Music, Technology, and Digital Culture Syllabus

Course Description:

We will explore questions related to music and technology by analyzing a series of case studies from the 20th and 21st centuries. How does the portability of sound affect how we listen and what we hear? How does the way we define musical instruments reflect changing ideas about what counts as music? How has the rise of digital cultures changed fan engagement? Should new technologies raise concerns about the weaponization or standardization of music and sound, or should they give reason for optimism, as they empower people to create and circulate new forms of music in new ways? In order to explore these questions, we will consider the extent to which technology reflects culture and the extent to which it produces culture. Case studies include: phonograph as a tool for moral cultivation in U.S., hip hop in Ghana, hologram performers in Japan, Jimi Hendrix and the iconography of the electric guitar, cassette sermons in Cairo, the sounds of music and warfare in Iraq, air guitar competitions in Finland, digital radio in Grand Theft Auto, feminist histories of electronic music, auto-tune as a musical instrument, and amateur performances of “All the Single Ladies” on YouTube. Rather than separate the course into historical and contemporary sections, each week’s assignments will pair historical and contemporary examples, in order to demonstrate how the rise of digital cultures raises new and longstanding questions related to music and performance. The course materials consist of both academic readings and media. No prerequisites.

Course Readings: 

  • Bench, Harmony. 2013. “Single Ladies Is Gay: Queer Performance and Mediated Masculinities on YouTube.” In Dance on Its Own Terms: Histories and Methodologies. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Bergh, Arild, Tia DeNora, and Maia Bergh. 2014. “Forever and Ever: Mobile Music in the Life of Young Teens.” In Oxford Handbook of Music & Mobility Studies (Vol. 1).
  • Bragin, Naomi. 2014. “Shot and Captured: Turf Dance, YAK Films, and the Oakland, California, R.I.P. Project.” TDR 58(2).
  • Brown, Jayna. 2010. “Buzz and Rumble: Global Pop Music and Utopian Impulse.” Social Text 28(1).
  • Brown, Kevin. 2015. Karaoke Idols: Popular Music and the Performance of Identity. Intellect, University of Chicago Press.
  • Bull, Michael. 2004. “Automobility and the Power of Sound.” Theory, Culture, & Society 21(4/5).
  • Cheng, William. 2012. “Role-Playing toward a Virtual Musical Democracy in The Lord of the Rings Online.” Ethnomusicology 56(1):31-62.
  • –. 2016. Just Vibrations: The Purpose of Sound Good. University of Michigan Press.
  • Christensen, Christian. 2009. “‘Hey Man, Nice Shot’: Setting the Iraq War to Music on YouTube.” YouTube Reader. (Eds. Snickars and Vonderau).
  • Clayton, Jace. 2016. Uproot: Travels in 21st-Century Music and Digital Culture. FSG Originals.
  • Daughtry, J. Martin. 2012. “Belliphonic Sounds and Indoctrinated Ears: The Dynamics of Military Listening in Wartime Iraq.” In Pop When the World Falls Apart (Ed. Eric Weisbard). Durham & London: Duke University Press.
  • Driscoll, Kevin and Joshua Diaz. “Endless Loop: A Brief History of Chiptunes.” Transformative Works and Cultures. 2.
  • Friedlander, Emilie. 2016. “Teen-Focused App Is the Music Industry’s New Secret Weapon.” Vice. September 26.
  • Hirschkind, Charles. 2006. Ethical Soundscape : Cassette Sermons and Islamic Counterpublics. New York, NY, USA: Columbia University Press.
  • Hutchinson, Sydney. 2016. “Asian Fury: A Tale of Race, Rock, and Air Guitar.” Ethnomusicology 60(3): 411-433.
  • Jackson, Louise & Mike Dines. 2016. “Vocaloids and Japanese Virtual Vocal Performance: The Cultural Heritage and Technological Futures of Vocal Puppetry.” Oxford Handbook of Music and Virtuality.
  • Katz, Mark. 2010. Capturing Sound: How Technology Has Changed Music (revised ed.). Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Kramer, Kyle. 2014. “The T-Pain Effect: How Auto-Tune Ruined Music and Saved Hip Hop.” Complex.
  • Miller, Kiri. 2012. Playing Along: Digital Games, YouTube, and Virtual Performance. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Novak, David. 2013. Japanoise: Music at the Edge of Circulation (Sign, Storage, Transmission). Durham: Duke University Press.
  • Peters, Kathrin, and Andrea Seier. 2009. “Home Dance: Mediacy and Aesthetics of the Self on YouTube.” In The Youtube Reader, edited by Patrick Vonderau Pelle Snickars, 187-203. Stockholm: National Library of Sweden.
  • Pinch, Trevor and Frank Trocco. 2002. Analog Days: The Invention and Impact of the Moog Synthesizer. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  • Rodgers, Tara. 2010. Pink Noises: Women on Electronic Music and Sound. Durham: Duke University Press.
  • Schloss, Joseph G. 2004. Making Beats: The Art of Sample-Based Hip-Hop. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press.
  • Shipley, Jesse. 2013. Living the Hiplife: Celebrity and Entrepreneurship in Ghanaian Popular Music. Durham and London: Duke University Press.
  • Sinnreich, Aram. 2010. Music, Technology, and the Rise of Configurable Culture: How emerging technologies are reshaping the dynamic between musical regulation and resistance. University of Massachusetts Press.
  • Sterne, Jonathan. 2009. “The Preservation Paradox in Digital Audio.” In Sound Souvenirs: Audio Technologies, Memory, and Cultural Practices (Eds. Karin Bijsterveld & José van Dijck). Amsterdam University Press.
  • Taylor, Timothy. 2005. “Music and the Rise of the Radio in Twenties America: Technological Imperialism, Socialization, and the Transformation of Intimacy.” In Wired for Sound: Engineering and Technologies in Sonic Cultures, eds. Paul D. Greene and Thomas Porcello. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press.
  • Waksman, Steve. 1999. Instruments of Desire. The Electric Guitar and the Shaping of Musical Experience. Cambridge Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
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