Discipline with buckets

I’ve been having conversations this week about how different research disciplines come together to share ideas on similar topics.

At Microsoft Research New England on Monday this week, Nancy Baym and Jonathan Sterne brought together a fantastic group of leading academics from around the world and from a wide range of disciplines at the intersection of music and technology for a one-day symposium which addressed the fertility of music as a subject that bridges computational, social scientific and humanistic approaches.

Read more about that here.

And at the European Commission meeting on the Future of Creativity and Creative Industries, we talked a lot about ways in which different disciplines could collaborate and research around the creative industries in the digital context.

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Manifesto for the future of Music Technology research

New technologies for producing and circulating music have led many to question the status and purpose of music.

At Microsoft Research New England on Monday this week, Nancy Baym and Jonathan Sterne brought together a fantastic group of leading academics from around the world and from a wide range of disciplines at the intersection of music and technology for a one-day symposium which addressed the fertility of music as a subject that bridges computational, social scientific and humanistic approaches.

The symposium followed and developed ideas from the three-day Music Tech Fest (for which I am Festival Director), hosted at Microsoft’s New England Research and Development (NERD) Centre in Cambridge, MA.

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No instrumentals please, we’re British

“When was the last time we had an instrumental UK number one?” I ask, apropos of nothing in particular.

A little out of the blue to be sure, but the question had popped into my head and the topic is entirely in keeping with the kind of abstract ‘media, popular music & culture’ themed conversation that tends to get lazily batted about on a Friday afternoon in our office like a game of keepy uppy with a partially deflated helium balloon.

It is, after all, a research centre for media and culture – and Craig and I tend to handle the music industry side of things – so basically, this is more or less what we do for a living.

“Ooh, that’s a good one,” says Craig. “One for Twitter.”

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Serious academics discussing serious matters

Petter, Nick & George

I’ve been in London the past few days, attending a conference to mark the end of the first round of HERA-funded research projects. HERA stands for Humanities in the European Research Area, and it’s a collaborative partnership between a large group of national funding agencies.

Rhythm Changes is a one of the HERA-funded projects. It’s about European jazz and national identity. I’ve been involved with it for the past three years, and it’s coming to a conclusion. It’s a shame, really, because it’s been really interesting, I’ve had the chance to work with some brilliant people that I’ve become good friends with and it’s involved travel, interesting experiments with the internet, and of course, jazz.

The conference started with a series of presentations at the British Library, followed by a drinks reception. There were meetings and seminars, I gave a talk at Kings College London about Knowledge Exchange and Digital Humanities and there were also performances, concerts, demonstrations and earnest (and often fascinating) conversations of all kinds.

Shopping with Petter

Of course, the time wasn’t all spent inside listening to people talk about ancient manuscripts, avant garde music, bronze age creativity, digital literature and research funding policy (though that did happen rather a lot).

Petter and I snuck off to go record shopping and we struck gold in a couple of places. I bought four LPs (‘Dusty in Memphis’, a Bar-Kays album, Nina Simone’s ‘Wild is the Wind’ and the ‘Gerry Mulligan meets Stan Getz’ record) – and Petter ended up with substantially more. He even took a few of my recommendations. We also had what we decided was the best falafel of our lives (Falafel King on Portobello Rd).

This being London, there was a fair bit of walking around to be done. I was reluctant to go everywhere on the tube this time around, and the weather mostly behaved itself. I have an app on my phone that tells me how far I’ve gone, how many steps I’ve taken and so on. I walked 40 miles over the past four days. Yesterday, I did 15.

As a result, I’m kind of worn out – but it was definitely worth it.

Jelena & Kati

I had a decent camera with me, and took some photos while I was there.

Mostly portraits for practice, actually (I’ve started doing a photography course recently, and I had some homework to do) – but also some snaps from a walk around parts of London I hadn’t been to before with Kati from Estonia, and Jelena from Croatia, both of whom work as part of the HERA funding body.

I also got to see some incredible concerts (Soweto Kinch and Mari Boine), had a really great time with a couple of my London friends, and also made one or two new friends from distant lands while I was there. That was a highlight, actually.

The sun even came out.

All in all, a really nice way to spend a few days. Way more ‘stuff I really like’ than ‘stuff that makes me want to poke my eyeballs out’. A very good ratio, actually, as conferences go.

Beats the hell out of working for a living…

Let me tell you all about jazz

Conference

I’m in Manchester for an academic conference about jazz. It’s the final major event of Rhythm Changes, the three-year European jazz research project I’ve been working on, and it is, by all accounts, the largest academic jazz conference EVER (in Europe).

There must be literally tens of people here.

One of the great things about researching in a field like this is that you get to know most of the people pretty well and you tend to see them at pretty much every work-related event you go to. For the most part, they’re pretty cool people too.

They like jazz, for a kick off – and given that they’re predominantly PhDs and Professors in related fields, they tend to be (though this is by no means a rule) generally smart and interesting people.

I’m giving a paper on Saturday morning on the social, cultural, infrastructural, political and economic conditions that led to a very particular and very vibrant jazz/dance/hip hop crossover music scene in Auckland in the mid to late 90s. I’m also chairing a couple of panels on jazz and the internet.

So… I’m here to work. That said, you might not think so – but this is a party crowd. They’re a good bunch and some of my favourite people are among their number. They carry on until very late, they squeeze every last drop of jazz juice out of the local nightlife and they listen to (as well as make) sounds that would terrify most ordinary music consumers.

Take our evening’s opening entertainment, for instance. This was our polite dinner music before we got onto the harder stuff as the evening progressed.

Me, on the other hand, I’m back in my hotel room eating room service fish and chips, doing a bit of writing work and tweaking the project website. I just don’t have the stamina or the commitment to the cause needed to get me drinking schnapps and singing classic trumpet solos in the street at four in the morning.

At least, not since Vienna…

High praise with high stress

DUBBER 1I finally received feedback on my book Radio in the Digital Age from the external reviewers. The publisher has sent me the comments and suggestions from anonymous peers, whose advice can range from minor suggestions through to a complete rewrite – or even “don’t publish”.

This is the bit that academic authors dread. Or at least, I assume so. That’s my experience anyway.

After having spent all that time and mental energy putting together what I imagined to be a coherent document, here was the point at which a couple of people could look at it and say “not worthy”.

Thankfully, that was not the case. I have some work to do – a little bit of reordering at the beginning and end, a few extra caveats and citations to ensure that my assertions are entirely justified, and one or two clarifications, and that’s really about it. A leisurely month or so tweaking, re-reading, and refining – and all’s well.

One of the reviewers called it “readable, thoughtful and knowledgeable”, which are all good things to be. The other reviewer remarked upon my tradition-breaking approach to the topic which was “unusual and welcome”. Feedback also included the phrases “carefully nuanced”, “unusually engaging”, “concise, yet comprehensive” and “a sophisticated critical evaluation”. So that’s all lovely and positive.

But then I noticed the words “on target for publication early 2014″ and my heart sank. The agreement with the publisher had been for a 2013 release. There’s a university research evaluation called the REF coming up next year, and the amount of funding we get allocated to continue to do research depends entirely on the outputs we submit.

Publications from 2013 are counted. Those from 2014 aren’t.

In short – I need this out. Otherwise, as far as my job is concerned, I almost may as well not have bothered writing it.

A frantic to and fro with the publisher, and it was agreed that if I can make the suggested changes and proofing within the next two weeks (TWO WEEKS?!) then they should be able to get it out before the end of the year. No promises, mind…

So… back into high-stress writing mode I go.