Exciting music and technology related sessions at the upcoming MayDay Group colloquium

JCOHiGh0zSF-n-ZcQujHeg1ADqdQF8XujXRD_rqNf40This week Brent Talbot and the folks at Gettysburg College will be hosting the 26th MayDay Group Colloquium. Unfortunately, I will not be able to attend due to our summer Performamatics.org computational/musical thinking workshop, but the line up of sessions is absolutely great. For those of you interested in the latest critical scholarship in music education and technology, here are some of the related session abstracts:

Eva Egolf (PhD, NYU 2014) –

New York City Electronic Dance Music Club DJs: Learning Processes and Cross-Disciplinary Collaboration

Early 1980s dance music genres, such as house and techno, have transformed and fractured into a myriad of subgenres and practices.  Collectively, these genres are often grouped by the moniker electronic dance music (EDM).  EDM is performed in dance clubs by a disc jockey (DJ). The hero of EDM is the DJ.  Within the last approximately five years EDM has gained popularity in the United States with increased radio air time, and prominent DJs such as Tiesto commanding an average of $250,000 per appearance for a two hour club set (Greenburg, 2012). Despite the commercial success of EDM, the learning processes and the musical understanding of DJs have largely been unexplored by the music education community.

The purpose of this paper is to explore the processes of learning among EDM club DJs in New York City, and the ways in which they collaborate across multiple disciplines.  This paper provides an overview of musical understanding as it exists among DJ participants, illuminates the processes by which DJs acquire this understanding, and examines the context in which musical understanding is learned. This case study of five DJs who predominantly work in underground gay dance clubs employs semi-structured interviews, and observations of performances as the primary methods in this inquiry. The frameworks of musical understanding, (Elliott, 1995) informal learning, (Green, 2002) and situated learning (Lave & Wenger, 1991) were used to guide the analysis of data.

Learning among participant DJs involved multifaceted processes. Self taught solitary learning processes were significant among DJs as they engaged with trial and error approaches. Additionally, group learning (Green, 2002) figured into learning experiences, as participants engaged with peers. Situated learning processes (Lave & Wenger, 1991) emerged as some participants accessed experienced DJs, and formed casual mentoring relationships. Community music schools specializing in DJing helped some participants in the early stages of learning to DJ. Participants described the DJ community music school experiences as providing basic initial instruction, and found they needed to learn more outside of the school through solitary practicing, peers, and experience performing. K-12 and university school music experiences were minimally helpful in learning how to DJ from the perspective of participants. This paper outlines these learning experiences among participants, which are of interest to the music education community.

In addition to describing the processes of learning, this paper explores the context of clubbing in underground gay clubs in New York City. In this context are instances of collaboration between music makers and practitioners from disciplines outside of music. Understanding the historical/cultural context of DJing and clubbing was valued among participants in several ways. An understanding of the standards and traditions associated with the context were essential to DJs in their music making efforts. Also, while describing the context of music making, participants emphasized the influence of  houses in New York City clubbing communities. These are social and professional alliances that are named after prominent fashion houses, such as the House of Aviance, and the House of Extravaganza. One function of the houses in the clubbing community is that they facilitate collaboration across multiple disciplines as members of the house work together to “throw parties” at various clubs. In doing this, houses draw on a range of expertise from lighting designers, singers, dancers, DJs, web designers, and promoters. The house, as a professional and social affiliation facilitates this multi-discipline collaboration.

This paper has implications for the field of music education as it explores the processes by which this group of musicians learn. The musical understanding of club DJs is presented as distinctive with an emphasis on music making within the context of New York City dance clubs. In addition to the context influencing music making activities, the context includes the cross-discipline collaborative engagements of the house.


Adam P. Bell (PhD, NYU 2013; Montclair State University)

The DAW Double-Edged Sword

The shift to software-enabled recording has significantly reduced the cost of entry-level equipment, which has improved the quality and capacity of home recording…Software and code have made possible a regime of more distributed musical creativity, which represents a democratization of technology. (Leyshon, 2009, p. 1325)

The 2009 global report of the National Association of Music Merchants details that computer-based recording experienced a financial boom between 1999 and 2008. The computer music market rose almost 200 percent to become a 400-million-dollar industry. This trend coincides with the proliferation of digital audio workstations (DAWs) that were made available to the consumer and “prosumer” markets commencing in the early 2000s, exemplifying the “democratization” of which Leyshon speaks. With regard to music education, an intriguing result of this trend is that the skillset typically associated with the trade of audio engineering has been placed into the hands of musicians, which prompts two lines of questioning: First, what and how do musicians learn from the audio engineering community? Second, what are the learning implications for music-makers utilizing DAWs?

Historical accounts document that the occupation of audio engineering emerged from recording practices developed in home studios (e.g., Horning, 2002), typified by acts of “technological enthusiasm” and “tinkering” (Waksman, 2004). Pioneers in the field such as Les Paul and Joe Meek honed their techniques in the bedrooms and basements of their home studios (Buskin, 2007; Cleveland, 2001). They conceptualized the recording studio as a musical instrument, a concept that was popularized by the mid-1960s as “pop music soon discovered the potential of the studio as a place to make music rather than just to record it” (Clarke, 2007, p. 54). The postulation of recording engineer Dave Pensado captures the sentiment of those who laud the practice of home recording: “In general, the creativity that emerges from home studios almost always surpasses that of an expensive studio” (as cited in Simons, 2004, p. 10).

Despite it’s popularity and the access it creates for creativity, computer-based composition has its limitations. Jennings (2007) rightly charges that these softwares “subliminally direct the actions of users, in both musical and non-musical ways” (p. 78). Programs make assumptions and covertly steer users by limiting options. Limiting the possibilities in the process of composition leads users of the same software to compose in a generic method, resulting in generic outcomes; the software itself becomes the genre. Programs that use preset sounds limit diversity and constrain the styles composed. Both Mellor (2008) and Latartara (2011) found that the design of some DAWs privilege certain user actions more than others such as composing section-by-section, looping audio segments, and overdubbing.

Drawing on primary and secondary sources of observational and interview data, my proposed paper presentation will problematize the DAW and its place in music education. Eschewing a “how to” or “here’s what’s great about this” approach, my paper will instead probe software design considerations of popular DAWs and examine the implied underlying educational philosophies of their creators. What do these decisions imply about what is important in a computer-centric music education and what course has been charted for the tech-dependent music learner of the future?


Janice Waldron – University of Windsor

Going “Digitally Native”: Music Learning and Teaching in a Brave New World

The convergence of the Internet and mobile phones with social networks – what new media scholars deem “networked technologies” – has been the subject of much debate over the past three decades. In this paper, I consider what new media researchers have already discerned regarding networked technologies; most importantly, that more significant than any given technology itself is how we use it, the effect(s) its use has on us, and the relationships we form through it and with the technology. Because this has obvious implications for music teaching and learning, the discussion is an important one, especially so as it has remained largely unaddressed by music education scholars.

New Media scholar Sherry Turkle contends (1995, 2011) that “the computer offers us new opportunities as a medium that embodies our ideas and expresses our diversity” (p. 31), but she also recognizes that peoples’ interactions with computers could result in unintended and ambiguous effects because intentions of use do not reside within the computer, but are instead determined by how people interact with, perceive their relationship to and develop expectations of what their machines can or should do over a period of time:

“We construct our technologies, and our technologies construct us and our times. We become the objects we look upon but they become what we make of them (p. 46). . . People think they are getting an instrumentally useful product, and there is little question that they are. But now it is in their home and they interact with it every day. And it turns out they are also getting an object that teaches them a new way of thinking and encourages them to develop new expectations about the kinds of relationships they and their children will have with machines.” (p. 49)

There are several key points to take away from Turkle. The first and most important one being that technological determinism is a false modernist construct of where technology leads, because what any given technology is capable of becomes clear only during the process of its use, including how it is used and what it is used for. The act of use itself changes the technology, the person interacting with it, and the expectations that such exchanges have for a culture and society. Simply put, a machine’s maker and/or programmer cannot possibly predict what can be produced with a connected computer and a creative individual – or individuals –manipulating it.

Secondly, Turkle’s argument that 1) children develop new expectations of what their machines can and/or should do, and 2) that computer use changes the way people think is particularly prescient today; writing in 1995, Turkle was discussing the relationship of people to their newly acquired personal home computers. Her argument is even more fitting now given the omnipresence of smartphones along with the expectation that  “there’s an app for everything.”

As a profession, music educations researchers and practitioners have tended to focus on technology as a knowable “thing” – i.e. hardware and/or software with its “practical classroom applications” – and not the greater epistemological issues underlying its use. Further, we have been slow to examine how using networked technologies could change our beliefs about music teaching and learning in the larger sphere. How will we engage musically in a meaningful way with a generation of students – “digital natives” – who have grown up technologically “tethered?” How will these different “ways of knowing” change music learning and teaching now and in the not-so-distant future?


Tom Malone – UMass Lowell

Turning the Tables Back: Pedagogy and Praxis from Hip-Hop’s First Generation DJs

The world has changed, again. Once Western Classical music was the music of the world’s elite, the internationally rich and famous.  Today, at exclusive nightclubs from Ibiza to Goa, it is electronic dance music that provides the soundtrack to people’s fantasies of wealth and material success, and has made the DJ is an international superstar.  House, Turntablism, Dubstep, Hip Hop and EDM are just some of the musical styles in which this cultural figure, standing mysteriously behind a table of equipment and moving some faders and knobs, creates a pulsing tapestry of beats loops and timbres and often gets paid quite well to do it. But it wasn’t always jets, limousines and endless red carpets – in fact, the true pioneers of DJ culture had no such advantages. They were three young Caribbean-American teenagers growing up 40 years ago in one of America’s most impoverished and toughest urban centers, the South Bronx.  This paper offers history and social critique alongside musical examples from a community music initiative that teaches the art of mixing soul and funk records to create the extended breaks and beats that formed the musical foundation of Hip Hop in the 1970s.  For music educators seeking an authentic and interactive way teach the roots of Hip Hop and today’s Electronic Dance Music culture, teaching with turntables offers the chance to learn about and interact with the artist of past and present and remix their music in realtime.

When one begins a discussion about teaching with turntables, some are quick to assume that the focus would be on “scratching” or “turntablism,” but there is a form that is much earlier and more fundamental. It is called break-mixing, or simply mixing. This style does not center around aggressive or virtuosic scratch solos, but rather on establishing a smooth and even flow between two turntables, and on setting up a new groove by extending and combining one or more segments of pre-existing tracks. This is an analog form of ‘looping’ and live remixing that requires an extensive knowledge of soul and funk records, skill in manipulating the vinyl and the turntables without losing the beat, and a clear sense of musical pulse and form. Like many valuable pursuits and musical domains this art can be learned by patient and focused practice, and access to quality teaching and materials. The present author has derived these teaching strategies through studies of video, recordings, and interviews with the first generation of Hip Hop’s DJs to focus on the essential art of the ‘breakmix’ as a core and teachable component that links todays EDM and DJ culture to the very first Black and Caribbean innovators who devised the art.

Like Rock-and-roll and Jazz, Ragtime and Blues before it, Hip Hop is a American musical culture, of largely African and Caribbean descent that has grown to become a ubiquitous part of our global music and cultural landscape. Music Educators cannot afford to ignore it, and yet when and how shall a serious attempt to be made to teach it? This article proposes that the “break-mix” with two turntables as an essential component of both Hip-Hop EDM culture that can be taught authentically and creatively in a school or community setting. Thus allowing students to do more than learn about influential Hip Hop, Soul, and Funk artists from books, media, and video, but to directly engage with this music in a hands-on way, creating their own beats and breaks in the same way that Hip Hop’s pioneers did almost 40 years ago. Furthermore since the pioneers of this style are still living, and can serve as culture-bearers to motivated music educators who would prefer to delve into and respect the Caribbean-American cultural bedrock of DJ culture rather than complain about the material excess of today’s software-based celebrity “pushbutton” DJs widely promoted in corporate and commercial media.

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