James Lamb writes: Christmas, as Andy Williams sang, is the most wonderful time of the year. Whether or not you share the wisdom of the late, great King of Lounge, it's worth remembering that as you tuck into your pumpkin pie, some poor unfortunates will be facing up to coursework assignments over the festive period. Or maybe that's you?
It's a safe bet that none of the music on this playlist will be troubling the Christmas chart compilers: for the most part, the tracks here are low key and saccharrine-free. In fact some of the songs have only the most tenuous link to Christmas. The feel though is intended to be wintry and thoughtful. All calm, if not always bright.
With greetings of the season,
*Courtesy of the Elf DVD
Michael Sean Gallagher writes: I used to wonder when young and impressionable why artists that I had so admired basically drove themselves into oblivion through destructive behavior or unchecked enthusiasm. I thought that it was the peculiar lot of the artist to create (art) and then destroy (themselves) in some sort of perverse pattern of checks and balances. It seemed so common as to be normal. I only began to understand the process when I started writing myself, starting with (bad) poetry and (worse) plays and then clumsily lungeing towards longer works. Regardless of how bad it was, there was that elation of creation (yes, that rhymes) that accompanied the finishing of any work. A runner’s high of the mind. This high would invariably be followed by a low. A bottoming out. Perhaps a realization that this work was concluded and I wouldn’t be able to revisit what I had taken such comfort in for so long. As my delusions of becoming a professional writer waned, so did this process of elation/disillusion. I stuck with writing a blog and that was more than sufficient to fulfill my surplus writing energy.
As I created this playlist, which was meant to represent strictly the elation part of completing an elearning work of creativity (assessed or otherwise), I noticed it beginning to bottom out. The songs became more melancholy, more a search for home (ie, my wife), of motion. I was looking for something with each and every track. It felt like it was time to get back out on the road (online) and begin again, but I still wanted to savor that which had just passed, to mourn it a bit. Luckily, there are always more projects, more papers, and more creation to be had. We just need to take time to mourn those ideas, communities, and constructions that elated us before moving on to the next context. This playlist is my attempt to do just that.
Michaelangelo Sean Gallagher is a graduate of the MSc in E-Learning and is a Phd student at the Institute of Education in London.
Dr Neil Speirs writes: Learning another language. It’s not something that native English speakers do enough of, far from it. But if we dared to try, what would soundtrack our efforts? That’s what I started to imagine while learning the conjugations of ‘chuchoter’ the other evening. Still seduced by the last few dewy drips of another romanticised summer adventure across continental Europe, I wondered. What melodies could inspire my learning and what melodies would be inspired by learning?
This is not a mix in the sense that it blends seamlessly; it’s really a compilation, a collection. All of it was inspired, written and produced in a non-English speaking country. It’s all performed by non- native English speakers. But it’s not a complete history of non-English speaking music, far from it.
What language are you going to learn?
Dr Neil Speirs est un rêveur. His days are sound tracked by 100 thousand melodies and colours.
On Thursday evening I found myself driving through the countryside of the Scottish Borders, travelling between high schools for my job. I look forward to these times. Alone with my thoughts (and the car radio) I have the space to think about ideas for work and study. It would be accurate to describe this is as one of my more productive learning spaces. On this particular occasion I was trying to turn some half ideas for my MSc dissertation into a single good idea. Somewhere along the A6089 between Kelso and Earlston a radio interview interrupted my line of thought.
Chris Watson is one of the world's leading recorders of wildlife and natural phenomena and, also of significance to our project, was a founding member of experimental music group Cabaret Voltaire. He records audio of our natural world and edits the field recordings into ‘filmic narrative’. His interview on BBC Radio 3’s In Tune was accompanied by a track entitled ‘Deadwater Fell water running off into the river North Tyne’. As well as capturing what might be described as the aural beauty of the natural environment, Watson described how his project to capture the sound of the River Tyne, also necessarily captures industrial machinery at work alongside quaysides and riverbanks.
Although our own project has a different purpose – to explore how music influences and inspires our learning spaces – each of the submitted soundtracks offers an insight into the creator’s learning environment, even if what we have shared has been more considered than ‘captured’. Perhaps our soundtracks - where we consciously put forward significant tracks - might be described as ‘constructed soundscapes’ rather than recordings of the natural environment.
A more accurate field recording on my own natural learning environment would include music, accompanied by the sound of coffee being consumed, radio interruptions as I check the score in the cricket, my fingers tapping off the panel of my Macbook as I think through an idea (I’ve just being done this) and vague feedback on my ideas from my six-month old son.
Even then, this recording is incomplete as it disregards the electronic chatter that often punctuates my environment: the alert that announces a new message on Twitter; notification that a Vimeo file has uploaded; software update notifications and so on. On other occasions it might be the sound of Skype text, or maybe the wind blowing through Second Life. An audio composite capturing sound from either side of my screen could be seen as a field recording of my merging natural and virtual learning landscapes.
Maybe there’s a dissertation idea in all this?
James Lamb is a participant on the MSc in E-Learning
James Lamb writes: When this project was conceived, we excitedly anticipated being introduced to artists beyond our existing sphere of listening. We looked forward to tracking down unfamiliar artists and exploring musical territories previously unknown to us. And so, for me, it has proven. As new playlists have been submitted, I’ve done the digital equivalent of flicking through record racks to find out who Cliff Martinez is and whether Themes from Vapourspace is an artist or a soundtrack (it's neither). As I read through online biographies and dragged my cursor over discographies for ‘new’ artists, I started to sense a pattern of where the music was coming from (in a geographical rather than a creative sense). UK - France - USA - Iceland – UK – Italy – France – Germany - Iceland again. I began to wonder whether there was any geographical significance to the music that accompanies our learning? I started to question whether the music coming from a particular nation might reverberate particularly loudly within our learning spaces?
A quick glance at the infographic offers some interesting ideas about our musical landscape. First of all, relatively few different countries are represented - the 40 nominated artists come from only 10 different countries. Does this suggest we have ‘tunnel listening’ when selecting music to accompany our learning? Why do some countries leave an audio imprint greatly out of proportion to their size as a nation? Is there something about the Icelandic landscape that lends itself to the type of music that we find best accompanies and inspires our learning?
Obviously, it’s too early to draw any conclusions based upon the small amount of submitted data/playlists. This exercise has simply been a gentle way of encouraging us to consider new ways in how we might view the submitted playlists. I must say however, I think we’ve established a compelling case for an MSc in E-Learning symposium in Paris next spring... [note to self – forward this entry to programme leaders]
James Lamb is a participant on the MSc in E-Learning and a listener of Gallic pop.
James Lamb writes: For the last seven weeks I’ve been teaching on a Summer School for pre-university students. We meet every Wednesday and, stepping out of the Scottish sunshine, we enter a gloomy and dusty lecture theatre to talk Harvard referencing and critical thinking. To lighten the mood, we decided to play music as a prelude to the first lecture of the day each week. The class seemed bemused by my chosen playlist so I challenged them to do better.
Using the course discussion board then, students were invited to nominate tracks that they study to. What followed was an interesting mixture of musical styles and accompanying comments. Alas, University regulations forbade me from allocating additional coursemarks to the student who nominated Ennio Morricone’s ‘The Ecstasy of Gold’.
Mariana nominated 'The Nutcracker' by Tchaikovsky: "I think classical and instrumental music are the most relaxing for studying. I really enjoy Bach, mostly, and I also like The Nutcracker by Tchaikovsky."
Corinne nominated 'To build a home' by The Cinematic Orchestra: "Usually I find it hard to listen to music while studying - I get too distracted so it has to be calm and the volume has to be low. But I heard this song recently and it gets me into a studying mood - it helped me to finish my essay."
Sam nominated 'The Ecstasy of Gold' by Ennio Morricone: "The music I listen to many people would find distracting, but I find it really helps me to concentrate if I listen to soundtracks from games or movies for some reason. They are really dramatic and kind of motivate me."
Jack nominated 'Hysteria' by Muse: "Generally, I just stick the iPod on shuffle and go from there. Recently though, I've been picking out specific songs and making playlists (mostly so I don't get any songs I don't like, more than anything)."
Mariana, Corinne, Sam and Jack were participating in the Learning Skills course on the LEAPS Summer School, a pre-university programme taught across the higher education institutions in Edinburgh.
Stephen Bezzina writes: The soundtrack to my learning space during the MSc in E-learning is composed of different artists and genres, from Kitaro (new age) to The Bloody Beetroots (electro house), from Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (classical) to Dj Rush (hardtechno), from Kraftwerk (early electronic music) to Plastikman (techno). Yet, all influence me and inspire me, in different ways. My chosen playlist, which incidentally I managed to mix, is my first contribution to this interesting project. It is entitled “Roots” and contains the very top ten tracks, in the early electronic music genre, which I played during the last year, since I enrolled on the programme. Having been for the past ten years in the techno and hardtechno business, both as a dj and producer, I feel that these tracks are representative of the roots to which I belong.
During my reading activities, I prefer to listen to music with a higher BPM (beats per minute) as I find such tracks to be more uplifting and help me to push myself further. Most of the time I try to match the pace of my reading to the track. In fact I look for tracks with a 127+ BPM for my usual reading activities. Tracks like Living On Video (Trans-X) and Blue Monday (New Order) are the ideal backing music whilst enjoying some Dreyfus or Gee. Yet, if a text is particularly difficult to follow or must be read thoroughly throughout, I could also change playlist and go for a more slow, sluggish, down-tempo track.
Whilst writing, I also opt for faster music, but prefer instrumental versions over vocal accompaniment, reason being that such tracks carry an empty vacuum which brings about the necessary space and time for me and my writing. Tracks like The Chase (Giorgio Moroder) and Tokyo Jam (Moskwa TV) were the soundtrack to my blog-writing activities during GBL. Again, the fast-paced music helps me in keeping focussed and on track.
Most of the time on the MSc is spent thinking. Jean Michel Jarre and his album Oxygene (with the second part being my favourite track and thus mostly played) set an inspiring context with rhythms and patterns that guide my creative thinking. I feel inspired by and identify with the sounds of the synths and the nature of the hook lines.
Stephen Bezzina is a DJ, producer, record label owner and participant on the MSc in E-Learning.
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.
Jen Ross writes: Only in very rare circumstances can I bear music playing while I read or write. I'm more likely to have a 'white noise' track playing in the office than music. The bus journey to and from work is usually the only time I'm offline during the day, and the regular time I listen to music (though on the way home I'm equally likely to listen to This American Life podcasts). Music bookends my working day, and on rare musicless days I am restless and unhappy.
Over the years, via this method, I've discovered I have a real liking for scandinavian pop and scottish indie bands, and that quirkily-named songs are a mixed bag, but irresistible to me… thanks, interwebs.
This mix was selected from what's in that playlist tonight that originated serendipitously, from strangers online. A few are tracks I heard for the first time tonight (whitman, uncles, st vincent & the national). A few are from musicians I now adore (joanna newsom, bright eyes, meursault, dan mangan). The others are songs I especially like, from singers and bands I mostly just have this one track from and know little or nothing about. It's sort of a special, web-sourced edition of my commute.
Dr Jen Ross is a lecturer on the MSc in E-Learning at The University of Edinburgh
Kraftwerk's 'Tour De France'. Since acquiring a mountain bike in 2011, three nights a week I can be found plugged into such tunes, thinking about the previous teaching day, or using the pastoral surroundings to think anew; often I am listening to ‘spoken word’, lectures on astronomy (which help my interest in interdisciplinary learning) or technology podcasts. You can almost feel the chords - taste the keyboards: a somewhat synaesthetic experience from what may be a surprising choice from such a back-catalogue; I first heard 'Model' and it still fills me close to tears, the juxtaposition of human frailty against cold, uncaring machine melody. I remember watching the needle touch down upon the 'Man Machine' album. They provide a blueprint for many modern artists.
M.A.R.R.S. 'Pump up the Volume': For me this marks a turning point. Such as Punk cleared the detritus that was Prog, ballad, and you-had-to-own-a-mansion-and-drive-around-in-a-Bentley-Rock-And-Roll-Lifestyle. This ENDED the banality of The Eighties: Goodbye Mr McKenzie, Numan flailing between Top 30 and 40. Just like Sigue Sigue Sputnik shortly before, this uses samples from a variety of media, but it includes ‘cuts’ from the emerging Hip Hop and Rap – there’s even an Indian section. This was - and still is for me – the song that marked a change. Resist the current - seek the new.
John Lydon’s 'No Fun' (Peel Session featuring The Orb (The House Generation's 'Floyd'): We salute you, caustic, sneering, irreverent, antagonist, obstinate! Challenge! Use the energy of anger to change - create anew! Transcend hierarchies! I admire the Punk Phoenix rising from the ashes that was social, political and musical Britain 1976, paving the way for the 'ordinary' musician, but also providing a vehicle for Numan, the Ska and 2-Tone movement; ‘blends’ like The Police, The Jam - Reggae and Mod-influenced, respectively. Yes, 'No Fun' is a clarion call to ME as an educator that every child - every learner is a fresh new mind that will seed the future. Rage against the bland - change, abhor inertia and laziness - innovate or stagnate. Arise, Sir John!
D Kay & Rawfull – ‘Directions’: Born from Electronica and the jazz and funk upon which Rap and Hip-Hop were nurtured and allowed to fly the nest, this is - for me - the music that suits any endeavour that aims at pushing boundaries: Drum and Bass - aka Jungle. There's often a sadness that underpins such tracks (especially this one) and I think that this is a reminder of mankind's lot, against which many barriers - physical, emotion and intellectually - we as a genus are trying to forever break. When I listen to this music I feel positive; I feel positive for mankind, I relish the blood-pumping reality of our part in this immense 'grand plan'. I am positive. This music evinces our achievements, our desires to integrate cultures and races, to push technology to the limits - to use it for good.
Aphex Twin, ‘Tha’ (track 2 from 'Selected Ambient Works 85-92'): This was our 'Floyd'; the anti-thesis to the emerging dance and techno which was fast augmenting and replacing the Acid House ... We played it originally at 45rpm, but when I popped the tape into the E-Reg Ford Escort … well, somewhat slower. Beautiful, haunting atmosphere, soundscapes and eerie backgrounds that seem to stretch far into Richard D James' imagination: a pioneer at the time; creator of music that … unnerves through dissonance.
‘Call Me’, Blondie (Moroder 7” instrumental mix): I still remember watching Blondie's 'Heart of Glass' on Top of The Pops, and I seem to remember Donna Summer's 'I Feel Love'. Just as the Nexus-6s grasp their photographs that represent their memories, these tracks remind a once 7-year-old about his past and how far he has progressed. 'Beat the Clock' by Sparks was another masterpiece from Giorgio Moroder... This track returns to minimalist beginnings, the guitar licks wrapping around the un-relenting synth. …
But we must return to Themes from Vaporspace, which – to me – creates the image of both Pioneer and Voyager probes silently slipping out of our solar system, never to return; mankind’s only creations to have ventured so far; a culmination of the evolution from fire, tools and language – the result of innate learning.
And the image uploaded with my mix? This is where my young mind ran free, tasted the world, and began…
Hugh O'Donnell is a high school teacher of English and graduate of the MSc in E-Learning