Conference Report–Music in the Disruptive Era: the Digital, the Internet, and Beyond

Organized by the Centro Studi Opera Omnia Luigi Boccherini, Lucca

Lucca, Italy; 14-16 December 2019—The impact of the Internet and digital technologies on the way the music is created, disseminated, and consumed is impossible to assess fully. Because we live in the middle of this “disruptive era,” the full impacts of the new technologies and modes of behavior remain unclear, but this doesn’t mean that certain patterns and processes cannot be described, or that informed speculation is futile. The papers presented at this weekend’s conference attempted to do just that, with intriguing, provocative, and often enlightening results.

The conference began with two keynote addresses. Sociologist Christine Hine (University of Surrey) spoke on the topic of “Audiences and Self-calibration in a Digital Society”, offering a useful context in which to consider many of the specific topics that followed. Immediately afterward, Pedro Ordoñez Eslava (Universidad de Granada) provided a telling example as he explored the impact of the Internet and digital technologies on the evolving perception and consumption of the Flamenco music tradition of his native Spain. What might be called the introductory portion of the conference concluded with a panel discussion on the pertinent topic: “Monetizing Music: New Audiences, New Markets, and the Problem of Financial Survival in the Digital Age”.

A huge range of presentations then followed, covering topics that included music creation, modes of research and access to sources, communication and dissemination, and the music marketplace. Some of the most interesting discussions concerned the evolution of uniquely digital modes of musical communication and expression. These included presentations on Internet memes and video loops by Joana Dos Reis Freitas (CESEM/Universidade Nova de Lisboa, FCSH), Anika Babel (University College Dublin), Marjolein Wellink (Utrecht University), and Jonas Wolf (GCSC, Justus-Liebig Universität Gießen).

Among the papers concerned with exploring the composition process in the digital age, Polish scholar (from the Stanislaw Moniuszko Academy of Music in Gdansk) Violetta Kostka’s discussion of the work of Pawel Szymanski stood out both for its musical interest and its analytical clarity. Also noteworthy: Corinna Herr (Robert Schumann Hochshule Düsseldorf) shared the results of her investigations into “Classical Musicians on YouTube and the Digital Divide”.

In considering today’s music marketplace, Michael Deakin (University of Birmingham) described new modes of online music patronage, while two Egyptian scholars, Mohammad Abd Elhamid Rashid and Basem Zaher Botros (both of Aswan University), shared their concerns over the potential of digital media to corrupt and even supplant the more traditional and historically correct styles of musical expression in their native country.

In a noteworthy sign of the times, it was surely significant that so many of the presenters at this conference on “the new” were female, and those of both sexes were strikingly young. Also, discussions of so-called “classical music”, typical of events not specifically dedicated to popular or contemporary styles, necessarily took a back seat not just to rock, but also to rap, film music, digital improvisation, and other electronic media. If the end result asked more questions than it answered, it nonetheless offered a useful snapshot of where we are today, midstream, in a strong and swiftly moving current of change.