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MUSDIG Report Summary

Project ID: 249598
Funded under: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
Country: United Kingdom

Final Report Summary - MUSDIG (Music, Digitization, Mediation: Towards Interdisciplinary Music Studies)

‘Music, Digitisation, Mediation: Towards Interdisciplinary Music Studies’ (MusDig) is a research programme charting the far-reaching changes to music and musical practices worldwide engendered by digitisation, digital media and the internet. MusDig addresses these changes across the spectrum of music practices––creation, composition, circulation, consumption and archiving; and it does so with reference to a range of popular, folk and art musics in the developing and the developed worlds. Integrating ethnomusicology and musicology, sociology of music, media and new media studies and critical legal studies, MusDig forges through its research and dissemination activities an interdisciplinary field of digital music studies. Empirically, it centres on ethnographic studies in the UK, Montreal, India, Kenya, Argentina and Cuba, with further studies of a leading music software program, and of online music consumption through a comparison of Spotify and an extra-legal P2P music platform. Through these multiple perspectives MusDig gives a comprehensive portrait of the ways in which music is being transformed by digitisation. The ethnographic studies offer rich and subtle accounts of specific music cultures in their social, political and economic contexts, enabling comparative analysis. Yet the MusDig programme goes further, demonstrating how it is possible to trace the interrelations between aesthetic and material, ideological and political, and social, institutional and economic dimensions of digital musics.

1) Substantively, MusDig gives comparative insights into a series of institutional, industry and policy changes catalysed by digital music technologies. They include:
• The restructuring of the music industry, contrasting in particular the emergence of a lively entrepreneurial digital music economy in Kenya, along with online and mobile-based digital content businesses, with Argentina’s imperilled digital music economy, where multinationals operate a parallel economy in which profits are exported;
• Evolving intellectual property regimes in relation to digital musics: from struggles over the implementation of a national copyright framework (Kenya), to the difficulty of enforcing copyright controls when long-standing IP institutions are unresponsive to digital conditions (Argentina), or when the historical norm has been mass unauthorised copying and circulation of music (Cuba);
• The impact of creative economy policies via governmental, international NGO and charity support for digital music initiatives in developed (UK, Montreal) and developing countries (Argentina, India, Kenya), policies where music is portrayed as a means of promoting economic development and social change.
• The influence in the UK and Montreal of neoliberal policies on universities supporting digital art musics, encouraging partnerships with business and government, knowledge transfer, interdisciplinarity, research impact assessment, academicisation of vocational arts courses and the paradigm of practice-based research.

2) Analysing digital music consumption, MusDig traces the manifold online and offline materialities and socialities in which consumption is embedded (Montreal, Cuba, India, Spotify studies), showing how they generate affects that are entangled with the pleasures offered by musical sound. In India, digital music archiving is legitimized by ideas of ‘digital heritage’, lifting traditional musics into transnational circulation while forging a series of aural public spheres. MusDig charts also the growing range of uses of the internet for increasingly elaborate consumption practices (Kenya, India, Montreal, Spotify studies), as well as for publicity, dissemination, exchange and sales (Argentina, Kenya, Montreal, UK studies), and novel creative and ‘prosumption’ practices (all studies). In Cuba, India and Kenya, ubiquitous portable digital devices such as cell phones and memory sticks fuel distinctive cultures of music consumption based on non-monetized music circulation, bolstering ‘grey’ music economies; yet striking differences exist between India and Kenya, where the internet is variably accessible, and Cuba, where it is still largely inaccessible.

3) Tracing digital music literacies, MusDig uncovers marked inequalities, particularly linked to gender and class (UK, Montreal, India studies). As a result, in the global North, sound art is taken up by women musicians as a less exclusionary practice. The findings on gender and class led in the UK and Montreal to MusDig interventions in key debates about the future of music and music technology university programmes.

4) Addressing creative practices and musical aesthetics, MusDig charts a vibrant pluralisation of aesthetics, materialities and practices in digital art musics, sometimes accompanied by neo-modernist ideologies. Among these currents are the growing prominence of sound art, with its spatial and social orientations; a reaction against high technologies manifest in circuit bending, hacking and the return to analogue technologies, linked to an ontological politics of music; the growth of crossover genres testifying to the way that certain digital aesthetics are challenging the boundaries between art and popular musics; and the rising legitimacy of improvised musics. Nonetheless, institutionalised divisions between ‘high’ and ‘low’ digital musics continue to be sustained by differences in technological cultures and infrastructures. Notably, university programmes retain a focus on digital idioms like multichannel sound spatialisation, immersive audiovisual installations and telematic performance, genres inaccessible to non-academic musicians because of the need for high investment in digital infrastructures. Meanwhile, in digital popular and folk musics, novel musical hybrids are cultivated for both local and national audiences and potential ‘world music’ markets, while being attached to post-sectarian (Kenya) or pluralist (India), nationalist and/or post-nationalist (Argentina, Montreal) ideologies and politics.

Conceptually and theoretically, on the basis of the comparative findings above, new approaches have been developed to a series of key terms, terms central to MusDig’s analysis of digital musics but which are more generally relevant to interdisciplinary music studies: mediation; the social; space; time; and genre. Each is the focus of major outputs. They include a special double issue of the Contemporary Music Review on ‘Music, Mediation and Actor-Network Theory’, the book Music, Sound and Space (Cambridge University Press, 2013), and the book Music and Genre: New Directions (Duke University Press, forthcoming).

Apart from these, the main outputs of the MusDig programme are three edited volumes, two of which weave the results together with related research by other scholars, extending the comparative framework. The main volume presents the results of the MusDig programme: Digital Musics: A Global Anthropology (2017). A second special issue of the Contemporary Music Review titled ‘Gender, Creativity and Education in Digital Musics and Sound Art’ will be published in 2016. A third collection presents the comparative analysis of digital musics and IP: Music, Digitisation and Intellectual Property: Sound, Culture and Law in Global Remix (Duke University Press, 2017). Many other publications have already been published or are forthcoming. In addition, MusDig organised a large number of academic and benefit-sharing conferences in all the countries researched, engaging our ethnographic subjects and their wider communities in discussing our findings. In the UK and Montreal, we also shared the research with musicians, practitioners and the directors of university music and music technology degrees, fuelling their reflections on the future of digital musics both educationally and creatively.

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United Kingdom
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