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31 July 2007

Joe Blog: Who Cares?

Danielle Carey Image: Danielle Carey  
© Daniel Scheuch

While compiling content for the current Journal Issue, editors Rhiannon Cook and Danielle Carey spent hours emailing each other in an effort to tease out issues relating to the documentation of new music. What is blogging? Why do we talk about music? What does this mean for the new music scene? What follows is an edited version of a conversation about the art of blogging and its impact on communities.

Rhiannon Cook: You know how we went to the launch of the NOW now Festival in Sydney the other night? Well, I saw Dale [one of the organisers] outside the kebab shop on my way home the other day. He asked what I thought of the gig and I told him that while I enjoyed most of it, the second act went for way too long and was hard to understand and therefore became kind of boring.

the Internet... facilitates honesty, and even encourages the voicing of strong, and sometimes controversial, opinions.The guy standing next to Dale said: ‘The second act? – that was me’.

I cringed and wished I had a better memory for faces. But then he said: ‘yeah, I didn’t really get it either – we’d never really played together before and it didn’t really work that well...”

It was such a relief – not only because then I didn’t feel like such a social moron – but also to know that my opinion wasn’t ‘wrong’ or invalid.

People often just describe [new music] concerts as ‘nice’, or say ‘it was good’, but there’s hardly ever any real discussion.

Danielle Carey: Good work for being so honest! I’d love to hear more about his thoughts on why it didn’t work. Do you think this kind of music lends itself more easily to critical discussion than other genres of art music? Improvisers are generally overtly aware of the ideologies surrounding their music as they often shape any given performance. And, if this were so, then surely they’d be more open to discussion?

On a broader scale though, I do agree that opinion is often extremely measured at concerts or gigs (at least in Australia anyway) – I guess as a result of our community being so small? Or is it a broader sociological issue?

we need more Joe Blogs in the new music community to inspire, challenge, engage and encourage...We chatted about the gig though! And so did our little posse of friends. Actually that was one of the things that made the night so enjoyable for me – being surrounded by a group of friends who were interested in chatting about, and even deconstructing, the gig and its associated ideologies.

But I guess chatting privately with friends – be it at a dinner party, at a gig, or in an email – is different to what you’re talking about?

You’re talking about public discussion – where listeners etc. openly offer their opinions about a performance? But don’t you think that as private dialogue is becoming ‘more public’, through blogging and online forums, we will see ‘real discussion’ develop substantially?

RC: I hope so. I think that part of the problem is that most people feel unqualified to offer an opinion if they don’t have a background in music. If they don’t ‘get’ it, or simply don’t like it, they feel as though this might make them appear uneducated. This would lead to feelings of exclusion and could potentially be part of a vicious cycle... Maybe the online environment will help us break this cycle, at the very least, it would be easier to offer an honest opinion...

DC: Well you’ve got the possibility of anonymity for a start. And interacting in a space where you aren’t judged by your physical appearance or your social skills can be extremely liberating. Readers can post comments on blogs, forums and social networking sites without the fear of rejection – it’s easier to disassociate if someone ignores your post; you don’t have to take it too personally.

And blogging itself is actively driven by opinion. By definition, blogs are personal responses to a particular topic – the blogosphere is rich with niche groups of writers [of all descriptions] exploring, discussing and debating topics together as they continuously cross-reference each other’s webpages. It’s difficult to define exactly what constitutes a blog though, particularly with companies hijacking the notion of blogging and incorporating it into their marketing strategies in an attempt to develop intimate relationships with consumers... from what I’ve read, though, the main attributes seem to be: a personal response to one particular topic, a conversational tone, reverse chronological order, and unedited text…

RC: Unedited text – that’s an interesting one. Some of the writing that you find in blogs is of extremely high quality, and more and more professional writers are using blogs as a vehicle to publish their work, and even as a means of making a living. I guess that the Internet offers much greater freedom in that regard – no space limitations, and no editors or publishers cutting out anything that could possibly offend potential commercial interests or get someone offside – it facilitates honesty, and even encourages the voicing of strong, and sometimes controversial, opinions.

But there’s also lots of junk out there – and that’s something that makes me wary. If I’m trying to decide on what event to go and see, I want to read a review that is written well, by someone who knows their stuff, whose opinion I can trust – not something by a random Joe Blog who may think, see, or hear very differently to me. Or something written by a marketing guru who is selling something, but is disguising a sales pitch as something else. But as Web technology is becoming easier to use, it is harder to tell what’s what – and when you are new to a scene – and more often than not using google searches as your first port of call – you don’t know who people are and how they fit into the scene; whose opinions you can respect. Newspapers, magazines, and other publishers give at least some guarantee of quality in this regard.

That said, blogs by people who aren’t professionals, and aren’t trying to offer a professional opinion, are equally valid and are just as important. They facilitate conversation and help build a community of listeners. These conversations are crucial to the future of new music, but are becoming rarer and rarer.

DC: Yeah, I think this distinction is important. Joe Blog’s opinion is interesting, meaningful and perfectly valid in the context of a conversation about music; it can inspire, challenge, engage and encourage… but it isn’t necessarily going to be useful for contextualising the art form. A blogger’s purpose isn’t to educate the masses, it is simply to document his or her thoughts about something and they don’t need to provide a context to do this – their blog will naturally attract others who are also passionate about the topic (after all, who in their right mind would devote endless hours to a topic unless they were passionate?).

I think theatre critic and blogger Alison Croggin (theatrenotes.blogspot.com) describes the blogosphere well: ‘blogging is at heart not simply a matter of shoveling information out into cyberspace, but an organic and volatile network of relationships’ (Croggin 2007) . So blogs aren’t about providing information to people; they’re about reacting and responding to events, ideas or people – yet another social networking tool developing furiously in the digital world.

So we need more Joe Blogs in the new music community to inspire, challenge, engage and encourage… 

RC: It’s also really exciting that this medium can allow for interaction between the different people who make up the new music community – the audience, the critics, the performers and the creators. The audience now has an alternative to passively absorbing art created by a stranger, who is using a creative process that has evolved in relative isolation. We are human, and I think that the need to somehow connect to our artists on a personal level is part of our human condition. We need, at least to some extent, to be part of the creative process – to feel entitled to discuss it and form opinions and be part of a dialogue with composers and performers. These kinds of interactions are empowering for the audience, and hopefully online dialogue can translate back into the physical world.

DC: But in some ways it’s irrelevant whether dialogue translates back into the physical world – at this point it just has to happen somewhere. And so much of our daily interaction is online these days. I find interacting online to be just as intimate and ‘connecting’ as face-to-face interactions. Given the general chaos of life and the relative isolation of where I live, I love being able to chat to people without having to venture into the big bad city... Besides, I can do other things while I chat – a bizarre kind of multi-tasking!

Actually, this relates back to Richard Toop’s concern [in Sounds Australian No. 67] that people don’t have the time to chat about music anymore. He comments that colleagues tend to ‘rush home to get on with domestic, artistic or other matters’. Online dialogue gives hope to all this! It’s (for better or worse) adapting the way we communicate and allowing us to build communities in a way that is conducive to our lifestyles.

And more importantly, we can now easily chat to people on the other side of the world – a concept that is unrealistic in the physical world! By reaching globally, communities of practice are able to find their niche – people already ‘out there’ and interested in talking about a particular topic. The Australian theatre community is a good example of this. Over the last 10 years, bloggers have helped to develop a strong culture of discourse and analysis, connecting with all kinds of people across the world…

RC: It’s true that the Internet offers new possibilities, such as connecting with like-minded people on the other side of the world. But I don’t think that it will ever replace face-to-face interactions. And if it does, we will have lost something precious. Sharing and discovering music in real time and experiencing immediate reactions and all the accompanying nuances is irreplaceable. There is an amazing buzz when you hear something new and original and exciting.

My hope is that if we do see the evolution of a strong, vibrant online community, it will breathe life into the new music community in the ‘real’ world. The group of friends we have that regularly meets together to discuss new music, share meals and go to gigs such as the NOW now Festival is a good example of how this might happen. Our ability to communicate, connect and discuss in the online world makes our dinner parties more precious and meaningful and interesting and vice versa.

DC: I guess, ultimately, it has to come back to the music. If we aren’t supporting our performers, composers and sound artists by actually going to their gigs and concerts then how can they survive? Sure, you could simply buy their CDs, but then I think you’re really losing the dynamic relationships between performers and the audience. And, as you say, these experiences are precious… And, of course, it’s only by listening to music that we can then respond to it with words and ideas.

It’s interesting to ponder the nuances of online dialogue, but are we actually seeing online networks evolving in the new music community? Are many people actually talking about Australian new music online?  

RC: People are starting to, but the conversation is a bit stilted at the moment. In America the new music community is flourishing in the online world. And, as you said before, the theatre world has a vibrant online community.  But I wonder if the Australian new music community has the same capacity? I think that the next few years will be a really crucial time – if we don’t reach a critical mass the conversation is likely to dry up altogether. It is interesting that some genres of [new] music – such as jazz and improvisation – have embraced new methods of documentation far more enthusiastically than others. I wonder if this might signal the future direction of new music in Australia?

DC: That’s certainly an interesting thought… And I agree with reaching critical mass: what happens over the next few years will hugely impact on the community. I have a good feeling about it though… Hey, it’s kind of ironic that we’re having this conversation in the context of a private email don’t you think? One way of reaching our tipping point would be to bring dialogue like this out into the public, allowing others to join in…


Croggin, A. 2007, ‘An Arts Blog Primer’, Arts Hub. [Accessed 08/03/07]

Toop, R. 2006, ‘Discourse: Muffled, Muted, Muzzled?’, Sounds Australian, No. 67.

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.

Danielle Carey is a musicology graduate from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and is currently Publications Coordinator at the Australian Music Centre. She also works as a freelance writer and ... teacher.


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