Dissertation Abstracts

The Digital Age of the Sound Environment: An Investigation of Everyday Interactions Between Listeners and Music

Author: Nowak, Raphael A, raph.nowak@gmail.com
Department: Griffith Center For Cultural Research
University: Griffith University, Australia
Supervisor: Professor Andy Bennett
Year of completion: 2013
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: music technology , culture , digital age , listening practices
Areas of Research: Science and Technology , Theory , Arts


This thesis presents a sociological investigation of the everyday relationship between Generation Y individuals and music through the mobilization of music technologies. First, it aims to reinscribe the digital age of music reception within a historical, cultural and material context, in order to provide an understanding of the multiple uses of music technologies (vinyl discs, CDs, magnetic cassette tapes, MP3 files). Rather than constituting a ‘revolution’, the digital age of music technologies is characterized by the coexistence of various artefacts. In looking at how recorded music has evolved from the advent of the phonograph to the latest digital technologies, I argue that the contemporary state of music cannot be separated from previous eras. Hence the evolution of music technologies, coupled with economic, demographic and cultural variables, points towards an increasing multiplication and fragmentation of music audiences.
In this account of contemporary listening practices, I focus on Generation Y individuals (those born between the late 1970s and the early 1990s) who have been exposed to different music technologies throughout their lives. Born at the time of the magnetic cassette tapes and during the golden age of the CD, Generation Y listeners were also introduced to digital music files (MP3s) at a young age, and were among the first to illegally download music from the internet. Their uses of music technologies are differentiated by how they reflexively need music. Their practices correspond to a ‘circuit of practices’ (Maggauda 2011) between different music technologies that are utilized by listeners, and that help them create and manage different listening practices in their everyday lives.
A key argument in this thesis is that the successive music technologies do not replace, but rather complement one another. Thus, in focusing on their characteristics, or ‘affordances’, it is clear that mobilizing different music technologies enables listeners to create and manage an everyday ‘sound environment’ (Martin 1995). In fact, the ‘affordances’ of music technologies are contextualized within ‘pragmatic interactions’ (Dant 2008). Thus the meaning of music is contingent on the situation of the music listening practice. Music listening practices are mediated by their contextualization. As a consequence, listeners have some degree of control over their sound environment, in terms of choosing a particular music technology and context to accompany a certain everyday activity. Overall, the affect and meaning of music unfolds within this contextualization and the listener’s perception of the interaction. Music becomes associated with places, people and memories. Music listeners also develop listening patterns in accordance with the way they define music and with how it affects them.
Ultimately, the concept of ‘music taste’ is theorized as an assemblage of all variables that compose the everyday sound environment, and that are cognitively responded to by listeners. Music is fluid and contingent on the interaction between one listener and a music technology within everyday life. The adoption of music and its definition by listeners therefore raises questions about the categorization of music into genres.