Wittgenstein Award Winner Gerhard Widmer Presented with an Additional Prestigious Award

Widmer's work in AI and music was selected as the 2021 Falling Walls ‘Science Breakthrough of the Year’.

Professor Widmer and his piano
Professor Widmer and his piano

A tremendous accomplishment for AI researcher Gerhard Widmer (Johannes Kepler University Linz): This evening, his work in the field of artificial intelligence and music will be selected as the 2021 Falling Walls ‘Science Breakthrough of the Year’ in the category of Art and Science.

Over 1,000 nominations for seven categories were submitted from 115 countries for review. "Breaking the Wall to Computational Expressivity in Music Performance" by Wittgenstein Award-winner Gerhard Widmer (head of the JKU Institute for Computational Perception) was among the hopeful applicants.

As part of his ERC (European Research Council) project "Con Espressione", Widmer and his team successfully created the first natural-looking musical co-performance between humans and computers. The "ACCompanion" is a computer system that plays piano pieces together with human pianists and is able to not only synchronize the piece together with the human players, but also adapt to the pianist’s emotional style of playing and expressively interpret its own musical role. By means of artificial intelligence and machine learning, Widmer and his team succeeded in making the computer “understand” musical expression.

The foundation includes learning algorithms that can analyze the unique interpretation patterns as part of the pianists’ recordings, thereby learning more about the general principles of expressive (piano) playing. The team used a unique data source, namely the complete piano works by Frederic Chopin recorded by the Russian master pianist Nikita Magaloff during the 1980s on a Bösendorfer computer grand piano. Widmer’s team painstakingly reconstructed the piece note-by-note and touch-by-touch. Algorithms to "listen" were added, enabling the "ACCompanion" to not only to follow and synchronize with the soloists, but also foresee and predict certain musical decisions to detect what the human pianist expressively and intentionally was playing so it could adapt its own way of playing accordingly.

Gerhard Widmer specified: "Naturally this type of research is not intended to create artificial concert pianists, but instead conduct very pure base-knowledge research and acquire new insight into the complex art of musical interpretation. In our case, by using quantitative methods and machine learning."

Breakthrough award winners will be presented with their awards this evening at the 2021 Falling Walls Summit in Berlin. The ceremony will feature a live visual and audio performance by the "ACCompanion".

Widmer added: "I think it's nice to have these kinds of scientific awards that draw attention to the close relationship between science and art – it’s something the public does not often get to see. The nature of research and the media is to always associate these kinds of awards with a particular name. I am delighted to be receiving the award, but the hard work and excellence of an entire team stands behind it and my amazing team members deserve the real recognition."

JKU Rector Meinhard Lukas is pleased about the award and remarked: "Throughout the history of mankind, there are always two defining traits: curiosity and the drive to artistically express oneself. Curiosity introduced us to science, art has resulted in painting, literature and, of course, music. Prof. Widmer's research combines the two. As a scientist, he conducts research at the very limits of what is attainable today; his artistic interests influence his approach to technology and he fully understands it is a part of the world we live in. By winning the ‘Science Breakthrough of the Year’ award, he will garner additional international recognition of his very diverse and unique perspective. I would like to congratulate Prof. Widmer and his team."

Renowned Conference
The Falling Walls Science Summit is a leading international, interdisciplinary and intersectoral forum for scientific breakthroughs and scientific dialogue between renowned global science leaders and society. The scientific breakthroughs will be presented in the German capital on November 9, 2021, the anniversary of the peaceful fall of the Berlin Wall.


Learn more about “Con Espressione”: https://www.jku.at/en/institute-of-computational-perception/research/projects/con-espressione/, opens an external URL in a new window

Video on the subject (3 min): https://falling-walls.com/discover/videos/how-computational-music-contributes-to-a-deeper-understanding-of-expressivity-in-music/, opens an external URL in a new window

2021 Falling Walls Press Release (featuring all of the award winners): https://falling-walls.com/press-releases/109869/, opens an external URL in a new window

2021 Falling Walls Summit (livestream): https://falling-walls.com/science-summit-2021, opens an external URL in a new window

[Translate to Englisch:]