Concordia University

Samuel Thulin is a musician, researcher, and media artist living in Montreal. His work is concerned with concepts of mobility and place, especially as related to sound and technology. He is a member of the Mobile Media Lab and a Ph.D. student in the Communication Studies department at Concordia University.

Music Making Mobilities: Bodily Gestures, Mobile Devices, and Musical Participation

This presentation will critically reflect on recent trends in mobile music, shifting the focus from the consumption of recorded music to mobile applications that promote the notion of user-produced sound. Examples range from apps that imagine the smart-phone as musical instrument (Ocarina) to location-aware compositions that change depending on context (Reality Jockey Ltd.). Much discussion around these apps champions new possibilities for musical participation and a breakdown in the separation between production and consumption. I ask what the apps, the rhetoric, and the histories they connect with can reveal about the significance of mobility for relationships between humans and devices used for musical production. To provide context, I consider the advent of the player piano in American culture, focusing on how it promoted the ideal of musical democratization, challenged the division between musical instrument and machine, and revealed music’s role in influencing the values attributed to bodily gestures – i.e. operating a machine vs. playing an instrument. Mobile apps seeking to make musical production as accessible as possible are bound up in many of the same issues. Notably, they also suggest an expanded idea of musical gesture, as walking and travel become inputs that, via GPS and sensors, affect musical output. Drawing on my creative practice, I ask how different scales of bodily mobility and gesture interact. How and when is the mobile-device-as-musical-instrument used? What might this reveal about the gestural and contextual norms associated with mobile devices? What values and dynamics of musical participation, production, and consumption are operationalized? What different ideas of mobility come into play when even everyday movements may be re-purposed to produce music?