Starting afresh

After four years as Head of Department (of Musicology at UiO), I am going back to my regular associate professor position in January. It has been a both challenging and rewarding period as HoD, during which I have learned a lot about managing people, managing budgets, understanding huge organizations, developing strategies, talking to all sorts of people at all levels in the system, and much more.

I am happy to hand over a Department in growth to the new HoD (Peter Edwards). We have implemented a new bachelor’s program, launched UiO’s first MOOC (Music Moves), and hired a number of new people, just to mention a few of the things I have worked on over the last years. I am also proud that we just got our new appointment plan approved before Christmas, aiming at hiring up to seven new professors within the next five years. Humanities departments are under a lot of pressure these days, so I am very grateful that we are in a position to expand in the coming years!

I have only been teaching sporadically while being HoD, so I am excited about getting back to running the course Interactive Music that I started up a while back. This is a so-called “practical-theoretical” course, aiming at giving students a holistic perspective on designing musical instruments and systems. I published a paper on the design of this course a few years ago (An action–sound approach to teaching interactive music), and have since gathered some more ideas that I want to test out when it comes to teaching students a combination of music cognition and technology focused around some concrete designs. I also hope that these ideas will turn into my next book project, if successful.

I am also excited about starting up ny new research project MICRO – Human Bodily Micromotion in Music Perception and Interaction, in which we will focus on how music influences us when at rest. Fortunately, the fourMs lab is really getting up to speed now, so we will really be able to study micromotion in great detail.

In getting ready for my new working life, I decided to wipe my main computer (a Lenovo Yoga Pro 2) yesterday. I have been running various versions of Ubuntu over the last years (Ubuntu Studio, Ubuntu GNOME, and Linux Mint), but decided to go for the regular Ubuntu 16.10 this time around. I think Unity has matured quite a bit now, and works very well on the Yoga’s multitouch HiDPI display. This was my first complete reinstall since I got the laptop almost three years, and was definitely needed. I always test a lot of different software and settings, so the system had gotten clogged up by lots of weird stuff on top of each other. The new clean system definitely feels smooth and well-functioning. It feels like a digital and mental “shower”, getting ready for the new year!

Goodbye to Facebook

I am happy to say that I have already completed my first and only new year’s resolution this year: getting rid of my Facebook account.

It turned out to be much easier than expected, as there is a separate, easily accessible delete account page on Facebook. I just had to type my password and a captcha and that was it. Now my Facebook account is disabled, and will be permanently deleted after 14 days. What a relief!

There are several reasons why I wanted to get out of the whole thing:

Time: Although I haven’t used Facebook very actively over the last years (and not before that either), I have somehow felt the need for checking my account every once in a while. This does take up time, time that I would rather spend differently.

Private-professional confusion: While Facebook can certainly be interesting for both private and professional communication, I have become increasingly aware of the challenges with such a semi-open communication channel. The addition of multiple levels of friends, groups, networks, etc., a few years ago, has added to the confusion of who you are actually communicating with. In fact, it seems like Facebook deliberately wants to make the privacy settings difficult to use. Now what we have is a semi-closed platform that, at least to people that do not care so much about their settings, gives a false sense of privacy and safety. Adding to this comes the rapid nature of social media, people firing off comments at all times of the day, in all sorts of settings, and under different types of clarity of the mind. Not to mention that short, written messages is a very mono-modal communication type compared to direct human communication. The end result is that postings can be easily regretted. I have always had the idea that everything I publish on the web, including on so-called closed platforms, should be written in a way such that it can see daylight. Being Head of Department for almost a year now, I have become even more careful about how I use Facebook myself, and what I get to know about other people (including people whom I am in charge of as employer). All in all, this point in itself was sufficient enough for me wanting to get out.

Lack of openness: Another important point that many Facebook people seem to forget, is that there is still a lot of people that are not on Facebook (now also including myself). I have noticed that more and more companies and organisations use Facebook for communication, including the University of Oslo. While there is nothing wrong in spreading information in different channels, I am somewhat worried about spending too much time on communication in a closed and limited channel. Particularly when there are good and open alternatives available, like the rest of the web…

Web politics: I have been interested in issues of open (source) software, systems, and platforms for a long time, and see Facebook as one of the main challengers of an open internet. While I at first found Facebook fascinating and fun (I got my account when it was still only a university student network back in 2007), the enormous growth and recent commercial orientation is a big turndown. Particularly the idea of embedding everything inside one, closed, commercial platform I find problematic. The beauty of the world wide web, e-mail, file sharing, etc., is that they build on open standards and protocols. This means that anyone can (at least partly) read content on HTML pages, send e-mails, transfer files, etc., independently of the OS and software they use. The Facebook approach of building their own approach to “web pages”, “e-mail” and “chatting” inside a closed platform threatens the open channels.

Security politics: My last point may be the most important from a global, democratic perspective. The year 2013 brought the Snowden leaks and was a turning point for many people when it came to realise the scope of global surveillance. Obviously, social platforms like Facebook are extremely interesting since they not only contain information about ourselves and our interests, but also all the information about our networks.

All in all, there were many reasons why I wanted to get out of Facebook. I have been thinking about it for several years, but now finally did it. Fortunately, as they write on Digitaltrends: “Deleting your Facebook account doesn’t have to mean you’ll drop off the face of the Earth.”

To footnote or not

By coincidence I have had several discussions about footnotes, endnotes and different types of citation styles recently. Such discussions often end up in “religious” wars, in which researchers from different disciplines argue why “their” system is the best. I often find myself agreeing with none or everyone in such discussions, since I am working in and between several different disciplines (the arts, humanities, technology, psychology, medicine), and publish my own work in journals that use different ways of handling citations and notes.

What to cite or note?

Before discussing the different systems in more detail, it is worth remembering that there are usually two types of information that an author would like to include in the text:

  1. references to books, papers, etc. that you mention in the text.
  2. extra information that you do not feel it is necessary to keep in the main body of the text.

I will try to make a clear separation of these two cases in the following discussion.

Different systems

The Chicago Manual of Style suggests that there are two basic documentation systems: (1) notes and bibliography and (2) author-date. In my experience there is also a third main type, which I could call numbered citations. They each have different use:

  1. Author-year: the author’s name and the year of the publication is placed within parentheses or brackets in the text, and at the end of the text is a reference list, usually ordered alphabetically. This system is only meant for citations, and can easily be combined with using (foot/end)notes to add extra information. The “author-year” style is widespread in a number of disciplines, and is also widely used in many musicological disciplines but music history (I am here thinking of musicology in the European tradition, i.e., a heterogenous group of disciplines focusing on the study of music).
  2. Notes and bibliography: in this system both citations and extra information is put into either footnotes or endnotes. The system is used differently, dependent on the journal or publisher. Sometimes an author-year type of citation is put in the note and a full reference list is included at the end of the text. Other times the full reference is included in the note, without the need for a reference list. I have come across a number of different solutions of how to implement these two (and combinatory) methods of approaching citations in the “notes and bibliography” system. The “notes and bibliography” style is widespread in parts of the humanities, particularly that of historical disciplines (including music history). The main difference between the “notes and bibliography” system and the two others (“author-year” and “numbered citations”) is that it allows for mixing citations and other types of information in the notes.
  3. Numbered citations: This may at first glance seem like a system quite similar to using endnotes with “notes and bibliography”, but in fact is quite different. The numbered citation system does not allow for mixing in other information, it is a purely citation-based system in which the numbering used in the citations in the text refer to numbers in the reference list, either in order of appearance in the text or alphabetically. This style I often encounter in more technology-oriented publications, as well as in some medical and psychological journals. Sometimes you even find a combination of the “author-year” and the “numbered citations” systems, with abbreviated citation keys, e.g. (Jen07) instead of (Jensenius, 2007).

I guess there might be some researchers that only work with one of these systems throughout their entire career, but I usually have to adapt to any of these systems dependent on where I want to publish. Coming to think of it: I have just proofread the camera-ready versions of three journal papers that will be published in the coming months (more on that later), each of which is using one of the three systems mentioned above.

Since I use all three systems regularly, I have worked out writing and formatting techniques that work well with all of them (thanks to LaTeX and BibTeX), and have no problems adapting to whatever the publisher wants. That said, I have throughout the years made up a clear opinion of what I prefer myself: the “author-year” method. This opinion is solely based on what I think is the most efficient method for reading and writing texts. In the following I will try to explain the rationale behind this decision.

Why I like author-year for citations

My main argument for using the author-year style is based on efficiency of writing and reading. More precisely I will argue that the author-year system is:

  • Compact: The author-year system makes it possible to create compact texts, since the citations only take up a small space on a line (at least if the names are not too long). As such, it is more compact than putting citations (or even full references) on separate lines in footnotes or endnotes. The “author-year” system is less compact than the “numbered citations” system, in which the citation is only a number, but this is also what makes the “author-year” system more readable.
  • Readable: The author-year system makes it possible to read the text continuously, since the citations are placed inline with the text. I do agree that it may be more of a distraction to look up citations in a reference list at the back of the paper than to look in a footnote. However, if you know the field fairly well, or read through the reference list before reading the paper, it is possible to understand who is being referenced by only reading the main body of the text. The disadvantage of having to look up references in footnotes, is that it distracts from the reading — you have to constantly shift focus up and down the page to find the note and then find back to where you left off. I have not found any tests on the speed of reading with different systems, but my own feeling is that it dramatically reduces the speed at which I read when I have to constantly move up and down the page between the content and footnotes.
  • Easier: I am doing a fair bit of manuscript reviewing, and lots of supervision of student papers and theses, and am highly convinced that the “author-year” system is easier to handle for most writers. From my own and lots of my students’ experience, working with (foot/end)notes is a pain in most WYSIWYG programs (e.g. MS Word). I have seen countless of examples of how all the footnotes in long master theses documents have been scrambled, renumbered, reformatted, etc. I have had no such technical challenges in LaTeX, but it is still a much easier writing and layout-process of just including everything in the main body of the text.

Why I try to avoid (foot/end)notes

Some arguments for footnotes are that they allow for:

  • Quick access: the information is there at the bottom of the page.
  • Elaboration: allows you to further develop the arguments without distracting the main narrative.

I have for a long time been very fascinated with the concept of hypertext, and the possibilities that non-linear writing opens for. This in itself should be a good argument for me liking footnotes. The problem, however, is that foonotes, at least in the traditional sense, are very far from the ideas of hypertext. First, footnotes often seem to be used to dump content that the author did not feel was necessary/relevant/interesting enough to include in the main text. Second, the footnote is a dead-end, from which the only way out is to go back to where you came from. As such, footnotes do not open for the concept of hypertext as an interwoven web of texts (yes, it sounds a bit silly to write this in 2012, but despite the progress of the www, hypertext as a concept and method is still just in its infancy).

There are certainly cases when you are uncertain as to whether a part of your text should be included or not, particularly when beginning to write a manuscript. That is also one of the reasons why I often use footnotes myself as a writing method, moving content back and forth between the main text and the footnotes. Writing is always based on decision-making: what should I include and what should I leave out? The problem with footnotes is that they can be used as an excuse of not getting rid of content that is not really necessary, as this quote summarises well:

But think whether such information needs to be present at all. If the term being footnoted in the first of these examples is so obscure, why not merely explain it? […] You should make every effort to make your work a pleasure to read. Reading it should not be an epic struggle on the part of your hapless reader.

That is the reason why I usually end up either throwing away the footnotes, or including them in the text as I finalise my manuscripts.

(Foot/end)notes in electronic documents

The last reason I am sceptical about footnotes, is the move towards electronic documents. While footnotes may make sense in a printed document, they usually end up as endnotes in electronic documents (where there is no static concept of “pages”). For that reason, it may be easier to just work with endnotes in the first place, since the document can be more easily used in both printed and electronic format.

Working with static, dead-end endnotes in electronic documents is not very future-optimistic, though. Then I would rather hope that we could work towards proper hypertexts, in which multiple layers/levels of text could be intertwined. Until that is possible, and accepted in scientific writing, I prefer to write and read linear texts without (foot/end)notes. I believe that is easier both for the author and for the reader.

Reflections on the roles of instrument builder, composer, performer

One thing that has occurred to me over recent years, is how the new international trend of developing music controllers and instruments, as for example most notably seen at the annual NIME conferences, challenges many traditional roles in music. A traditional Western view has been that of a clear separation between instrument constructor, musician and composer. The idea has been that the constructor makes the instrument, the composer makes the score, the performer plays the score with the instrument, and the perceiver experiences the performance, as illustrated in the figure below.

Traditional chain in the musical ecosphere.
Traditional chain in the musical ecosphere.

However, as we often see in the community surrounding the NIME conferences, there are many people that take on all of these three roles themselves. They make their own instruments, compose the music, and also perform themselves. This new trend also challenges the traditionally separated concepts of instrument and composition. Using various types of neurophysiological, physiological or biomechanical sensors, performers themselves may become part of the instrument. Similarly, the instrument may become part of the composition through various types of algorithmic processing. The perceivers may also become part of both the instrument and the composition in systems based on audience participation and collaborative performance. As such, the notion of the traditional concert is changing, since many “instruments” and “compositions” may be used as installations in which the perceivers take an active part. In this way perceivers are turned into performers, and the composers end up as perceivers to the performance.

I find this change of role exciting, but it is also a challenge to traditional (music) institutions that are built around the very idea of separating all these elements. So it is perhaps not too surprising, that a lot of NIME activity is happening outside traditional music arenas. I don’t have any empirical evidence of this, but my feeling is that there are more people developing, composing and performing with NIMEs in computer science departments, architecture schools, fine art academies or just entirely outside of any institutions, than within music academies. It will be interesting to see whether this will change over the years, and that we will see more interdisciplinary work also within the musical ecosphere.