Visualizing Musical Citation Networks
Speakers: Wayne Marshall, MIT and Pacey Foster, UMass Boston. Moderator: Nick Seaver, MIT. Abstract: Increasingly, scholars find themselves grappling with shifts in cultural practice and production engendered by the digital turn. A profound challenge to such research issues from the staggering proliferation of media artifacts as well as information about the relations among cultural objects as they are reconfigured and remixed in network culture. This predicament reveals alternative understandings of the integrity or location of particular cultural expressions as it raises fundamental questions about how people (re)make culture in an age of cut-and-paste modularity. Although such changes are evident across various media, music offers a remarkable body of evidence of these new practices. Visualizations of what we're calling musical citation networks can therefore provide uniquely instructive ways of illustrating and analyzing cultural practice across different ages of art's technological reproducibility. Our presentation considers the cases of rap and reggae, two genres with extensive histories of allusion and revision. In both, the reuse of recordings and compositions stands as a central production practice that generates relatively concrete data about the content and diffusion of specific forms. Examining this data using network visualization techniques helps us ask more nuanced questions about relationships between creativity and technology, authorship and transformation, genre distinctions and the transmission of particular forms and practices. However, because these data are typically reconstructed willy nilly by fans, they can contain significant errors or omissions; moreover, because they document copyright violations, collecting and publishing them raises vexing questions about how to balance research imperatives against the rights and liabilities of those we study.