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31 July 2007

Editorial: A Tangled Web? New Music Online

Editorial: A Tangled Web? New Music Online
© Rhiannon Cook

Now is a pivotal time in Australian music history. Technological advances are affecting the ways in which we engage with music at all stages of its lifecycle. Documentary processes play a crucial part in this lifecycle – aiding promotion, providing context, supporting education, and fostering discussion. As we move further into the online environment, the increasing significance of the Internet is causing these processes to evolve rapidly.

So what exactly does this mean for the communities of people who consume, support, and make new music?

The impact of these changes is potentially enormous. The ability to connect globally with like-minded people means that individuals and smaller communities of practice have the possibility of finding their niche. With individual artists now able to connect with potential fans across a vast global marketplace, will they see more performances and sell more recordings of Australian new music? It seems likely.

Already we are seeing a rich network of relationships developing across the world – some genres of new music have been quick to embrace the potential of the Internet. By connecting globally, they are finding their niche and seeing results. The future of new music suddenly holds more potential than ever before…

Yet the shift into cyberspace holds implications for the art form as a whole. Emerging documentary forms mediate our consumption of new music, prompting concerns that art-based music practice will struggle to maintain its identity against the commercial giants of popular music. This is a particular challenge for advocacy and research organisations that are negotiating ways to better promote, contextualise and archive new music. As more information is digitised, issues such as copyright, accessibility, availability of resources, and quality assurance must be addressed.

And what about new music discourse? As the Internet changes how we communicate and disseminate information, will we finally see the rise of a rich dialogue? Will people finally start talking more openly and critically about what they are creating or hearing? New documentary forms such as blogs, forums, online magazines and social networking tools might nurture discussion about new music. Yet many problems arise: How do we rise above the clutter? How do we find quality writing? And which dialogues speak the truth?

With the launch of its web magazine, resonate, the Australian Music Centre is embracing the opportunities (and challenges) of the digital world. In this inaugural issue of the resonate journal (formerly Sounds Australian), we have brought together articles by arts writers, composers, researchers, educators, radio presenters and performers, exploring the impact of emerging documentary processes on the new music community.

Developments in communication technology have generated a vast range of methods for promoting and marketing new art. Arts practitioners no longer have to rely on what Miriam Zolin calls ‘secret information channels’, and promotional documentation can reach people all over the world at a much faster and cheaper rate.

Composer and performer Robert Davidson wonders why more arts practitioners are not harnessing the promotional possibilities of the Internet. He provides a snapshot of some of the free online services that composers and sound artists can use to connect with global audiences – tools that will surely enhance the Australian new music scene?

The latest revolution in communication has come about due to what is commonly referred to as Web 2.0 – a controversial concept emphasising ideas such as collaborative knowledge, greater participation and user-generated content.

In his examination of current academic and public discourse, David Hirst provides a good overview of this phenomenon and the debate surrounding its redistribution of power back into the hands of ‘the people formerly known as the audience’.

Of course, not everyone has access to the Internet, and, of those who do, not everyone has a fast connection (although this may well change if the elected party lives up to its election promises!). How should this affect the way we promote and archive our art form? Our increasing reliance on digital technology may well exacerbate existing inequalities: Web 2.0 is perhaps not as democratising as we might think. Hirst outlines some of the major theories on digital inequality and contemplates its potential impact on new music.

Stephen Adams wonders what the affects of this new ‘class structure’ will be in his discussion about online radio. While expounding on the endless possibilities for the presentation of new music, Adams also draws our attention to other limits of the Web Utopia. In speculating on the likely effects of presenting radio online, he argues, for instance, that financial pressures restrict the ways in which organisations can harness the Web’s full potential.

Simon Chambers considers how organisations might best support new music in the online environment given constraints such as these. He worries that many of the emerging documentary models are not designed to suit art-based music practice. They fail to acknowledge its unique context and disregard the conventions surrounding our consumption of this art form. He is adamant that a holistic approach to documentation is needed to ensure art music remains a unique cultural practice – surely an important notion if we continue to rely on government and other institutional funding?

Meritocracy of opinion – informed by established aesthetic theory – is one of the conventions that Chambers argues is crucial if art music is to distinguish itself from other communities of practice. Yet by advocating democracy among users, the Internet is rapidly changing the way we talk about art music.

Web 2.0 is challenging the role of the expert – user-generated sites enable all users to speak their mind, and be heard, regardless of their background.

For newcomers to art music this can be confusing. How do they know whose opinion to trust? We need specialists – be they critics, reviewers, educators, musicologists or passionate fans – people who know their stuff, to help contextualise the art form effectively.

According to Richard Gill, teaching is not about democracy; the audience needs educators who can provide informed opinion about music. He emphasises that while educational processes such as pre-concert talks can guide and focus the listener, it is important to communicate clearly without patronising the audience.

For David Garrett, program note writers help to translate what might have been an ‘incomprehensible racket into a meaningful experience’; the notes serve to give the listener signposts, guidance. He believes that many writers fail to recognise the appetite of their audience for a strong opinion against which they can measure their own ideas about the music they are hearing.

Yet the role of program notes isn’t to tell you what to think: he argues that a good program note will naturally help listeners to develop their own opinion and think for themselves.

So, in attempting to navigate the online environment, perhaps it all comes down to context?

In our blogging article, we argue that all opinions expressed online play an important role. There is an important distinction between online dialogue and digitally published writing: but both are equally valid. User-generated sites such as blogs and forums facilitate conversation and help to build a community of listeners; they can ‘challenge, engage and encourage’. In this context, we believe the online environment will surely nurture a culture of vibrant and energetic dialogue within our community.

And this optimism is not unfounded. In the U.S. new music community, according to NewMusic box editor Frank Oteri, new music discourse is flourishing. Blogs and forums are producing interesting and constructive dialogue about all aspects of music.

Similar trends are already emerging in Australia: freelance writer Miriam Zolin, in her discussion about the disparate Australian ‘Jazz world’, points out the active dialogue on sites such as the Ozjazzforum discussion group.

Sites such as this can be particularly empowering for the audience – providing a means by which they can participate in the dialogue about new music. By doing so, they can once again play an active role in the evolution of the creative process.

These collaborative knowledge sharing environments are of particular interest to Richard Vella and Jon Drummond who have developed an annotation and publishing environment for interactive multimedia in a research context. This model, ACID Press, allows creators to receive feedback from editors, publishers, and the audience at every stage of the creative process.

And so the traditional relationship between composer, performer and listener is changing…

But what happens next? The process of change has already begun. Even in the few months spent drafting this journal issue, more and more arts practitioners have begun exploiting the potential of the digital age (the recent explosion of interest in Facebook, the latest online social networking site, being a perfect example!). But this is just a starting point.

What we need more than ever is commitment – from institutions and funding bodies, from creators, performers, academics, critics and writers, and from the audience.

We all have an exhilarating opportunity to be part of the intricate process by which new music is made. To take part in the discussion, to shape creative processes, to inform the evolution of ideas.

So when you’re done reading any of the articles in this issue, don’t just flip down the lid of your laptop or switch off your computer, then rush to grab your next caffeine fix. Press the comment button and join in the discussion!

Go on – you know you want to!

Danielle Carey is a freelance writer and currently works as Publications Coordinator at the Australian Music Centre. She is a musicology graduate from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and has also worked as a piano teacher for the last 10 years.

Rhiannon Cook has been involved in the new music community as a composer, teacher and writer. Now working in community development, she continues to contribute as a freelance writer.


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A Tangled Web? New Music Online

One aspect of on-line music publishing that should be worrying everyone with any sensitivity in these matters is the compression, blurring and sometimes complete elimination of microdynamic shadings in performance.

Or am I then only one who hears these artifacts of music compression and data reduction?

Looking through half full glasses (and mixing metaphors)

I’m sure that many people have lamented over the lack of clarity and distortion resulting from the compression of digital recordings. Cat Hope, for example, mentions this issue in her Composing Notes article.

But I think there is reason for optimism on at least three counts:

Firstly, technological limitations are likely to encourage some composers/sound artists to produce new music specifically suited to this medium.

Secondly, this problem is not new. From the time music was first recorded similar difficulties have been faced (and instrument designers have also been challenged by problems relating to sound quality). As technology becomes more sophisticated these problems will eventually be overcome.

Thirdly, mediums offering superior quality recordings are unlikely to be replaced. Digitally compressed files are simply one alternative that has unique benefits, such as enabling music to reach a larger audience.

'Editorial: A Tangled Web? New Music Online'

I'd like to be optimistic, as some are, that the recording industry will soon increase available sampling rates on music downloads, I'm not.

One aspect of your comments worries me. When you say "Firstly, technological limitations are likely to encourage some composers/sound artists to produce new music specifically suited to this medium." I read "Technological limitations are likely to encourage some composers/sound artists to produce music with significant reductions in micro dynamic shadings, macro dynamic constrasts and reduced tonal richness" .

I'm outa here

Over to you Diss.

Beamed up.

Over and out.

Editorial: A Tangled Web? New Music Online'

Well, let's hope you suffered no data loss in the transmission Mondo.

Hate to see you leave behind any of the important bits.


If you are so worried about mp3 compression, you could use a lossless codec or even provide files in an uncompressed form. Most broadband plans are so swift these days that an uncompressed audio file here and there shouldn't really pose a problem....

'Editorial: A Tangled Web? New Music Online'

I'm not 'worried' as you put it but find a high % of recorded music released in MP3 format lacking. Down here in rural Tasmania, connected to the web via satellite, the speeds aren't what I'd call 'high speed broadband'. The time it would takes to download, say, an uncompressed Mahler symphony ( if such is available in lossless format) are silly.

I really shouldn't complain that much though, having a collection of 12,423 LP's, 3,554 CD's and quite a few cassettes ( remember them?) I'm set-up for some time. The one exception is new music and this is difficult as locating CD's of new classical & serious new music is a real fight.

By the way, why does everyone want to keep changing the headings on posts here. This makes it hard to follow a thread.......Yeh, I'm a grumpy old git, I know.

A Tangled Web? New Music Online

Out here in the rural wilderness our satellite 'broadband' connection is so slow I suggest calling it broadband is a bit of a stretch. I have used Meridian Lossless Compression on my iPod & Mac and they work well.

One day Oz will catch up with the rest of the developed world but for now I'll just have to fly down to Hobart or up to Melbourne for concerts if I want to experience the real thing. I'm having a love affair with the new Rieger organ at Scots Church, Collins St, Melbourne at the moment and it's costing me heaps! Sadly, I've yet to be seduced by recorded music of any kind, on any system, the way that thing gets hold of me. Now if I could just get hold of the keys to the Rieger for a few hours and somehow manage to remember the Messian I learn't all those decades ago...........................................

Quite topical I think.

There’s a funny sort of synchronicity about these things, which I’m sure is quite un-coincidental if one were to make some sort of analysis of it :) This article at least to me is certainly topical. Perhaps the real job of the internet is to breed these memes. Is ‘meme’ the right word? Maybe, but ‘synchronicity’ is more poetic if you ask me!

Yep, it will be interesting even to merely observe were this all takes us, let alone being an active part of it.

It’s all very encouraging and daunting at the same time, and that is a heady mix.

Nice article, BTW.