Introduction: Collecting the fragments of transformation
First Monday

Introduction: Collecting the fragments of transformation by David Beer


Abstract
The relationship between music and the Internet is a site of perceived possibility and volatility. Stories of music theft, illegal downloads, unresolved court cases, and anti-piracy technologies, are now prominent. Conversely, stories about the creation of real-time music composition, music's increasing accessibility, the regeneration of music collecting, and the development of virtual music communities have also become prominent. This paper introduces a fascinating suite of articles that originally appeared in First Monday on music's evolving relationship with the Internet, and are now included in Special Issue: Music and the Internet.

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Introduction: Collecting the fragments of transformation

‘…the new economically and technologically based creations that we owe to the nineteenth century enter the universe of a phantasmagoria. These creations undergo this “illumination” not only in a theoretical manner, by an ideological transposition, but also in the immediacy of their perceptible presence. They are manifest as phantasmagoria.’
Benjamin, 2002: 14

‘…we need a more concrete, historically embedded, phenomenology of the internet (and other forms of computer–mediated technology) as contested cultural formations restructuring the practices of everyday life.’
Sandywell, forthcoming: 17

The relationship between music and the Internet is a site of perceived possibility and volatility. Stories of music theft, illegal downloads, unresolved court cases, and anti-piracy technologies, are now prominent. Conversely, stories about the creation of real-time music composition, music’s increasing accessibility, the regeneration of music collecting, and the development of virtual music communities (that transcend the problems of time and space), have also become prominent forms of media discourse. These competing utopian and dystopian rhetorical formulations have been woven into the conceptualisation and ideological representation of the relationship between music and the Internet. The Internet has been constructed and reconstructed as a paradoxical space of democracy and control, creativity and constraint, art and cognition, truth and deviance, and, perhaps most interestingly, as both biological [1] and mechanical. These complex rhetorical formulations, which are appropriated through innumerable communications streams [2], have, like the technologies to which they are attached, become embedded in the practices of everyday life [3]. Technology (in this case the Internet), rhetoric, and everyday life (the practices of music creation and appropriation), have become interwoven [4]. This has implications for the understanding and conceptualisation of the relationship between music and the Internet. Perhaps one way of overcoming this problem is to begin by collating writings that detail this relationship in order for their content to be reassessed and reflected upon. The rhetoric of music and the Internet can perhaps then be reconstructed or conceptually mapped out [5]. The objective of this collection is to begin this process by compiling a set of papers on the theme of music and the Internet from the archives of First Monday.

This special collection of papers on the topic of music and the Internet is intended to act as a moment of refocusing and reconsideration [6]. The relationship between music and the Internet is complex, as these papers demonstrate, and, over the ten years in which First Monday has existed, the Internet has profoundly transformed the practices of music creation, distribution, and appropriation. In this time the Internet has become embedded in, and has therefore transformed, everyday life. The papers contained in this collection are a document of these transformations.

These papers are presented here as fragments under a common theme, yet it is not surprising to find that their content is anything but common. Each paper captures a different moment, a different phenomenon (although some deal with the same phenomenon in different ways), a different cultural or social event, and, often, a different historical context. Each of which goes toward constructing a collage-based image of music and the Internet. Together they develop a rich context on which future studies can be placed. They also generate vast sets of unanswered questions that offer a wide range of opportunities for further study. It is hoped that by collecting these papers together the reader will find specific questions for further pursuit.

In my essay ‘Reflecting on the digit(al)isation of music’ (2005), which is contained in this collection, I identify the necessity for a reflexive analysis and multidirectional critique of the emerging strands of research in this field [7]. This collection is, in a sense, a reply to this challenge, a response to the need for reflection.

I have structured the following collection around four sections. These sections are intended to be open, flexible, and fluid, rather than fixed, rigid, or solid. As with any categorisation of this kind there are, of course, problems. There are, for example, a number of areas where these categories overlap or blur into one another. It is with these problems in mind, and with the central objective of clarity, accessibility, and ease of use, that the papers have been categorised within this collection.

The first section, Tracking technological transformations, contains papers that are concerned with detailing the implications of specific sets of technologies. They focus particularly on linking technological transformations with wider social and cultural transformations. The second section, Distribution, copyright and democracy, contains papers that focus upon the movement and exchange of music across the Internet and the subsequent implications for control and ownership. The third section, Culture, community and consumption, contains papers that are concerned with the analysis of the construction of online collectives, groups, or shared cultural events, in short, the construction of culture and (virtual) communities through the appropriation of music via the Internet. The final strand, Reflection, contains papers that are concerned with questioning, reviewing, and reflecting upon music and the Internet.

It is hoped that this collection will present some new questions, re-present some existing unanswered questions, offer an opportunity for the further development of critique, and form a foundation that will enable the tacit conversations that are occurring in this emerging field to become more explicit. It is also hoped that this snapshot of the study of music and the Internet is not considered to be an endpoint, but rather a temporary pause, a moment of critical reflection, within these dynamic sets of socio-technological transformations and the rapid flows of information [8] that accompany their development and appropriation.End of article

 

About the author

David Beer is currently conducting research on music technology and performance at York St John College as well as being involved in teaching in the School of Arts. He is also studying for a PhD on the digitalisation of contemporary music in the Department of Sociology at the University of York (U.K.).

 

Acknowledgments

I would like to thank Edward J. Valauskas for his enthusiasm and support with this project, Barry Sandywell for his ongoing guidance on reflexive inquiry, and Erika Deverall for listening.

 

Notes

1. For a discussion of biological metaphors in technology see Thrift (2004)

2. Mark Poster describes the contemporary pervasion of media streams, advertising, and consumption in his essay ‘Consumption and digital commodities in the everyday’ (2004)

3. For more on the embedding of technology in everyday life see Pinch & Trocco (2002), Sandywell (2004), Galloway (2004), and Sassen (in Gane, 2004)

4. This perhaps incorrectly suggests that these spheres have at some stage been separated. The point here is that the complexity and volume of technology and technological rhetoric has increased in the digital age. This has had the effect of pervading everyday life. It is this level of pervasion, and our increased exposure to mediated forms of information, that leads me to the conclusion that technology, rhetoric, and everyday life have become (more closely) entwined.

5. For more on the mapping out of the discourses of the internet see Hand & Sandywell (2002) and Sandywell (forthcoming).

6. An overview of the study of music and the Internet can be found in Steve Jones’ essay ‘Music and the Internet’ (2000)

7. This issue is also briefly discussed in Beer and Gane (2004).

8. More on the rapid flow of information in the digital age can be found in Lash (2002), a critique of which can be found in Sandywell (2003).

 

References

D. Beer and N. Gane, 2004. “Back to the future of social theory: An interview with Nicholas Gane,” in Sociological Research Online, volume 9, number 4, http://www.socresonline.org.uk/9/4/David Beer and Nicholas Gane.html.

D. Beer, 2005. “Reflecting on the digit(al)isation of music,” First Monday, volume 10, number 2.

W. Benjamin, 2002. The Arcades Project. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Harvard.

A. Galloway, 2004. “Intimations of everyday life: Ubiquitous computing and the city,” Cultural Studies, volume18, number 2-3, pp.384-408.

N. Gane, 2004. The future of social theory. London: Continuum

M. Hand and B. Sandywell, 2002. “E-Topia as cosmopolis or citadel: On the democratising and de-democratizing logics of the Internet, or, toward a critique of the new technological fetishism,” Theory, Culture and Society, volume 19, number 1-2, pp.197-225

S. Jones, 2000. “Music and the Internet,” Popular Music, volume 19, number 2, pp.217-230.

S. Lash, 2002. Critique of Information. London: Sage.

Trevor Pinch and Frank Trocco, 2002. Analog days: The invention and impact of the Moog synthesizer. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

M. Poster, 2004. “Consumption and digital commodities in the everyday,” Cultural Studies, volume 18, number 2-3, pp.409-423.

B. Sandywell, 2003. “Metacritique of information: On Scott Lash’s Critique of Information,” Theory, Culture & Society, volume 20, number 1, pp.109-122.

B. Sandywell, 2004. “The myth of everyday life: Toward a heterology of the ordinary,” Cultural Studies, volume 18, number 2-3, pp.160-180.

B. Sandywell, forthcoming. “Monsters in cyberspace: Cyberphobia and cultural panic in the information age,” Information, Communication and Society.

N. Thrift, 2004. “Electric Animals: New models of everyday life?” Cultural Studies, volume 18, number 2-3, pp.461-482.

Editorial history

HTML markup: Susan Bochenski and Edward J. Valauskas; Editor: Edward J. Valauskas.


Contents Index

Copyright ©2005, First Monday

Copyright ©2005, by David Beer

Introduction: Collecting the fragments of transformation by David Beer
First Monday, Special Issue #1: Music and the Internet (July 2005),
URL: http://firstmonday.org/issues/special10_7/beer/index.html





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