At different times during my participation on the MSc in E-Learning I’ve sought albums that in some way represent the digital and experimental nature of the course itself. My hope has been that by listening to the likes of Air, Sebastien Tellier and The Advisory Circle I would somehow think more digitally and creatively. I’m still hoping that some of Sufjan Stevens' genius and imagination might rub off on me. I particularly took this approach during the E-Learning and Digital Cultures course where I spent an implausibly large amount of time watching Daft Punk videos whilst trying to convince myself that it represented valid research into posthumanism.
There are some artists who accompany me wherever I go, whether that's wandering through the different digital landscapes of the MSc in E-Learing, walking into work or sitting on a train (and I acknowledge that these different spaces can overlap). If there was a way of retrospectively aggregating all of the tracks I've played on vinyl, cassette single and CD I think Saint Etienne would be top of my 'most popular' list, marginally ahead of The Beach Boys. In a way these constantly-played artists - and Ennio Morricone and Serge Gainsbourg fall into the same category - could easily be described as offering me inspiration as they certainly do that. My point however is that they feature in my E-Learning space not because I have sought them out, but because they are present in all of my spaces, educational or otherwise.
One of the pleasures of listening to tracks on a digital library is that, depending on how you choose to organise your music, you don’t necessarily know what's going to come next. So when Manu Chao interrupts my calm learning space it's a sign that I need to take a break, get up and move around. And then there are tracks by Emmy the Great and High Llamas that I can't listen to without becoming totally absorbed in. Similarly unsettling is when a song begins to play that I didn’t even download: at these times I'm grateful that my wife has good taste in music, such as Erlend Oye. Nevertheless, the unpredictable arrival of these tracks disrupts my digital learning, albeit in a pleasant way. In soundtracking my E-Learning playlist in an authentic way, the inclusion of disruptive tracks seemed important.
During the early stages of the Introduction to Digital Environments for Learning course, I struggled to concentrate on some of the recommended reading. I found some of it heavy going and it was hard to stay focused. In an attempt to remain focused I did the usual things – finding a dedicated study time and place, switching off my mobile, putting my Mac out of sight, adding an extra shot of espresso to my cappuccino. Meanwhile to block out aural distraction I would stack up a pile of ambient and orchestral CDs to assist my afternoon reading. In practice, this went beyond simply blocking out 'external' sound. With help from mum and Erik Satie I was able to construct a space where I could confront complex theories. I've followed this approach ever since and it has helped keep me on track. So, if you’re ever wandering through EH10 on a Friday afternoon and hear Amiina or Yann Tiersen, that’ll be me. Just don’t break my concentration by ringing the buzzer.
James Lamb is a Research Associate and participant on the MSc in E-Learning.