Category Archives: building

building design research

My audio sabbatical (and the economic reality of my creative work)

A little while ago, I was awarded with a flash grant from Shuttleworth Foundation, thanks to Shuttleworth fellow Sean Bonner for his nomination. If you’re unfamiliar with Shuttleworth, it’s a neat foundation with a mission to create “an open knowledge society with limitless possibilities” through funding projects that embody the ethos of openness.

As a believer, thinker, and doer of open knowledge, Shuttleworth’s progressive message hits me close to home. This flash grant affirms my sharing of what I do while I am doing it, a work style that I’ve come to develop over the years. This openness challenges the competitive norms of this society, a world organized by individualism, meritocracy, and institutional forms of privatization and policy protectionism. In academia and the art/music world, I have learned and unlearned many lessons regarding the social consequences of knowledge production and dissemination.

To me, knowledge production has to be checked with social reality of what it does to our community. How do we talk about what we know? Who do we learn from? Who has access to this knowledge? Who is entitled to this knowledge? With whom should we share our learnings? Who benefits from this knowledge? Who is harmed by this knowledge? Which institutional and economic contexts support (or regulate) the production of knowledge? (I’ve talked about some of these concerns in the context of open access publishing and ethnomusicology previously.)

These are complex questions (and many folks including Deb Verhoeven, Kimberly Christen, and Michelle Kisliuk have spent lots of time thinking about this). The idea of openness itself is further complicated by the fact that there are multiple publics in the society, some weak, some strong. These questions form an ethical compass throughout all of my professional and creative endeavors. Because there are political and economical concerns tied to all knowledge production and dissemination, we should consider each context thoughtfully.

Last month, I completed a two-year fellowship. The ACLS Public Fellowship was a tremendous opportunity in which I learned my ways as a public-sector researcher and digital strategist during my time at the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs. The Shuttleworth grant came at a good time to help support my post-fellowship work in a few community sound projects that I’ve put on the back burner. Specifically the grant is supporting my time and labor while I make progress to deepen my sound-based research and creative engagement to re-make the public sphere in Los Angeles, a city that I came to adore and care for.

I’m making progress in LA Listens, a collaborative project that explores sounds of urban vibrancy in Los Angeles. In the last year, we developed a community-based methodology to engage with the social, ecological and experiential dimensions of the soundscape of city streets. Our methodology has contributed to the creative re-imagining of the acoustic public of particular locales and broader civic discussions about the role of sound in neighborhood changes and urban planning policy. Through a collaboration with MIT’s Community Innovators Lab (CoLab), We have shared research narratives including sound compositions based on our data have spurred a series of sound walks, location recordings, and sound-based provocations among urban planners and organizers in cities worldwide (summarized in this CityLab article by the Atlantic). I’m using my time to explore possible community partnerships and share our project reflection as blog posts and possibly a journal article. I’m also excited about funding a research internship for the project. Rounak Maiti, a former student from Occidental College, has joined the team to assist with field recording analysis and re-composition.

Soundwalk in Boyle Heights neighborhood, Los Angeles
Soundwalk in Boyle Heights neighborhood, Los Angeles

I have remobilized the Movable Parts team (a socially concerned maker collective) to produce a creative intervention regarding the collective mobility experience in LA. With a microgrant from Metro, we built a prototype for Movable Karaoke, a participatory multilingual system on a pedicab. During California Rideshare Week, we staged a series of karaoke events through the streets and at transit hubs such as metro stations, bus stops, sidewalk, parklets and plazas (documented on instagram). Residents and passersby in Koreatown, East Hollywood, Thai Town, Hollywood, Chinatown, and Pershing Square came to us, with adults sharing personally meaningful songs, children trotting along on the sidewalk and in the schoolyard. In the coming weeks, I plan to share my thoughts on rickshaw design along with some stories and experiences of collective mobility.

Movable Karaoke, Chinatown
Movable Karaoke, Chinatown

Working with fellow sound ethnomusicologist Yun Emily Wang, I’m co-designing a sound installation that will be included as a part of an exhibition at the upcoming Society of Ethnomuisoclogy meeting in Austin, Texas. This collaborative project will explore the meaning of  “雜 (dza) through materializing the mixed, blended, miscellaneous, and insignificant odds and ends of sounds in Taiwan.” This coming Wednesday, I will be recording a live video set with my ghost pop band Bitter Party for the Ear Meal Webcast series. This performance will feature field recordings collected from recent trips to Taiwan, adding a new context to the band’s ethnographically driven song arrangement.

Concept drawings for Dza, a sound installtion for SEM
Concept drawings for Dza, a sound installation for SEM

Labor and time are the building blocks in our creative economy. I give a shout out to Shuttleworth for playing a critical role in supporting me through this highly creative period, and for sustaining our broader creative ecology. Honored and thankful, I will continually share what I do in these exciting projects in the near future.

 

 

 

 

 

building design software

A New Paperphone Site

We built a site to anticipate for our official launch for Paperphone. We have populated the site with tutorial videos and texts, and contextual information about the project. This full site would make our final launch — scheduled on Monday March 17th Wednesday March 19th — more effective and compelling.

http://beingwendyhsu.info/paperphone/

building design performance software

More Paperphone beta: fixed presets & key controls added!

Jonathan and I did some development work based on the feedback we got from you the last couple of days. We are releasing a second beta version of Paperphone. [Read about design ideas and background related to Paperphone.] In this version, we improved the user interface, added key controls and fixed presets, and resolved a Windows Runtime issue.

The new interface should be a little more intuitive than the previous one. I took some time to study the GUI (graphic user interface) of Ableton Live and came up with a new wireframe. We moved the master controls to the right edge of the frame, and rotated the volume indicators and controls to be vertical. We also color-coded the presets areas to be purple.

Paperhone: GUI beta2a
Paperhone: GUI beta2a

With the preset functions,  you can now experiment with effect presets that we have designed. These fixed presets include: megaphone, robot, archive, spacey, artifact, intercom. If you have suggestions for effect presets, please send us a screenshot of your settings along with a name suggestion for the preset. We would love to hear about your effect design in terms of sound, concept, and even implementation!

Per our tester Gabriel’s (@SanNuvola) suggestion, we added a feedback feature so that the user can take a live signal from the microphone, and then feed that back into the system to create a loop of “cumulative noises & silence.” Please use with cautions.

Lastly, we added a series of key controls so that the user can control the settings by hitting keys on their computer’s keyboard. For instance, you can click on the first letter of the effect name to turn on/off effect 1 (e.g. click “r” to activate reverb). You can also navigate through the preset menu via the arrow keys on the keyboard. Specific instructions are included in the patch.

Off you go, it’s play time!

Download Paperphone beta2 (.mxf 14mb)

System Requirement: Max, or Max Runtime. [If you don’t already have Max on your machine, please download Max Runtime to run the Paperphone patch.]

We value your feedback. If you have time, please respond to the following:

  • Which of the effects and effect combination are effective, fun, and useful? If you can, please share screenshots of your effect settings (and potential names of your preset configuration).
  • If you have time, please also help us develop its user experience by describing scenarios in which you would use Paperphone: thinking through the kind of prose + effect combination (which configuration of buttons to activate, how would you configure your presets, how would you navigate the controls throughout a paper, etc).
  • Does the interface seem intuitive to you? What can we do to improve it?

 

building design software

Paperphone: beta release!

Paperphone, user interface beta version
Paperphone, user interface beta version

Jonathan and I are excited to release our first beta version of Paperphone!

Paperphone is a scholarly voice playground. It is a vocal effect processor designed for scholarly papers. Designed to transform the role of the voice in scholarship, the user could apply audio effects (including distortion, reverb, echo, vocoder!, etc) to their voice during live paper presentations. Read about the rationale behind the project.

At this point, we are looking for feedback on its usability. We want to know what you think of the user interface and sound design.

  • Does the interface seem intuitive to you? What can we do to improve it?
  • Which of the effects and effect combination are effective, fun, and useful? If you can, please share screenshots of your effect settings (and potential names of your preset configuration).
  • If you have time, please also help us develop its user experience by describing scenarios in which you would use Paperphone: thinking through the kind of prose + effect combination (which configuration of buttons to activate, how would you configure your presets, how would you navigate the controls throughout a paper, etc).

We would be grateful if you would provide your feedback in the next couple of days, say, by this Monday March 3. Please email me your feedback at wendy dot f dot hsu at gmail.

Paperphone is built in the Max environment. If you don’t already have Max, you can download Max Runtime to run to the patch. Instructions for Paperhpone are included on the app’s interface. If you have Mira, the iPad controller for Max, you could control Paperphone using Mira. There may be bugs in the connection between Mira and Max, however.

Download Paperphone (.mxf 20MB, beta1)

To download Paperphone, check out this post.

Thanks for your support for the project. We are moving right along.

building research teaching

Toward a sound-based scholarship

[I’m cross-posting this from the Digital Summer Institute’s blog at Oxy. This post is meant to ignite some conversations on alternative argumentation from the perspective of sound.]

To forward the theme of digital and media fluency for this year’s DSI, I’d like to start a conversation about the role of audio and sound in multimedia scholarship. There are, of course, obvious applications of sound in fields such as musicology and media studies. But I would like to broaden the engagement with sound to non-music-specific disciplines. There are a few ways to think about this. I will outlinen these approaches in the following:

1. Soundscape: In ethnographic scholarship, there is an emerging practice of sound-specific fieldwork. Some of this scholarship is based on the work of Pierre Schaeffer, a composer and philosopher who coined the term “musique concrete” to radically consider environmental sounds as being musical. In the case of field research, anthropologists have considered the observations of sound as a cultural practice. This could be useful for the urban studies. For instance, what is the soundscape of a working-class neighborhood that is bounded by highways and factories? Carey has written a fantastic post about her “sonification of social life” assignment. In terms of research, a couple of examples of a soundscape-based multimedia ethnography include the Unspeakable Things series hosted by Sensate Journal;  a map of sound segmentation of Jerusalem. There’s also a group out of the anthropology department at UC Irvine that is interested in sound-specific inquiries.

2. Sonic representation of culture: Sound can be a medium to represent culture and knowledge. Some humanistic scholars and journalists have begun to convey their works in the form of a podcast, radio documentary, oral history, and digital storytelling. Here, we can begin to explore about the role of sound in structuring writing and composition assignments for students; and to make space for students to develop critical listening skills for analyzing audio-based scholarly content. An example of scholarly podcasts is the Pop Conference podcast series hosted on the Experience Music Project iTunesU.

New addition: Also check out Jentery Sayers’ syllabus for “Sonic Culture and Media Activism” for exemplary analysis and making assignments On sound as culture.

3. Sonification of non-sound-specific texts: An emerging group of non-music researchers have looked at their objects of study by bringing works into the sonic domain. This approach can be particularly useful for the study of poetry, theater, and (foreign) language. A compelling example of this kind of research is Tanya Clement’s use of sound tools to explore patterns of sound in Gertrude Stein’s poetry.

On the side of teaching, both Suzanne and I integrated audio assignments into our CSP courses last fall. Suzanne did a fan autoethnography assignment. In my CSP course on Race and Gender in Popular Music, the first assignment is a musical autobiography. I asked my students to not only locate their own personal connections to music but to also embody their voice in a sonic form. A rather radical approach to bring writing into sonic and vocal register, I asked my students to record their own autobiography, using Audacity, in their own voice. This assignment is inspired by Eve Sedgwick’s “Experimental Critical Writing” course syllabus.

The reason for constructing this assignment is that I often see students attempting to sound “scholarly” in writing. The purpose of this exercise was to disabuse them of their notions of having to sound scholarly. Instead of sounding like a generic scholar, whatever that is in their heads, I wanted them to take control, to reclaim their own voice, and to embody argumentative writing on their own terms. I asked them to record their own autobiography in their own voice. I also asked them to integrate meaningful sounds into their recording. After they posted their sonic autobiography, I asked them to do a critical listening exercise: What do your voice sound like? Do you have a confident voice? Timid? Anxious? Casual? Informal? Cogent? Introspective?

Here’s an example of a student’s musical autobiography as shared on SoundCloud (a sound-based community where users post, share, and comment on audio works). In this example, the student integrated sounds that represent her early experiences of music.

 

building research

A multimodal musical analysis: visualizing diaspora

Since I work in the CDLR, I get to raise all kinds of wild questions that don’t fall into the purview of traditional, disciplinary bound scholarship. To prepare for my presentation at the Pop Conference (instituted by Experience Music Project in Seattle), this year combined with IASPM-US (International Association for the Study of Popular Music), I became preoccupied with the question: “How do I visualize a music analysis about space and place?”

My paper extends my dissertation work on The Kominas, a South Asian American punk band tied to the alternative Muslim subculture self-labeled as Taqwacore. In this paper, I chose to focus on the band’s music. Through a couple of song readings, I investigate the form and content of diasporic spaces as articulated by the band’s music. I argue that this unique geo-musical formation discursively moves seamlessly between a conventional notion of diaspora—migration of people away from an ancestral homeland—and a minority-centered, multi-diasporic space. Through a recent engagement with multimodal scholarship, I challenged myself to think beyond writing, a mode that conventionally represents academic work. I already use the concepts such as cartography and mapping as metaphors. Why should I limit the expression of my ideas to text only? Why not create a map of my music analysis especially since it’s about space and place?

Visualizing a musical analysis is nothing new. Music theorists have used music notations to represent sonic patterns key in their interpretation. More recently, theorists and information scientists used computational means to process sonic materials for patterns. Visualization became a way to explore patterns, bringing sounds into a (visual) domain that were previously inaccessible with the human senses.

My paper, however, does not engage with the use of the computational technologies to process sonic materials. It does something rather old-school. It simply draws several points on a map and then links them. It does not overlay demographic or musical data. It displays a couple of different geographical formations that illustrate the changing contour of a musical diaspora, a geographical space comprised of lyrical, sonic, and choreographic references. [I deployed Josh Kun’s concept of “audiotopia” to argue for the social and cultural effects of this geo-musical space.]

I began with a hand-drawn map. I used the Penultimate app on my iPad.

I quickly realized that my hand drawn diagram is not only messy but almost illegible. Through searching and playing, I settled with the web-based mapping program Scribble Maps to map this unique diasporic spaces. Using features such as vector graphics, media imports, and baselayer settings, I created a couple of maps that best approximate the geo-musical entities for which I argue in my analysis.

This map articulates The Kominas’ worldview. I positioned South Asia in a visually central spot, with the cultural region of Punjab and the city of Lahore highlighted. The song “Par Desi” articulates this geographical formation:

The song’s title explicitly figures the South Asian diaspora. Vocally and lyrically, the song evokes an ethnic and geographical quandary. The singer and bassist Basim’s voice shivers as he sings the chorus line, ‘In Lahore it’s raining water, in Boston it rains boots.’ The subject in the song defines his physical home in Boston, where he experienced an assault by skinhead punks. He sings, ‘They tried to stomp me out, but they only fueled the flame.’ The song narrates a history of migration and the emotions of displacement. It raises the questions, ‘Where do I point to blame, when men scatter like moths? /…  how’d I get here, from a land with long monsoons?’

The song’s references to traditional bhangra, a dance music genre that originated in Punjab, further complicates this geo-musical formation. In my analysis, I argue that the band projects a transnational bhangra-punk sound:

An 8-second analog sample of live bhangra percussion comes into the musical present. Immediately, this sample transports me, the listener, away from the emotional space of the lament. Continuing the triplet pattern of the bhangra sample, the band transforms the bhangra rhythm into a collective punk-style chanting of ‘la-la-la’ in the final section of the song. This chant rejoices in the form of a Clash-like punk choir, roughly in unison with a distorted guitar.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

This bhangra-punk aesthetic is projected from a South-Asian- or desi-identified ethnic space: imagined somewhere between Punjab, 1970s punk England, and present-day home in the northeastern United States. The Kominas, I contend, elides its physical home in Boston and the U.S.; at the same time, the band self-consciously embeds itself into historical punk England to reclaim a new musical home.

I discovered a different but related diasporic configuration in “Tunnnnnn.” This song articulates a minoritarian, multi-diasporic space.

The Kominas alludes to the original roots reggae version of the song (“Armagideon Time” Jamaican artist by Willi Williams). In doing so, the band resituates their version of the song into a Rastafari time-space. The Kominas locates its own battleground, while borrowing from the Rastafari visions of Armageddon.

I hear The Kominas calling for its own ‘Armagideon,’ in the new lyrics written in Punjabi. According to Basim’s translation, the first verse states: ‘We will only drink that / That they are drinking in Iraq / We will only drink that / that they would drink in Karballah (sic).’ It is not a coincidence that both Iraq and Karbala are iconic battle sites both in the past and present. The War in Iraq after the events on September 11 has been a topical preoccupation by The Kominas since its first album (entitled Wild Nights in Guantanamo Bay). The band has made clear its stance of castigating the western world, in particular the United States, for waging a war motivated by Islamophobia, militarism, and imperialism. Following the Punjabi lyrics, Basim evokes the overthrow of 21st century Babylonians. In English, he sings the lines, ‘A lot of people won’t get justice tonight / A lot of people wont’ get no supper tonight / Just remember to / Kick it over / And praise Jehovah / And kick it out.’

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

The Kominas’ musical alliance with roots reggae, the music of those in Jamaica as well as the Jamaican immigrants, rewrites the history of the racial dynamics in 1960s and 1970s England. Challenging the history of “paki-bashing” in England, The Kominas’ music prominently figures the South Asian subjectivity. This musical geography has discursively reorganized the racial relations between blackness, whiteness, and Asianness. It also forges a musical alliance between a South Asian American band and the Afro-Caribbeans in Jamaica and the U.K..

In its overlays, these maps bring into relief various sites of geopolitics related to postcolonial struggles. This spatial articulation, I contend, is a minority-centered project of reterritorialization. It points away from the band’s physical home in the United States to re-focus on geographical sites symbolic of resistance. Its identification with loci of anti-white-supremacy and anti-imperialism, I argue, is a response to the post-9/11 social alienation and melancholia. Through the creative adaptations of Punjabi musical roots and transnational routes via the U.K., Jamaica, and Lahore, the band has built a psycho-social home in its music.

Coda: These two maps are extensions of my work at UVa’s Scholars’ Lab where I made a series of Myspace friendship distribution maps of a handful of bands (including The Kominas) featured in my dissertation. I’m happy that I’m in the position to use experimental and digital methods to further my explorations of the relationship between pop music and postcolonial geography. This cluster of ideas and modes of inquiry truly excites me.

 

 

 

 

 

building

Improving WordPress Search Function: Plugin Fun

I recently decided to start sharing my reflections on my day-to-day as a postdoc in digital scholarship at Oxy. I welcome feedback on my work because at times I feel as if much of our work could go unnoticed in a world so dominated by conventional notions of research and learning. Anything alternative to traditional research (i.e. publishing) and teaching (within the curriculum) — or labeled as #altac — could get lost in the mix.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

One of the faculty projects associated with the CDLR (Center for Digital Learning + Research) is Lisa Wade’s Sociological Images, one of the most visible and influential public sociology sites in the blogosphere. To follow up on our last meeting with Lisa, I scoped out the use of a plugin as a possible solution to improve the search function on a WordPress site. Specifically I played with a WordPress search plugin called Relevansii because of its high ratings and robust documentation community.

On the backend, the admin can configure the setting of the search to enable a specific combination of AND/OR queries. For instance, it could run a AND query first and if no results return, it would run an OR search. It does a good job with phrase search with quotes (e.g. “hillbilly music”). And it has fuzzy matching (matching partial words if complete words don’t match).

With a bit of script tweaking, with the help from Relevansii’s documentation page, I got the plugin to work pretty well on my course blog for CSP 27 Race and Gender in Pop Music. I have it set so that it searches the post content, title, tags, and categories. I gave more weight to post titles than  tags and comments. Based on the configured algorithm, the search gives a “relevance score” which determines the order of the research results. I also got the result page to highlight the search terms in excerpts and indicate the number of hits.

To display the number of search results, I tweaked the one-line code that I found on the documentation page and inserted it into the line scripted to return the search term in the header section of the code in search.php. [The WP theme that I use for the blog is Twentyeleven.]

<?php printf( __( $wp_query->found_posts . ' Search Results for: %s', 'twentyeleven' ), '<span>' . get_search_query() . '</span>' ); ?>

One could further tweak the look of the search results; for instance, changing the length of the excerpts, font style of the search terms, etc.

What’s cool about this plugin is that one could do a category/tag filter in the search. This restricts the search to process only the documents labeled with a selected category/tag term [similar to the search on commercial sites like newegg.com or Amazon]. I tweaked the standard searchform.php using the example code snippet that I found on the documentation page. This is the bit of code that I ended using:

<form method="get" id="searchform" action="<?php echo esc_url( home_url( '/' ) ); ?>">
 <label for="s" class="assistive-text"><?php _e( 'Search', 'twentyeleven' ); ?></label>
 <input type="text" class="field" name="s" id="s" placeholder="<?php esc_attr_e( 'Search', 'twentyeleven' ); ?>" />
 <?php wp_dropdown_categories(array('show_option_all' => 'All categories'));
     /*this is code snippet from relevansii for category filter */
  ?>
 <input type="submit" class="submit" name="submit" id="searchsubmit" value="<?php esc_attr_e( 'Search', 'twentyeleven' ); ?>" />
</form>

On my blog, I have it set up so that the search results can be filtered by the existing post categories (namely, reading responses, assignment, etc). In the case of Sociological Images, it would be useful to restrict the search using the existing tags on the site. Alternatively, one could further refine the structure of the posts by assigning them with higher-level category terms.

Give it a shot and play around: http://cdlrsandbox.org/wordpress/racegenderpop/

 

 

building teaching

Making songs to learn about songs: mobile music-making with iPad

Last week, we hosted the first of our Studio Sessions in the CDLR. Harnessing my interest in popular music, as a scholar and a performer, I thought that I would experiment with multi-track audio production using the iPad. I was inspired by all the iPad bands that are burgeoning on Youtube and especially empowered by to see that this emerging genre is heavily populated by women in Asia.

From my days of playing experimental music, I found that libraries are not only a day-job shelter for some of the most innovative experimental artists that I know (Khate, Jimmy Ghapherhy, Sharon Cheslow). Created for people to treat information and knowledge with care, libraries make a fantastic space for experimenting with the modes of production of cultural and intellectual content.

At the event, I transformed the CDLR into a mobile music recording studio. I moved some furniture out of the way. Using table cocktail tables, I set up multiple stations to track various instruments: electric guitar/bass, MIDI controller, USB voice/acoustic instrument. The guitar interface made by Apogee Jam makes it possible to plug an electric guitar directly into the iPad to control the built-in digital amp models. Via an Apple Camera Connection Kit, the MIDI controller and the USB microphones were connected to the iPad. The MIDI controller enabled the user to control and record various software instruments (fancy keyboard sounds like vintage organs and synths). I set up a “vocal booth” using the USB mic in the small compartment inside the CDLR to record sounds that travel through the air. We did a couple of close mic experiments. Tom Burkdall of the Center for Academic Excellence recorded his a capella version of an Irish pub song. Throughout the course of the session, Utsav, a student participant, recorded a cover of “Hey Soul Sister” that features his baritone ukulele.

The GarageBand Studio Session was the first event of CDLR’s “Year of Collective Learning through Critical Making + Code.” We designed this series with the intention to encourage the Oxy community to experiment with technology in ways that go beyond the end-user / consumer roles. I can say with confidence that the event achieved the goal of critical learning through making.

Let me illustrate this point by narrating my interactions with Amanuel, a first-year student at Oxy. He told me that he has had no experience in songwriting and audio production. He indicated that he didn’t feel comfortable starting out the session by playing with an instrument. I thought this would be a great opportunity to play with the sampler feature in the GarageBand app, which allowed the musically uninitiated to play with samples of sounds that are programmed to fit the (western) scalar tonal system. He quickly migrated into the Smart Percussion and Smart Keyboard. In a couple of hours, Amanuel made complex patterns of instrumental sounds.

While I was thrilled with Amanuel’s progress, he appeared to be discontent with his work. He told me that his music doesn’t sound right. After probing him, he revealed that his music doesn’t sound like Kanye West’s music. I recommended for him to sit down and study Kanye West’s music. We discussed principles and elements of pop song form. I left him to his own device to do some close listening. Without prompting him, I saw that he listened closely and jotted down notes about the song’s sections and structure. A little later, he tapped on my shoulder, “yo, this song sounds like really simple. The form is simple and is built on a few simple tracks.”

I said, “well, you’re totally right. Kanye West’s music is pretty simple in terms of its form. If you cam either be like him, make simple forms with your songs, or you can go with a form more complex than Kanye’s.” He seemed surprised by my claim.

He scratched his head and then went back to listen more examples of his favorite music. He played for me his recent favorite song “Tommy Chong” by the Blue Scholars as an example of a single-track keyboard introduction. Shaking his head, he indicated that he wished he could write a cool keyboard melody like the Blue Scholars. I said to him, “well, it’s not as hard as you think. This keyboard riff is in a pentatonic minor scale.” Then I showed him how to limit the keys on the GarageBand keyboard to only the tones in the specific preset scale. Bang! He instantly heard the difference between a pentatonic minor scale and a major scale by interacting with the keyboard algorithms in the app. [And if this were my Race and Gender in Popular Music class, then I would go on to the talk about the song’s keyboard riff in light of the group’s Asian American identities and explain the semantic significance of the pentatonic scale in the representations of the east in western music and media. I may even throw out Orientalism as a theory to contextualize this musical sound.]

Contrary to how I usually teach the concept of scale, via musical notations drawn on a chalkboard, coupled with a demo on a piano, the method of learning music through making a song on a tablet seems incredibly efficient and effective. The immersive practice of constructing a song, enabled by the tactile and visual components of the GarageBand app seems to me a more holistic approach to learning musical principles. By piecing together elements like tone, timbre, scale, harmony, section, melody, and rhythm for the task of building a song, students can learn the relationship among these musical components through a series of sonic and visual exercise, trials & errors. Not only that, this process also demystifies songwriting and could help students gain a critical perspective on the “artistry” of popular music.

I have talked about the cycle of learning, making, and then back to learning—as illustrated in my title “making songs to learn about songs.” From here, I’m interested to see what other music scholars and teachers have said about learning through making, in particular mobile music-making as a pedagogical practice. Wayne Marshall has theorized on mashup as “musically expressed ideas about music.” While he has mostly suggested mashup as a scholarly practice to articulate music analysis, I’d be curious to see how he develop his theory to include it as pedagogical practice for students to explore in a classroom. Ultimately, I want to produce a mixtape containing critical songs about songs made by students. Maybe next spring.

Listen to our set of tracks from our GarageBand Studio Session [FYI: track 3 “Our Desert Sounds a Little Different” is by yours truly; track 2 “Like Sardine in the CDLR” is by Carey Sargent]:


Before I wrap up this post, I want to riff on one corollary related to gender [that is perhaps the beginning of another central point about critical making]. There were no female participants at the event, except for one student’s friend who was invited to come into the studio to record a vocal harmony part. This is especially surprising because among the four adults staffing the event, three were women. And I, as someone who was visibly female, was clearly running the show. Is a recording studio a conventionally masculine space? Does the name GarageBand imply an old boy network? Yes and yes. At times, the CDLR felt like a music instrument store where male student participants took up substantial sonic space, noodling loudly on an electric guitar. And no one, including me, stopped them. I was bothered by it, but I didn’t want to impede their explorations by “being anal.” It felt disruptive to me, but I wasn’t sure how much it was affecting the sonic space of the other participants in the room. I was timid, as other female participants would’ve felt in that space.

I should consider this observation within the current discussion on the gender issues in the DH making/coding community instigated most recently by Miriam Posner. I agree with Miriam and those who spoke up this week against a kind of (gender/color) blind liberalism in the DH making/coding community. The “yourself” in the DIY communities isn’t necessarily white boys, but it could be in many instances. But we should probably do what we can make sure not only that there’s room for others, but that these others are sufficiently empowered in ways that they desire to be. We will have to introduce e-textile and softwear at the future iterations of our studio session. And/or we may just institute a Riot Grrrl studio series or a Grrrl(THAT)Camp.

 

building research

Back at it again: Tinkering with Maps

I played with Google Map API v.3 in OpenLayers today with the mission to fix a couple things broken on my Myspace Friendship Web Map. All of this is inspired by my recent revisit of my spatial (ethno)musicology at my UCLA talk on digital ethnography and the NCCSEM roundtable on alternative careers for ethnomusicology PhDs at Santa Clara University this past weekend. I also want to make some new visualizations for my talk at the upcoming EMP/IASMP meeting in New York in a couple of weeks.

More significantly, I’ve been preoccupied with how I can build on my music-map project. With the goal to develop tools to visualize the relationship between music and space, I want to go a step further than visualizing socio-musical communities to find a way to visualize the spatial patterns in the sound and lyrics of songs. This constellation of impulses and mini codling practices will contribute to my eventually goal of building a site, web hub for music scholars to rethink how the digital would enhance the spatial understanding of music and music-cultures.

I set aside a large chunk of time today to read and code today. I read Julie Meloni’s webcraft book to learn the syntax of JavaScript so that I could decipher the OpenLayers script that Joe and I worked on at the Scholars’ Lab. I read about DOM and reviewed some introduction to the basic structure, objects, and syntax of JavaScript. I also found out the some time early last year, Google came out with a Google Map API version 3. They are in the process of phasing out, or to use their language, “deprecating” version 2. So I set out to learn how to make the Google Map API version 3 work with the OpenLayers script that I came up with, while working with Joe (Gilbert) at the Scholars’ Lab.

I read the source code of the OpenLayers Google Map V.3 example and inserted parts of it into my original OL script. By the end of the day, I was able to get V3 to work in a new version [Kominasmap5.html]. In this version, Google Map layers download properly with the Spherical-Mercator projection. The loading time for the GM layers is much faster than better. The block-by-block layer download is replaced by a much faster download of the entire map. But the WMS layers (such as world_regions and muslim_majority) that the Scholars Lab created, however, are currently malfunctioning at this point. I took those parts of the script [var Layers] out to avoid brokenness.

I also learned how to center the map on specific lat-long coordinates. I decided to center the map with Singapore (103.8, 1.3667). I figured this way I can concentrate the friendship patterns in Asia, in particular South and Southeast Asia.

Here is the snippet of code that’s related to centering and projection:

new OpenLayers.Projection("EPSG:4326"),
map.getProjectionObject()
), 5);

I have no idea why “EPSG:4326″ is used in the OpenLayers Google Map v.3 example. This is especially puzzling when it explains in its comments that “Google.v3 uses EPSG:900913 as projection, so we have to // transform our coordinates.” In order to solve this puzzle, I may need to read about how projection works in OpenLayers.

In addition, the zoom is still broken (as it is in the previous version–kominasmap3–the public one hosted on beingwendyhsu.info) in the new version. The map can’t be zoomed all the out to the inter-continental level as before. I was not able to fix this in this iteration. A perhaps related problem is that the zoom bar on the left side of the map panel disappeared in this version.

I’m happy to be back at hacking, coding, and building again. It makes me feel incredibly productive. It feeds my inner child who loves to learn new things and imagine possibilities.

Goals for the next round:
– place a continent layer back into the map
– insert a zoom bar
– read parts of Julie M’s book on variables, functions, etc (ch 16 + 17)

Some OpenLayers zoom examples:
http://openlayers.org/dev/examples/fractional-zoom.html
http://openlayers.org/dev/examples/zoom.html
http://openlayers.org/dev/examples/fractional-zoom.html