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January 2012

Listening Spaces

Boombox. Walkman. Discman. iPod. iPhone.

Over the past decade or so, how has technology impacted the way you listen to music?

A new project under the Center for the Arts in Society’s (CAS) media initiative called “Listening Spaces” is going to explore just that – and the overwhelming influence technology has had on our personal interactions with music.

“There have been so many technological changes recently, and now we’re moving from computers to the cloud and a new virtual phase,” said Richard Purcell, assistant professor of English who is co-leading the project. “So, since music is more portable and accessible than it has ever been, how do we consume and use it?”

Listening Spaces was born out of two ideas: Purcell’s interest in the profound role sound and sound production has had in our understanding of new media, the arts and socio-political culture in the twenty-first century. . And, the work of Richard Randall, co-director of the project and assistant professor of music theory, who was interested in exploring the psychological and technological aspects of song order.

Over a two-year period, Purcell and Randall will plan events to help answer four central questions surrounding music consumption’s renovation: What do we do with music? Where do we get music? How and why do we share music? And, how and why do we recommend music?

This spring, Purcell and Randall are working on edited volume of tentatively titled “Listening Spaces” and are inviting scholars, musicians and journalists to contribute essays that address the intersection of music, technology and social media. The inaugural Listening Spaces event will happen in the Fall of 2012 and will feature invited talks and a workshop organized around small working groups with expert leaders that will engage with different topics related to the social, technological and cultural aspects of contemporary musical culture.

Other planned events include a Spring 2013 roundtable discussion on the psychological, technological and political aspects of musical experience, a playlist project during CMU’s 2013 Carnival and a discussion on “Virtual Friends: How machines recommend music” in Fall 2013. The project will conclude in Spring 2014 with Purcell and Randall co-teaching an upper-lever elective class on the issues uncovered and discoveries made during the project.

“I feel like this project could only happen at a place like CMU,” Purcell said. “The university’s intellectual culture is founded on interdisciplinary work. Both Richard and I are fortunate that CAS gave our project an opportunity to tap into the best that the humanities, arts and hard sciences have to offer. Music is one place where all of these disciplines intersect and something that almost everyone interacts with on a day-to-day basis. We really see potential in drawing together a broad section of the university community through Listening Spaces.”

More information:
Listening Spaces
CAS Media Initiative

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Contact Shilo Rea, Director of Public Relations at or (412) 268-6094.


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