Category Archives: Teaching Resources

Researching and Performing Jazz

By Lee Griffiths, Birmingham School of Media

Click here to listen to the accompanying music to this essay, which is part of an MA project in the Birmingham School of Media.

My research interests are centred around jazz in its various forms. In this essay I will trace the genealogy of my research interests from my experience as a performer through to the research which I am currently pursuing on this MA course. Specifically I will highlight the resonances which exist between my research interests and the term ‘media cultures’, arguing in favour of the German school of media theory as a model for understanding the role of media in the development of jazz.

Many of my perspectives on jazz are influenced by my time studying on the BMus (Hons) Jazz course at Birmingham Conservatoire. At the conservatoire I studied jazz from the perspective of a performer and musicologist and became an active member of the Birmingham jazz scene. During this time I also became interested in philosophy, which led me to ask questions about jazz which I felt weren’t being addressed on the course. My interest in researching jazz from a nonmusicological perspective led me to become involved with the BCMCR jazz research cluster which drew heavily on cultural studies.

Through my involvement with the jazz research cluster and my subsequent time studying on the MA course my research interests have become more focused on specific areas of jazz studies. Generally speaking my research interests are concerned with a post- or perhaps anti-Hegelian conception of jazz as a cultural practice, drawing on postmodern theory to critique humanist notions of jazz. In particular I am interested in how postmodern theory can offer new ways of thinking about jazz historiography, epistemology, and ontology at a time when changes in technology are reshaping the boundaries between the immediacy of improvised jazz and the highly mediated cultural landscape in which this improvisation takes place.

Given the highly mediated nature of jazz as a cultural practice, the conceptual framework offered up by the term ‘media cultures’ suggests a number of lines of enquiry which pertain to my research interests. My own approach to researching the media cultures which produce and are produced by jazz, is heavily influenced by German media theorists like Friedrich Kittler, Wolfgang Ernst, and Bernhard Siegert. Drawing together the largely humanist works of 18th century German philosophers such as Kant, Hegel, and Nietzsche with late 19th and 20th century theorists of technology and media such as Heidegger, the Frankfurt School, and Marshall McLuhan, the German media theorists suggest unified theories of media and culture .

From the perspective developed by Kittler in his work ‘Gramophone, Film, Typewriter’ (1999), it is no coincidence that jazz emerged as a global art form at the same historical moment as the gramophone came into common usage. Jazz music was different to both the literate tradition of western classical music and the orality of folk music traditions, best defined instead by Walter Ong’s term ‘secondary orality’ (Ong, 2013). For this reason, understanding the medial and technological landscape in which jazz developed is invaluable in trying to understand jazz as a cultural practice.
German media theory also suggests ways of understanding the changes in the performance and mediation of jazz that have been, and continue to be driven by, the advent of the internet and digital media. In addition to the widespread changes across the music industry by the internet, there are a number of changes which have come about in the 21st century which are specific to jazz, given its improvisational nature and specific cultural values. In this module I have chosen to focus on researching a recent phenomenon in jazz culture which has been made possible, perhaps even inevitable, by contemporary developments in media technology i.e. jazz performance in domestic spaces.

Typically jazz performances have tended to occur in the social sphere (clubs, studios, music colleges, etc.) but the widespread availability of cheap sound recording technology and access to channels of communication via the internet have made jazz performances in domestic spaces not only possible but commonplace. Jacob Collier’s home recordings (2016), Facebook group ‘Jam of The Week’ (Newton, 2019), and Louis Cole’s ‘Live Session’ video (Cole, 2018), all serve as recent examples of jazz performance in the domestic sphere. Drawing on extant scholarship on media technology in the domestic sphere I intend to investigate the shifting socio-cultural power relations which emerge from the movement of jazz into domestic spaces.
It is my hope that by studying the phenomenon of jazz in domestic spaces I will become more familiar with German media theory and understand the insights which it can glean about jazz as a cultural phenomenon. I also hope that this research will give me a better understanding of my own position as a musician working and playing in a media environment.

References

Cole, L., (2018). F it up – Louis Cole (Live Sesh) [Video]. YouTube. Available from: https:// http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IxEIQQkhyeI&frags=pl%2Cwn [Accessed: 14 February 2019].
Collier, J., (2016). In My Room [Album]. Membran Entertainment Group.
Hirsch, E. and Silverstone, R. eds., (2003). Consuming technologies: Media and information in domestic spaces. Routledge.
Kittler, F.A., (1999). Gramophone, film, typewriter. Stanford University Press.
Livingstone, S., (2007). From family television to bedroom culture: Young people’s media at home.
Media studies: Key issues and debates, pp.302-321.
Newton, F., (2019). Jam Of The Week [Online]. Facebook. Available from: https:// http://www.facebook.com/groups/jamoftheweekgroup/ [Accessed: 14 February 2019].
Ong, W.J., (2013). Orality and literacy. Routledge.
Siegert, B., (2013). Cultural techniques: Or the end of the intellectual postwar era in German media theory. Theory, Culture & Society, 30(6), pp.48-65.

The Male Gaze Re-Invented: Amateur Visuals at Underground Gigs

By Bryony Williams, Birmingham School of Media

As a performer and audience member, a certain trend has come to my attention where older male audience participants seem to be exclusively filming female performers during their shows. Of course I understand the attraction of collecting a snapshot of an experience as a memoire or to gain cultural capital (Colburn, 2015), however implications arise when such new media practice becomes an infringement upon the performer’s agency.

Using qualitative feminist audience research, I explore the social concerns camera recording produces and present numerous of anxious outcomes and possibilities. In order to collect primary material, I have published two separate open-calls on both Facebook and Twitter, enquiring about the impact of camera recording at live music shows. Seven out of twenty respondents touched upon negative impacts regarding comfortability for the performer, respect from the audience and the aspect of fetishized fandom. By exploring both audience members and performers attitudes and by drawing upon select experiences, this short dialogue aims to produce a feminist consensus surrounding the ethics of camera recording in relation to gender.

The Male Gaze, Reproduced…
The male gaze theory, first conceptualised by Mulvey (1975) has become a dominant feminist framework within the exploration of film culture, gender, and sexuality, where the placement of a female on screen can be seen for the pleasure of the heterosexual male audience, and thereby, ‘produce an illusion cut to the measure of desire’ (Mulvey, 1975: 67). This construction of the female form and its history of being eroticised for public display feeds into the support of the patriarchy (Mulvey, 2013), where cultural and expressional spaces, such as live music venues, remain gendered because of the objectifying practices present.

Western society has somewhat progressed in terms of equality and attitudes since Mulvey’s initial theory, however, according to McRobbie (2009), we have arrived at the next ‘sexual contract’ for young women in contemporary culture. This renewed sexual contract is heavily influenced through the production and consumption of social media (Zajc, 2013), where various issues regarding audience participation proposes negative impacts on one’s agency and mental health (Vogel et al, 2014). McRobbie further states how subtle renewals of gender injustices are coming into play, while “vengeful patriarchal norms are also reinstated” (2009: 55).

I propose that the act of camera recording can be argued to be one of these subtle gender injustices because of the negative effect it can cause towards female performers regarding their self-esteem and safety,

“Honestly, most of the gigs we do there’s just a row of men filming the WHOLE thing at the front. It makes us really uncomfortable sometimes.”
– Alex, bassist in Punk band, Witch Fever, a quote from our conversation.

This negative impact shows how audience participation can effect an artist’s performance and mood, albeit, this scenario is caused through male activity and collective, traditional entitlement. This reflects Mulvey’s theory on the construction of female erotica for a male’s pleasure, and if posted online, it becomes available for others to encapsulate their experience through screen. Puwar (2004) suggests that this ‘burden of representation’ women face is due to the existing patriarch and the idea of surveillance. Therefore, enhanced judgement and critique is placed upon women where minor social, performative mistakes are shown as evidence of gender incompetence in order to feed into hegemonic masculinity.

Between fandom and fetish is a thin line…
The theme of fetishism has arose on two separate occasions during this research in response to how audience members present themselves. In this instance, the collection of camera recordings, where the performance, and thus, the performer becomes a commodity in the process, could be argued to be situated within anthropological and commercial fetishism (Gamman, 1995). Alex (2019) shows how she negotiates with her onstage agency and personal beliefs while being viewed through high symbolic status, that despite her distress, she places herself within secondary context in the pursuit of maintaining trust (Alexander, 2006) and shared identity (Jiang and Carroll, 2014) between her band, Witch Fever and their audience in order to secure long-term interest, which in this case would be the longevity and loyalty of Witch Fever’s fanbase.

This reflects Buckley and Fawcett’s work where young women are able to put themselves ‘on show’ in public, physical spaces (2002: 135) and can transmit ‘heterosexual camp, a hyper-femininity that carries disorientating visual power and positions women centre-stage’ (2002: 138). This freedom offers experimental performance within sexualised practices which can be expressed through the use of revealing clothing. However, similar to Griffin (2005) who argues the continuation of the double standard produced through positive development for female sexual subjectivity, female performers are clearly still in dispute over how male audience members interact with their act, and thus, their agency.

“It feels like we get fetishized by these men but they don’t really realise they’re doing it as most of them are nice and support us. I don’t really know how to feel about it. We can’t really say anything because they haven’t done anything wrong but it’s definitely uncomfortable.”
– Alex, bassist in Punk band, Witch Fever, a quote from our conversation.

“In town there is an old guy who always goes to concerts with a camera. He takes pictures only of girls… This does feel weird, yet I don’t see a way of stopping him. Between fandom and fetish is a thin line”.
Suonoreale. a user on Twitter.

Post Effect…
So what happens to this metadata?
This question is important because on an individual basis, metadata cannot be monitored which can cause social anxiety (Graham et al., 2018). As a generalisation we can presume that the metadata will act as a social media post to signify a memory, an experience, and ultimately act as a form of online communication, self-presentation, and self-promotion (Eftekhar et al., 2014).

However, what if the metadata isn’t posted?

This idea provokes further questions of suspicion, that Mulvey’s male gaze theory can then be reproduced after the event in a private space, and that metadata is now within ownership of the visual recorder themselves meaning that the performer has an on-going lack of control over their performance and representation. The men who are recording may not consciously be aware of the objectivity they are producing, yet this underpins the subconscious devaluation of a woman’s presence in society and onstage and proves a problematic area worthy of cultural research.

“I have no clue where those photos end up”.
Hannah, solo artist from New York, a quote from our conversation.

“I think some of “them” post it online but honestly it’s such shitty quality, like it’s always just off their phones, and a lot of them probably don’t”.
Alex, bassist in Punk band, Witch Fever, a quote from our conversation.

This essay is part of an MA project in the Birmingham School of Media.

Business Model Canvas

Whilst preparing my teaching and reviewing my notes about the Business Model Canvas, I came across this article by Sam Mitchell in Arts Professional, in which he discusses business models and how digital developments can support innovation in arts organizations. The examples he cites include a range of initiatives including accessing new audiences as well as projects supporting cultural workers. At the heart of his argument is the notion that reviewing the business model is key to an arts organization’s sustainability and that digital developments can offer some potential solutions.

But what is a business model? Is it just about finding new ways of making money?

Continue reading Business Model Canvas

Useful Apps for the Productivity Ninja

Another post by guest blogger and author of “How to be a Productivity Ninja”, Graham Allcott.

Graham introduces different tools for productivity, many of which he uses in his own business. I have blogged about using Evernote which I use as an academic research tool, but as Graham states, it can do so much more.

Mobile apps are great tools to assist our thinking and organizing. When choosing which ones to use, check out as many YouTube videos, customer reviews, screenshots and product tours as you can, all of which will give you a good feel for the style, value and functionality of each app. Here are my top picks (I have no commercial incentive to endorse any of these, so this list is completely objective). Continue reading Useful Apps for the Productivity Ninja

Information Overload and How to Avoid It

When I think back to earlier in my career, there are hundreds of memories that spring to mind. In and amongst these is a vivid image of my desk, which zooms in on my computer screen to see hundreds upon hundreds of emails. Emails I’d read, emails left unread, but all piling up. It characterises how I used to work: controlled by my email inbox, struggling to lift my head above the parapet and consumed by the stress of information overload. It doesn’t have to be this way.  I’ve changed. You can too.   Continue reading Information Overload and How to Avoid It

Interviewing for a Blog: 1. How to Prepare

Be_Prepared_copyIncreasingly we are asking students to write blogs and interview professionals as part of their research. I have a series of notes which might be useful for any student either doing academic work or more general research for their blog.  I will post all the notes under the general heading of Interviewing for a Blog Post.

How to prepare: You can never be prepared enough for an interview. Professionalism and preparedness will be the least that your interviewee will expect.

Research, research research: The first thing to do is to research the person or people you are interviewing through their blog and other social media. Find out as much as you can. Research the company they run or work for. As a result of this research, you should get a good sense of their current status.

Prepare questions: Start to brainstorm some potential questions. You are unlikely to have a long time with them so you need some focus. Ask yourself: what do I want to find out? Is it about their management style? How they network? What aspect of their professional life am I interested in? How is the industry changing – their opinion on an industry sector and current trends or developments? You might want to go from general questions to more specific topics. This should result in a set of semi-structured questions to help you guide the interview but still allowing the process to feel like a conversation. Remember to ask open questions such as: How do you go about developing your networks? Not, do you network?

Time management: You need to think about practical things such as where you are meeting and how you will get there. Timing is very important – don’t be late! Check bus routes etc before the day of the interview.

Flexibility: Embrace the unexpected because real life does not always work out as you have planned it. For example, if you arrive all prepared and the person is running late, they might have a genuine reason and you should try to be understanding. However, don’t be shy about checking exactly when they will get there and asking to rearrange if you cannot wait.

Technology: Digital technology has developed in such a way that devices such as smartphones can act as video or audio recorders meaning that you may not need to invest in specialist equipment. However, if you have access to a good audio recorder or video camera then the quality will be of a higher quality. Whichever technology you use you should follow some simple rules about its use.

Be clear with your interviewee about whether you are recording to help you remember what was said, to support your writing, or you intend to publish the recordings themselves.

For audio recorders places the device as close to the person as possible. Even in a noisy environment your recording should be clear as long as the microphone is close to the person’s mouth.

A lot of video cameras have poor microphones so try to choose a quiet location as you want to avoid the camera being too close to the person therefore making them feel uncomfortable.

You might want to film a few general shots of the working environment of the interviewee. Do these afterwards. These shots can sometimes be useful when editing your video.

If you intend to publish your video interview then ask the person to look at you as they respond rather than the camera. Position yourself to one side of the camera and try to maintain eye contact with them. This can be tricky when using a hand-held camera so practice this before.

Be sure that your equipment works and that you have spare batteries (or your device is fully charged). As soon you can after the interview make a back-up of your recording to the hard-drive on your computer. Publish your audio/video material on hosting platforms such as Vimeo or Youtube (for video) or Soundcloud (for audio). You can then ‘embed’ the material easily in your blog post.

Check list to take to interviews:

Directions and/or a map

Contact details of your interview, address, phone number and email.

Some form of identification

Recording equipment

Notepad and pen

Relevant documents/literature/questions

The next set of notes will be about the interview itself.

Attending Conferences is Good for you.

I recently attended the Advancing European Tradition of Entrepreneurship Studies conference in Leeds. I’ve writen a short blog post about it here. I found it thought provoking and challenging. The best conferences should help you  debate, progress your thinking and test your knowledge.

While I was in Leeds, and not available to teach, my students attended the Virtual Ent conference in Birmingham. Feedback from the students has been very postive. One of them said, ‘it got me thinking’.
Continue reading Attending Conferences is Good for you.