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Supply and demand: music, memoir and education
Article Type: Literature and insights From: Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Volume 25, Issue 8
This issue’s “Literature and insights” involves a three-step dance, from music to literature to education. It was prompted by recent articles on the future of education, especially because of my own professional engagement with issues of pedagogy. Of course, it is also relevant to us more widely as teachers, makers and consumers of the fruits of both culture and commerce.
In the 1970s, German band Kraftwerk released a series of albums that predominantly employed such things as beeping calculators, Mattel keyboards, Korg vocoders to manipulate the sound of their voices, synthesisers, drum machines, and so on. There was even a song about computers written by a computer programme. The intersection of the robotic, mechanical and the somewhat depersonalized aspect of the human with music arguably represented a kind of democratizing. Surely, this was a good thing; the kind of music that almost anyone could produce?
This approach did not sit easily with many fans of music, however:
While Warhol, with his silk screens and lithographs, was criticized for ignoring the idea that an art work is a unique object, traditionalists decried the anonymity of Kraftwerk’s machines, and implied that using machines was somehow cheating (Frere-Jones, 2012, p. 69).
Nonetheless, the arrival of synthesizers in music, and to an extent the use of so-called found music, was to change the perception of music. This was not just by enlarging the view of what tools might be used to make it, but also by suggesting that the definition of music itself should be looser and more inclusive.
If one were, for instance, to pull together the various sounds of manufacturing wine and then manipulate with them a sampler to form tunes, would that be less an achievement than firstly learning to play and then using traditional instruments on an album? Would it represent a lower standard of training, less skill, and, well, poorer musicianship? At least in the case of one such album, by Tony King, the critical reception was harsh: “The music translates into little more than protracted noodlings at the keyboard […] 11 tracks and 32 minutes later, the novelty has truly worn off” (n.a., 2006, p. 44).
Many people’s houses now harbour the basics of a recording studio, whether it is a simple recording device or a computer program such as Apple’s GarageBand. We could celebrate the liberation of art, recognising that we are all artists and only need to follow the desire to make it – the means are at hand to expressive ourselves.
In a similar way, it has been said that we all have a novel in us. A crucial problem for budding authors in the past, though, has been the reluctance of publishers to take on new work (I teach a topic on publishing too, by the way). If you are bursting to get that novel or memoir in front of a readership, help is at hand, with the advent of self-publishing, and more latterly via the internet. You can write that “book” anyway, without the need for editorial intervention and all that stuff about gatekeepers’ standards regarding what the public really wants. A previously denied avenue for personal expression is available. There are certainly sterling examples of how a novice writer producing a blog has been taken on by regular publishers after it achieved a high level of readership.
So, there are the first two steps in this dance, and here is the third. If you can make your own music, and you can make your own books, then why not have DIY education too?
In the same issue of the New Yorker that dealt with Kraftwerk, is a long article by Ken Aluetta about Stanford University. Standford is a huge organization with a key focus on fostering entrepreneurialism and innovative thinking in the sciences, especially in the field of computing.
Following concern about whether students were emerging suitably rounded, the university created a model it calls the “T-student”. This is one who has a key focus on a major area of study, which is likely to relate to commerce or engineering of some kind, but crosses that with another broader study, perhaps in behavioural sciences and humanities. So, the liberal arts are part of its suite but it is the historical connection to industry and the development of start-up companies (think Hewlett-Packard and Google) that Aluetta emphasizes. Staff may invest in student projects and some are millionaires as a result; try getting that out of poetry!
A key part of Standford’s reputation derives from the interaction of students and staff on the one hand, and students and industry on the other. Some of the classes are loosely structured and Standford prides itself on encouraging a kind of thinking that helps the student find their own métier. One of them says, “‘My Academic adviser said, ‘I want you to have a messy career at Standford. I want to see you try things, to discover the parts of yourself that you didn’t know existed’” (Ishan Nath in Aluetta, 2012, p. 43).
In late 2011, a series of engineering lectures on Introduction to Artificial Intelligence were made available free, and “A hundred and sixty thousand students in a hundred and ninety countries signed up” (Aluetta, 2012, p. 47). The material was the same as Standford students had and the “outsiders” received a pass/fail result and a certificate. The certificate showed the staff member’s name, though not Standford’s. The former has since quit to work in a new business offering online courses.
Stanford is not alone in its current concerns about distance learning. Does an increase in one measure of the efficiency of delivery produce a lower quality education? How will T-students emerge if there is no direct interaction with staff and industry? By “quality”, I mean, something suited to its purpose – and that is ultimately a matter for the student and the market place. Online delivery would theoretically widen the range of possible subjects and courses for a student. These courses might be segmented, allowing that student to cherry-pick and to thus build a composite qualification, or at least assemble a series of certificates to evidence areas of inter-related enquiry. Indeed, what is to stop one university basing a course on, say, the completion of a free online short course elsewhere that is then topped up with its own offering? It would save them money.
The era of education containing a vital component of personal and real-time interaction between students and teachers is under threat. It may increasingly be the case that the student decides how the dance will proceed, who will play the music and who will write the story, without a human at the other end except as a content provider and creator of auto-marking programs.
There is a feast of creative work in this issue. Roger Colbeck tackles the Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) initiative with a poem, “Sole of an Era”, that couples metaphors of footwear with approaches to research. Matthew Haigh embraces the strictures of the research abstract in his poem “Abstract Structure” through a connection with music, pointing to a sign of how we are often expected to reduce our work to minimal components. And Lee Parker’s “Fifteen Minutes of Fame: the Conference Paper Presentation” visits that horrible moment we have all encountered when an ill-prepared presenter shows how badly a paper can be delivered. I hope it’s never to be me!
Your creative contributions can be submitted via ScholarOne (see below), taking care to select the right section! Your email correspondence is always welcome, too, at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Author guidelines for contributions to this section of the journal can be found at: www.emeraldinsight.com/products/journals/author_guidelines.htm?id=aaaj
Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal (AAAJ) welcomes submissions of both research papers and creative writing. Creative writing in the form of poetry and short prose pieces is edited for the Literature and Insights Section only and does not undergo the refereeing procedures required for all research papers published in the main body of AAAJ.
Steve EvansLiterary Editor
Aluetta, K. (2012), “Get Rich U”, The New Yorker, pp. 38–47, 30 April
Frere-Jones, S. (2012), “Sound Machine”, The New Yorker, pp. 66–9, 30 April
n.a. (2006), “CD Review: The Wine Music”, Winestate, July/August