Friday, November 27, 2009


Today was the first day of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music conference (Australia/New Zealand) in sunny Auckland NZ. The conference started with a warm Pacific Welcome which included some traditional music and dancing.

Dr. Melenaite Taumoefolua from the Centre for Pacific Studies, Dr. Gregory D. Booth an Ethnomusicologist from the University of Auckland, Dr. Shelley Brunt the Chair of Aus/NZ IASPM and Dr. Kirsten Zemke, conference convener and ethnomusicologist at the University of Auckland, opened the conference.

I attended a number of fascinating papers today all worth mentioning however given time and space constraints will restrict this post to just a couple.

Adrian Renzo – Seamless: re-evaluating medley records of the 1980’s
This was an excellent presentation which considered the place of medleys from the 1980’s as part of the origins of the modern day mashup. Medley’s such as Stars on 45 were seen as a cheap recycling venture of record labels and took a particular place in Disco culture. Renzo discussed the arbitrary nature of the transition between songs and how in the 1980’s the merger of songs was undertaken with a clean cut and instant move to the next song. He noted that in the 1990’s, with developments in technology, there was a change in the way that songs were put together. From this time there was a far greater tendency to layer the tracks over each other in the transition from one track to another. Seg-ways became much more important with Renzo noting that a single facet of one song enabled the movement from one to another. He noted that the narrative logic or the textual ideas of the songs were unimportant to the transition between them. An important distinction between the medley’s of the 1980’s and 1990’s compared with the mashups of today was the involvement of the original artists – these days it is highly unlikely that original material is contributed to mashups nor are the original recording artists usually involved. This was an excellent presentation – both entertaining and very educational.

John Egenes – Remix Culture: the folk process in the 21st century
John Egenes from the University of Otago presented a paper on how the internet and technology are responsible for the blurring of the line between the performer and audience (creator and consumer). He noted that consumers of music are increasingly the producers of music which in turn results in changes to notions of creativity, individuality and intellectual property. The division between creator and consumer is no longer clear but for a very long time the separation has been taken for granted. There is a steady transformation from a top down culture to a bottom up one.

In addition to the democratisation of creativity, those artists that remain identifiable and separate must also contend with alterations to the environment in which they work. Open access is now given to artists through the internet with fans demanding communication with artists and direct feedback to the creators. Furthermore, with open access to music, the artist has lost control over when, where and how consumers interact with their art.

He stated that young people don’t listen to albums anymore instead they download single songs and create their own playlists. An album is more commonly seen as something to be broken down into its individual components. Likewise, with the aid of technology, individual components of a song are remixed together to create new songs. He stated that remix signals a fundamental shift from music as a commodity or product, to a process.

While initially an aural culture, Egenes stated that for the past couple of hundred years society has been focused on visual culture which emerged with text and focuses largely on individual creativity. He stated that the aural culture of society is remerging with computers augmenting the folk process. He noted that the financial worth of music is also being replaced with the value of online reputation. He considers online reputation as increasingly becoming a very important personal currency.

Henry Johnson – Chordophones, Aerophones and iPhones: the value of interactive mobile applications in the mediatization of music performance.
Henry Johnson spoke about the use of touch screen mobile phones such as the iPhone and how this has created instant access to music as well as new forms of production. He linked these new innovative features to the mediatization, globalization and consumption of music.

In particular he discussed iPhone apps such as the iKoto, iShauhachi and ecShamisen which are digital versions of traditional Japanese instruments.

The iShauhachi, attempts to emulate a bamboo flute which is 55cm long with four finger holes. The app emulates the finger holes (4 for the basic user and 5 for an advanced user). The player must blow into the microphone on the iPhone to create the dynamics of the wind instrument. Henry stated that while the app did go someway toward creating a digital version of the original instrument, the quality of the sound sample used in the app is not very good. For an example of the iShauhachi in use see:

The iKoto is a traditional 13 string Japanese instrument. The iPhone tries to recreate this instrument through an app which has the same number of strings. Given the size of the phone, the spacing between the strings creates some difficulties but nonetheless basic compositions are possible. Henry suggested that while the sample sound of the app is very close to the original, there is no way for the player to change the dynamics of the string plucking, limiting the digital replication of the instrument.

There are currently two ecShamisen apps available for the iPhone. The digital version of this instrument has greater dexterity than the real instrument, however again, there is no way for the player to change the dynamics of the string plucking. Uses of this app include practising or learning how to play the original instrument.

Primarily Henry sees these apps as gadgets rather than instruments. However, he suggests that they could have a real use despite the size limitations of the device. For those with no experience with the traditional instruments, these apps may provide an opportunity for use and production that would not have been possible otherwise. Experiential learning and cultural exposure are enhanced by their existence. However he does not consider that they will ever replace the real instruments.

Henry noted that the mobility of the device enables it to be used in many environments and is not dependent on a tv screen, computer and/or mouse. While the player is restricted by the physical limitations of the size of the device, it nonetheless transforms music production and performance in terms of availability and ease of use. This enables a type of musical tourism with musicians able to use instruments that in the past were only available in specific geographical locations. However there remain some geographical restrictions, for example, Apple has not yet made the Taiko available for purchase by New Zealand iPhone users.

This talk was excellent and provoked a lot of discussion about the use, function and value of mobile touch screen interactive musical instruments.

Overall this was an excellent start to the IASPM ANZ conference. The people, as always, make the conference and combined with papers of a very high standard which are both educational and interesting it has been a fantastic day.

1 comment:

shelley.brunt said...

Thanks for the review, Sally!