoted much of his career to successfully developing and  
promulgating the MusicXML standard in industry and academia. There are  
few people as qualified than Michael to be part of this discussion. So  
there are at least two folks on this group with a strong interest, and  
there may well be more.

Now, as Michael stated in his response, that there is already a widely  
adopted standard in the notation world, namely MusicXML which his  
company Recordare owns. It is the de facto interchange standard today  
for most music notation applications.  One might even take the  
position that MusicXML's status on the ground in the community is such  
that a separate W3C standards effort is unnecessary. Personally, I  
would not go that far: my opinion is that a W3C standard for music  
notation could possibly be a good thing, but that such a standard  
would do very well to look at MusicXML as a starting point (and as a  
potential ending point also, in that W3C could bless MusicXML as the  
standard itself and carry its evolution forward). Whatever the  
potential of a new standard might be, MusicXML reflects a lot of  
information and wisdom accumulated over its lifetime and is pretty  
well burned into the ecosystem today.

Insofar as this group is concerned, I would very much like to see the  
work on the Audio API be completed before commencing a challenge as  
substantial as music notation. It would be great to start to discuss  
it, but we should all be aware that some of the ratholes will be miles  
deep, and the implementation mountain will be miles high. Let me  
explain further by way of commenting on a few points from the thread  
that Roger just posted:

> Wouldn't it be nice to be able to publish music in a way that the  
> CONTENT, as opposed to the formatting, could be picked up and used?   
> Isn't that kind of in the spirit of the Web?  And isn't it also kind  
> of in the spirit of the Web to worry about the content before you  
> start messing around with binary streams and images?

I share this enthusiasm for representing semantic musical content on  
the Web -- it's my mission too, and what my company is all about.  
However, it is not the case that binary audio streams are necessarily  
a "formatting" of such content, any more than pixels are necessarily  
"formatted text".  Audio is a primary medium, much of whose content  
can not be derived from semantic notation by either a human or a  
machine. Much music is never notated in the first place. Although I am  
a musician with a traditional conservatory background, I strongly  
believe that supporting pure sound generation on the Web is a valid  
and essential musical enterprise in and of itself.  Programmatic audio  
and music notation content are complementary, and it's not at all a  
cart-before-the-horse situation.

Furthermore, audio support will help music notation take many  
important steps towards becoming a first-class citizen on the web.  
While music notation viewing could (with considerable effort) become  
somewhat standardized in browsers, music notation editing is likely to  
remain a diverse space with many disparate approaches. Any Web-based  
notation editor will absolutely require good programmatic audio  
support in order to be at all functional (and one of my primary  
motivations in working with the Audio group is to allow the Web to  
support such editors).

> [NOTE  There ARE companies involved with music notation and  
> publishing, but they are not in the W3C.  Id really like to reach  
> out to them and try to involve them in this effort, and I have some  
> ideas how to make that attractive, or at least how NOT to make it  
> UNattractive  Roger]

At least *some* are in the W3C, already ;)

> Getting support for maths in Web content was similarly backed by
> centuries of cultural heritage; but that alone wasn't enough to make
> it a major priority for all browser-makers... [snip]

The effort involved in properly rendering even a basic subset of  
conventional Western music notation is unreasonably large, for a  
number of issues that aren't appropriate to go into here.  Music  
notation has accreted from centuries' worth of experimentation across  
various cultural shifts, shaped by the quirks of human visual  
cognition. Due to the implementation effort, I share this concern that  
browser-makers might simply ignore this area, unless there's a strong  
case that music notation on the Web will have a broad audience  
comparable to that for the other modern browser feature sets.

On the whole I'd like to see a Web standard for music notation emerge,  
when it can do so successfully with strong backing from the industry  
and from the W3C.  Development of such a standard would probably  
fertilize the software/music ecosystem for a very long time to come,  
if the standard achieves a high level of acceptance. Let's just  
proceed carefully and thoughtfully, with respect for the effort level  
required, and the history of past efforts, and do it right.


... .  .    .       Joe

Joe Berkovitz
Noteflight LLC
84 Hamilton St, Cambridge, MA 02139
phone: +1 978 314 6271

Received on Saturday, 11 December 2010 02:20:14 UTC

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