Tuesday 20 October 2009

Wittgenstein Award: Gerhard Widmer (!!)

The Wittgenstein award is kind of like the Austrian version of the Nobel prize. It's worth €1.5M and the most prestigious research award I'm aware of. Yesterday Gerhard Widmer received the prize for his outstanding research work.

Gerhard is one of the hardest working I know, he has an amazing talent of communicating research to non-researchers, creating very productive work environments, and bringing the right people together. Also he has conducted, supervised, and inspired lots of great research. He also gave me my first (paid) job in MIR and supervised my PhD. I've learned a lot from him and I'm very grateful. So I'm particularly happy to see Gerhard received this award he well deserves.

My favorite daily newspaper wrote about it. And here's a quick, shortened, and far from accurate translation of what they wrote:

Frustrations and Fortunes with Ludwig van Beethoven

Among Gerhard Widmer's favorite music you find Beethoven's piano sonatas. He doesn't have a preferred interpret. For some phrases he prefers Friedrich Gulda, for others Alfred Brendel, or other pianists.

It is also Beethoven who is to blame that Gerhard did not pursue a career as musician and instead became a internationally renowned researcher on algorithms to study music. Work for which he was now awarded with the Wittgenstein prize.

Gerhard was an early talent but gave up his career as pianist after frustrations with Beethoven's sonatas as a teenager. Instead he took a quick dip in Jazz and more or less randomly ended up studying computer science.

He received an MSc in Vienna and at the University of Wisconsin. It was also in Wisconsin that Gerhard briefly returned to the Jazz piano. Back in Vienna he completed his PhD in computer science which finalized his career as researcher.

Gerhard's research started with analyzing the performances of a single artist and as a side effect he tried to teach computers to interpret music. Later his group started focusing on developing algorithms that enable organizing and retrieving content from very large music collections. The work of his group can also be found in the newest devices by Bang & Olufsen.

Music has always been more than just a research subject to Gerhard. And he says that the scientific analysis of music does not take away any of its magic - instead it makes the music even more beautiful when you start to understand its structure.

1 comment:

fabien gouyon said...

Amazing! Although very much deserved! Congratulations to Gerhard!!