I’m from Hicksville too


I read Dylan Horrocks’ Hicksville last night. It’s a comic book about a comic book author from a town of comic book enthusiasts. It’s been described as “a love letter to the medium” – but it felt to me more complex than that.

It’s about someone exploring their culture, their heritage and their inheritance – the thing that has both provided both the context and connecting thread for their whole lives, but with which they have an uncomfortable and uncertain relationship.

It’s a homecoming after some time in the wilderness – but with a sense of inevitability and resignation about it. Your community is not the people you choose, the people who like you – or even the people who are like you. They are the people you have ended up with.

I haven’t read a comic book (or graphic novel, if you prefer) for a long time, but I’m a fan of the medium and its rich possibilities for narratives using image as well as text. I have enough of a passing understanding of them to recognise a few of the references. I also know about some of the exploitation in the industry, as well as the mythologising and hero creation (of the artists themselves – not just of their flying crime fighters) that goes on.

It reminded me of the music industry – and my own uncomfortable relationship with it. It’s different in many ways, of course – but everything is similarly complex, fraught and mythological. The love for music and the conditions of its production, the dedication that people have for it despite its challenges as a way of life, and the idea of a canon of work that transcends time – and from which people draw inspiration, meaning and worth.

In Hicksville, there’s a troubled artist. There’s a naive enthusiast. There’s a person who ran away. There’s a keeper of the archives. There’s an entire nation literally adrift. There’s a cartoon manifestation of a subconscious torn between enthusiasm and fatalism… and there are love affairs that are lost and broken – as well as an unbreakable connection with the people and places who go to make up a life.

Hicksville made me feel a couple of things quite strongly: we do this (whatever ‘this’ might happen to be) because it helps express who we are and how we are. And that the important bit is the people, whoever they might happen to be.

Oh – and one third thing: that I’d love to write something that caused someone to feel, rather than just to think.

I already own an original Dylan Horrocks sketch. I knew that Hicksville would be good. It was better than I anticipated. I’ll be going back to it again to get more from it – and I’ll be buying his new one, Sam Zabel and The Magic Pen next…

Seminar at SOAS

Last night, I gave a presentation at SOAS – the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. I attempted to tie together the various BCU projects I’ve been involved with in India, Colombia, Venezuela and Brazil that are about music as a tool for social change – with the Manifesto for the Future of Music Technology Research (or MusicTechiFesto, as it’s become known), and the Music Tech Fest itself – all through the frame of Media Ecology.

I showed a few videos along the way – including from the Culture Shock project, Monkey on the Roof, Occupy Music, Un-Convention and others.

I also talked about how I thought that the idea of hacking – both culturally and in terms of creative technologies – give us new opportunities to think about the ways in which music makes meaning for people, and can change people’s lives – as well as acting as a seed for new commercial products and services, art installations and performances and research agendas.

I’m writing a book chapter about that over the next week or so – so it’s good to think that stuff out loud so I can hear how it sounds.

Great crowd – and a surprisingly diverse mix. Despite my exhaustion and consequent subpar performance in terms of coherence and structure, it seemed to go remarkably well. I’m looking forward to working with some of the people in the room soon… both on new research projects and on getting SOAS students and staff involved Music Tech Fest in different places around the world.

Music Tech Fest Paris


And that’s Music Tech Fest for 2014. After events in Wellington, Boston, London and Berlin, we ended up in Paris over the weekend for the festival of music ideas at IRCAM, Pompidou Centre.

The festival brings together some of the most innovative and fascinating performances, research, art projects, new business ideas and inventions in the world – and the quality of what we saw in Paris completely blew us away.

We run a 24 hour music hack camp over the course of the weekend as well – and the projects that came out of that were completely stunning. Given a challenge and a bunch of components and gadgets, what people can make is just incredible.

My main job over the next week or so is to write a book chapter about hacking and its place in the music industry innovation process. I have no shortage of material and fascinating case studies – from a hat that converts brainwaves into music and adds effects depending on which direction you’re looking, to software that takes the voice of Stephen Fry and manipulates it with the wave of a hand…

We film everything at the festival, live stream it online and make every presentation, performance and demonstration available as a YouTube video after the fact. Given that we had 90 different people onstage in London, and at least 50 at Berlin and again in Paris – all in the last couple of months – there’s a bit of a backlog. But we’ll get there…

The academic ‘afterparty’ symposium that followed yesterday was a full day of intensive conversation about potential research projects, collaborations, European proposals and partnerships – as well as entirely new and disruptive ways of approaching transnational and interdisciplinary research.

I’m really excited about the opportunity to do something really interesting and innovative with the entire Montreux Jazz Festival archives (including multitrack recordings and videos) – and can’t wait to meet with my colleagues at BCMCR and at the Umeå University to discuss these ideas further. I have one or two ideas about other researchers I could rope into this amazing project too…

In the meantime, I’m in London for a few days having meetings, presenting seminars and trying to recuperate from the most intensive few months of my life. I’m absolutely shattered – but my brain is buzzing with all the exciting new stuff that’s bouncing around inside it. I need all of December to process – and all of next year to turn it into writing.

We’re on track for MTF Scandinavia in Umeå in May, we’ve booked Ljubljana for September – and we have New York, Hilversum and more in our sights for the new year. I’m exhausted thinking about it – but even more excited.

Until then – here are a few snaps of some of the many highlights of MTF Paris. Lots more on our Flickr page









Break on through to the other side

It’s been a little while.

Right now I’m in Paris. Tomorrow evening, we kick off Music Tech Fest for the last time this year. It’s almost 3:30am and I’m waiting for someone to arrive on a delayed Eurostar train from London. I can then let him into the apartment and then I can go to sleep.

I’m exhausted – perhaps more than I ever have been before – but I still have four days to get through before we’re done. Four more days and it’s all over. As much as I love this festival, I’m ready for a proper break.

The plan is to spend a bit of time recovering, make it to December and then the thinking and the writing can start again. I have a lot to say and a lot of things to report. Certainly, a great deal has changed and I also owe someone a book chapter or two.

For now, I’m just determined to put these few words together and get them out into the world as a way of breaking through the ice. Then the thoughts can flow.

I’m looking forward to being back.

New HQ


It’s Saturday, but I’m in the office catching up with a bit of email. And when I say ‘in the office’ – I mean the new office in Sweden.

It’s a great space inside Sliperiet, the brand spanking new interdisciplinary centre situated within Umeå University.

It’s all open plan, which is really great for serendipitous conversations and potential collaborations – and I’m right next to the Swedish Interactive Institute. We’re planning to do some cool stuff together. More about that soon.

I don’t actually have a job with the university just yet – that side of things is still being worked out. Probably just as well for the moment. I have enough to do as it is running three upcoming Music Tech Fest events before Christmas (Berlin, Paris and New York). I’ve kept my job at BCU part time and will be supervising PhDs, doing research and so on. I’m also writing a couple of book chapters and speaking at some events in a couple of different places.

It’s all a little sudden, I guess. I had to move out of my place in Birmingham. The landlord was selling up. I was determined to move to Sweden anyway – and while it might have been more conventionally sensible to organise things so that all the contracts were in place, it just didn’t make sense to wait because that would have meant moving house twice – and nobody wants to do that. So here I am, ready or not.

All my stuff is in storage, I’m sleeping on a sofa at the home of some friends (neither of whom are Swedish), trying to sort out everything you need to sort out when you go somewhere different – and just doing what I can to keep up with what’s going on in the inbox.

Meanwhile, it’s astonishingly beautiful here, everyone is really amazing (not just lovely – I spend my days being genuinely amazed at the sheer concentration of brilliance and creativity here), and it’s an exciting place to be. Though it is starting to get a little chilly…

If anyone needs me, that’s where I’ll be.

Occupy Music

This is the film I’m making. It’s not finished yet. We need to raise money to pay for a bit more filming, a couple more interviews, some editing and post production. But this will give you an idea of what it’s all about.