Assistant Professor Dorien Herremans talks to #WeAreSUTD about pursuing her passion in the male-dominated world of music and machine-learning

How do you know if a song would become a hit on the music charts? How can background music be tailored to suit your mood or location? How can a machine transcribe music played by a human?

These are some of the many questions that excite Assistant Professor Dorien Herremans in the field of music information retrieval, which deals with music-related data.

Dorien joined SUTD’s Information Systems Technology and Design (ISTD) Pillar less than two years ago and heads the SUTD Game Lab. She has a joint-appointment at A*STAR’s Institute of High Performance Computing, and also works as a certified instructor for the NVIDIA Deep Learning Institute.

Before coming to SUTD, she was a recipient of the prestigious Marie Sklodowska-Curie Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Centre for Digital Music at Queen Mary University of London, where she worked on MorpheuS, an automatic music generation system driven by machine learning.

Her current research interests lie in the intersection of music and artificial intelligence, or AI.

Although her field is dominated by men, Dorien says gender was never a problem.

“I’ve always been intrigued by how things work, so it was an easy choice for me to enrol in engineering studies. At no point did I ever consider that my gender might be an inhibiting factor, because it is not,” she says.

For Dorien, her research direction has always been driven by what interests her. When she was invited by her university supervisor to pursue a PhD at the University of Antwerp, she chose to work on automatic music generation instead of a traditional operations research topic like vehicle routing.

 “In the days before Spotify and Pandora existed, many people did not see the use of AI in music,” she says. “I used the exact same techniques [in operations research] but instead of deciding which cities to visit, I decided which notes to play. It worked in a similar way and got me started in this field.”

Dorien is a member of Women in Music Information Retrieval, a self-organised group under the International Society for Music Information Retrieval, and has been mentoring other women interested in joining her field. She advises women who are interested in any field—whether male-dominated or not—to “just do it”.

“Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do it or that you are not suited for it. Gender does not limit your choice of profession. Above all, it’s important to follow your passion in life, and believe in what you do. Passion is one of the best ingredients for success.”

Quoting Confucius, she says: “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life!”

How does Dr Herremans predict what are chart topping hits? Find out here.

Channel NewsAsia’s documentary Algorithms: How they rule our world featured the music composing algorithm created by Dr Herremans and pit it against a human composer to see which of them did better. Watch from 17:30 of the video to find out! Learn more about Dr Herremans’ research from 23:00 onwards.

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