Media @ McGill

Victoria Simon | Mobile Musical Screens and the App Economy

Submitted by Media@McGill on


Since the widespread use of touchscreens for tablets and smartphones, music software companies have created applications to fit the technological infrastructure and design constraints of these devices. In the forty-seven year history of the use of touchscreens for music composition, no major study on the history, aesthetics, and politics that motivate these now widely used devices has been published. My proposed doctoral dissertation fills a gap within the cultural history of music technology by examining the evolution and development of ideas about creativity, touch, and the user that circulate and infiltrate the design and use of these devices. The Media@McGill Graduate Research Fellowship will go towards funding the research for the chapter of my dissertation titled Mobile Musical Screens and the App Economy, where I will study the field where contemporary touchscreens for music composition are produced.

This chapter of my dissertation will focus on an analysis of music composition apps in the present context and will examine the changing ideas of musical practice in its link to the discourses of universal accessibility, transparency, and efficiency that surround today’s mobile touchscreen devices. I will attend to how both the interfaces themselves in addition to their marketing materials refashion notions concerning touch and creativity that were present in earlier instantiations of music touchscreens. Additionally, my research for this chapter investigates the experience of the programmers and designers behind the production of the technology, to contribute to a more robust understanding of how cultural, social, and aesthetic ideas influence the technical decisions that are made and built into the design of technology.

The two apps that I will focus on in this chapter are Liine’s Lemur app and Borderlands. I chose these specific case studies because their juxtaposition demonstrates both the continuity and ruptures in ways that designers and engineers of touchscreens for music composition think about music, touch, and the user from past to present due to their disparate contexts of design. While I will be visiting the companies and conducting my own interviews with software designers and engineers, what will differentiate this chapter from the others is that I will observe the user testing process of these apps. I will pursue this method of research in order to collect empirical data on the demographics of users that are represented at various phases in the design and marketing of the technology, and to assess the extent that the users contribute to the design process.

My research for this chapter will further an understanding on how contemporary ideas of musical creativity and users are inscribed into their mobile touchscreen form. It will contribute to my historical analysis of the various technological infrastructures, institutional affiliations, and cultural contexts of use for touchscreen interfaces for music and is essential for my overall project on the politics of interface design. The case studies will enable me to trace the patterns of discourse on creativity, the user, and touch from the precursor devices that I discuss in previous chapters of my dissertation to the contemporary mobile context of music apps.