Festival of Creative Learning 2018 Reflection

Event Brief:

The event lasted one hour with roughly 25 students in attendance over the course of the entire event. Of those attending at least 5 had some degree of musical experience. This was evident in the fact that they brought their own instruments to the event. At least 6 people had already attended a previous “analogue jam” event, with most of the experienced musicians being previous attendees.

The event was opened and closed by myself giving a short speech explaining how playing music and drawing together in a non-assessed environment gives a much more authentic experience of teamwork than in standard university teaching. I also addressed the issue of recording and privacy, emphasising that only snippets of the event would be recorded in order to ensure a low pressure environment for experimentation and improvisation. This seemed to go down well with the attendees and I invited them to think about whether with the advent of lecture capture, campus based lectures are becoming restrictive, high pressure environments.

I took it upon myself to start and close the jams by loading up the different apps and/or starting simple percussion rhythms before handing the instrument to a reluctant participant and encouraging them to interact. I really enjoyed the event due to my predilection for the socioconstructive model of education when it comes to music. I place a great deal of value on the complex negotiation that goes on between participants in a musical improvisation, much more so than the actual aesthetic value of the musical output itself. I am after tension and release, the passion and drama rather than empty displays of musical expertise.

Digital Outputs:

A brief clip on Instagram which captured an impromptu act of shadow puppetry between myself and two students. In the background you can see the screen output of the Bloom app which was being operated by a further 3 students off camera. The hand percussion and melodica are being played live by humans, whilst the synth sounds are created by Bloom’s algorithm depending on where the students touch the ipad screen.

At one point we switched the Ipad to a simple paint programme to allow people to draw using the touch screen whilst others made music with the available instruments. This was what was created at the end of 10 minutes or so jamming. It was really exciting to see this abstract collage come together on a screen at the front of the room whilst everyone played.

Things That Went Well:

 I was particularly pleased with the Roland VT-3 voice changer. As I suspected If you give people the chance to mask their voices in swathes of digital effects and noises they become a lot less self-conscious about singing in public. Additionally, the easy to use interface with a limited amount of slide adjusters meant It had a toy like appearance that encouraged collaborative play.

There was a high level of participation from attendees, particularly if I made the effort to hand an instrument to them personally and showed them a suitable, simple rhythm they could try. There were only a few people who were so reluctant they would refuse an instrument in such circumstances.

The Bloom app worked perfectly through the projector and speakers. The touch screen and visual aspect of the app was off particular appeal to “non-musicians”, to the point where I had to keep an eye on things so everyone could have a turn.

Things That Could Be Improved:

It was difficult to gather information on the attendees for this reflection e.g. what year they were in, what they were studying, what level of musical experience they had, etc. as I had to make sure the room set up and cleared in time. Due to the improvisatory nature of the event and how easy the apps were to use I think the event still ran successfully despite me not knowing much about the attendees. It would have made this reflection easier though. In future, I could perhaps consider a short paper feedback questionnaire during the last 10 minutes of the event. This would allow me to tailor the marketing and promotion of the events as well as give insight to the type of people that drawn to these events.

Due to personal issues leading up to the event, I was unable to write a speech that would explain to the participants exactly how participating in a musical improvisation would help them critique other types of group work within their studies. I still gave the speech but it was entirely improvised and consequently not as coherent as it could have been. At the time I felt this was appropriate as it reflected the improvised format of event, now that I come to write a reflection I wish I had documented it properly. The essence of my argument was that, due to the lack of formal assessment, my event represented the true spirit of group work, that the output of the event would only be as coherent or “good” as everyone there wanted it to be. This meant that the event would teach them the “soft skills” of teamwork and cooperation that other formal teaching assessments could only simulate artificially.

I perhaps need to give people a little more guidance if I want the improvisations to explore more nuanced textures and dynamics. Some participants got so drawn into the apps that they did not listen to others and basically did free-for-all squalling noise, all the time. This demonstrates that making the apps as easy to use as possible is not enough to ensure that everyone interacts together, no matter what their skill level. Developing listening skills, musicality and self-control takes a lot of time and, in my opinion, is best developed by instruments not being so well designed that anyone and everyone can play them first time.

New Digital Skills I Employed:

Twitter moments (which I used to juxtapose my event with a silly rap poem about Foucault by my favourite music journalist, Simon Reynolds. It struck me as being in keeping with the playful yet critically engaging atmosphere I wanted the event to have)

Ninjajamm (easily my favourite app for using myself, although difficult for others to pick up and play)

Bloom (Most relaxing and fun)

Trope (Not quite what I was after, bit too dark and rumbling for the speakers in the room)

What was interesting to note was that despite the low barriers to participation these apps gave people there was still a lot of reluctance for some “participants” to have a go. I can’t really identify with that mindset but then not joining in is still being part of the music. It’s just a more passive way of participating.