- Demos and Late-Breaking Session of the Thirteenth International Society for Music Information Retrieval Conference (ISMIR 2012)
Boasting over 200 attendees from around the globe, the International Society of Music Information Retrieval (ISMIR) concluded its 13th annual conference in Porto, Portugal in October. Although light rain early in the week ostensibly ensured that attendees would remain inside the stunning São Bento da Vitória Monastery, better weather would later indicate the conditions had nothing to do with it. The seemingly unanimous sentiment at the close of the conference deemed this captivating event a great success. Congratulations to the conference co-chairs, Fabien Gouyon and Carlos Guedes, and their entire organizing team.
One of the advantages of being a young and evolving community is the ability to adapt easily to new ideas.
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Manifested in terms of program content, the 13th ISMIR Conference saw an increase in attention to non-Western music, the role of humans in MIR systems, and meta-analyses of evaluation methods. The community was also able to explore different approaches to organizing the conference itself, experimenting with an exciting new format for the now annual Demos and Late-breaking session (D&L).
The original intent of the D&L, first organized in 2008 at the Ninth ISMIR Conference, was to provide a forum for research that either had not coalesced in time to be considered for the main conference, or would be better suited to a show-and-tell format. Smaller in scope and attendance, previous iterations of the D&L consisted of peer-reviewed submissions treated with as much flexibility as a poster session. The event was usually scheduled on the final day of the conference, which, because of travel itineraries and general conference fatigue, made it somewhat difficult to generate significant buzz about the session.
This year, to shake things up a bit, the organizers decided to try something slightly different. In lieu of a more orthodox approach wherein presenters present to an audience, they created an "unconference," which emphasized discussion, interaction, and the spontaneous flow of ideas. Stemming from the first BarCamp held in Palo Alto, California, in 2005, the "unconference" format contains several antithetical characteristics to the traditional conference mentality of by-few-for-many.
First and foremost, there is no true central organization at any scale, but rather there are individuals who facilitate the organic growth of the event. As a result, there is no formal review prior to the session. Instead, a public wiki is used beforehand to compile ideas and possible topics of interest that groups might discuss. The wiki for this event was launched about one month before the conference, and was by and large maintained by its users. Much like a garden, however, it was useful to intervene in the sheer organic growth of ideas, at one point clustering disparate thoughts [End Page 91] into several distinct groups. This had two direct outcomes for the event: It gave interested parties an idea of who might, or could, assume the role of facilitator, and it connected individuals beforehand with shared interests.
Probably the most crucial aspect of planning a BarCamp, however, is in the selection of the venue itself. In recent years, ISMIR conferences drew approximately 200 attendees, so a reasonable upper attendance limit for the D&L session seemed to be around half of that number. The ideal space for a BarCamp is one that offers several rooms of different size, to appropriately accommodate the needs of different groups, while offering a sufficiently large common area to serve as a hub of activity. In Porto, the Maus Hábitos restaurant and bar matched these needs exactly, while additionally serving refreshments in a hip, casual atmosphere.
Building from this preliminary coordination, the actual session only began to take shape on-site, arranged by the participants themselves. Consistent with common BarCamp practice, the...