Spring 2011 Course: Music, Digital Media, and Networks

I was so very excited to teach this class, and it has gone very well to date. It does tend toward the “Shit only Ben knows” thing with great frequency, but it’s worked out because the class, for reasons I can’t quite fathom, seemed to put a lot of faith in the idea that “it must be going somewhere.” I think we are all on the same page now, but there were a few moments early on when we were using terms that we had not yet defined (because we were too busy defining other terms) and thus were a bit confused. If you have read Ken Wark’s A Hacker Manifesto you know what I mean. He starts using “vector” in the first chapter, but does not fully define the term until the next to last chapter. Yes, you could skip right to that chapter, but then you won’t know what “class” and “representation” mean. And don’t get me started about “world,” a term you might not even recognize as a term until you get to the last section of the book. In the end, you get it all at once, and that’s often how I teach. I believe that it’s my job to simply put all of the concepts into play. If I do so well, the students will be able to put them together, sometimes in the manner I might, more often in far more exciting ways.

Oh, and you know what else don’t get me started on? The amount of shit I had to go through with the CU Library to get some of these albums on reserve. THEY’RE FREE ONLINE PEOPLE AND THEY HAVE NO REGULAR RELEASE!!!!

In any case, here’s the description:

Benjamin J Robertson
Course Description
Music, Networks & Digital Media
MWF 11:00-11:50, VAC 1B88

Films such as American Grafitti, Apocalypse Now, Forest Gump, and numerous others that follow from the 1960s use music, whether in an ironic or straight fashion, as soundtrack. On one had, that point is obvious, tautological. On the other hand, it is an idea worth investigating in the digital age. The premise of this course is that music no longer operates as a soundtrack, as a meaningful commentary or complement to events (fictional or real). Whereas the 1960s (drawing or earlier traditions of folk and blues) gave the United States and the world the idea that music could create or reinforce the meaning of political movements, cultural moments, or individual experiences, the late 1990s and the first decade of the twenty-first century demonstrate that the most important aspect of music is no longer its involvement with semantic meaning, but rather its encoding: whether we can play it through an iPod or a Zune, whether it can exist online, whether it can be tracked through p2p networks, whether Apple will allow it into the iTunes store (and how much it will cost according there according to the level of security attached to it). This class will consider these issues and others through readings in music and political economy, music and digital technology, etc. Additionally, we will consider several musical texts produced in the last ten years that explicitly involve themselves with and question processes of encoding and networking.

Partial reading list

  • Jacques Attali: Noise: The Political Economy of Music
  • McKenzie Wark: A Hacker Manifesto
  • Paul D. Miller, aka DJ Spooky that Subliminal Kid: Rhythm Science
  • —., ed. Sound Unbound: Sampling Digital Music and Culture
  • Jonathan Sterne: “The mp3 as Cultural Artifact”
  • Eric Harvey: “The Social History of the mp3”

Partial listening list

  • Girl Talk: Feed the Animals
  • The Kleptones: A Night at the Hip-Hopera
  • djbc: The Beastles and Glassbreaks
  • Danger Mouse: The Grey Album
  • Negativland: No Business
  • Public Enemy: It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold us Back
  • The Beastie Boys: Paul’s Boutique

Text list



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