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The Role of Music Crit

July 6, 2017

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Whoah. This was a strange one. The Role of Music is an online questionnaire about music that goes from A to B to Z over the course of 10-15 minutes. The background has a clean white design and as you move through a series of questions, the click of the prompts brings you deeper into a conversation. At first you think you will be getting ranked or clarifying your tastes regarding music, but the intention of this online experiment is something different. You are led into a conversation with the overbearing mother of Carl. She asks you questions about music, child rearing, and over shares about the anger her son has. “Would you like to be his piano teacher?” The narrative moves this way and that, and at times feels like a choose your own adventure book. Finally, you meet Carl and he explains that his life is overbooked, over-planned, and he does not want to learn, or practice, or be required to do another thing – he just wants to sit.

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Will you sit with him? Money is mentioned a lot and it gets uncomfortable. Finally, the conversation/journey/experiment ends and you give Carl some tea.

I did a little research on Wikipedia and found out that,

Five Dials is a digital literary magazine published from London by Hamish Hamilton, an imprint of Penguin Books.[1] Edited by Craig Taylor and designed by Antonio de Luca, Five Dials features short fiction, essays, letters, poetry, reporting from around the world (humbly tagged “Currentish Events”) and illustrations.[2] The magazine is free and distributed in Portable Document Format (PDF) approximately every month.[3]

Five Dials does a number of different things, but The Role of Music is listed under their experiment tab. Thinking about the weekly theme of finding your voice, this digital story has a multimodality aspect to it that involves participation via the questionnaire, the story has flashing images that keep you guessing, and it has text. You think your responses adjust the narrative, but after running through the experiment twice, I found that your clicking through and adding input does not alter the narrative, it is just a psychological/placebo button.  That said, the story is not apparent at the start and there is an air of mystery to it that gives it a unique voice. Is it about you, is it about your responses, is it about music at all? You are left asking more questions than anything else, and that is a neat way to present a story. You get some background, but overall is experiential.

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Thinking about how this connects to my own teaching, I see this level of experimental narrative and mystery as offering students a way to create and collaborate using various mediums, all the while trying to push what it means to have a narrative arc/whole. The story as a traditional notion gets upended here, and it would be interesting to have students take the experiment, analyze it, and then relate their ideas back to larger themes. I wonder what they would think about it? Does it satisfy the reader in the same way that a traditional story is read, does it provide any deeper themes or thoughts, or does it just feel experimental for the sake of boundary pushing? Overall, it would be something worth investigating with a class and seeing what kinds of questions and approaches we could come up with when trying to find and establish voice.



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