September 28 Readings

Andrew Hugill is the Director of the Institute of Creative Technologies at De Monfort University in Leicester, UK. He is an active composer, having written pieces for solo instruments, various ensembles (including orchestral works), and also music involving digital media. One of his main areas of focus is internet music and the active role musicians, listeners, and composers play in shaping the music scene that is ever evolving by way of online networking. Aside from lecturing at De Monfort University, Hugill is an avid writer and researcher. Hugill's 2008 publication "The Digital Musician" discusses challenges and possibilities presented to the modern musician by technology.

"Internet Music: An Introduction" is a rapid overview of several of the different types of music that are being explored online. In his article, Hugill defines internet music as music in which the Internet is integral to either its composition, dissemination, or both. He is making the argument that 'Internet music' is indeed a new musical form with new modes and means of musical expression. Studying online musical forms gives us insights into interactivity, collaboration, and shared communal music experiences. Hugill then briefly describes several categories that help gain a basic understanding of online music making that fit his definition. These categories are:

Music that uses the network to connect physical spaces or instruments — Hugill describes this category as one of the most appealing musical contexts for those wishing to use the internet to make music worldwide. The "latency" of the networks often interfere greatly with the idea that by using the internet, musicians across the world can connect in real time and create music. Some of the other issues associated with this type of internet music are the inability to replicate visual cues and the difficulties associated with achieving a well balanced group sound. While there are some ways to circumvent the direct effect network latency has on this type of internet music, the delay in the transference of information (whether it be sound or not) will always pose problems for this type of internet music.

Music that is created of performed in virtual environments or uses virtual instruments — while this type of online musicking helps deal with problems like latency, there are other limitations set in place by virtual environments and virtual instruments alike. Hugill points out that when using virtual instruments, high quality sounds are at times sacrificed for the immediacy of virtual instruments.

Music that translates into sound aspects of the Network itself — the biggest issue with this type of internet music is that while the pure "art" of digital data transfer is found in its most natural form, the development into audible sound is often difficult to predict, or manipulate with the same meticulousness composers often apply to their own compositions. This seems to be a somewhat smaller category that seems to be making a point about the arbitrariness of the network. (especially appealing to the high-brow artsy performance artist?)

Music that uses the internet to enable collaborative composition or performance — One of the more open ended types of internet music, the ability to work with musicians, sounds, or even multimedia being developed in other parts of the world offers exciting possibilities to those using the internet to create new music. Hugill points out that this type of internet musicking often bears no evidence of online networking in the final product; however with this type of music making being so new, this lack of evidence may be a positive component. The concept of using the internet, or creating music without physical presence may diminish the validity of such music for music purists. Others, however, embrace the community aspects and don't worry about the extent to which the network becomes apparent to listeners because often in a collaborative performance those categories of network and listener have dissolved. An example of this might be when Rivers Cuomo of the band Weezer reached out to his fan community to write particular parts of a new song. This morphed into a collaborative composition experiment called Let's Write a Sawng that lasted over nine months.

Music that is delivered via the internet with varying degrees of user interactivity

Hugill claims that this area of internet musicking is currently the most widespread form of online music. Citing examples like flash toys, online music games, and internet radio, it is clear why one might conclude that this type of internet music is the most common. This seems to be a really broad category that almost all Internet music could arguably fit into.

A few thoughts/questions raised by Hugill's article.

What does the future have in store for the first category? With the internet becoming faster and faster, will we see a day where latency is no longer an issue? If latency were not an issue, what are some potential musical environments or contexts we can imagine? And building off of improvements in computer and internet technology, how might improved virtual instrument capabilities influence internet and recorded music environments?

What are some good examples of real time virtual music making? What are virtual instruments?

Is music that uses the internet exclusively for its means of creation any less valid than conventional methods of music making?

Hugill has a broad definition of Internet music but seems to be privileging through his categories the composition side of online music and doesn't talk much about the role of the audience in the process of dissemination. His use of the term composition also implies a potential favoring of certain types of Internet based music production. As the boundaries between production (composition) and consumption become blurred a useful analytic category could be what Axel Bruns calls 'prosumption' and the accompanying 'prosumers'. This model would push the 'listener' from its static analytic positioning into a more active participant. This means that someone clicking on a Youtube re-mix video could be considered in the role of dissemination.

Steve Jones' article from 2000 raises many interesting questions that have become more and more relevant as the age of online marketing for music has exploded over the last 10 years. Jones discusses consumption, marketing, music making, etc.; however, the emphasis seems to be on the need for research of marketing online. Jones seems to be making a call for popular music scholars to take heed of the online music world and embrace the impacts it has on modern music. Jones believes that through observation and analysis of the shifts in practices and processes of music-making, music consuming, and music distributing on line can best account for the shape that popular music is taking in the 21st century. Essentially, Jones sees a gap in current popular music scholarship, especially in relation to the internet and he is calling for scholars to fill that gap.

Jones offers different categories of roles the internet can have in relation to music. These are Music making, Music consuming, and Music distributing. Three categories which resemble Hugill's categories.

Given that the internet has altered the world of music consumption drastically over the last 10 years, there are some issues that seem to be of the utmost importance, despite the fact that these effects were predicted over 10 years ago by the likes of Steve Jones. The first question that comes to mind is: how or why should the music industry protect the "brick and mortar" record stores? Jones suggests that, in fact, through the talk about convergence the music industry was plotting ways to cut out retailers by embracing more cost-effective distribution models (it was funny to hear a reference to Tower Records, 'brick and mortar' like that just don't exist anymore).

The advent of legitimate online music sales since Jones' article was written addresses some of the issues Jones expresses concern about, but there is yet an obvious loss in music sales as a result of piracy, etc.. What are some examples we can think of that artists have used to combat piracy (i.e. the Radiohead album we discussed in class)? Are we prematurely making the jump to assume that all 'piracy' is inherently negative. Is this just a discursive tool of the music industry to consolidate and attempt to maintain control over a shifting cultural landscape. Many artists, well really bands, that I dealt with in LA were ecstatic about there music being pirated because it meant the music was being spread around and that the people doing the distribution were some of their most loyal fans and evangelizers. Can we flip the question and ask what are the benefits of piracy?

With home studios becoming more and more realistic (protools and a good microphone can make a heck of a garageband recording) what is the future of the major record labels and do we hope they survive or do we think music production might benefit from a more independent infrastructure?

An interesting radio story discusses this very question, albeit indirectly. Abbey Road — the famous recording and mixing studio in which The Beatles recorded, in addition to Pink Floyd and Radiohead — went up for sale in 2010. After it failed to sell, Abbey Road's owner, EMI, is now offering to lend out its sound mixing services to the public:

Abbey Road, the famed British studio where they recorded, is making attempts to stay vital in this age of laptop studios. For $800 you can send your own tracks into Abbey Road to have them mixed by professionals. All they require is a little guidance – are you going for The Clash? Or Barbra Streisand? In addition, they’ve launched an Abbey Road board game centered around the iconic zebra stripe road crossing.

Does this signal some sort of recording shift, if one of the world's most famous studios is forced to capitalize on its name by flirting with the general public? Or does Abbey Road hope that its status as a "professional studio" with a team of experts still holds sway in an age of home recordings?

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