Music, Sound and Multimedia: From the Live to the Virtual

May 1, 2008

We live in an age of the mass consumption of culture, and much of this involves reading, listening or playing during the daily commute. Look around at fellow passengers on public transport and you'll see novel readers, but also earphones aplenty, and while the iPod may predominate, often the gadget of choice will be a mobile phone or personal games player, and its user will be deep in an audiovisual alternative to the outside world. Multimedia, and the multiple mediation of cultural products involving the use of music, forms an ordinary part of the day-to-day world, and this wide-ranging and timely collection tries to address its current pervasiveness and future possibilities.

This book deals with the complexities of this set of cultural and technological innovations through an equally wide-ranging set of theoretical and empirical approaches. Academic musicology by Nicholas Cook, the acoustic ecology of R. Murray Schafer, the cultural studies of Raymond Williams and the theoretical work of Richard Wagner are among the more prominent sources debated within a text that is continually and valuably exploring its own disciplinary parameters. Many of the authors rightly point to the paucity of work in their sub-areas, and the editor has compensated by offering a balance of overviews and case studies in each section.

In the first section, Angelina Karpovich and Dana Milstein deal with fans' music videos, one of the more prominent examples of the way musical multimedia can involve the direct participation of the fan community as producers. By fans' re-use and free circulation of artists' and corporations' material outside the norms of rights management, much of contemporary multimedia production has been deprofessionalised.

By contrast, the last essay is Kieran Kelly's examination of the development of the Apple iPod - not just as the production of a cool object, but as a key example of the workings of contemporary capitalism. From Apple's purchasing of the basic design and outsourced component parts, to the integration of the copy-protected iTunes online music store (which made it a particularly versatile music player, but locked it into traditional rights management), the iPod has exemplified the ways in which musical multimedia might still be of use to capitalism in the future.

If so, the good folk at the major record labels might be advised not to read Dan Laughey's survey of music in young people's lives, which echoes the chapters on music video in pointing to a culture in which the flow of capital is entirely incidental to the making, sharing and using of music.

Meanwhile, music continues as part of a bewildering range of genres and products, from video games through websites, and as recording and live performance. Here perhaps is the heart of the book, as Jamie Sexton examines the emergent installation or web-based "sound art", Jem Kelly reflects on multimedia and pop performance and Randolph Jordan discusses "acoustic ecology" through the THX cinema sound format and the experimental work of Hildegard Westercamp.

These chapters refer to a variety of performers and performance styles from the popular (Madonna) through the experimental (Pan Sonic) to the avant-gardist (Jem Finer). It is in the connections between these, and to the fan cultures' products referred to elsewhere, that we can begin to map the future of musical multimedia, and of music itself.

Music, Sound and Multimedia: From the Live to the Virtual

Edited by Jamie Sexton
Edinburgh University Press
£50.00 and £16.99
ISBN 9780748625338 and 25345
Published 14 November 2007

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