Academic communities and me

This summer, I have tested the waters in four different academic communities, looking for a place to call home, at least in terms of research. In each I saw how I might fit in, and they all gave me some hope for the future, which doesn’t help narrow down the choices.

Back in June I attended the Mathematics and Computation in Music conference at Yale. The food was good, the grad students were a blast, and talking about music with a pile of people who like math is always a relief. I did have a moment of panic when Morwaread Farbood presented research very close to my own, relating musical features to listener’s continuous ratings of tension. Still it was nice to meet someone handling similar headaches of analysis. But most of the presentations were pretty far away from my driving curiousities, looking into clever representations of tonality, harmony and scale theory. Important note: participants included composers, theorists, mathematicians, computer scientists, electrical engineers and whatever I might be.

At the end of July, I had my research debut presenting a poster of my Audience Activity Analysis at the meeting of the Society of Music Perception and Cognition at Indiana University in Indianapolis. It was so much fun, really laid back, and I met more people dealing with continuous response data, and awesome grad students, interesting faculty and got a better idea of the spread of work being done across North America. Here the population was even more mixed, with psychologists, neuro-scientists, music therapists, theorists, computer scientists, music educators and a few stray engineers. Presenting was a very validating experience as I finally felt like I had a reason for being there, and could participate as a research rather than just as a student. Also out of discussions, I have taken up the task of creating a continuous response data analysis wiki in the next couple of months, and I hope to make it useful to researchers new to this kind of data.

I flew back to Montreal just in time to catch the Auditory Cognitive Neuroscience workshop being held both at Brams and McGill. This was much more psych and science oriented: in a group of forty, including faculty, I may have been one of three with a B. Mus. This workshop did give me a lot more context on standard practices for getting at the questions of how sound and music works in us, and the neuroimaging data looks like it would be so much fun to work with. In terms of means, this was really cool, but I felt uneasy about how the questions were being asked because they often weren’t from my angle, and that difference felt more important that in the other group academic activities I had take part in. Of course, this was also a more actively educational context, so I’d expect there to be a lot more of telling us how to think, but still, it makes me inclined to hold back on crossing over to psych.

And the last conference, which just ended, was the International Computer Music Conference again here at McGill. In this case I was volunteering as well as attending, so it was a different conference experience, but one that was a lot cheaper than flying across the world. I volunteered a lot to learn more about how to run a conference, getting to hear about what was involved in setting it up, how many people were needed to make things happen, what kinds of information was needed for delegates, and how to include such a range of spaces and activities for interdisciplinary conferences. This conference had a lot of engineers and computer scientists, as well as theory people, performers and composers. While the subjects of much of the research was far from my own, the way in which they investigated and presented felt right and reasonable. Most people had brains I could relate to, and there was a range of social awkwardness that I cherish because of my math days. This context really got me thinking about Music Technology programs, and whether I might be best off putting myself in a context that would give me skills I am actively inclined to acquire. I had so many good conversations with interesting people who both were working on data issues similar to my own and who had lots of recommendations for what I should do next and where I should go.

So my notes books are stuffed with ideas to follow up on and papers to read on interesting things, while my head is reeling from all the exciting possibilities, and above all of that, the pressure to submit this paper to Music Perception is growing by the minute, as that more than anything will convince schools that I am more than just talk. Speaking of which, I should get back to that.

Over and out,

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