October 5 Readings

Timothy D. Taylor is a Professor in the Departments of Ethnomusicology and Musicology at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is the author of Global Pop: World Music, World Markets (Routledge, 1997), Strange Sounds: Music, Technology and Culture (Routledge, 2001), and Beyond Exoticism: Western Music and the World (Duke, 2007), and numerous articles on various popular musics, classical musics, and social/cultural theory. His main areas of focus include globalization, technology, race, ethnicity, consumption, tourism, and gender.

"Strange Sounds: Music Technology and Culture" explains the wonder and anxiety provoked by a technological revolution that began in the 1940s and gathers steam daily.He examines the ways that technology shapes areas in music that have historically been affected by technology. These three areas, which have been discussed by other authors we have read, are production, storage and distribution, and consumption, focusing mostly on distribution and consumption. One of Taylor's main areas of inquiry centers around the question of agency in relation to technology and society. Taylor discusses the cultural role of technology, its use in making music, and the inevitable concerns about "authenticity" that arise from electronic music. Taylor also states that a theory of technology in society must take into account the everyday uses and users of it, he wants to look at the general trends of technology use.

Music Consumption
Taylor describes the consumption trends shown by today's technological society. There is a convergence, or at least a confusion, between the differences in production and consumption in relation to digital technology. Because we have this technology, it is easier for consumers to collect a wider range of music. Taylor may be on to something here, but we should also take into account the ease of downloading a single song, which has made the concept of the album almost inconsequential. Not many consumers buy the entire album. They have the ability to pick and choose the songs that they want to purchase. David Harvey describes this as "flexible accumulation" in a post-fordist era (Taylor, 19) (the same type of phenomenon is more commonly referred to as 'flexible specialization'). Moreover, after CDs we've been able to play back individual songs much more easily than records or cassette tapes and with less capital investment. Flexibility (perhaps a stand-in term for agency), Taylor argues, is why the cassette tape won out over the 8-track tape despite the superior technological specs.

Taylor goes into detail about how technology has had a more pronounced role in connecting fans and fandoms. Fans of a particular era of music or band may not physically be able to hang out with people of similar tastes, so they go to fan sites and blogs and put themselves on mailing lists to get the latest updates and opportunities. They even have the power to "remix" their favorite songs. And if the consumer wants a more community experience, there are websites where they can share music with each other using their own personal computers as servers. The point about community is brought up again when Taylor refers to the work of Daniel Miller who finds through an analysis of shopping that consumption is an expression of kinship and relationships. There seems to be a certain degree of aesthetic considerations wrapped up in technology. and agency. As an aside, I tried looking up Music Hall 2000 and couldn't find anything other than the defunct remnants of a music and entertainment company, which seemed to be no longer in business.

Technology and Agency
An interesting argument that Taylor brings up is whether we as a society change technology or if technology changes society. This is a perennial question that plagues media studies, science studies, and basically any field that deals with social change. Many times you hear people discuss technology while ignoring all of the social ties that goes with it. Taylor, like most middle-ground positions, takes the "fluid" approach and says that technology and society influence each other. Rather than choosing between the Frankfurt top-down school and the Birmingham cultural studies, more bottom-up school he says that consumption varies depending upon space and time and Hall's expression of the "double movement of containment and resistance". He uses Robert McC.Adams as a reference when he writes "that it is changes in the social world that have been more important in the direction of technological trends than the nature of the particular technology itself" (Taylor, 26). He also points out that "technological changes tend to occur for social and historical reasons rather than technical ones" (26). After all, it is society that sets up the problems which we believe our new technologies will address. I think this last statement is very realistic. Society has changed technology with various aims, goals, and desires. And yes, those changes may make things easier, but is this always the case? And is it always worth it? In other words, we assume that each society makes progress largely through the tools and technology at its disposal. But does this make each new era's technology better than the previous era's?

Technological Determinism

An interesting argument that Taylor brings up in this chapter is Kittler's statement about decreasing necessity for human memory with the improvement in modes of storage (27). When you think about technology, even outside of the music world, you can see this clearly. How many phone numbers do you know off the top of your head? Do you know your appointments without looking at your Blackberry? While it seems obvious that the need to remember these things has decreased, does this mean that we are losing our memory? Or are we using it for other functions, like knowing how to turn on a computer, connect it to a network of portable devices, printers, wireless routers, etc.? We also could remember Taylor's point about pleasure being a fundamental reason for data retention and that this form of storage is a complex process of meaning-making and not necessarily the mindless consumption of technology without any degree of agency.

In other writings, Kittler claims that "media determine our situation." This provocative statement has perhaps gained popularity for its provocativeness, but is it too extreme? Maybe "media organize our situation" would be a better way to phrase Kittler's claim. Like Attali's major claim that music is merely organized noise, the power of the organization is widespread. Moreover the way technology organizes society often involves a consensual relationship between society and the technologies they build, create, and implement.

Today we might ask how storage has changed even from the ten years ago when Kittler was writing about the subject. What would he say about "cloud" storage and infinite retrieval and archival of music, film, and books?


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