24 hours to invent the future of music

A great deal of my work recently has been in the area of music hacks, playful research and creative innovation. It’s a fascinating space to work in, and it’s forming the basis of a book I’m just starting to work on.

Right now, I’m in Brussels at the closing meeting of a European consortium that has fostered a series of collaborations that that bring together people from the worlds of Art and ICT – and the projects that have come out of it are pretty incredible.

There are dancers working with data and projections; musicians creating apps that allow audiences to democratically control looping effects en masse; augmented reality games that use real world road signs as portals from which space invaders emerge; 3d printed visualisations of topographical data… but my favourite had to be the Toy Hack Workshop – a bit like in this video.

It’s a simple idea – there’s a pile of toys. You’re encouraged to grab a few that you’re drawn to. Then you’re given tools: hacksaw, glue gun, needle and thread – and encouraged to take the toys to bits and recombine them into new ones. A bit like the mutant toys in Toy Story. You can even do a little bit of simple electronics and make the eyes light up or have your hybrid monstrosity vibrate maniacally across the table.

It’s a lot of fun – but the best thing is that it reminds kids that they can MAKE stuff. Rather than simply consume, they can remix, rework, remake and create. They become hackers.


Questions I haven’t asked Dave Allen

I’m going to be speaking with Dave Allen on Tuesday this week. Dave is Director of Artist and Music Industry Advocacy for streaming music service Beats Music. He also happens to have been the bass player for one of my favourite post-punk / new wave bands of the 80s. No, not Gang of Four – I’m talking about Shriekback.*

Dave is going to give a presentation about Why Musicians Should Embrace Streaming – and then he and I are going to sit down and have a chat.

I’ve been preparing for the conversation, which will be live in front of an audience at Birmingham City University (it’s free, and there are still some seats left – but you’ll need to book now) – and I thought I’d share with you the questions I’m going to be asking Dave to continue the conversation.

Of course, that means he can read these questions ahead of time should he wish. That’s absolutely fine – I’m not trying to trip anyone up. I’m asking these questions to try and find out the answers, as well as to open up the dialogue a little further and take it in some interesting directions.

That said, I may play devil’s advocate from time to time. So here’s what I have in mind…


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.

Photo of the day – 062

Oliver Carter fields some questions
Oliver Carter takes questions from the floor

One of the things that happens when you go more fully into research mode is that you end up going to a lot of research meetings and research presentations.

And one of the upsides of the area of Media and Cultural Research is that you tend to get presentations about interesting and diverse things. Today I learned about fan-created DVDs of Italian cult crime cinema – and about the historical context and conventions of gay porn.

Any questions?

Qualified to tell you to go and read books


I’m now officially allowed to be your PhD supervisor.

I did a three-day training course run by the university on Friday last week, Tuesday and Wednesday this week – and having come out the other side of that, we’re all systems go.

What’s your theoretical framework?

My first two doctoral students turn up in September, and it looks like the vast majority of my teaching from here on out is going to be post-graduate stuff. After a decade of teaching mostly undergrads, this is going to be an interesting change – though, that said, I have taught Masters programmes in the past… and there are certain topics I will still inevitably be called upon to lecture in for the BA students.