World Music's DIVERSITY and Data Visualisation's EXPRESSIVE POWER collide. A galaxy of INTERACTIVE, SCORE-DRIVEN instrument model and theory tool animations is born.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016


The Politics of World Music Learning Provision

The internet: ripe with opportunity for all prepared to take risks and work hard. Or so they say.

For those who adopted early, their rise may have been meteoric, yet it was more or less organic, and borne on the shoulders of a great number of others.

Those trying to break in now face formidably higher hurdles. Quite apart from the increasing scarcity of 'low hanging fruit' -the stuff accessible to those without millions in funding- the now primary entry mechanism, the mobile app, was conceived to divide and conquer, protect own revenue channels, and above all maintain the status quo - for big bro.

We look at an alternative.

Big, brave, open-source, non-profit, community-provisioned, cross-cultural and crackpot crazy. → Like, share, back-link, pin, tweet and mail. Hashtags? For the crowdfunding: #VisualFutureOfMusic. For the future live platform: #WorldMusicInstrumentsAndTheory. Or just register as a potential crowdfunder..

cultural heritage world music instruments legacy. #VisualFutureOfMusic #WorldMusicInstrumentsAndTheory
A Farewell to Heritage. Pibroch / Lament / Slow Air

Music Learning

"For most young people, music is a minor consumable, like toothpaste. Music education needs to be a click away. [...] It only takes money, ideas and will. Not much money, lots of ideas, lots of will." - David Gelernter (American artist, writer, and professor of computer science at Yale University).

Worldwide, traditional or heritage musicians have lived from their playing and teaching for millennia, in many cases relying on immediate community, cultural identification and the grapevine, but also working -as, for example, in an earlier Ireland- as journeyman musicians and dance instructors.

In the sense that it their musical repertoire was often gained through apprenticeship and assimilation, and passed on through direct person-to-person teaching (so subject to subtle and ongoing change), this was very much a living culture.

Ironically, we have to be thankful that so many tunes from this era were written down, yet printed music spells death to diversity. Why? Everybody finds themselves on the same page..

The legacy of Klezmer music following the Nazi or Stalinist holocausts is a case in point. What little survived has since -whether in printed or recorded form- acquired more or less iconic status. These proved enough, with the help of survivors, to fuel a musical renaissance, but much the greater part of the former diversity has been lost for all time. Those 'same pages' are depressingly few in number.

It's a similar story across many other current and former conflict and ethnic cleansing zones.

People keep culture alive. You can quote me on that.

Heritage Threat

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For those caught in the interference zone between technology and music, the threats are significant, and in a number of ways:
  • online teaching content is focussed on extraordinarily few instruments and genres - exerting a subtle pressure to abandon (see image above) and conform: monoculture in the making. Cultural gems are often relegated to the margins of out consciousness.
  • new revenue channels have an uphill battle against long established ones.
  • the chaotic issue of copyright
  • music industry revenue optimisation pressures fuelling the drift towards a musical monoculture.
  • access itself (at cost, and may take many forms: unwanted advertising, personal data theft, or inflated brand surcharges. Somewhere along the line, commerce and brand dominates, and culture is marginalised).
  • constantly connected, many people are too permanently distracted to experience quality or relaxation time, which is central to identification.
  • narcissism. Extreme forms of individualism steadily eroding the former sense of musical community. Even in traditional music and dance, there is a noticeable rise in competitiveness and camera-awareness.

Data Visualisation

There are already a considerable number of teachers providing online teaching using video chat.

Moreover, I feel that given the right technological support, person-to-person teaching and learning may have a significantly bigger future role to play. Data visualisation can support this form of teaching by removing many of the small sharing impediments inherent in current remote teaching: the scores, fingering diagrams, modal information. Moreover, it can radically improve the anchoring of information by giving it wholly graphical, and hence intuitive, expression.

Data visualisation already has in many countries -at least in relation to usage of public data- a strong community-oriented and sharing ethos.

Though in part driven by the very accessibility of html and javascript code in the browser (tedious to protect), the fact is that a huge range of fine examples (effectively templates) are available for re-use, often with no more than a request that authorship be acknowledged.

These values (openness, freedom of access and use) auger well with the notion of musical heritage.

Provisioning Through Community

So how to build on community but free of speculation and intrusion? Enter open source (web) visualisation technologies and the 'Open Everything' stack:

Open Everything Community Provisioning Stack Social Value. #VisualFutureOfMusic #WorldMusicInstrumentsAndTheory
The 'Open Everything' Community Provisioning Stack.
Web Standards provide for compatibility, ease of access, security and, increasingly, rich, graphical information content. Open source licensing models provide for component reuse across this and other community projects.

Crowdsourced content provision can be undertaken directly by the community. This might take the form of music transcription, audio, teaching inputs, instrument configuration capture, improvement specifications, crowdfunding initiatives, research, work in standards committees, blogging, events and user moderation.

Incremental, crowdfunded improvements can be finely aligned with user's needs - and have profound impact on value to end users.

Payment can be managed transparently, ensuring those involved in enhancing value and providing platform support get paid. What for the community is value, is for developers livelihood.

Hosting at Cost paid directly by the community: no brand surcharge, no exclusion.

Implementation Cycles

The three main components of the aggregator platform will be notation, instrument models and theory tools. There are others, but their roles are supportive or marginal in the sense that they are not directly coupled to a musical source.

With the mechanics of notation-to-animation interaction already largely resolved, notation handling can be extended largely independently of instrument models and theory tools.

At a high level, we could imagine implementation cycles as shown below. Starting (spiral center) with those of most immediate value, instrument and theory toolsets could be developed in parallel, but always building on an established, shared base.

This base might include the dimensioning or frequency definitions associated with a range of temperaments or intonations, libraries of scales, tuning arrays or the note naming conventions associated with a specific musical culture.

As any one instrument or theory tool family may in practice require several different, base generic models, any of the implementation cycles ("sprints", if you prefer) shown here might comprise several sub-cycles.

Visualisation Model Implementation Cycles Spiral. #VisualFutureOfMusic #WorldMusicInstrumentsAndTheory
Visualisation Model Implementation Cycles
Pragmatic, Provisioned, Empowered Considerable cross-testing between models (especially in the context of linked configuration) will be necessary, but much of this can be automated.

The end goal of this initiative is a toolset supporting person-to-person teaching and learning over the internet, supporting musical diversity. It is (as alluded to in the title) political, because it's core aim are related to the creation of social value where it is most likely to benefit.

Keeping in mind the opening remarks, a possible community charging model for these services is materialising. This is something I will go into in a future post, but I'm certainly open to ideas.

Community value, zero speculation, income where earned, fair to all. The future?


About Cantillate -

Autodidact. Laird o' the Windy Wa's. Serial Failure with Attitude. Bit of a Dreamer..

Comments, questions and (especially) critique welcome.