Lily Gaetgaeow: Final Project


Working Title: Case Studies in Re-Embodiment Through Virtual Musical Spaces

Inspired by Gitelman’s interpretation of player pianos representing a disembodied female body, I plan on exploring the themes of embodiment as mediated through digital technologies. We've touched upon the potential alienating or disembodied nature of interactions through the Internet. However, I would like to examine how we re-create our self through virtual spaces. In particular, I am interested in re-embodiment and how we adapt our bodily sense of self to different virtual sonic spaces and collective ensemble efforts. This project will culminate in a research paper and a combination of a partial paper reading with a multimedia presentation.

For the purposes of this project, I will focus on the theme of re-embodiment and its relation to virtual ensembles. One case study that I have in mind is the Youtube Symphony Orchestra. Based on my preliminary research, the audition process for the Youtube Symphony Orchestra is conducted through Youtube video submissions. From there, musicians are chosen to collaborate in a live concert. Here, the re-embodiment of musicians into a collective ensemble is completely physical. However, Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir provides a potentially more nuanced interpretation of re-embodiment. While the Virtual Choir utilizes a similar video submission process, participants' submissions are combined, synchronized and manipulated by Whitacre to create a piece that represents a singular performance of the chosen piece. After reading Hugill for this week, I realized I could loosely apply his categories of Internet music to my case studies. In particular, I envision exploring how our sense of bodily self relates to Hugill's "Music that uses the Network to Connect Physical Spaces or Instruments" and "Music that Uses the Internet to Enable Collaborative Composition or Performance"(Hugill 433-434).

Proposal: An Update

I've been reconsidering my case studies. I've been having trouble finding information on the Youtube Symphony Orchestra and I think I'd rather focus my project on ensembles that don't physically meet in the real world (Hugill's "Music that Uses the Internet to Enable Collaborative Composition or Performance"). So, Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir is still relevant to my project. In addition to the Virtual Choir, I've found several online communities that facilitate virtual jamming. Based on what I've seen thus far, Jammr seems the most promising as it has active blog and forum discussions. A blog post from last year discusses techniques (distortion, reverb and delay) for filling up the virtual space during jam sessions, which demonstrates that the musicians and jammers are aware of space and issues of embodiment.

I've also found a fair number of of articles and books that discuss the use of virtual spaces in education. One particularly intriguing quote from the introduction of Ubiquitous Learning describes a shift in theories of learning. Instead of the traditional metaphor of the learner as a sponge, Kalantzis and Cope bring forth more "progressive theories of learning" that center on the learner's "active [creation of] personally meaningful knowledge" (x). I've yet to read the other articles in the book, so I'm unsure if there are specific applications or virtual spaces that the authors had in mind to support this perspective. However, this perspective could be used highlight the collaborative experiences of musicians in virtual spaces and could speak to their potential for growth.

Annotated Bibliography (and Remaining Bibliography)

Brighton, Jack. "Ubiquitous Media and the Revival of Participatory Culture." In Ubiquitous Learning, 49-61. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2009.

Brighton's chapter deals less with the body and acts more as a call to action to educators. He argues that the business of online media does not serve corporate media structures and passive consumers. Instead, active members take part in what Brighton calls a "global media community" (51). In the subsection "Rise of the Ubiquitous Folk Media", Brighton discusses how educators can encourage students to become participants and "media creators" (56). Brighton uses his own project, the Youth Media Workshop, as an example of a means of helping students with digital literacy and story-telling. Brighton also brings to our attention the fact that, as digital media becomes increasingly integrated into the academic world, students will need to develop literacy with not only text but also images and sound. Through projects such as the Youth Media Workshop, as well as open-access mass media (he lists YouTube, OurMedia and blogs as examples), participants are able to reclaim their voices and make the stories their own (55). As a result, cultural products emerge from "grassroots" activities instead of through the workings of the corporate elite. Whitacre's Virtual Choir could be seen as a subversion of the corporate cultural product as the everyday person (who can sing well) can take part in making music. However, this may not be a strong connection as Whitacre's position as composer and arranger is unequal to the other participants. Instead, Brighton's ideas of "media creator" and "global media community" will be more directly applied to the collaborative Jammr community.

Haythornthwaite, Caroline. "Participatory Transformations." In Ubiquitous Learning, 31-48. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2009.

Haythornthwaite's chapter explores the trends of participation and relationships in online communities. She provides a useful distinction between collaborative and participatory cultures in that the former implies a small group that shares the burden of "learning to work with each other toward common goals and outcomes" (35). In contrast, the latter is characterized by " 'low barriers of artistic expression and civic engagement' " (35). Based on these distinguishing characteristics, I will use collaborative culture when referring to Jammr. I don't believe neither labels of collaborative nor participatory culture can be aptly applied to Whitacre's Virtual Choirs, so I will continue to rely upon Hugill. Haythornthwaite also explains that online forums demonstrate how experts relay social cues to novice non-experts (ex. telling them to read the FAQ when a novice asks a basic question) while depicting a "coexistence of different trajectories…of participation and narrative" (40). This discussion of "relational order" within online communities can be applied to the types of interactions facilitated by Jammr's online forum (37).

Kalantzis, Mary and Bill Cope. "Introduction: The Beginning of an Idea." In Ubiquitous Learning, ix- xii. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2009.

Kalantzis and Cope introduce and define an emerging field of ubiquitous learning (xi). The use of "ubiquitous" addresses the " 'anytime/anywhere' " dynamic of information made available online (xi) , while "learning" demonstrates a focus on the construction of knowledge within an online environment (x). Kalantzis and Cope challenge the traditional theory of learning that characterizes the learner as a sponge. Similar to what Brighton proposes in his chapter, Kalantzis and Cope maintain that learners are active in the creation of their knowledge. What is significant about learning in an online environment is that the "designing [of one's] understandings" becomes information in the public sphere (x). As a result, this process is, in and of itself, a merging of ubiquitous knowledge. This notion of the design of one's understanding being made public is very relevant to my discussion of Jammr. Additionally, Kalantzis and Cope are proposing that a process that was previously wholly inside one's own head can be made more physically present than before. Therefore, the process of ubiquitous learning can be seen as a process of re-embodying of one's thought process.

Karahalios, Karrie G. "Physical Embodiment of Virtual Presence." In Ubiquitous Learning, 173- 188. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2009.

Karahalios uses the Chit Chat Club experiment as a means of exploring the physical embodiment of virtual space. Chit Chat Club was an experimental project developed by Judith Donath, Kelly Dobson and Karahalios as an attempt to bring people together in a "mixed physical and virtual environment" (174). The installation of the club involved the replication of a real cafe (with tables, coffee and pastries) with a mix of customers who were seated in chairs and "telesculptures," which were accessed remotely (174). The first telesculpture was a relatively anthropomorphic figure with a relaxed body frame and "embedded 'face' " (174) while the second design lost the embedded face and became a more abstracted interpretation of the human body (181). Both iterations of the telesculptures were able to project, through a screen, a humanoid rendering of facial expressions (184). Participants engaging in Chit Chat Club remotely through the telesculptures were then able to utilize a "continuous emotion wheel" to display facial expressions (185). Karahalios noted that these participants focused too much on displaying accurate facial expressions and not enough on sustaining a lively conversation (184). This loosely ties into Murray and Sixsmith's criticism of the dominance of vision in Western culture (Murray and Sixsmith 317). Considering both Jammr and the Virtual Choirs use visual cues through video, this may be a relevant comparison to draw.

Murray, Craig D. and Judith Sixsmith. "The Corporeal Body in Virtual Reality." Ethos 27 (1999): 325-343.

Drawing upon research on "disrupted bodies" (bodies that have been transformed through limb loss, paralysis, etc.), Murray and Sixsmith defend the malleability of the body's corporeality and the extent that corporeal boundaries can be extended into virtual reality (316). They argue that, contrary to the Cartesian mind-body divide, experiences in virtual reality are embodied rather than disembodied. Furthermore, one's experiences in virtual reality are bound by the social, racial, gendered and cultural contexts of the self. Murray and Sixsmith conclude that the more engaged in the five senses one is, the more likely one is to feel embodied within virtual reality. However, they also add that varying degrees of disassociation from one's body can cause either an extension or recession of one's corporeality within the virtual environment. Their discussion of the social and gendered experiences could be used to address the power dynamics (of the white male perspective) exercised in the Virtual Choirs.

Raines, Robert. "Eric Whitacre." In Composition in the Digital World: Conversations with 21st Century American Composers, 317-329. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.

This is a transcription of an interview with Eric Whitacre regarding his compositional process and his position on the relationship between the Internet and the music industry. When asked about the concept behind the Virtual Choirs, Whitacre said that there's less emphasis on the music (despite wanting the "highest possible standard") and more emphasis on the "social phenomenon" of connecting people (326). He adds that the most recent Virtual Choir, Virtual Choir 4 has 8,400 videos from 101 countries. Also, the notion of music being accessed for free on the Internet does not seem to worry Whitacre. Instead he notes, with a sense of optimism, an emerging trend in the pop music industry. In the past, artists used to tour to promote their album release. However now it is increasingly common for artists to release an album in order to promote their tour. Whitacre interprets this shift as a "renaissance of real musicians performing again" and audience members wanting to "marvel…at that live experience" (328). Raines' interview with Whitacre is a primary source that can be used to develop my discussion of Whitacre and his Virtual Choirs.

Black, Daniel. "How to Look at Bodies." In Embodiment and Mechanization: Reciprocal Understandings of Body and Machine from the Renaissance to the Present, 13-40. Ashgate Publishing Ltd, 2014.

Cheng, William. "Role-Playing Toward a Virtual Musical Democracy in The Lord of the Rings Online". Ethnomusicology 56 (2012): 31-62.

Foster, Thomas. "The Sounds of Cyberfolk: Performativity, Virtual Embodiment, and Racial Histories." In The Souls of Cyberfolk: Posthumanism as Vernacular Theory, 137-170. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005.

Kassabian, Anahid. "Ubiquitous Listening." In Ubiquitous Listening: Affect, Attention, and Distributed Subjectivity, 34-52. University of California Press, 2013.

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