James Lamb writes: Later today (Wednesday 4 March 2015), Professor Siân Bayne will deliver her inaugural lecture as Chair in Digital Education at The University of Edinburgh. The subject for Siân's lecture is 'The Trouble with Digital Education'. Siân has played an integral role in the MSc in Digital Education and also the E-Learning and Digital Cultures course from which our Elektronisches Lernen Muzik project emerged.
In conversation last Friday, Siân mentioned that she was searching for some music that could break the awkward silence that can precede formal lectures of the kind she will deliver later today. Her difficulty though was in finding material that was both suitable for the occasion and free from any issues surrounding public performance and copyright.
Whilst acknowledging the shortness of time available, I asked whether it would instead be possible to make an original piece of music, using music creation apps and other digital resources. This level of compositional freedom, I suggested, would allow for the creation of something more than auditorium-background. Here was an opportunity, I felt, to explore how a piece of music could be used to reflect and represent subject matter, whilst at the same time creating an aural environment that would help the audience tune-in to the knowledge content that was to follow. Soundtrack as an atmospheric and rhetorical device.
I put it to Siân that it would be worth contacting Stephen Bezzina who, as well as being a Physicist and student on the MSc in Digital Education, is a DJ and contributor to Elektronisches Lernen Muzik. I subsequently emailed Stephen with a short brief for a 20-minute soundtrack that would in some way represent Siân’s work within the field of digital education, whilst simultaneously drawing on the specific themes of the lecture that she would be delivering.
By Sunday evening Stephen had responded from his cliff-top studio in Malta* with an original soundtrack and accompanying rationale:
It will be interesting to see what, if any, reaction there is to Stephen's ambient composition later today. Will the music help to manufacture the collective audience-ease Siân hoped for? Or maybe the air of dystopian menace will make for a more unsettling and uncomfortable atmosphere than would ever have emerged through silence? Perhaps I’m being too ambitious in hoping that the soundtrack will stimulate some level of discernible response, and we probably want to avoid the reaction that accompanied the 1917 performances of Parade by Erik Satie, that pioneer of earlier ambient music. Of course, just because we can’t see an obvious audience response, that doesn’t necessarily mean it won't have struck a chord.
Thinking about the broader subject that Siân will be addressing, perhaps this exercise tells us something about the community, collaboration and creative possibilities that can exist and emerge within digital environments. Within a really short period of time a conversation-in-passing turned into a critical challenge and then the composition of a unique piece of music. The trouble with digital education, I would argue, is that there's hardly time to catch your breath.
I’ll share Stephen’s composition here after Siân’s inaugural lecture has taken place. Meanwhile, the lecture will be livestreamed here from 5.15pm Edinburgh time.
*I don't know whether Stephen's studio sits on a cliff-top but I imagine it probably does.