A participant ethnography of the Ed Sullivan Fellows program

Note: I refer to mentors by their real names, and to participants by pseudonyms

Ed Sullivan Fellows (ESF) is a mentorship and artist development program run by the NYU Steinhardt Music Experience Design Lab. It came about by a combination of happenstances. I had a private music production student named Rob Precht, who had found my blog via a Google search. He and I usually held our lessons in the lab’s office space. Over the course of a few months, Rob met people from the lab and heard about our projects. He found us sufficiently inspiring that he approached us with an idea. He wanted to give us a grant to start a program that would help young people from under-resourced communities get a start in the music industry. He asked us to name it after his grandfather, Ed Sullivan, whose show had been crucial to launching the careers of Elvis, the Beatles, and the Jackson 5. While Rob’s initial idea had been to work with refugees who had relocated to New York, we agreed to shift the focus to native New York City residents, since our connections and competencies were stronger there.

Ed Sullivan Fellows

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American Apartheid

Denton, N. A., & Massey, D. (1993). American apartheid: Segregation and the making of the underclass.

American Apartheid

The question endlessly debated by sociologists: is the black underclass the result of a) racism b) a culture of poverty c) welfare d) structural economic change or e) residential segregation? Denton and Massey say it’s choice e). “Residential segregation is the institutional apparatus that supports other racially discriminatory processes and binds them together into a coherent and uniquely effective system of racial subordination” (8). Without residential segregation, structural economic changes wouldn’t have been so devastating. Middle-class migration out of black neighborhoods contributed, but wasn’t the main factor.

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It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Blogging)

My favorite Bob Dylan song is “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding.)” It’s not the one I listen to the most, and it’s not the one I’ve given the most effort to singing or playing. But it’s the one that sounds the most “Bob Dylan-y,” the one that combines all of his many influences into the most singular whole. A close runner up would be “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” but while that song has remarkable lyrics, it’s melodically pretty conventional. “It’s Alright Ma” is rivetingly strange on every level.

Steven Rings wrote this epic study of the song’s evolution over the past 45 years, and if you’re at all interested in Bob’s music, it’s a must-read. It’s the closest musical analysis of Bob I’ve ever seen. Reading Rings’ paper and doing listening with fresh ears has made me realize that “It’s Alright Ma” is stronger musically than lyrically. This is true of a lot of Bob’s songs, his literary reputation notwithstanding. On the page, he can have a dated Holden Caulfield quality. But when you hear his words sung, or better yet, when you sing them yourself, they’re as fresh as they ever were. Continue reading

Design-Based Research

Note-taking for Research on Games and Simulations with Jan Plass

Barab, S. A. (2014). Design-based research: a methodological toolkit for engineering change. In K. Sawyer (ed.) Handbook of the Learning Sciences, Vol 2, (pp. 233-270), Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

Design-based research

Design-based research (DBR) is a subject close to my heart, because it was the basis of my masters thesis, and informs the work of the NYU Music Experience Design Lab. All of our tools are designed and tested in the context of messy and complex natural learning and creating environments: classrooms, bedrooms, studios, and public events. We evaluate our tools continuously, but the only purely empirical and “experimental” methods we use involve Google analytics. We sometimes conduct user research in formal settings, but mostly observe practice “in the wild” between regular iterations.

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The Long Shadow

Note-taking for Principles of Empirical Research with Catherine Voulgarides

Alexander, K.L., Entwisle, D.R., & Olson, L. (2014) The Long Shadow: Family Background Disadvantaged Urban Youth, and the Transition to Adulthood. New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.

The Long Shadow

The central message of The Long Shadow is that social mobility in America is a myth. The authors combine objectivist and subjectivist epistemologies, using a theoretical perspective combining postpositivism implicit in their statistical analyses with some interpretivism shown by their use of first-person narratives. The methodology centers around a longitudinal study of 790 first graders tracked over 20 years via regular interviews. This data is extensively supplemented by other statistical measures. Periodically the authors quote interviews with a particular subject to put a human face on a particular statistical theme. Their procedure is transformative and concurrent, with individual perspectives and broader statistical trends mutually informing one another. The authors aim to show that underprivileged Baltimore residents show little social mobility, but that the reasons for their lack of mobility are complex, multifaceted and intersectional.

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The Groove Pizza now exports MIDI

Since its launch, you’ve been able to export your Groove Pizza beats as WAV files, or continue working on them in Soundtrap. But now, thanks to MusEDLab developer Jordana Bombi, you can also save your beats as MIDI files as well.

Groove Pizza MIDI export

You can bring these MIDI files into your music production software tool of choice: Ableton Live, Logic, Pro Tools, whatever. How cool is that?

There are a few limitations at the moment: your beats will be rendered in 4/4 time, regardless of how many slices your pizza has. You can always set the right time signature after you bring the MIDI into your production software. Also, your grooves will export with no swing–you’ll need to reinstate that in your software as well.

We have some more enhancements in the pipeline, aside from fixing the limitations just mentioned. We’re working on a “continue in Noteflight” feature, real-time MIDI input and output, and live performance using the QWERTY keyboard. I’ll keep you posted.

Testing the effects of game music on cognition

For Jan Plass‘ class on research in games for learning, I’m working on an experiment testing the effects of game soundtracks on cognitive performance. The game in question is All You Can ET, developed by the NYU CREATE Lab.

NYU CREATE Lab

Here’s the music:

You’re hearing four versions of the basic 32-bar loop: fast major, fast minor, slow major, and slow minor. We’ll be playtesting each of these versions to see how (or whether) they affect game performance.

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Meet the audio file formats

There are a lot of audio file formats. Here are the ones you encounter most commonly.

Analog formats

Analog - vinyl

Recorded sound consists of fluctuations in electrical current coming off of a microphone or mixing desk. Before computers, you translated that current into tiny smooth wiggles in the shape of the groove cut into a vinyl record, or tiny smooth wiggles in the alignment of magnetic particles embedded in tape. Dragging a needle along the groove or running the tape over a magnet reproduces the original electrical current.

Examples: vinyl, reel-to-reel tape, cassettes

Pros: Analog formats can sound really great if your media are in good condition, and if you’re listening through a good sound system.

Cons: Analog formats can sound terrible if the media get scratched, dusty or demagnetized. You need to be very careful about physical degradation–every time you listen to a tape, you scrape a little bit of the coating off. You can’t make copies of analog media without introducing noise. And analog gear is expensive.  Continue reading