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Lauren Flood, Columbia University, Ethnomusicology

Circuit-Bent Berlin: The Construction & Circulation of DIY Music Technology

This project is an ethnographic study of the construction and circulation of sounds, objects, and ideas surrounding networks of musicians who self-build musical instruments and electronic equipment. "Do-it-yourself (DIY) music technology," as I refer to the practice, encompasses a wide range of techniques and motivations. A foremost site of investigation is “circuit bending,” in which one alters the circuits of previously existing objects or instruments to explore new sounds, and the DIY music technology heading can also include the modification of guitar effects pedals and the design of experimental instruments, among other activities. Taken as a whole, this practice disrupts formal channels of production and consumption, actively reasserting the agency of individual creators and challenging notions of “high-tech” and expert knowledge. I will examine how DIY music technology affects human-technology relationships by bridging the social, technical, and aesthetic realms. Having completed prior research in New York City, this stage entails comparative research in Berlin, a major metropolitan hub for music and technology.

My central research question is to determine how contemporary music technology, creativity, and knowledge production (in terms of innovation or refinement) are linked and potentially transformed through the process of “doing it yourself.” Principally, I argue that the act of building music technology is a rich, multi-layered process of becoming. As media formats become increasingly interactive, the present is a crucial time to observe how the relationship between technology and the self is in flux. Resourceful, inspired inventors and collaborators are vital for producing innovative technologies. Since today’s fledgling tinkerers can become tomorrow’s mainstream producers, documenting that transition will shed light on the paths and structures of developing products, as well as the sociotechnical systems into which they are embedded.