Social and Cultural

This section is about the social and cultural context in which music appears and the way in which sound and music computing is related to it. Indeed, music is an important aspect of all human cultures (Merriam, 1964). Musical activity involves a mental context of values and goals, as well as an institutional context of societal organisations and structures, and relates to all kinds of interactions with other humans, with nature and with material objects and machines.

Musical activity is, moreover, explorative, creative, and innovative, and can focus on expression (via art and music works), the acquisition of knowledge (via music science and research) or the development of tools to act (via music technology and industry). Besides all this, music is also meant to provide new experience, to give sense and meaning to life, to console and to promote social coherence and personal identity in and over very diverse social and ethnic groups (Hargreaves and North, 1999). Rooted in the biology of every human being (Wallin et al., 2000), music is a core occupation of our technological society.

The KEA (2006) study on the cultural and creative industries in Europe reveals that the expansion of the ICT sector depends to a large extent on the attractiveness of cultural content. Music has thereby been identified as one of the most vibrant cultural industries with a flourishing music research component embedded within a particular social and cultural context. According to this study, cultural activities can be stimulated by both bottom-up, grass-roots initiatives and also the top-down initiatives of administrations and institutes. These social and cultural strategies are beneficial to the economic environment because they:

  • reinforce social integration and help build an “inclusive Europe”

  • contribute to fostering territorial cohesion

  • contribute to reinforcing the self-confidence of individuals and communities

  • participate in the expression of cultural diversity.

Below, some particular features of the current socio-cultural context are described. These provide a background against which we can better understand trends and open problems related to sound and music computing research.

Socio-Cultural Trend 1: Transgression and uncertainty

Classical views hold that the socio-cultural context is largely shaped by developments in science/technology, whose authority, values and practices permeate all dimensions of society and culture. However, more recent views (Nowotny et al., 2001) hold that, owing to the growth of complexity, unpredictability and irregularity in both science and society, this one-way influence has given way to the mutual influencing, or even transgression, of science/technology and society/culture, as well as of university, industry and government (Etzkowitz and Leydesdorff, 2000).

The inherent generation of uncertainties (often resulting from the quest for innovation) yield different research practices, which are reflected in an increasing number of different directions in which technology could be explored and exploited. Which directions are selected may be strongly driven by the dynamics of innovation and by economic rationality. However, as this dynamics cannot be entirely planned, there is a need for values and goals which allow for uncertainty.

In the context of EU research policy, the European Commission - Europe 2010 (2005) has defined strategic objectives which draw upon solidarity and security. These objectives are based on concepts such as a friendly business environment, the embracing of change, economic and social cohesion, responsibility for common values, justice and risk management. This approach can be adopted as a basic framework for the social and cultural values and goals of sound and music computing research. It implies, among other things:

  • respect for the diversity of socio-cultural identity,

  • the care of cultural heritage (preservation and archiving),

  • openness to cultural change and new forms of expression,

  • democratic access to knowledge,

  • a culture of participation and participation in culture.

Statement 1: The uncertainty that is inherent in sound and music computing research should be guided by the specification of social and cultural values and goals.

Socio-Cultural Trend 2: Beyond the logic of economic rationality

Socio-cultural values and goals may guide the development of sound and music computing research by bringing forward certain requests. For example, while music information retrieval research has excelled in developing tools for common mainstream commercial (popular) music, it has to a large extent neglected more culturally interesting musical expressions, such as classical music and music of other non-Western cultures. Clearly, in such a situation, stakeholders in the social and cultural domains (such as governments, universities, cultural institutions) may require sound and music computing research to develop technology beyond the logic of pure economic rationality and require the development of music information retrieval tools for all kinds of music.

The reason for doing this could be that apart from commercial music, society feels that a broad spectrum of music traditions has a high social and cultural value. Thus, a diverse set of different applications in music information retrieval, interactive systems, education, archiving and entertainment, which form important components for the future eCulture (the electronic environment in which culture is produced, distributed and consumed) should be developed. If society and culture require that this broad spectrum should be taken into account in research, then support should compensate for biases induced by economic rationality. Often, the required socially and cultural valuable developments are supported by government and other institutions.

It is not excluded that support for these areas may boost very innovative technologies which, once a critical mass has been achieved, can then be taken up again in a logic of economic rationality. The European Commission is a strong player in defining the societal values with respect to scientific research.

Statement 2: The (EU) government should inject its support for research at the frontiers of economic rationality.

Socio-Cultural Trend 3: Local specialisation and global integration

In Europe, research in sound and music computing shows a trend towards local specialisation and global integration. Research in sound and music computing is typically done in small dynamic institutions, which are often specialised in small niche areas (such as ethnomusicology, cognitive musicology, data processing or music synthesis). Thanks to collaboration, these small research units can become quite powerful when complementary competences are organized as a broader European network of research units. Over the past decennium, such networks have been entirely based on competition and shifting alliances.

Statement 3: Local specialisation and global integration offers a competitive environment for sound and music computing research.

The multidisciplinary orientation suits the object of research, which is in itself very broad, covering issues in signal processing as well as in symbolic handling of musical information. This multidisciplinary orientation is situated within an economic rationality of production, distribution and consumption, a social rationality involving diverse players such as musicians, organisers, the mass media and the music industry, and a cultural rationality involving contexts related to high culture, low culture, cross-culture and interculture.

Statement 4: Research should be grounded in a multidisciplinary basis because that is the best guarantee for its embedding in the economic, social and cultural reality of our post-industrial society.

Socio-Cultural Trend 4: A neo-evolutionary research model

Given the broad context in which audio and music manifest themselves, sound and music computing research strategies are characterised by emergence rather than planning. This emergence, moreover, is driven by creativity and innovation. Hence it is difficult to predict what may be successful and what not. Sound and music computing's scientific paradigm is therefore close to a neo-evolutionary model (Leydesdorff and Meyer, 2003), in which elaborate systems of peer review, assessment and evaluation leave room for strategies of variation to be pursued by smaller laboratories in different alliances.

Statement 5: Sound and music computing research is strongly driven by innovation, albeit in a context of emergence rather than planning.

In this model, risk analysis is needed to consider the possible implications of research. After all, science and technology do not automatically lead to the best possible world. In developing them, it is necessary to calculate the risks, to keep an eye on the volatile and ambiguous dynamics. The co-evolution of the socio-cultural context and the scientific/technological context implies that an analysis of values and goals should become an integral part of the development of sound and music computing (Nowotny et al., 2001). The best guarantee to cope with unpredictable outcomes, or uncertainties initiated by innovation, is to allow society and culture to speak back to science and technology, hence the importance of reflection, the development of a code of ethics, the concern for democratic access and several other values that should be taken into account.

Statement 6: Democratic access, reflection and a code of ethics should form an integral part of sound and music computing research.

Socio-Cultural Trend 5: Innovation through artistic creation

Creation and innovation form the motor of sound and music computing research. Most interestingly, they are strongly driven by the context of artistic application. In that respect, it is of interest to mention that content-based music technology has roots in the particular cultural rationality of the 1950s (Born, 1995, Leman, 2005). That rationality, heavily supported by European governments of the time, led to novel developments in electronic music, of which interactive multimedia is a recent outcome. In contrast, audio-recording technology had already begun by the early 20th Century and was driven by the logic of economic rationality and the free market (Pichevin, 1997).

The trend of allying content-based music technology to economic rationality is new. But it is reasonable to assume that artistic creation remains a major factor in maintaining the former's innovative character. There are at least two reasons why art is likely to continue to contribute innovating challenges to sound and music computing research:

  • First of all, there is the desire for expression. If tools are used to be expressive, then one is always inclined to go beyond that what is actually possible. Indeed, recent developments in sound and music computing research have pushed back the frontiers of sensing, multi-modal multimedia processing and gesture-based control of technologies.

  • Secondly, there is the desire for social communication, and for technologies that enhance collaboration and exchange of information among communities at the semantic level. And indeed, recent developments in sound and music computing research have pushed back the frontiers of networking into technologies that deal with semantics as well as new forms of human-human and human-machine interaction.

In short, the context of art application results in a constant drive towards human-friendly and expressive technologies of mediation. Artistic and creative research is an important source for innovation and as a producer of content, it can really push the development of ICT (KEA, 2006).

Statement 7: Sound and music computing research should include artistic creation because the latter is a major driving force for innovation, including innovation in music technology.

In the 1950 and 1960s, numerous small music research laboratories played an important role in the development of content-based music technologies (Leman, 2005). Their original focus on electronic music production has now been extended to multi-media art production. This distinctive European approach, based on small but very innovative and specialised art centres connected through electronic networks, offers a unique and rich context for innovation in music/multimedia technology. Participative technologies involving all players in the cultural domain (developers, distributors, consumers, users and artists) can contribute to the formation of a space for eCulture. This space is closely connected to research/science and technology/industry.

Statement 8: eCulture draws on a platform of participation in culture and on a culture of participation.

Socio-Cultural Trend 6: Focus on the user

The socio-cultural context definitely calls for more attention to the user and the human factor in the practice of music technology. Sound and music computing research is characterised by its potential for use and hence by a strong willingness to respond to signals from society and culture. Indeed, the development of music technology should take into account a context of application and focus on different categories of users, the design of appropriate mediation technologies and the pursuit of personalised approaches.

The user can no longer be considered passive, as one that merely registers what is given as stimulus. Instead, the user is an active consumer, which implies a transgression from the domain of pure consumption into that of production and distribution. The active consumer is also a producer and distributor of music, and therefore an active contributor to what happens with music. Being an active consumer implies participation in the whole chain of production, distribution and consumption, forming part of a network of participating users.

Statement 9: Sound and music computing research should take into account the context of application, in which the active user/consumer occupies a central place.

Socio-Cultural Trend 7: Ethics in research

Ethics pertains to what is morally right and wrong. In view of the growing impact of technology, this perspective needs to be addressed in sound and music computing research. The impact manifests itself in various aspects of our social and cultural life. Examples are the personal integrity of subjects involved in experiments and exchange of data, the safeguarding of the rights of those who have invested in producing valuable content, the right to democratic access to information and so on. It is clear that new developments in sound and music computing research should take this context of implication into account. For example, issues of IPR ownership can be a significant barrier to the conducting of large and ambitious research projects, and the new concepts being developed around this issue may therefore be of critical value.

Sensor technologies are another sensitive issue. They may infringe the personal integrity of subjects and therefore the privacy and confidentiality of information. The conceptual and philosophical implications regarding human responsibility in contexts of application need consideration in sound and music computing research.

Statement 10: Sound and music computing research should take into account the context of implication, assessing risks and ethical implications.

To sum up, the social and cultural context has been identified to be an important driver for sound and music computing. Due to the complexity, unpredictability and irregularity in both science and society, decisions in research are often characterized by a fundamental uncertainty. More and more, this uncertainty is solved by a logic of economic rationality. Research then goes where economy requires it. However, social and cultural values are important and call for a transgressive approach to science and society, that is, an approach in which a mutual interchange between science and society is possible. This may result in governmental support for research fields that focus on important social and cultural values that go beyond the logic of economic rationality. Society may also support the creation of research spaces, and support local specialisation and global integration of the many small research units, thereby supporting a neo-evolutionary research model. The social and cultural context is all about the values that really concern to our lifestyle and that, in a democratic society, contributes to what is considered the highest good for all. Music is one such phenomenon that contributes to human well-being. It fosters creative activity, expression and social interaction. Through artistic creation, innovation is possible and contribution to culture is renewed. Society also requires more attention to the role of the user of ICT and there is an important ethical aspect related to modern sound and music computing research applications.


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