Liveness and Mediatization: Folk Music Education in the Digital Age
thesisposted on 16.02.2016, 00:00 by Jacqueline A. Bowler
In this thesis I examine how developments in music and media technology affect how people listen to and perform folk music. According to Philip Auslander, due to the proliferation and development of sophisticated media techniques, the entire notion of the “live” is now contingent on comparisons to mediated experiences. My goal was to expand on the concepts of "liveness" and "mediatization" through an analysis of the relationship between the use of media technology and the performance and education of folk music at the Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music. I performed 15 in-depth, open-ended interviews with music teachers who have worked at the Old Town School of Folk Music (OTSFM) for upwards of fifteen years. The interviews centered around two inquiries: what role new media technology plays in the classroom, both regarding how teachers implement technology as well as how technology helps inform students’ musical backgrounds; and how the educative experience at OTSFM has changed over the last decades. I transcribed the interviews and performed a constant comparative method to locate four prominent themes: ideas surrounding how new media technology has enhanced the community, including communication, archiving, and recording as educational tools; ideas surrounding new forms of access and discovery; ideas surrounding people's tastes, listening behavior, and identity as fans and players; and ideas surrounding technical skills and practice. I was then able to delineate three ways that the school offers contexts to the “live” experience: a social context, a traditional context; and a physical, embodied context. I conclude that the concept of “liveness,” is in agreement with Sanden’s (2013) redefinition of it; liveness is not simply the marked absence of technological mediation, but rather is manifest in a rich number of ways that people perform acts of live human expression within a larger technological context. Additionally, I conclude that folk music culture can function to destabilize the “authority” of the popular studio recording, challenge its technological aura, and cultivate a plurality of temporalities.