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Polifonia: how to uncover the soundtrack of Europe

Since January 2021, Sound & Vision has been part of a European effort that aims to facilitate the unlocking of musical treasures hidden in European archives: Polifonia. The 3M€ project, funded by the EU Horizon 2020 program, is now halfway through - an ideal time to reflect on what has been achieved so far.

Since January 2021, Sound & Vision has been part of a European effort that aims to facilitate the unlocking of musical treasures hidden in European archives: Polifonia. The 3M€ project, funded by the EU Horizon 2020 program, is now halfway through - an ideal time to reflect on what has been achieved so far.

Polifonia logo and woman with a harp instrument.

Polifonia logo.

Polifonia will not publish a research paper with definitive answers on European musical history, instead it uncovers ‘the soundtrack of Europe’ by developing the tools that allow researchers to search these answers themselves. Polifonia will build a Knowledge Graph that connects musical data and lets users explore how, e.g.  musical works are related. That is useful, because currently many music data are isolated from each other, and many institutions do not have the means to display this data in a useful way. In Polifonia 10 consortium members spread their expertise over 6 work packages and 10 pilots to reach above ambitions. Sound & Vision takes part in the development work in WP2 (Knowledge Graphs) and WP5 (Human Interaction with Musical Heritage) and leads WP6 (Dissemination of Results).

Webpage of Polifonia showing "Play the soundtrack of European Music Heritage"


Within this technology driven project, common issues of data science are central, such as how to successfully link metadata. But also more specifically the Artificial Intelligence-driven Music Information Retrieval processes and its challenges in Recommender and Melodic/Tonal/Lyrical similarities Retrieval Systems. Many major platforms in the music industry (Soundcloud, Spotify, Deezer, etc)  also use this type of technology to connect music. However, the development of this type of technology in the academic sphere - such as Polifonia’s -  has the advantage of being done in an open access environment.  

Polifonia webportal menu showing "Feed, Tuner mode, Data and About".

For Sound & Vision, this project is a vessel full of opportunities: we challenge ourselves in perfecting the craft of Knowledge Graph building and get to know the parties who tackle music data with state-of-the art techniques, who are not only our heritage colleagues but also major players in industry. The project is also expected to make a lasting impression, as it triggers Sound & Vision to think more deeply about what we can do with our music data in the future.

Polyfonia Ecosystem webpage.


Recently Polifonia showed the first graphic impressions of the Web Portal prototype (a website that will give access to the Knowledge Graph) and the first version of the Polifonia Ecosystem (a toolbox that gives access to all datasets and software that Polifonia will produce). These tools support extraction, interlinking, classification and exploration of musical heritage knowledge. Polifonia Ecosystem components are both independent, but can also be used together in order to satisfy specific end-user needs. 

At Sound & Vision, our developers are focusing on two key aspects. Mari Wigham is working to describe our own music collections, to link them to other collections (such as Wikidata) and to make the result available as usable linked data, so that these collections can be plugged into the Polifonia Knowledge Graph. So far, she has described the Sound & Vision collection ‘Muziekopnamen Zendgemachtigden’, made this available to the Polifonia Knowledge Graph via a SPARQL endpoint, and explored some of its contents in a data story created using the Polifonia MELODY editor.

Philo van Kemenade has been investigating human-computer interaction patterns to give researchers exploratory access to cultural heritage collections. In this, he builds on his earlier work on Generous Interfaces for audiovisual collections. Generous Interfaces help users find their way to interesting parts of a collection by revealing its scale and variety by offering tools for navigation. The connected nature of linked data that we are dealing with in Polifonia offers exciting opportunities for such exploratory interfaces. We ran two co-design sessions with media researchers, who underlined the value of exploratory interfaces. 

Dissemination & early adopters

The first year of WP6 was dedicated to building the Polifonia brand. I continued this work in the second year, with the help of Max Tiel, including the new task of building a stakeholder network. In the summer of 2022 we connected with these early adopters, and added 30 stakeholders from 15 different countries to our network.

During in-depth presentations by Deezer,, Musica 2, PRISM, University of Leuven and Philharmonie de Paris at our hybrid meeting in Paris (September 2022), insight was gained into the problems that research, heritage and industry organizations face when working with music data, and how Polifonia technology could potentially help solve them. Later this year we will further deepen the stakeholders’ relation with the pilots.

By the spring of 2024 Polifonia will offer an interconnected European database on the web- an AI-driven Knowledge Graph that will enhance our understanding of European musical heritage- and an Ecosystem for those building on the technologies developed within the project. Polifonia also plans to organise demo sessions at relevant interdisciplinary festivals and other platforms, to make sure every music lover will hear about the soundtrack of Europe. Stay tuned!

The consortium

Università di Bologna, The Open University, King’s College London, National University of Ireland Galway, Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali e per il Turismo, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers, Netherlands Institute for Sound & Vision, Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen, Digital Paths.


Contact us for stakeholder membership or dissemination collaborations:

You can find @PolifoniaH2020 on Twitter and LinkedIn