Music, Invention & Society
Exploring the interactions between people, technologies, and music
- Offered to 1st years
- Tuesdays 16.00-18.00
- 8 weeks (autumn or spring term)
- Planned delivery: On-campus (South Kensington)
- Non-credit only
Music is deeply intertwined with the technologies that make it possible. Inventions relating to instruments, stage production, and streaming platforms shape how we learn, create, share, and consume music. Musicians and audiences also drive the development of new technology, creating new means of expression and new ways of experiencing the music they love. All these interactions are underpinned by key social questions: who is listening? What do they want to hear? How and where are they hearing it? And how have these patterns changed over time?
This module uses the history and culture of music to understand how technology shapes our lives and how we shape technology. Each class will explore a different area of engineering and invention to see how it has impacted on the way people make and consume music from the past to the present, covering topics such as marketing practices, lighting technologies, and creative ways that artists can use new devices in their work. Some areas might seem unrelated to music, such as architecture or transportation, but in fact have deep impacts on what people think music should sound like and how they listen to it.
As well as class discussions, you will see these effects first-hand as part of field trips to the collections and facilities of the Science Museum and Royal College of Music. The module is intended to introduce broader concepts and critical skills rather than any specific musical styles, so you will apply this material to whatever genres most interest you in the class conversations and in your assignments.
By the end of this module you will be able to:
- Critically think about the impact of music and technology on society.
- Engage with relevant, interdisciplinary scholarship on music, technology and society.
- Tolerate ambiguity by developing analytical interpretive skills to help understand contradictory or biased situations.
- Select, interpret and critically analyse sources through class exercises and assessments.
- Show independent study skills, assessed through an essay, podcast or vlog and reflective diary.
Indicative core content
- Spaces for listening: music shaped by the acoustics and audience behaviour of the spaces it is heard in, emergence of place-less music and changing definitions of e.g. noise with portable devices and increasingly sophisticated headphone technology.
- Acoustic Instruments: changing manufacturing methods and new possibilities for who can play and what music they make. Case studies include trumpet, piano, and electric guitar. Field trip to the RCM Museum.
- Transportation: new methods for moving people and goods allow for first international musical celebrities, but also shift the layouts of cities as public/personal transport changes. International careers are now standard, but facing competition from digital performance spaces.
- Publishing and Marketing: creation and distribution of sheet music, as well as emergence of new methods of publicity, particularly social media.
- Theatrical technology: spectacular stage effects, and the impact of new lighting and multimedia technologies on audience behaviour, especially for opera, musical theatre, and stadium concerts.
- Broadcasting and Recording: new technology for people to access music creates coherent audiences from in spite of distances, allowing for e.g. national musical ideologies, now starting to fragment as the range of platforms increases. Field trip to the Science Museum Wireless Communication exhibits.
- Creative Technology: artistic ways to use technologies themselves, and the creation of synthesised sound, particularly thinking about private vs. corporate approaches. These approaches now old enough to generate interest in ‘authentic’ hardware hacking techniques.
- The Future of Music: opening up new possibilities for music, technology, and the role they play in society. Field trip to the RCM CPS/Museum, showing simulators and VR approaches to music in the present day.
Learning and teaching approach
Active learning: group discussion, debate, and reflection plus field trips to the Royal College of Music, and the Science Museum.
Independent study: you will be given discussion questions with the seminar notes to help focus the reflective diary. You will also be given take-home assignments to prepare for forthcoming seminars (e.g. find an example of music-related marketing material).
Assessments are designed to be active in nature, encouraging you to go beyond the materials and concepts learned in the seminars and apply them to tasks that reflect real-world scenarios (i.e. presenting information in public-facing contexts such as podcasts or vlogs).
You will submit assignments through the module VLE, though which you will receive written feedback commenting your assessments. You will receive feedback within two weeks of submission.
- Coursework: Essay (1300-1500 words) or Podcast (10 mins) or Vlog (7 mins) (80%)
- Coursework: Reflective Diary (100-200 word entry per seminar) (20%)
- ECTS value: 0
- Requirements: You must be prepared to attend all classes and to spend about an hour a week preparing for each session
- This module is designed as an undergraduate Level 4 course. For an explanation of levels, view the Imperial Horizons Level Descriptors page.