New technologies for producing and circulating music have led many to question the status and purpose of music.

At Microsoft Research New England on Monday this week, Nancy Baym and Jonathan Sterne brought together a fantastic group of leading academics from around the world and from a wide range of disciplines at the intersection of music and technology for a one-day symposium which addressed the fertility of music as a subject that bridges computational, social scientific and humanistic approaches.

The symposium followed and developed ideas from the three-day Music Tech Fest (for which I am Festival Director), hosted at Microsoft’s New England Research and Development (NERD) Centre in Cambridge, MA.

The festival featured 77 presenters representing music app startups like RecordME, Melody Morph, OpenAura, TuttiPlayer, and Moodsnap; art projects such as Marty Quinn’s NASA-funded CRaTER Live, Halsey Burgund’s location-based Roundware project, Anthony deRitis’s symphony with DJ Spooky, The Echo Nest’s Paul Lamere and Jonathan Marmor, the Thickear Collective’s Ministry of Measurement, and Joshua Fineberg’s groundbreaking electronic synthesis work with the world famous Arditti Quartet; as well as academic researchers within a range of disciplines that intersect with music and technology – from MIT, Harvard, Berklee College of Music, IRCAM in Paris, Northwestern University, Rutgers, and beyond.

The weekend festival planted the seeds for a wide range of conversations which became central to Monday’s academic symposium. We discussed music technology in terms of the wide array of ways in which research is conducted as well as what research intends to achieve. We worked in small groups to contribute to the beginnings of a manifesto to inspire future research that fuses technological and cultural approaches to music. Central questions addressed included:

– What (if anything) is special about music that allows it to cut across and potentially synthesize such diverse fields?

– How might music technology research exemplify new models of interdisciplinary scholarship that draw on and speak to both technological and cultural concerns?  

– What should music technologies be designed to do, how might we better imagine them in relation to musicians and audiences, and how might programs for innovation change as a result? 

I was joined by Nancy Baym and Kate Crawford, Principal Researchers at Microsoft Research New England; Jonathan Sterne, Professor in the Department of Art and History and Communication Studies at McGill University; Georgina Born, Professor of Music and Anthropology at the University of Oxford; Michela Magas, founder of the Music Tech Fest and advisor to the European Commission; Deidre Loughridge, Visiting Associate Professor at UC Berkeley Department of Music; Josh McDermott, Assistant Professor in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT; Jeremy Morris, Assistant Professor of Media and Cultural Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; Bryan Pardo, Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Music Theory and Cognition at Northwestern University; Trevor Pinch, Goldwyn Smith Professor of Science and Technology Studies at Cornell University; Norbert Schnell, Researcher and Developer of Real-Time Musical Interactions, IRCAM – Centre Pompidou, Paris; Aram Sinnreich, Assistant Professor of Journalism and Media Studies, Rutgers University; Matt Stahl, Associate Professor of Information and Media Studies at the University of Western Ontario. Also in attendance were several PhD candidates and post-doctoral researchers working at the nexus of music and technology from within a range of fields as diverse as computation, psychology, musicology, engineering, cultural studies and neurobiology.

The symposium was an informal, but structured discussion across a range of themes with the intention to develop the seeds of a manifesto, which is now in its first draft. It’s a forward-looking, radical, bold and field-defining document even in its early stages, and today I am presenting it at a meeting of The Future of Creativity and Creative Industries policy advisory committee meeting of the European Commission in Luxembourg.

At the European Commission, discussions are being held under a wide range of topics that map rather well onto the Microsoft Research symposium’s manifesto themes. It’s fascinating to see how music technology provides an avant-garde, an exemplar and a canary in a coalmine for creative industries and artistic practice coming to terms with profound shift in the technological environment, and I feel my role here in Luxembourg is to represent the interests within the Birmingham Centre for Media and Cultural Research, as well as those of the collected minds of interdisciplinary researchers at the intersection of technology and music.

Birmingham Centre For Media And Cultural Research

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