Category Archives: Technology

Sounds in the Cloud: Is music education too important to outsource to the cloud?

Morris’ post-doctoral paper ‘Sounds in the Cloud: Cloud computing and the digital music community‘, written in 2008, is remarkable prescient. At an early stage in the development of the cloud, it explores the technological and cultural implications of cloud-based music, how the cloud itself is leading to the commodification of music (and not in a good way), and how our relationship to music is changing as a result. Through the adoption of various metaphors and an analysis of [then] current trends, Morris is pretty scathing. Firstly, he argues, the cloud fundamentally changes our relationship to music itself:

[Music] is now part of a network of technologies and blended into a multi-mediated computing experience. Phones come with music, as do Web sites, video games and new cars. CDs are routinely given away in newspapers and magazines as promotions (Straw, 2009). Social networking sites, search engines, and other such technologies use online digital music as a draw for their services. Rather than a commodity of its own, music is integrated into so many diverse services that it becomes difficult to talk about music as a specific experience at all. Music appears to be ubiquitous: it is both everywhere and nowhere. [my emphasis] Continue reading

What counts as music technology?

I read this quote in a chapter I’m reviewing today:

The violin bow and the saxophone mouthpiece are perhaps the most expressive pieces of music technology in Western history yet composers and virtuoso performers did not undertake courses in these technologies. To understand them they actively explore what the expressive capabilities of these technologies enable, what they revealed and concealed to us as musicians.

It comes from the work of Steve Dillon, my friend who passed away a couple of years ago. I miss him and his brilliant take on music education, technology and life in general.

This quote comes from the his 2007 book, Music, Meaning and Transformation: Meaningful Music Making for Life published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing (p.80).

An open invitation to all schools to work in partnership with Roland and UCan Play

Roland UK and UCan Play are looking for new schools to become ‘Roland Champions’ for the next academic year. We will consider applications from any school that would like to work in partnership with us to develop innovative approaches to the use of Roland technologies within their curriculum. Please provide details of your own ideas in the appropriate place on the application form. Each Roland Champion School is asked to complete a short case study of their work throughout the year. Further information and the application form can be found here.

All successful Roland Champion Schools will receive highly preferential pricing on all Roland and Boss technologies. These prices also extend to staff and students at these schools.

The deadline for applications is the 31st August 2014 and the selected schools will be announced around the 7th September 2014.


Fract launches on the 22nd April. Gaming, music and synthesis!

I’ve been watching the development of Fract over the last year or so. We’re delighted to see that it launches on the 22nd April 2014. For those of you that haven’t heard of Fract, it’s a first person based exploration game based on sound and synthesis. It is designed to be a journey of musical discovery within which you make music through different games based on the components of synthesisers. The Fract website has loads of teasers relating to different components of the game.

I’ve just pre-ordered our copy and you can do the same here. It looks and sounds fantastic and we can’t wait to start playing.

Laughable: the Year of Code


This is laughable. Lottie Dexter appeared on Newsnight recently to announce the Government’s ‘Year of Code’. With just the gentlest of interrogations from Jeremy Paxman, she announced that she can’t write code herself, and that teachers will be able to teach code to their students with just one day’s training themselves. But I think my favourite quote was when she said, with an exquisite lack of self awareness, ”Knowing how to code is crucial for so many people for getting jobs in the new economy”. Clearly not the case for her job description!

When I think about all the hard work that my friend Bob Harrison has done with the Primary and Secondary National Curriculum for Computing in ITT Expert Group, despite constant opposition from Gove and his cronies such as Dominic Cummins, it makes be laugh and cry that such an initiative should be head up by such an incompetent appointment. If we are going to teach our children to write computer code (and there is a strong argument to the contrary), at least appoint someone to manage the programme who knows something about it.

You can see Lottie Dexter’s interview on Newsnight below and read some of the industry response to this laughable initiative here.

PreSonus’ Studio One: The number 1 choice for education


I’ve been spending some time over the recent weeks getting to know the PreSonus range of hardware and software. As some of you will know, my company, UCan Play, has just become an approved PreSonus educational reseller. As a company, we select the brands we work with really carefully. I have to say that I have been really impressed with PreSonus.

A large number of their products have caught my eye and, over the coming weeks, I’m going to starting writing about each one in a little more detail. Not a sales pitch, but rather a highlighting of the features that I think are important for those of us working in education.

First up, I’m going to have a look at the Studio One software that underpins the entire range of PreSonus products. This comes bundled with many of their mixing desks and audio interfaces, but can also be bought in different forms: Studio One Artist, Producer or Professional.

But the first thing to say, is that there is a fantastic free product for you to download and play with. Studio One Free is a fully functional and amazingly equipped digital audio workstation (DAW) built around a new 64-bit audio engine. There are no limitations and there is no expiration date. It provides all of the recording and editing features needed for basic music production. It has a single-window, integrated environment for musical production with the smooth, drag-and-drop workflow that distinguishes Studio One from other DAWs, allows an unlimited number of audio and MIDI tracks, has no limitations on plug-in instantiations, comes with eight high-quality PreSonus Native Effects™ plug-ins, offers multitrack comping; and performs real-time time-stretching and tempo-following. You can see a full list of features in Studio One Free here. Continue reading

Key Stage 3 materials: A complete programme of work for music technology with Years 7 – 9

I’m pleased to make the following 9 units of work for Key Stage 3 music available to readers of my blog. These were written a couple of years ago for Roland UK and I’ve been asked by many teachers for copies – so here they are! You might want to read the following detailed descriptions prior to downloading the units. If you enjoy using them, please leave a comment here so that others can be encouraged.

Unit 1: An Introduction to Vocal Recording, Sampling, Looping and Effects: ‘Students will explore and learn the skills required to create music using new sampling, effects and looping technology’. 8.3MB

Unit 2: Vocalise: ‘Students will learn how to use their voices as musical instruments in conjunction with a range of performance and sound processing technologies’. 0.25MB

Unit 3: An Introduction to Film Music: ‘Students will apply the key principles learnt in Unit 1 to the production of a soundtrack for a piece of film’. 63.1MB

Unit 4: Music and Image: ‘The main focus of the Unit  is to explore the various ways in which music can be linked to the visual domain in a live performance setting’. 14.3MB

Unit 5: Music for Computer Games: ‘Students will explore the processes behind composing music for computer games’. 122.1MB

Unit 6: Creating a TV Programme: ‘Students will explore how music reinforces the visual content of a television program’. 6MB

Unit 7: New Performance Environments: ‘Students will consolidate and develop their knowledge and skills from previous units (in particular Unit 1 & Unit 4)’. 0.6MB

Unit 8: Dance Music and the Club Experience: ‘This unit  is an introduction to traditional Trance music parameters and their links to visual material that enhance an audience’s experience’. 252.3MB

Unit 9: Music and the Web-based Radio Station: ‘Students will create and manage a web-based radio station, developing a knowledge and understanding of audio imaging and identity’.  26.3MB

Is Moodle making us (and our students) stupid?

Well, not just Moodle I guess, but any technological innovation that is over-enthusiastically and zealously adopted, uncritically, by a school, college or university?

At the university where I work, the technological pace has picked up quickly in recent years. In the last couple of years, a new Moodle platform has been implemented to replace the failing WebCT system that we had; iPads have been given to all staff; new members of staff have been appointed to assist staff with what is hoped will be their ‘technologically enhanced’ teaching; on many courses students themselves are being given iPads for use during their studies; electronic submission of assignments is fast becoming the norm; and I could go on.

But for many of us, the embrace of technology in our professional and private lives is far from ideal and not something that should advance unchecked. Many writers are expressing increasing reservations about the impact of mobile and social technologies and the detrimental effect they play in our lives. This is particularly true in an educational context. If this week is anything to go by, it seems that these technologies are being adopted without sustained critical thought to their limitations and, indeed, the very things that are being lost as they replace alternative approaches.

Mark Bauerlein’s The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future presents a compelling alternative that we would be wise to consider. In his wonderful blog on this book, Peter Lawler asks the question about whether this might be both the smartest and dumbest generation that has ever existed? Discuss!

Through twelve provocative points, he amplifies Bauerlein’s thesis in a highly entertaining way that I’m happy to blatantly copy here:

1. Virtually all of our students have hours—and often many, many hours—of daily exposure to screens.

2. So they excel at multitasking and interactivity, and they have very strong spatial skills.

3. They also have remarkable visual acuity; they’re ready for rushing images and updated information.

4. But these skills don’t transfer well to—they don’t have much to do with—the non-screen portions of their lives.

5. Their screen experiences, in fact, undermine their taste and capacity for building knowledge and developing their verbal skills.

6. They, for example, hate quiet and being alone. Because they rely so much on screens keeping them connected, they can’t rely on themselves. Because they’re constantly restless or stimulated, they don’t know what it is to enjoy civilized leisure. The best possible punishment for an adolescent today is to make him or her spend an evening alone in his or her room without any screens, devices, or gadgets to divert him or her. It’s amazing the extent to which screens have become multidimensional diversions from what we really know about ourselves.

7. Young people today typically are too agitated and impatient to engage in concerted study. Their imaginations are impoverished when they’re visually unstimulated. So their eros is too. They can’t experience anxiety as a prelude to wonder, and they too rarely become seekers and searchers.

8. They have trouble comprehending or being moved by the linear, sequential analysis of texts.

9. So they find it virtually impossible to spend an idle afternoon with a detective story and nothing more.

10. That’s why they can be both so mentally agile and culturally ignorant. That’s even why they know little to nothing about how to live well with love and death, as well as why their relational lives are so impoverished.

11. And that’s why higher education—or liberal education—has to be about giving students experiences that they can’t get on screen. That’s even why liberal education has to have as little as possible to do with screens.

12. Everywhere and at all times, liberal education is countercultural. And so today it’s necessarily somewhat anti-technology, especially anti-screen.  That’s one reason among many I’m so hard on MOOCs, online courses, PowerPoint, and anyone who uses the word “disrupting” without subversive irony.

I like that Lawler highlights, simultaneously, the potential affordances and limitations of screens  and the experiences that they present. However, I’m sure that there is much here that folk will agree and disagree with. For me, though, point 11 is telling and I agree entirely with him on this. Higher education, liberal education, in fact any education, must be about giving students experiences that they can’t get on screen, not just seek to replicate things on screens in insipid ways. It is just too important to follow cultural or technological norms.

This is particularly important, to me, for processes of initial teacher education. Here, human relationships are central to the effectiveness of the training programme. For me, the university tutor and student relationship is of particular concern. But you could say the same about the school mentor and student relationship, or the peer to peer relationships that students develop.

In one of our sessions this week, an English tutor on one of MMU’s programmes spoke eloquently about how he builds strong relationships with each of his trainees from the earliest opportunity, well before the commencement of the course and the moment that a student arrives on campus. Much of this centred around current students meeting up with and mentoring new students, a Saturday event where various pre-course readings are shared and discussed, and much more besides.

Another colleague at the university whom I know well and respect immensely lectures in human communication. Despite being an expert in these matters, he has chosen recently, like Lawler, to banish screens in their various incarnations from his lecture hall.

Is Moodle making us and our students stupid? On balance, I think it is. Whilst there will be those who argue pragmatically for the benefits of these digital tools (saved administrative costs, ease of access to materials, etc, etc), we must all remember what we are also loosing. Screens divide. They result in disengagement in the learning process.  They diminish the human interactions and relationships that are an essential part of, and integral to (I would argue) the educational process.

Essential Sound Engineering – demo disks available!

I’ve got a new supply of demonstration disks for the excellent Essential Sound Engineering software. This interactive masterclass, taught by Iain Massey, should be something that every high school should have in its repertoire of approaches to the teaching of music technology. It is first class.

Here’s a copy of the pdf flyer for the software and if you want a copy of the demonstration disk please let me know and I’ll post one out to you immediately.