Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Let's talk about New Media and Music Education

It's true. Conservatories have been experiencing lately less students. At least on the case of the namely "classical" instruments. Too much focus and hard studying for an unsecure future as a musician professionalism? Global crisis has added to the phenomenon. Music apparently seems as a luxury facility for many people. And the increasement of the internet life, moreover, gives new options for a more modernized communication, although in many cases confuses the clear minds and pushes them away from the good old focus of studying an instrument together with the teacher- the oldest and probably the most secure way of transmitting music from one generation to the other, in a historical depth and a geographical width.

                                                          (Tod Machover's "Hyperviolin" )

On the other hand, new researches on the media, new technology gadgets, and computer-based material is appearing, focusing to "sound" and "music" making productions. Software for home studios, hardware taken as "robot" musicians or "instruments", internet applications for iPads, iPhones etc etc etc. Even music lessons through Skype, YouTube and similar programmes are now very fascinating. But is this a serious answer to those who do not see where the future of music is?

Does all this production mean to empower the interest to music? Is their aim to add a positive new experience on music teaching and learning processes? Or is it just about some of the globalized products for commercial usage until the next ones come to the surface? Having been participant of the academic, musical training, in the more "traditional" sense, seems difficult to answer without a simultaneous critical thinking. At least my professional environment gives me much food for similar thought.
The other day i was a participant of a music education organisation's discussions about the present and the future of their activities. One professional "old school" guitarist was sitting next to me, commenting that "No, we can't compare the soft touch of a chord and the sensation this action provides, with the pushing on the keys of a notebook".
During the same period, a colleague of mine, stated at our meeting of school music teachers, that he no longer struggles between the "conducting" or "playing" dilemma, one usually faces while rehearsing or performing with a school choir. He writes the music material through a computer software to a nice karaoke archive, and the "orchestra" plays for him, while he has free hands for standing in front of the children conducting and supporting them. And of course having on his back happy ever satisfied teachers and school head masters for the full orchestra sound.
I respect both of this kind of perspective these opinions present. They belong to different personalities, different generation musicians, and different specialization on music, also. But which one do i approach more? Well, I can't say that i don't embrace the romantic vision of the guitarists, and I can't say that i don't have any kind of natural curiosity on some of those interesting applications, or that i haven't ever tried them, also. I would rather say that i even collect them carefully, for future lesson plans with my students. While on the other hand, struggle to find time to play on my piano. Let's get through some of them:

Those three webpages above provide applications consisting of a number of music characters that you can interact with, by pushing on them. This is a nice example of experiencing quickly enough the concept of instrumental or vocal polyphony and harmony.The musical result can be each time different, depending on the users'choices on voices, number of players, contradictions between solo and tutti etc. The third case, named IncrediBox, is more complicated, including much more different musical parameters than the other two. But i find it quite funny, and helps raising the discussion on musical themes and motifs, composing, minimal music etc. It could be a more modern way of teaching music theory. Maybe not referring too much on the classical studies, but it fits perfect to general music classes of the schools. One colleague of mine has included the "Singing Horses" at her webpage as a supportive material on her special education musical classes! Also if one wants to make a kind of practice in mixing, should visit a BBC´s related application, and, last but not least, we provide you also from here a fresh idea on how to play your music with a band through internet. Here a re the links:
The Fanfare Music Band
The Singing Horses
The IncrediBox
The BBC On Line Mixing Game
Practice Your Music

Moreover, internet has changed the way we listen to classical music. Long duration symphonies, sonatas, concertos  are not experienced anymore as a whole, converted as they are in pieces, in many cases not even according to their natural three or four part formation. This is quite annoying for the passionate lovers of classical music, but, gives an opportunity to the children to get familiarized little by little on the most important musical works of the music culture of the west. On the other hand, private channels with low cost or free registrations provide live broadcasting on important concerts of famous halls, orchestras and soloists, for those who want a close relation with such events, not to mention the ability to have a live streaming even for your own concert!
I was searching, lately, and waiting too, for a good motivation for listening to some classical music again, as a matter of inspiration. I usually do it this way, if i want to play music soon with a nice mood. Last night it came. A friend discovered the project of a group of German professional musicians, the DigiEnsemble:
Those guys perform music indoor or outdoor utilizing new technology, like smartphones, tablets, etc. Afterwards they upload extracts of those performances to their channel on YouTube.(also to their blog, or in Vimeo), in an attempt to shape the better access possibilities. Here you can have a taste of their collaboration  as an octet with the soprano Anna Gutter, but do not forget to read the information about the technology the use:
By listening to some of their music, one cannot stop reflecting on how far the technology still has to go, working on the interpretative sensory systems, on the path to simulate the human interpretation. The digital ensemble interpretation sounds very persuasive: I suppose they have good (means: expensive) smartphones, recording software, and they trust YouTube- or other media- sound possibilities,  but of course this is not to be evaluated only as "pure" technology. It does not only concern some "button" pressing. Here is the occasion of some excellent players- "the athletes of the small muscles", as Oliver Sachs successfully names the performers- facing also some real composition, that have study before etc etc.

                                                            ( hyperinstruments for kids)

Or we don't need musicians at all? Enough with those capricious artists and their extraordinary demands? Some researchers are currently working on robot musicians. George Tzanetakis at the Computer Science Department of University of Victoria, Canada, is only one of the examples, after the prestigious MIT and their Tod Machovers' famous investigations under the name "HyperInstruments". And this information about robot players is one the Governments maybe should never hear, otherwise all the orchestras will soon be closed or under-sponsored after the shadow of new, cheap players.
But the Greek researcher advises us,"these robots are not like human beings, but rather resemble to highly sophisticated hardware". Some old fashioned maybe will be hurry to argue that "those technology products are not instruments". But for some progress-followers, musicians included, those are just the next generation instruments.
Does the fight ever ends? The interview does not seem to interfere any motivation info about this kind of research programmes. Although we already know from the MIT case, that they believe in the democratization of the music making. Which means that by the hardware they build, they wish for the biggest access they can have -remote citizens, children, elder people, handicapped etc.

Well, what about musicologists, ethnomusicologists, and other researchers on music and its currently deal to Digital Medea? In an almost recent conference in UK, Abigail Wood through her paper presentation suggested that, despite the whole development of a music life through internet, new technology and new media applications, real life is the field where music in fact is being created. On the other side, communication changes, and even if we like it or not, internet and new media have continuously developing roles to play in it. And music is not outside the game. A link form anewspaper like the one that follows here is a mere proof of the phenomenon.
But how many people do have access to all this new stuff in reality? Are we honestly sure that our societies are being democratized through those modern processes? Which children will be able to play with this kind of interactive installations and what will this mean for the other that they won't?

                            From music to sound: one of the rooms of the Haus der Musik in Vienna,
                                providing mikrokosmos and makrokosmos recorded soundscapes.