Multidisciplinary Column: An Interview with Emilia Gómez

Author/Interviewee: Emilia Gómez, Universitat Pompeu Fabra (UPF)
Editor/InterviewerCynthia C. S. Liem, Jochen Huber

Could you tell us a bit about your background, and what the road to your current position was?

I have a technical background in engineering (telecommunication engineer specialized in signal processing, PhD in Computer Science), but I also followed formal musical studies at the conservatory since I was a child. So I think I have an interdisciplinary background.

Could you tell us a bit more about how you have encountered multidisciplinarity and interdisciplinarity both in your work on music information retrieval and your current project on human behavior and machine intelligence?

Music Information Retrieval (MIR) is itself a multidisciplinarity research area intended to help humans better make sense of this data. MIR draws from a diverse set of disciplines, including, but by no means limited to, music theory, computer science, psychology, neuroscience, library science, electrical engineering, and machine learning.

In my current project HUMAINT at the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission, we try to understand the impact that algorithms will have on humans, including our decision making and cognitive capabilities. This challenging topic can only be addressed in a holistic way and by incorporating insights from different disciplines. At our kick-off workshopwe gathered researchers working on distant fields, e.g. from computer science to philosophy, including law, neuroscience and psychology and we realised the need to engage on scientific discussions from different views and perspectives to address human challenges in a holistic way.

What have, in your personal experience, been the main advantages of multidisciplinarity and interdisciplinarity? Have you also encountered any disadvantages or obstacles?

The main advantage I see is the fact that we can combine distinct methodologies to generate new insights. For researchers, the fact of stepping out a discipline’s comfort zone makes us more creative and innovative.

One disadvantage is the fact that when you work on a multidisciplinary field you seem not to fit into traditional academic standards. In my case, I am perceived as a musician by engineers and as an engineer by musicians.

Beyond the academic community, your work also closely connects to interests by diverse types of stakeholders (e.g. industry, policy-makers). In your opinion, what are the most challenging aspects for an academic to operate in such a diverse stakeholder environment?

The most challenging part of diverse teams is communication, e.g. being able to speak the same language (we might need to create interdisciplinary glossaries!) and explain about our research in an accessible way so that it is understood by people with diverse backgrounds and expertises.

Regarding your work on music, you often have been speaking about making all music accessible to everyone. What do you consider the grand research challenges regarding this mission?

Many MIR researchers desire that technology can be used to make all music accessible to everyone, i.e. that our algorithms can help people discover new music, develop a varied musical taste and make them open to new music and, at the same time, to new ideas and cultures. We often talk of our desire that MIR algorithms help people discover music in the so called ´long tail`, i.e. music that is not so popular or present in the mainstream scenario. I believe the variety of music styles reflect the variety of human beings, e.g. in terms of culture, personalities and ideas. Through music we can then enrich our culture and understanding.

As the newly elected president of the ISMIR society, are there any specific missions regarding the community you would like to emphasize?

I have had the chance to work with an amazing ISMIR board over the last years, an incredible group of people willing to contribute to our community with their talent and time. With this team is very easy to work! 

This year, ISMIR is organizing its 19th edition (yes, we are getting old)! There are many challenges at ISMIR that we as a community should address, but at the moment I would like to emphasize some relevant aspects that are now somehow a priority for the board.

The first one is to maintain and expand its scientific excellence, as ISMIR should continue to provide key scientific advancements in our field. In this respect, we have recently launched our open access journal Transactions of ISMIR to foster the publication of more deep and mature research works in our area.

The second one is to promote variety in our community, e.g. in terms of discipline, gender or geographical location, also related to music culture and repertoire. In this respect, and thanks to our members, we have promoted ISMIR taking place at different locations, including editions in Asia (e.g. 2014 in Taipei, Taiwan, and 2017 in Suzhou, China).

Other aspects we put into value is reproducibility, openness and accessibility. In this sense, our priority is to maintain affordable registration rates, taking advantage of sponsorships from our industrial members, and devote our membership fees to provide travel funds for students or other members in need to attend ISMIR.

How and in what form do you feel we as academics can be most impactful?

The academic environment gives you a lot of flexibility and freedom to define research roadmaps, although there are always some dependencies on funding. In addition, academia provides time  to reflect and go deep into problems that are not directly related to a product in a short-term. In the technological field, academia has the potential to advance technologies by focusing on deeper understanding of why these technologies work well or not, e.g. through theoretical analysis or comprehensive evaluation

You also have been very engaged in missions surrounding Women in STEM, for example through the Women in MIR initiatives. In discussions on fostering diversity, the importance of role models is frequently mentioned. How can we be good role models?

Yes, I have become more and more concerned about the lack of opportunities that women have in our field with respect to their male colleagues. In this sense, Women in MIR is playing a major role in promoting the role and opportunities of women in our field, including a mentoring program, funding for women to attend ISMIR, and the creation of a public repository of female researchers to make them more visible and present.

I think women are already great role models in their different profiles, but they lack visibility with respect to their male colleagues.


Dr. Emilia Gómez graduated as a Telecommunication Engineer at Universidad de Sevilla and studied piano performance at the Seville Conservatoire of Music, Spain. She then received a DEA in Acoustics, Signal Processing and Computer Science applied to Music at IRCAM, Paris and a PhD in Computer Science at Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona (2006). She has been visiting researcher at the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm (Marie Curie Fellow, 2003), McGill University, Montreal (AGAUR competitive fellowship. 2010), and Queen Mary University of London (José de Castillejos competitive fellowship, 2015). After her PhD, she was first a lecturer in Sonology at the Higher School of Music of Catalonia and then joined the Music Technology Group, Department of Information and Communication Technologies,  Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, Spain, first as an assistant professor and then as an associate professor (2011) and ICREA Academia fellow (2015). In 2017, she became the first female president of the International Society for Music Information Retrieval, and in January 2018, she joined the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission as Lead Scientist of the HUMAINT project, studying the impact of machine intelligence into human behavior.

Editor Biographies

Cynthia_Liem_2017Dr. Cynthia C. S. Liem is an Assistant Professor in the Multimedia Computing Group of Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands, and pianist of the Magma Duo. She initiated and co-coordinated the European research project PHENICX (2013-2016), focusing on technological enrichment of symphonic concert recordings with partners such as the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. Her research interests consider music and multimedia search and recommendation, and increasingly shift towards making people discover new interests and content which would not trivially be retrieved. Beyond her academic activities, Cynthia gained industrial experience at Bell Labs Netherlands, Philips Research and Google. She was a recipient of the Lucent Global Science and Google Anita Borg Europe Memorial scholarships, the Google European Doctoral Fellowship 2010 in Multimedia, and a finalist of the New Scientist Science Talent Award 2016 for young scientists committed to public outreach.



jochen_huberDr. Jochen Huber is a Senior User Experience Researcher at Synaptics. Previously, he was an SUTD-MIT postdoctoral fellow in the Fluid Interfaces Group at MIT Media Lab and the Augmented Human Lab at Singapore University of Technology and Design. He holds a Ph.D. in Computer Science and degrees in both Mathematics (Dipl.-Math.) and Computer Science (Dipl.-Inform.), all from Technische Universität Darmstadt, Germany. Jochen’s work is situated at the intersection of Human-Computer Interaction and Human Augmentation. He designs, implements and studies novel input technology in the areas of mobile, tangible & non-visual interaction, automotive UX and assistive augmentation. He has co-authored over 60 academic publications and regularly serves as program committee member in premier HCI and multimedia conferences. He was program co-chair of ACM TVX 2016 and Augmented Human 2015 and chaired tracks of ACM Multimedia, ACM Creativity and Cognition and ACM International Conference on Interface Surfaces and Spaces, as well as numerous workshops at ACM CHI and IUI. Further information can be found on his personal homepage:

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