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Information Overload? Music Studies in the Age of Abundance

Location
Dome Room Bramall Music Building, Online
Dates
Wednesday 8 September (09:00) - Friday 10 September 2021 (18:00)

A conference exploring the epistemological, methodological, ethical, and disciplinary problems that arise when studying music in the age of abundance.

Photograph of Hans Haacke's installation artwork "News", 1969/2008Hans Haacke, News (1969/2008), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Keynote speakers 

More speakers to be announced.

Conference introduction and call for papers

For those investigating any musical activity after about 1994, the main sources of research data will not be print archives or discrete media – they will be World Wide Web media. The Internet Archive, the web’s library, today holds over 525 billion archived web pages, while API and post-API archiving initiatives make social web platforms accessible as research databases.  At first glance, no other archive is more inclusive in terms of whose voices it represents, and none more comprehensive in terms of the insights it provides into the thoughts, desires and musical tastes of ordinary people. To paraphrase the web historian Ian Milligan, whose recent book provides the title and framing for this conference, we might suggest that in its scale, granularity and plurality, the web represents the music historian’s dream (Milligan 2019: 1). Many researchers are now using the abundance of musical opinion data online as way of examining the reception of musical works and performances (Cook 2013; Edgar 2016; Spencer 2017; Mangaoang 2019; Moore 2019; Bell 2020; Lamont et al. 2020), while others have introduced digital methods to analyse net-native music genres (Born & Haworth 2018) and harvested user-generated music videos with preservation and future research in mind (Smith-Sivertsen 2020).  

Yet there is good cause to be sceptical of claims to a more ‘democratic’ archive in an age of surveillance capitalism. Contrary to early hopes that the internet would bring about greater egalitarianism and democracy (Turner 2006), Shoshana Zuboff argues that the political economy of contemporary digital communications is characterised by ‘radical indifference’ in the service of maximising data flows (Zuboff 2019), and McKenzie Wark sees tech oligopolies as a ‘new ruling class’ (Wark 2019). The harms that algorithms perpetuate through biased and incomplete training data suggest that visibility within the archive remains strongly patterned according to race, gender, prosperity, ability and geography (Apprich et al. 2018; Noble 2018). Intersecting with these concerns is a question of how the superficial ‘abundance’ of stories to be told about music in the last twenty-five years impacts on questions of historical theory. If we accept the claims of cultural theorists of neoliberalism (cf. Beradi 2009, Gilbert 2015), then is it possible that a surfeit of available paths through the data compensates for a lack of meaningful historicity over the same period? 

With this conference we seek to gather researchers who are interested in the epistemological, methodological, ethical, and disciplinary problems that arise when studying music in the age of abundance. The below questions are intended to be indicative rather than exhaustive: 

  • What skills and literacies are required to treat web media as primary sources? Does treating web media as music literature prompt a further call for musicology to reflect on its disciplinary and medial borders (cf. Born 2010; Levitz et al. 2012)?
  • How might music historians and other researchers work with one another towards the curation of shared datasets, mutually agreed best practices, and a culture of collaboration? What are the barriers to these ways of working in music studies?
  • What ethical and epistemological questions are raised when ordinary (and often anonymous) people and everyday activities take centre stage in the writing of music history?
  • How should music researchers navigate a ‘post-Cambridge Analytica’ world in which platform APIs are increasingly restrictive in terms of what data they make available? Is it necessary to work within the ‘Realpolitik’ of social media data access (Bruns 2019), or should scholars consider the active breach of platform rules in the public interest? (Freelon 2018; Venturini & Rogers 2019)
  • Does the World Wide Web necessitate new thinking around matters of history and historiography? Can existing periodisations of web design and use assist with the interpretation of music in the web age (web 1.0, 2.0 etc), or does music history need its own timeline? How helpful are recent attempts to periodise the last 30+ years in cultural-political terms (‘the long 1990s’, ‘the contemporary’, etc)? Do generational politics inflect our understanding of recent music history in new ways, or our perspectives on history as music researchers (Milburn 2019)?

Paper titles and abstracts of no more than 250 words, together with a 100-word bio, should be sent to muscon2021@contacts.bham.ac.uk by Friday 14 May 2021.

Notification of acceptance will be sent via email by Monday 7 June.

Full preparations are being made for an in-person conference, however online participation via Zoom will also be possible. 

Registration for the conference is now open here.

Organising committee

This conference is funded by the UKRI AHRC Early Career Leadership Fellowship, Music and the Internet: Towards a digital sociology of music. 

Bibliography

  • Apprich, C., Cramer, F., Chun, W. H. K., & Steyerl, H. (2018). Pattern Discrimination. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press & Meson Press.
  • Bell, E. (2020). Exploring time-coded comments on YouTube music videos: The past, present, and future of an emerging source for digital musicology. Like, Share and Subscribe: YouTube, music and cyberculture before and after the new decade. Lisbon: Universidade NOVA de Lisboa.
  • Beradi, F. (2009). The Soul at Work: From Alienation to Autonomy. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
  • Born, G. (2010). For a Relational Musicology: Music and Interdisciplinarity, Beyond the Practice Turn. Journal of the Royal Musical Association, 135(2), 205-243. doi:10.1080/02690403.2010.506265.
  • Born, G., & Haworth, C. (2018). From microsound to vaporwave: Internet-mediated musics, online methods, and genre. Music and Letters, 98(4), 601-647. doi:10.1093/ml/gcx095.
  • Bruns, A. (2019). After the ‘APIcalypse’: Social media platforms and their fight against critical scholarly research. Information, Communication & Society, 22(11), 1544-1566. doi:10.1080/1369118X.2019.1637447.
  • Cook, N. (2013). Beyond music: Mashup, multimedia mentality, and intellectual property. In  J. Richardson, C. Gorbman, & C. Vernallis (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of New Audiovisual Aesthetics (pp. 53-76). New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Edgar, A. N. (2016). Commenting straight from the underground: N.W.A., police brutality, and YouTube as a space for neoliberal resistance. Southern Communication, 81(4), 223-236. doi:10.1080/1041794X.2016.1200123.
  • Freelon, D. (2018). Computational research in the post-API age. Political Communication,35(4), 665-668. doi:10.1080/10584609.2018.1477506.
  • Gilbert, J. (2015). Captive Creativity: Breaking Free from the Long 1990s. Capitalism, Culture and the Media. Leeds: University of Leeds.
  • Lamont, A., Bannister, S., Coutinho, E., & Egermann, H. (2020). ‘Talking’ about music: the emotional content of comments on YouTube videos. Like, Share and Subscribe: YouTube, music and cyberculture before and after the new decade. Lisbon: Universidade NOVA de Lisboa.
  • Levitz, T., Drott, E., Cohen, B., Rodríguez, V. E., Dohoney, R., Dillon, E., & Morrison, M. D. (2012). Musicology beyond borders? [Colloquy]. Journal of the American Musicological Society, 65(3), 821-861. doi:10.1525/jams.2012.65.3.821.
  • Mangaoang, A. (2019). Dangerous Mediations: Pop Music in a Philippine Prison Video. London: Bloomsbury Academic.
  • Milburn, K. (2019). Generation Left. Cambridge: Polity Press.
  • Milligan, I. (2019). History in the age of abundance? How the web is transforming historical research. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press.
  • Moore, A. F. (2019). Listening to the Sound Music Makes. In C. Scotto, K. M. Smith & J. Brackett (Eds.), The Routledge Companion to Popular Music Analysis: Expanding Approaches [legal deposit e-book edition]. London: Routledge.
  • Noble, S. U. (2018). Algorithms of oppression: How search engines reinforce racism. New York: New York University Press.
  • Smith-Sivertsen, H. (2020). “Once I was 7 years old” – the many lives of songs in the YouTube age. Like, Share and Subscribe: YouTube, music and cyberculture before and after the new decade. Lisbon: Universidade NOVA de Lisboa.
  • Spencer, E. K. (2017). Re-orientating spectromorphology and space-form through a hybrid acoustemology. Organised Sound, 22(3), 324-335. doi:10.1017/S1355771817000486.
  • Turner, F. (2006). From counterculture to cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the whole earth network, and the rise of digital utopianism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Venturini, T., & Rogers, R. (2019). “API-based research” or How can Digital Sociology and Journalism Studies Learn from the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica Data Breach. Digital Journalism, 7(4), 532-540. doi:10.1080/21670811.2019.1591927.
  • Wark, M. (2019). Capital is dead: Is this something worse? London & New York: Verso.
  • Zuboff, S. (2019). The age of surveillance capitalism: The fight for the future at the new frontier of power. London: Profile Books.

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