Thursday, December 19, 2013

Final Project: Provo Music And The Digital World

Hear it is folks, compiled in one place for easier viewing. I had a fun time researching the way Provo bands have been using digital media. Now when I think about local music, i'll think about it in a different (maybe more analytical?) way. 

Provo Music Scene (Part 1)

Going Micro: Following A Provo Bands Progress On The Digital Road

The Moth & The Flame

Now that I have established what the Provo music scene is, it's time to look at how one band has operated within that system, and even helped shape it. When I asked Perry Burton (local drummer in the band Eli Whitney) who he thought the next Provo band to "make it" would be, he told me it would be The Moth & The Flame.

The above photo is the cover of their latest E.P. The art is striking, visceral, and listening to the music it matches the photo quite well. The digital age has brought an even greater focus on the visual, and The Moth & The Flame embrace that. But at the same time, this band has been curiously anti-digital, or at least has not approached the digital in the same way as bands like Chvrches or Sleigh Bells, who blew up online even before playing to live human beings.

No, this band from Provo (currently relocated to L.A.) got its start by trying to win over local music goers. And they released their first album in physical format only.

At first glance, this logic seems strange. Why would a band, in the digital age, not release there music online? The explanation the band gave was that the album artwork was too important to be separated from the music and was actually intended as the first track of the album. The band was also passive in the social media realms, not trying to promote there Facebook page during concerts. All things a band that want's to survive in the digital age of music needs to be doing. Instead, The Moth & The Flame would use elaborately constructed art installations to advertise for shows. The giant in the picture below was used at their "Provo Rooftop Concert Series" show.

They sold out there album release show and had to add another. And every show they have played at the Velour in Provo has sold out since, with there most recent E.P. release show selling out a few days in advance. And it would seem they have set a trend in Provo, as other notable bands like Parlor Hawk, Mideau, and Polytype have held off releasing their music online, following The Moth and The Flame's example. Sometimes going against the digital world gets peoples attention.

 Indeed, the band has been getting national/international recognition with the release of the follow up E.P. entitled "&" (well, an upside down &). They recently went on a European tour opening for fellow Provo band Imagine Dragons in support of the new E.P. and have started to garner more attention and radio play. Their Facebook page has also jumped into activity, as has their twitter and instagram pages. They also released their first music video.

The band is jumping around the internet as well, being featured in numerous blogs and reviews, the most notable of which have been the feature they got in The Guardian, being played on BBC 1, and making it to #6 on Billboards "Next Big Sound" list.

In an interview they did with, the band talked about how the decision to not release the first album digitally was scary for them, but that things have been paying off precisely because of that decision. The lead singer said that they were able to make a bigger impact that way because "the story of not releasing was more interesting," which allowed them to make a big impact amongst blogs, selling a lot of C.D.'s on their website. This led to them moving to L.A. to work with Producer/drummer Joey Waronker (Atoms for Peace, Beck, R.E.M.), whose work is featured on the E.P.

And even more impressive, they caught the attention of mega producer Peter Katis (The National, Interpol) who worked with them on their next full length album (to come out early next year).

The Moth & The Flame have taken untraditional routes, they seem to be the farthest thing from an internet sensation, yet they are doing serious things in the music world.

I am intrigued as to what route they take from here. And if they are as succesful in gaining internet notoriety as they have been at trend-making in the Provo music scene (just check out this blog post from a fan), these guys should be a safe bet to break out in the next couple years.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Proposal for Studying Literature in the Digital Age: Awareness and Updating Our Methods

I believe that in order to update the English major in a valuable way, we need to be aware of and have the skill set necessary to properly address the new audiences and mediums the internet has made possible. This has a lot to do with the concept of awareness Professor Burton talked about in his post, “literary Study in the Digital Age: 17 Comparisons and a Provocation.” Before the internet there was word of mouth, books, etc. as a means of becoming aware of new things. But now thanks to the internet there is Youtube, Goodreads reviews, blogs, social media, etc. that have created a completely different style and manner in which we communicate.  Facebook and Twitter are briefer, Goodreads review needs to be interesting and can’t bog a reader down (much like an scholarly paper might).  The English major must learn how to use these mediums, to exploit the potential they hold.

Say the student is doing a traditional book report. He or she writes it up and then turns it in. It is likely going to reach an audience no wider than the teacher he hands it into. This is a shameful waste of the knowledge and opinions gained by reading the novel. Now, if the student was trained to post that same review onto Goodreads, knowing how to make it rhetorically appropriate for that medium, it is much more likely his review will be seen by more people and become of service in helping them decide whether to buy the book. And if that same review is then  shared on twitter or facebook, now we have the possibility of starting a conversation about the book. And finally, what if that same review is also made into a video review? The result would be a visceral, visual experience that reaches for yet another audience and opens up even more possibilities for the student to make an impact on the world around him or her concerning that particular subject.

An opponent to this restructuring of the curriculum might say that many subjects within the English major are simply too obscure to find an audience in the deluge of superficiality and glamour that is the internet world. People aren’t going to care, and the ones who do care will be turned off by the new mediums. But to them I would say this. The long tale is making many things accessible that previously weren’t. It is allowing for more things to get seen and heard. 

Another complaint might be that these mediums would require a rhetoric that is less valuable than the strictness found in academic peer reviewed journals. However, it would be simple to find a middle ground, appeasing both the new medium (such as shorter, more opinion oriented good reads reviews) and the old (the formal academic paper). One could sum up there opinion of the book in a sentence or two on their facebook account, and then link to a longer more traditional review , thereby appeasing the people looking for a quick recommendation/summary and the people who want something more in depth.

All this is to get more use out of what we are producing, and make more of an impact. The English major can no longer ignore the digital culture in which modern society now lives. 

Essay 1: The importance of Literature in understanding digital culture

A literary work like Moby Dick can be very effective in helping us make sense of the Digital world. The novel is very large and daunting, much like the digital realm. One way in particular that this novel  distills itself onto a pre-digital mind in useful ways is by functioning as a metaphor for the digital realm. For example ,  my teammate Melody wrote a blog post entitled “The Moby Dick Metaphor” talking about how Ishmaels going to sea is similar to our going to see in learning about the digital world. I built off of this post by proffering one of my own entitled “The (never ending) moby dick metaphor.” In this post I talk about how Moby Dick can help us understand the digital by looking at how a continual cycle of always having to hunt down another whale represents the need to always hunt down another digital concept/idea. The need to continually learn and understand the new concepts and things that come up in the digital sea.

Another approach that some of my teammates took was looking at Moby Dick as a platform that will prepare us for curating and building identity. That is, the novel presents its ideas in a way that help us understand the identity of the person telling the story, (and telling the story changes the narrator as well) similarly, when we go onto youtube or soundcloud, the music that we like and choose to curate will show our audience things about our identity, as well as help us construct our identity.

And finally, one of my teammates looked (Derrick) at how Moby Dick represents “deep blogging” in the sense that by looking very deeply into specific subjects we learn more about them and gain a fuller understanding. Just as the whole novel is done under the subject of the sea and whaling, so too can a blog be composed around a specific set of themes or subjects (such as the early-returned missionary blog being done by one of my classmates, or my music blogging).

One Strategy for Digital Humanities

Knowing how to read is a more obvious but just as important question as knowing what to read. English literature curriculum has historically been more interested in the second question, but the new digital age gives the first one a new and urgent importance.

Typical first courses required for English students include introductions to research tools and to literary periods. From then on, the rest of the course of study hones in on specific genres, authors, and texts, with the assumption that students know the general contexts. 

May I suggest an additional mandatory prerequisite: English 299: Digital Literacy. The assumption that students raised in a digital age already know all of what digital tools can offer is is like assuming that a child raised in a library automatically knows everything about books — yes, chances are, that child has read a lot already, but they are limited to the extent of their own whims. Students today have used the Internet a lot, but they have likely only learned the tools that they have naturally been drawn to. 

As one who thought himself to be a DIY champion, this attractive graphic shared by Gideon Burton brought me to a new humility, and made me wish I had a class about digital literacy. Not everything can you learn by yourself.
Much has been done by way of commentary on digital literacy. Doug Belshaw has commented on the difference between digital literacy and web literacy (one, he says, is a subset of the other). Gideon Burton has written extensively about the three C's of digital culture -- consume, create, and connect -- and how knowledge of these amounts to some degree of digital literacy. There is even a website, Literacy 2.0, dedicated to parsing out this very subject.

Loving to read does not make one a literary scholar. We need a course that instills digital discipline and understanding to empower students to use new tools in effective ways. Without it, students will drown in the ocean of the ever-changing web. We can throw them a lifejacket and teach them how to swim.

Burn All the Books? A Defense of Tradition in the Digital Age

Digital enthusiasts are sometimes accused of throwing traditional approaches under the bus. Quit lugging around those heavy books — slim down with 140 characters! But traditional literature approaches are useful for making sense of digital culture. Close reading and analysis of texts, the most analog of the analog, are tools that can be profitably applied to navigating the tumultuousness of digital seas.

Moby Dick, as an example, can provide two kinds of guidance for digital mariners: 

1) The text can be seen as an example of digital culture, and 
2) The text can provide purpose for digital tools.

To the first point, comparisons can be made between Moby Dick and digital contemporary life. Some comparisons are charming and superficial, others offer real insight. We can see in Ahab the passion of fan culture, and in Ishmael’s obsession with whaling information an example of a blogger who is curating all the information possible about whaling. And we can also see type of deep-diving in research that Ishmael uses as an example for how blogging can be a serious and deep endeavor.

Social media is sometimes considered silly and without purpose. What did you eat for breakfast today? When we look to essential literature, we can become re-calibrated to essential values and meaning. It can then give purpose to our digital endeavors. Reading Moby Dick, we can understand better themes of obsession, commitment, shortsightedness, and passion. And a blogger who embarks on a creative journey, for example, will make a more meaningful blog having seen the passion and failings of Captain Ahab. Having consumed the moral and thematic material that great literature has to offer, we will know how to responsibly yield new digital tools.

Social Proof Enhancing Literary Studies

The classroom is a small space with only around fifteen to thirty people bouncing ideas off one another. In the digital age, there is no need to define a text or ideas by what discussion happens in the classroom when there is so much available online to look into and participate in. Traditionally, research is a very solitary thing, combing through books in the library, browsing online journals, and drafting and writing all on a topic that you may not even be sure is relevant or useful to anyone else. This is why developing literary communities that extend beyond the classroom is so important.

 Students should be encouraged to stop making their research and studies such a private activity. The first step to beginning socially optimized research is to find communities, scholars, peers, etc. outside of their classrooms that are talking about the same or similar things. As students discover that what they are discussing in class is being discussed by others also, they will realize that what they are learning is not just for a test or essay, but it is part of a larger conversation that is happening. Circulating ideas and getting feedback helps students to refine their research and helps them to focus on something that is a part of a larger conversation rather than just an essay to turn in at the end of a semester. It is more exciting to students when they know that what they are interacting with a community in discussing literature, rather than be left to feel like what they are studying may be irrelevant or unnecessary.

Everyone has also experienced how ideas are easier to come up with when discussed with others than when just thought through alone. If students are using socially optimized research they no longer have to wonder by themselves, “does this topic matter to anyone else?,” “are others thinking the same thing?,” “are others thinking things in opposition to my ideas?” A simple Tweet, Facebook status update, or Google+ post can start to reveal the answers to these questions from friends and peers. As you start to expand your circle and once you realize that your ideas have some value, question can be posted in groups of people focusing on similar topics and posed to scholars who have authority on the subject.

Any study that stays entirely within the confines of a classroom is not fully teaching its students about the resources available to them. If students are encouraged to find ways to socially optimize their research, they will not only become a part of a community outside their classes and university, but will also find that they improve their research to be more relevant and better executed.