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Baur, Dominikus (2011): The Songs of Our Past: Visualizing Music Listening Histories. Dissertation, LMU München: Faculty of Mathematics, Computer Science and Statistics
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Abstract

Advancements in technology have resulted in unique changes in the way people interact with music today: Small, portable devices allow listening to it everywhere and provide access to thousands or, via streaming, even millions of songs. In addition, all played tracks can be logged with an accuracy down to the second. So far, these music listening histories are mostly used for music recommendation and hidden from their actual creators. But people may also benefit from this data more directly: as memory extensions that allow retrieving the name of a title, for rediscovering old favorites and reflecting about their lives. Additionally, listening histories can be representations of the implicit relationships between musical items. In this thesis, I discuss the contents of these listening histories and present software tools that give their owners the chance to work with them. As a first approach to understanding the patterns contained in listening histories I give an overview of the relevant literature from musicology, human-computer-interaction and music information retrieval. This literature review identifies the context as a main influence for listening: from the musical and temporal to the demographical and social. I then discuss music listening histories as digital memory extensions and a part of lifelogging data. Based on this notion, I present what an ideal listening history would look like and how close the real-world implementations come. I also derive a design space, centered around time, items and listeners, for this specific type of data and shortcomings of the real-world data regarding the previously identified contextual factors. The main part of this dissertation describes the design, implementation and evaluation of visualizations for listening histories. The first set of visualizations presents listening histories in the context of lifelogging, to allow analysing one’s behavior and reminiscing. These casual information visualizations vary in complexity and purpose. The second set is more concerned with the musical context and the idea that listening histories also represent relationships between musical items. I present approaches for improving music recommendation through interaction and integrating listening histories in regular media players. The main contributions of this thesis to HCI and information visualization are: First, a deeper understanding of relevant aspects and important patterns that make a person’s listening special and unique. Second, visualization prototypes and a design space of listening history visualizations that show approaches how to work with temporal personal data in a lifelogging context. Third, ways to improve recommender systems and existing software through the notion of seeing relationships between musical items in listening histories. Finally, as a meta-contribution, the casual approach of all visualizations also helps in providing non-experts with access to their own data, a future challenge for researchers and practitioners alike.