Final Assignment, History 390,

Assignment: Produce a piece of music, and a five to eight page annotated analysis of the experience that draws on the themes and materials of the course. Send your paper and your song to me via email.

The course has multiple goals: to describe the history of digital media and computing; to describe the history of popular musical genres, and to establish the potentials and problems of digital media using digital audio as an example.

That’s an elaborate way of saying that you should be a more informed user of digital media, with a better sense of how it works and of the historical, political, intellectual, artistic, legal and social implications of what it does.

Your final assignment requires a piece of music roughly three minutes long, which you should email to me as an mp3 file, along with a written analysis of the process, which should be a minimum of five pages double spaced. The written analysis must make use of the themes and materials of the course, and quote from the readings and refer specifically to lectures and other materials.

And I’ll be looking closely at the musical choices you make. The music doesn’t have to be good, but the musical choices have to be made with conscious thought, not randomly grabbed and slapped together. You should start making a song with a purpose or goal.

It’s fine to use the first person, “I,” and it’s fine to describe your frustrations or irritations with the process. You are playing around with the software, but in an informed way. You are not expected to produce great music or love it or be an expert.

Here are some ways I can imagine this analysis starting. Don’t feel obligated to use one of these prompts.

  1. I love country music, and I’m sick of people putting it down! I wanted to make a country track. As we saw in Miller’s book and in class, the origins of country music are not so clear. Miller argues….. So what do i mean by country? I started by searching for loops labeled “country…”
  2. I am a religious person, and I find much of modern music vulgar and spiritually degrading. I wanted to see if I could produce music dedicated to more than booty calls and boasting. Does this software empower me to do this?
  3. This course has constantly emphasized the problem of white/black racism. While I can see the importance, I live in a different world with more complex ethnic and racial divisions, and as an East Asian I want to try to make a piece of music that reflects my heritage. Can I do that with GarageBand?
  4. Why are white people always stealing stuff? I’m fascinated and annoyed by the way the minstrel show keeps reappearing, and how GarageBand turns culture into a stereotype for someone else’s casual appropriation. For example…
  5. As an artist I think digital software is either a great gift to creativity or a soul crushing juggernaut that reduces creativity to button pushing. I can’t decide. 
  6. As I worked with this program I kept coming back to the idea that “the medium is the message,” and the message here is “I don’t need other people, and all roads lead to a person sitting alone in front of a screen.” I kept wondering about the disembodied persons who had made the loops: what were they like? Why should I care? Who needs real friends?
  7. We talked and read a lot about the tension between openness and enclosure. Working with Garageband was an example of those tensions in action.
  8. We started out talking about the problem of “attention.” I thought this would go quickly, but I ended up getting totally absorbing in making small changes to get it perfect. Why is this such an attention-hog, but I can’t finish the books?
  9. The course talked a lot about displacement and dislocation. Technology changed people’s sense of space and time. Physical migration moved people around. Claude Shannon displaced meaning from information. There are many forms of displacement in GarageBand

Some aspects or themes of the course must have been more interesting to you, or perhaps less boring, than others. Go with what was most interesting to you. I’m less concerned to see you try to shoehorn everything in than I am in a thoughtful engagement with a more limited set of ideas. 
But I need to see that you have read and understood the books and articles; that you have an understanding of the themes of the course, and that you can see how those ideas are reflected in the software you’re using. So I would like to see about 75% of the course content–books, articles, lectures–used in the paper.