A lo-fi love affair

A low-fi love affair:
Exploring education, community, and aesthetics in the virtual world of DIY digital audio production

Although it often goes unnoticed and underappreciated by academic musicians and scholars alike, electronic dance music (EDM) has captivated and moved audiences of thousands for nearly forty years. While EDM as we know it has grown exponentially in popularity since the new millennium, the processes behind the production and dissemination of this music still remains unfortunately mysterious. To a novice interested in music production- and eventually, mixing and perhaps even broadcasting- the resources available on the Internet are often nebulous and difficult to understand. Through a variety of platforms (i.e. YouTube, Soundcloud) I plan to gather functional production knowledge and interact with producers and listeners in the hopes of furthering my abilities and more fully understanding the virtual EDM community.

To begin this process, I will scour the Internet to find tutorials and live production feeds in order to begin working more comfortably with the media controllers and workstations I already have. Additionally, I may supplement this with credible literature as it surfaces. Throughout this initial phase, I aim to keep a record of this information, perhaps in the form of a blog or journal. As my comfort with the language and hardware of EDM grows, I will interact with various communities more regularly, as well as find a collaborative space to receive criticism of my own work. Eventually, I hope to produce at least one track, and maybe even broadcast some loops via through a live video platform like YouTube. By the end of this semester, I would like to demonstrate my ability to use these controllers in a physical and improvisatory capacity in class. Further, I would like to utilize my knowledge of the technology and EDM community to give a brief demo demystifying the process through which electronic music is produced and circulated in the context of the Internet.

Annotated Bibliography

Gauntlett, David. Making is Connecting, 106-173. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, 2013.

In later chapters of Making is Connecting, David Gauntlett cites the emergences of alternative art and learning movements (namely Arts and Crafts, then DIY) as attempted departures from an “increasingly institutional status quo.” Further, Gauntlett defends the cultivation of communities around these values, claiming that they “reclaim a more (…) healthy way of doing things” based on “convivial, supportive, and relevant interactions” amongst members. It is even stated that the growth of online communities alongside these physical ones has not detracted from the depth of interactions in either space, or from the production and value of the artistic works produced in them.

Gauntlett’s book deals with art and art objects from a more general perspective, which means that I had to reach a certain distance in order to apply his principles to my own research on Internet music. Still, Gauntlett’s stance on DIY and punk (in which music was mentioned only briefly) reflects my own in how it positions the art objects (zines, four-track LPs, or basement performances) in relation to their respective communities. The author also places a specific emphasis on education within these communities, stating that it allows members to “build their own understandings” as well as establish a body of social capital within their communities.

Harper, Adam. “Is Internet music the new lo-fi?” Pattern Recognition, last modified September
10, 2013. http://www.electronicbeats.net/vol-5-is-internet-music-the-new-lo-fi/

In a manner only slightly similar to David Gauntlett’s Making is Connecting, Adam Harper’s article takes a fresh look at the significance of lo-fi. In particular, Harper examines why lo-fi music has experienced a resurgence and subsequent transformation within the context of Internet forums and streaming platforms. He concludes that lo-fi- a label that accurately describes a genre characterized by “messily mastered tracks” rife with vintage “hissing, popping, and crackling” seems refreshing on the Internet— because the Internet itself attempts to masquerade behind the façade of a perfect and well-maintained infrastructure.

This year, I’ve become a fan of Adam Harper’s columns and critiques, and this one is no exception. Departing from his previous examinations of genres like vaporwave and seapunk, Harper surveys the entire breadth of what constitutes lo-fi. Since this article is nearly four years old, it strikes me as oddly prophetic. Now, you can barely get on YouTube’s music tab without stumbling across a live feed of “lo-fi hip hop,” the sounds of which have been leaking into the realm of the popular for almost a year now. In particular, I have found this article valuable because it so accurately sums up what producers and active consumers continue to find so attractive about lo-fi.

Lee, Steve S. “Internet-based Virtual Music Scenes: The Case of P2 in Alt-Country Music.” In
Music Scenes: Local, Translocal, and Virtual, edited by Andy Bennet, 187-204. Nashville:
Vanderbilt University Press, 2004.

In this chapter of Music Scenes, Steve Lee contests the commonly held assertion that Musicking is a purely physical act. In order to do so, he compares the “scenelike” characteristics of country music listservs and forums, and how the interactions taking place within contribute to the evolution of the genre (or more aptly, the evolution of subgenres). Lee references a number of these platforms in this work, but focuses specifically on one called Postcard, which is almost singlehandedly responsible for the solidification of “alt-country.” Using Postcard as the pillar for his arguments, Lee succeeds in arguing the viability of non-physical musical interactions and fandom, claiming that these communities eliminate barriers imposed by “narrow demographic compositions,” in addition to language and geography.

Though it deals with a very different genre and fandom, Steve Lee’s chapter in Music Scenes directly captures and defends the validity of Internet communities like the one I have been immersed in throughout this project. While it deals less with actual music making and more with the traffic of discussion boards, this chapter provides an excellent illustration as to how musical communities can proliferate with no physical contact whatsoever. Furthermore, Lee demonstrates how these communities provide space for growth and deviation from the realm of the popular, which is very significant to my examination of what is largely a DIY music movement currently in progress.

Manning, Peter. Electronic and Computer Music. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.

In a book that otherwise focuses on the development of electronic music, this particular chapter- merely titled “The Internet”- remains open-ended. Indeed, Manning seems content to admit that this facet of this work is best utilized in consideration of what lies ahead. For the most part, the author takes the developments outlined in previous chapters and tests them in the context of the Internet, a “medium (which) has yet to unfold.”

It strikes me as somewhat remarkable that Manning would dedicate a whole chapter to examining electronic music and the Internet without dedicating a great deal of space to its role and reception within social media. Still, this particular book proves to be somewhat unique in that its perception of this style and all its various permutations is omniscient and continuously self-referential. Although it’s clear to me from scanning the rest of this volume that Manning is an expert, it seems to me that he fails to grasp all the possibilities for the potential of this particular genre. At the time this edition was published, it’s reasonable to claim that Internet music had already taken off.

Miller, Kiri. “Schizophonic Performace: Guitar Hero, Rock Band, and Virtual Virtuosity.” Journal
of the Society for American Music 3, no. 4 (2009): accessed April 28, 2017, https://doi-
org.proxy.lib.uiowa.edu/10.1017/S1752196309990666.

Kiri Miller’s “Schizophonic Performance” is technically an article about the articulation of some quasi-musical technique in the context of a video game interface. Though players “are clearly not making music” with the toy-like controllers that manifest the correct sounds within Guitar Hero or Rock Band, these lines become blurred by the physical actions required to play, as well as the feedback from the game’s interface. Questions are also raised regarding the nature of what constitutes musical virtuosity and performative behaviors. In this situation, Miller positions the interface of the game between the player/so-called “amateur musician” and the production of musical sounds, hence “schizophonic performance.”

Though this article deals very specifically with video game controllers that are meant to resemble musical instruments, I found myself reasoning out the implications of instruments (read: digital media controllers) that resemble video game controllers. It strikes me that this should come to mind. However, these controllers seem to be more problematic to your typical academic musician, who almost certainly focuses on a non-electronic, acoustic instrument in their studies. For some reason, there seems to be an element of disdain in the appraisal of electronic musicians, perhaps because they play on a synthetic instrument that requires minimal physical engagement. Even so, producing electronic music with a synthesizer still requires a firm grasp on pitch, rhythm, and tempo, as well as eventual mastery of daunting and often esoteric Digital Audio Workstations…

Snoman, Rick. Dance Music Manual: Tools, toys, and techniques. Burlington, MA: Focal Press,
2014.

Rick Snoman’s Dance Music Manual attempts to act as a primer for those interested in approaching digital audio production. This book is especially appealing to those with prior musical knowledge and firm grasp on concepts of music theory, as Snoman does not hesitate to jump in immediately. The author builds his instructional framework from the ground up, beginning with the nuts and bolts of theory, hardware, and selecting a digital audio workstation in which to practice. Later chapters include pointers on writing tracks, making samples and loops, and mastering a finished product.

The inclusion of this title is self-explanatory. This book does not seek to further a critical perspective on digital audio production, but rather gives the reader the tools with which to eventually fashion one themselves. As a novice to working in heavy-duty workstations with controllers to contend with, this book at least manages to scratch the surface of producing a halfway decent EP-length mixtape.

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