As I type this I have in my pack a usb preamp, an xlr cable, and a condenser microphone. Later today I will sit with some friends and record some tunes on the roof of a Laguna Beach hotel. Shortly after, I will mix the recording and upload the recording to the internet. It will be downloadable for free. Part ethnomusicological project, part recreation, I'm creating music with new friends at a religious retreat.
There is a list of questions that comes to mind...What is the music-making community? Who are they and can we include the managers and coders at YouTube in that community? What about the people who comment on the music video or the people who will download the free audio file? What research questions emerge when the musicking community is ephemeral or “virtual?” No longer dependent on the music industrial complex or limited to one local community for music-making, who are the people making music and how might we know them?i Is it possible that we're encountering a techno-tribalismii or are we encountering a social reality that pre-exists the advent of digital technology that, thusly, has its clearest articulation by virtue of adopting the technological innovations of the latter twentieth and early twenty-first centuries?
Temporal realities may become a primary site of analysis. If a music-making community lasts only an afternoon, there will be different points of critique and inquiry than when a community is established over the passage of generations. The authenticating processes may differ. The authenticating individuals and institutions may differ from the relatively short-lived afternoon jam session to the generations-deep forms of music-making community. Of course, these poles demonstrate the dichotomy rather clearly. The facts of our realities, of course, may be more complicated. The individuals gathered around my afternoon rooftop microphone may represent any variety of music-making community, embodying various “traditioning” or authenticating processes. Technological innovations such as portable recording platforms combined with the easy mobility of neo-liberal affluence may equate constant engagement and community overlaps. There is no venn diagram large enough to demonstrate the complexities of such a performance.
Far from being musicking chaos, however, there is a particular (peculiar?) order being brought to these engagements. “Every technology brings with it a particular logic, a structure that, among other things, is a means of bringing order to the world (Winner 1999: 32).”iii Again, I return to the notion of temporality to our methodological processes. How do we describe the momentary communities that are formed? How do we analyze their authenticating processes? Then, as a sonic artifact is created and shared via social media, how do we analyze the authenticating processes present therein? Is a comment thread on YouTube now a source for ethnomusicological research? Yes. But how?
Finally, to the tittle of this missive. What happens when the technology serves as the middleman, the manager, the producer? When even some of the most popular musical acts are turning away from the middleman and toward sharing their music on their own through the new technologies. Who do we talk to when the musician is the producer is the distributer and the listening community is virtual? We too may need to lose the methodological middleman.
Greene, Paul D., and Thomas Porcello, eds. Wired for Sound: Engineering and Technologies in Sonic Cultures. Wesleyan, 2004.
Taylor, Timothy D. Strange Sounds: Music, Technology and Culture. Routledge, 2001.
iPaul D. Greene and Thomas Porcello, eds., Wired for Sound: Engineering and Technologies in Sonic Cultures (Wesleyan, 2004), 19.
iiTimothy D Taylor, Strange Sounds: Music, Technology and Culture (Routledge, 2001), 24.
iiiGreene and Porcello, Wired for Sound, 5.