PhD position in Big data history of music (1.0 FTE)

The documented history of western music spans over a millennium. Generations of scholars have written detailed accounts of compositional techniques, musical styles and genres, and influential composers and their masterworks. Hidden below the great variety of western music are long-term patterns of historical change, which are more difficult to study when using traditional close reading methods of musicology. Computational approaches analysing large amounts of musical works may help to unearth these patterns.

During the 16th and 17th centuries a transition took place from modality, with its emphasis on melodic structures, to harmonic tonality governed by chord progressions. Musicologists still struggle to understand this transition based on the study of individual compositions. The project Computational ANalysis of TOnal STRuctures in EArly Music (CANTOSTREAM) proposes a big data approach instead. The project’s aim is to create and use machine learning methods for ‘distant listening’ to a large cross-section of the available music, in order to a gain deeper insight into the historical development of tonal structures during these centuries.

As the prospective PhD candidate on this 5-year project, you will be involved in studying the large body of early music that has been recorded since the late 1960s. In addition, you will analyse collections of encoded scores and large-scale metadata resources such as RISM. Relevant features include modes, scales, dissonance, cadences, melodic and harmonic patterns.

We offer a diverse set of tasks:

  • assemble the musical corpus;
  • select and operationalise relevant musical concepts;
  • review, create and evaluate machine learning methods for the analysis of musical corpora;
  • analyse historical change in relation to factors such as geographical origin, genre, function and ensemble composition;
  • relate the outcomes to musicological insights and research problems.

In addition, you will partake in teaching Bachelor’s and Master’s courses, offered by the Department of Information and Computing Sciences. The teaching commitments are limited to a maximum of 30% of employment time.


We are looking for a candidate who is versatile and persistent and who has:

  • a Master’s degree in Computer Science, Artificial Intelligence, Data Science, Information Science, Computational Musicology or a related field;
  • well-developed programming skills;
  • a strong motivation for interdisciplinary research;
  • a working knowledge of music (notation, basic theory);
  • a passion for music history;
  • affinity for academic teaching;
  • good communication skills in English, both in speech and in writing.

Conditions of employment

We offer an exciting opportunity to contribute to an ambitious and international education programme with highly motivated students and to conduct your own research project at a renowned research university. You will receive appropriate training, personal supervision, and guidance for both your research and teaching tasks, which will provide an excellent start to an academic career.

In addition, you will have

  • the opportunity to work in a collaborative, social, and dedicated team of Researchers;
  • a full-time position for 5 years;
  • a full-time gross salary that starts at €2,395 and increases to €3,061 per month in the fourth year (scale P of the Collective Labour Agreement Dutch Universities (cao));
  • benefits including 8% holiday bonus and 8.3% end-of-year bonus;
  • a pension scheme, partially paid parental leave, and flexible employment conditions based on the Collective Labour Agreement Dutch Universities.

In addition to the employment conditions laid down in the cao for Dutch Universities, Utrecht University has a number of its own arrangements. For example, there are agreements on professional development, leave arrangements and sports. We also give you the opportunity to expand your terms of employment yourself via the Employment Conditions Selection Model. This is how we like to encourage you to continue to grow.

More information about working at the Faculty of Science can be found here.


You will work at the Multimedia Group within the Interaction Division of the Department of Information and Computing Sciences. This group, led by Professor Remco Veltkamp, is composed of Researchers who are experts in the areas of Music Analysis, Video and Mocap based interaction, and Analysis of Text, Images, Video, 3D Objects and Scenes. We develop novel techniques to research technology-mediated communication and interaction between people, and communication and interaction between systems and people (users). The technologies for interaction make use of various modalities, in particular visual, auditory, and haptic modes, as well as combinations of these. The music research in the Multimedia Group connects computer science methodology to state-of-the-art domain knowledge of music. The three main areas of research are Music Information Retrieval, Computational Musicology and Music Technology for Games and Virtual Worlds.

The Department of Information and Computing Sciences of Utrecht University is nationally and internationally renowned for its research. Current research groups are Algorithmic Data Analysis, Algorithms and Complexity, Decision Support Systems, Simulation of Complex Systems, Geometric Computing, Multimedia, Human-Centred Computing, Social and Affective Computing, Visualisation and Graphics, Interaction Technology, Process Management and Analytics, Organization and Information, Natural Language Processing, Intelligent Systems, Data Intensive Systems, Software Technology and Software Technology of Learning and Teaching. Relevant areas of interdisciplinary research include Artificial Intelligence, Game Research, Foundations of Complex Systems, Applied Data Science and Integrative Bioinformatics. The Department has, among others, close collaborations with the University Medical Centre, the Departments of Physics and Mathematics, and the Faculties of Humanities and Geosciences.

The Department offers Bachelor’s programmes in Computer Science and Information Science, and six English language Research Master’s programmes in Artificial Intelligence, Business Informatics, Computing Science, Human-Computer Interaction, Game and Media Technology and Applied Data Science. High enrolment figures and good student ratings make the education very successful.

At the Faculty of Science there are 6 departments to make a fundamental connection with: Biology, Chemistry, Information and Computing Sciences, Mathematics, Pharmaceutical Sciences and Physics. Each of these is made up of distinct institutes which work together to focus on answering some of humanity’s most pressing problems. More fundamental still are the individual research groups – the building blocks of our ambitious scientific projects.

Utrecht University is a friendly and ambitious university at the heart of an ancient city. We love to welcome new scientists to our city – a thriving cultural hub that is consistently rated as one of the world’s happiest cities. We are renowned for our innovative interdisciplinary research and our emphasis on inspirational research and excellent education. We are equally well-known for our familiar atmosphere and the can-do attitude of our people. This fundamental connection attracts Researchers, Professors and PhD candidates from all over the globe, making both the university and the Faculty of Science a vibrant international and wonderfully diverse community.

Additional information

If you have any questions about this position, please contact Dr Frans Wiering (Associate Professor), via or Professor Remco Veltkamp, via

Do you have a question about the application procedure? Then please send an email to


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