The History of ISMIR - A Short Happy Tale
Donald Byrd and Michael Fingerhut

D-Lib Magazine, Vol. 8 No. 11 ISSN: 1082-9873

The ISMIR series of conferences grew from a conjunction of three losely-related events which occurred in late 1999.

1. Perhaps the most important factor was OMRAS (Online Music Recognition and Searching), a three-year project for which funding had been granted by the International Digital Libraries programs run by JISC (UK) and NSF (US) as a collaboration between the Center for Intelligent Information Retrieval at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst (US) and King's College London (UK). The US team was led by Donald Byrd, the UK team by Tim Crawford.

In the spring of 1999, Stephen M. Griffin, as program director for the NSF Digital Libraries Initiative Phase 2 (DLI2), notified Byrd that he would receive the full funding he had requested for the US part of OMRAS, but informally requested that he organize a workshop on music information retrieval (music IR) as part of the project.

2. That August, the Fourth ACM Digital Library Conference (DL'99) was held in Berkeley, CA, and followed immediately by the ACM SIGIR'99 conference, held at the same place. J. Stephen Downie (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign), David Huron (Ohio State University), and Craig Nevill-Manning (then of Rutgers University) had organized a small workshop on music IR at SIGIR 99, and Downie was already thinking of a larger-scale meeting as a follow-on event to that.

Byrd attended DLí99, where he met Downie. With the encouragement of Bruce Croft, director of the Center for Intelligent Information Retrieval and a very well-known researcher in the text IR world, they decided to join forces to plan a larger-scale event instead of a workshop in the normal sense. UMass subsequently submitted to NSF a proposal to fund the "International Symposium on Music Information Retrieval" (ISMIR) as a supplementary grant to OMRAS.

3. Later that year, Crawford, together with Carola Boehm (Performing Arts Data Service, Glasgow University), organized another early workshop on music IR -- this as part of the "Digital Resources for the Humanities" conference held in London in September 1999.

NSF approved the UMass proposal, and the first International Symposium on Music Information Retrieval (whence the acronym ISMIR; web site: took place in Plymouth, Massachusetts in October 2000, with Byrd as general chair and Downie as program chair, and with the heavy involvment of Crawford in its organization. The full organizing committee also included Croft and Nevill-Manning. At this meeting, Michael Fingerhut (IRCAM - Centre Pompidou, Paris), who had also taken part in both the preceding workshops, offered to create and host a mailing list for interested participants of the conference, and this is how the music-ir mailing list came into being. The principle of alternating the annual meeting each year between the Americas and elsewhere was established at that time. Later that year, Fingerhut was invited to join the ISMIR committee (now called the ISMIR steering committee), and presented IRCAMís candidacy for hosting a future ISMIR.

ISMIR 2001 ( took place at Indiana University (IU), Bloomington, in October of the following year, with Downie as general chair and David Bainbridge (University of Waikato, New Zealand) as program chair, and with the financial help of an NSF supplemental grant to the IU "Variations2" Digital Music Library Project. Jon Dunn of IU joined the ISMIR committee at this point; he was followed by Ichiro Fujinaga (then of the Peabody Conservatory of Music, Baltimore, US), Holger Hoos (University of British Columbia, Canada) and Kjell LemstrŲm (University of Helsinki, Finland). It was also decided then to replace the word "symposium" by "conference" but keep the acronym unchanged, as it was becoming quite well-known.

 ISMIR 2002, the Third International Conference on Music Information Retrieval (, took place at IRCAM in Paris, in October 2002, with Fingerhut as general chair and Crawford as papers and posters committee chair, with the continued financial help of the NSF through Indiana University, as well as that of the City Hall of Paris through its deputy mayor for new technologies and research, Ms. DaniŤle Auffray, and of the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS).

ISMIR 2003 will be jointly hosted by the Library of Congress and Johns Hopkins University, and co-chaired by Susan Manus (LoC) and Sayeed Choudhury (JHU). A call for sites for ISMIR 2004 (outside of the Americas), 2005 (in the Americas) and 2006 (outside of the Americas) is being issued.

The above graph shows the very rapid increase in the identified music information retrieval community (through the music-ir mailing list) and of attendance and contents at ISMIR; it reflects growing interest in this area from both academia and industry, and a continued increase in outreach to related disciplines.