What is your background?
I have a Master of Science in Engineering in Media Technology from KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, where I specialized in sound, as well as a PhD in Sound and Music Computing from KTH. I am also an amateur musician, I am classically trained in piano and violin.
What sparked your interest in following this path?
I have always been very interested in physics and music, and I wanted to combine these two fields in my professional life. Media Technology is a broad program including courses in creative aspects of technology, alongside the regular engineering courses. The program also included courses in image- and video technology, as well as many courses on topics related to sound and music. I had so much fun taking those music tech courses that I realized that I wanted to focus more on sound and music technology. During the last year of my master’s program at KTH I enrolled in an exchange program in Montréal, where I completed my master’s thesis project at the Input Devices and Music Interaction Laboratory (IDMIL) at McGill University. This is also a big part of why I later decided to do a PhD; I really enjoyed working in that research environment.
And in music?
I have studied music since I was eight years old and played in bands and orchestras since I was rather young. I grew up playing Swedish folk music and got more into pop and electronic music when I was a teenager. I think my interest in musical instruments was further deepened in upper secondary school, but at that point I also realized that I wanted a technical degree. Today, coming from an engineering background, I would describe myself as an amateur musician and an engineer.
What are your experiences being a woman in the music technology field?
I did not reflect upon being a woman in this environment until I was about halfway through my PhD. I found myself presenting at conferences, noticing that there were rather few women present in the conference rooms. When you stand there at the podium, looking out at the audience, you get a glimpse of the actual representation in the field. From that point, I started thinking a lot more about the fact that there were so few women. This motivated me to look more deeply into the structures that perhaps prevent people from approaching the field of music technology. In general, I think that people in this field are very open to discussing aspects related to inclusion and diversity. When you raise any concerns or you have any suggestions of what could be done to make the research environment a more inclusive space, people are open to new ways of working. There is a genuine interest in discussing how we could broaden participation, and how we could make it possible for everyone to more easily get access to the field.
Did you have any role models or mentors?
I was inspired by my professors at the Speech, Music and Hearing department at KTH. I have also met many people at conferences and other events that have inspired me in my work. I have been lucky to cross paths with people that I really admire, who are not only great scientists, but also allies, demonstrating how to pursue a career in research without compromising one aspect over the other. I have been very fortunate to have had the chance to meet strong women, who have also become my friends, and I believe that these friendships have influenced my work.
Would you like to introduce more closely what you are currently working on?
I am currently doing postdoctoral work at L’Institut de recherche et coordination acoustique/musique (IRCAM) financed by an international postdoctoral grant hosted by KTH. It is a mixed setup, where I am based at IRCAM in Paris, but I am also part of the Sound and Music Computing group at KTH. My research focuses primarily on inclusive sonic interaction design and how music technology can promote health, diversity, and inclusion. The aim of the postdoc project is to try to improve access to music-making and sound- and music technology through design. The project is about Accessible Digital Musical Instruments (ADMIs), and how you can design Digital Musical Instruments to be more inclusive and accessible by incorporating haptic feedback and methods for customization, using data-driven methods and machine learning tools. More broadly, the aim of this project is to try to understand the limitations of existing music technology and how those limitations are preventing people from active participation in music-making.
How will you realize the development?
I will work on this project for a total of three years. It is divided into separate parts, the first part focuses more on haptic representations of music and the second part will focus more on customizability and how interactive machine learning can be used in ADMIs. The idea is to develop prototypes for specific user groups and to run smaller case studies with these groups. This will be followed by work investigating how these interfaces can be enhanced using machine learning tools, to make the interaction more customizable. The research also involves exploring how these tools could be used for sound synthesis and control in an ADMI context. This year I have primarily focused on a project with students with complex needs, investigating if and how haptic feedback could be useful in musical interactions for this group. A lot of the work in this project is practical, where I myself first build the technical systems or platforms. However, since the idea is to build interfaces for specific user groups, considerable time is also dedicated to understanding the users. The work is very multidisciplinary as it involves working together with the students and the music pedagogues to understand user needs and music preferences.
What are the technical tools you use?
I am using many different tools as I have multiple projects going on at the same time. Depending on what I’m working on, I mostly use Python, MAX/MSP, Supercollider, and R.
Do you already have plans after finishing up this research; do you know where to go after?
No, no, I don’t. I only started at IRCAM in October 2020, so this is all rather new to me. Also being at IRCAM, there’s so much stuff going on and a lot to explore. I don’t really have a long-term plan. I think I have never really had a long-term plan. People have asked me “so what was your plan with the PhD?”. But I have never really had any detailed plan, apart from the fact that I know that I want to do things that I enjoy, and I want to have fun. I think that the main thing that has guided me when it comes to my career path is that I want to work with things that are meaningful, meaning that I would like to spend my time on something that - hopefully - will have at least some kind of practical impact.
What advice would you give to a woman interested in pursuing a career in music technology?
That is a good question. I think that I would just say that if you want to do it, just do it. It is a great field to work in, since it is so multidisciplinary, and there is a range of people doing many different things, coming from different creative practices. I think it is also a really good field to be in to learn new things, since technology is changing so rapidly. I would also advise you not to be worried if you are not coming exactly from the specific background that you think is needed, since most people in the field are actually learning new things all the time, and the area is very multidisciplinary. Apart from that, I would just suggest you to trust your gut feeling. If you feel that there is something that you are passionate about working on, just do it. If you meet someone that you have overlapping interests with, who is doing exciting research, don’t hesitate to reach out to them and start a discussion.
This interview was conducted online on May 4th, 2021
Frid, E. (2019) Diverse Sounds: Enabling Inclusive Sonic Interaction. Link: http://urn.kb.se/resolve?urn=urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-265159 PhD thesis, KTH Royal Institue of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden.
Emma Frid’s website https://emmenru.github.io/