Media @ McGill

Victoria Simon | Music Software: The Arbiters of Audio Culture

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on


In the last decade the technological advances in digital media have given rise to what is widely known as the “laptop” musician. These composers use software programs that are  installed on their personal computers, removing the need for expensive audio equipment or recording studios. In my doctoral thesis, I will examine the impact this growing trend has on contemporary music by looking at how the design conventions of the software itself affect the user’s creative autonomy and shape aspects of the creative process. 

While the constraints of the interfaces are potentially productive, how can users of these programs become aware and educated about the ideologies built into these technologies, so that they may resist, refuse, or problematize these underlying influences in their work if need be? Additionally, I seek to explore how an analysis of the user interface sheds light on more general questions of human computer interaction and agency. Given the large discrepancy between male and female users of the software, is there a possible gender bias within the interface itself? I will address these questions by analyzing the structural affordances and the visual metaphors embedded within the GUI.

The research methods for my project will be in the form of a textual analysis of the GUI of commonly used audio software such as Pro Tools and Ableton Live, interviews with the software designers of the companies, and archival research to place the programs in the larger historical context of music technology. I hope to uncover any cultural biases and assumptions that are perpetuated by the prevalent use of these programs, and to use this knowledge to consider new directions and alternative values for future audio software interfaces.