The field of music information retrieval (MIR) offers tools for the analysis of music and sound, for example in archives of historical recordings; but it has also been widely critiqued for bias toward Western music and Western epistemologies. There seems to be a gap, or even an irresolvable friction, between computer science-based MIR tools, problems, and methodologies, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, humanities-based research in music and media that examines sound from critical and postcolonial perspectives. This essay draws from sound studies and critical technology studies to propose that this is an opportune moment for interdisciplinary collaborations between humanities scholars and technologists to enhance critical analyses of music and sound. Key to such collaborations would be a consideration of ontological differences between the two approaches, such as divergent understandings of the fundamental concepts of music, genre, and difference. The essay takes several examples from the author’s research into sound and Dutch colonialism at the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision media archive in order to propose some examples of how MIR’s technological tools could potentially enhance critical humanities-driven analyses of sound, perception, and colonial difference. More broadly, the essay argues, the divergences and even tensions between disciplines can be productive for scholarly reflexivity, postcolonial or anticolonial scholarship, and applications of technological tools toward social justice goals.

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