Push: Software Design and the Cultural Politics of Music Production

PDF Push: Software Design and the Cultural Politics of Music Production January 11, 2022

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Push: Software Design and the Cultural Politics of Music Production shows how changes in the design of music software in the first decades of the twenty-first century shaped the production techniques and performance practices of artists working across media, from hip-hop and electronic dance
music to video games and mobile apps. Emerging alongside developments in digital music distribution such as peer-to-peer file sharing and the MP3 format, digital audio workstations like FL Studio and Ableton Live introduced design affordances that encouraged rapid music creation workflows through
flashy, "user-friendly" interfaces. Meanwhile, software such as Avid's Pro Tools attempted to protect its status as the "industry standard," "professional" DAW of choice by incorporating design elements from pre-digital music technologies. Other software, like Cycling 74's Max, asserted its alterity
to "commercial" DAWs by presenting users with nothing but a blank screen.

These are more than just aesthetic design choices. Push examines the social, cultural, and political values designed into music software, and how those values become embodied by musical communities through production and performance. It reveals ties between the maximalist design of FL Studio,
skeuomorphic design in Pro Tools, and gender inequity in the music products industry. It connects the computational thinking required by Max, as well as iZotope's innovations in artificial intelligence, with the cultural politics of Silicon Valley's "design thinking." Finally, it thinks through what
happens when software becomes hardware, and users externalize their screens through the use of MIDI controllers, mobile media, and video game controllers. Amidst the perpetual upgrade culture of music technology, Push provides a model for understanding software as a microcosm for the increasing
convergence of globalization, neoliberal capitalism, and techno-utopianism that has come to define our digital lives.


First and foremost, thanks to my wife, Bess, for her endless patience and dedication as I pursued the uncertain path of graduate school and the early stages of an academic career. Between the time I began work on this book and the time I submitted the final manuscript, we moved across the country twice, got married, and had two kids. All the while, Bess worked multiple jobs and watched the kids to make sure I could attend conferences, travel to job interviews, and pursue the research that ultimately led to this book. This is the invisible labor that supports so much academic work, and nobody knows how to hustle like Bess. To our daughters, Lily and Joanie: this book represents one snapshot in a long journey, the high points of which were the births of you two. You made it all worth it, and you provide the spark that carries us through.

To my mom, Becky Suchovsky, and my dad, Scott “TooTall” Suchovsky. To my brother, Chris D’Errico, and my sister-in-law, Tamila D’Errico. To my mother-in-law, Martha Brooks, and my father-in-law, Richard Brooks. To my sister-in-law Kate Neilsen, my brother-in-law Joey Neilsen, and my two nephews, Owen and Levi. To the Berubes, D’Erricos, Dicksons, Godinezes, Hanlons, Henshaws, Hornes, Jabours, LaBelles, Parottas, Salinders, Thorntons, Urbaneks, and Zukovics. Thank you all for your endless support, even when the end goal wasn’t always clear.

To the teachers who got me into this in the first place: Andy Boysen, Ken Clark, Mark DeTurk, Tony DiBartolomeo, Lori Dobbins, Robert Eshbach, Bruce Gatchell, Les Harris Jr., John Herman, Bill Kempster, Tim Miles, David Newsam, Matt Redmond, David Ripley, Andy Robbins, Dave Seiler, Mark Shilansky, Nancy Smith, Mike Walsh, Richard Young. Thank you for continuing to inspire me.

To the academic mentors who pushed me along the way: Joseph Auner, Dan Beller-McKenna, Jane Bernstein, Olivia Bloechl, Alessandra Campana, Johanna Drucker, Nina Eidsheim, Robert Fink, Elisabeth Le Guin, Rob Haskins, Mark Katz, Raymond Knapp, Tamara Levitz, Peter Lunenfeld, David MacFadyen, Stephen Mamber, Annie Maxfield, Kiri Miller, Mitchell Morris, Stephan Pennington, Miriam Posner, Todd Presner, Jessica Schwartz, Jonathan Sterne, Jeffrey Summit, Tim Taylor, Elizabeth Upton. Thank you for the wisdom and for sparking in me new layers of curiosity.

For theTo my colleagues in the Albright College Music Department: Dana Allaband, Tammy Black, Tim Gross, Jeff Lentz, Mark Lomanno, AJ Merlino, Kelly Powers, Jordan Shomper. To my colleagues from the UCLA Music Industry program: Jonathan Beard, Gigi Johnson, David Leaf, Adam Moseley; and from the Intercollegiate Media Studies program at the Claremont Colleges: Elizabeth Affuso, Mark Andrejevic, Eddie Gonzalez, Stephanie Hutin, Ian Ingram, Ann Kaneko, Jesse Lerner, Ming-Yuen S. Ma, Nancy Macko, Ruti Talmor, T. Kim-Trang Tran, Carlin Wing; and from the Pomona College Music Department: Alfred Cramer, Thomas Flaherty, Genevieve Lee, Joti Rockwell, Gibb Schreffler. Thank you for the opportunity to build together.

For the conversations in graduate school, from Davis Square to Echo Park, to Francesca Albrezzi, Alexandra Apolloni, Patrick Bonczyk, Caitlin Carlos, Hyun Kyong Chang, Monica Chieffo, Marci Cohen, Benjamin Court, Patrick Craven, Roderic Crooks, Wade Dean, Andrew deWaard, Albert Diaz, Benjamin Doleac, Megan Driscoll, Oded Erez, Rose Fonkham, Rebekah Lobosco Gilli, Ian Goldstein, Gillian Gower, Alex Grabarchuk, Pheaross Graham, Stephanie Gunst, Tom Hanslowe, Brendan Higgins, William Hutson, Jake Johnson, Pradeep Kannan, Kyle Kaplan, William Kenlon, Ben Krakauer, Wendy Kurtz, Melinda Latour, Scott Linford, Joanna Love, Kimberly Mack, Alyssa Matthias, Dave Molk, Andrea Moore, Kacie Morgan, Warrick Moses, Tiffany Naiman, Marissa Ochsner, Julius RederCarlson, Terri Richter, Alex Rodriguez, Jill Rogers, Mehrenegar Rostami, Anahit Rostomyan, Chris Santiago, Eric Schmidt, Darci Sprengel, Danielle Stein, Otto Stuparitz, Christiana Usenza, Kristie Valdéz-Guillen, Jessie Vallejo, Zachary Wallmark, Schuyler Dunlap Whelden, Dave Wilson, Morgan Woolsey. Thank you for the invaluable insights, perspectives, and experiences.

Thanks to the academic friends I’ve made along the way: Tim Anderson, Christine Bacareza Balance, Eliot Bates, Samantha Bennett, Christa Bentley, Matt Brennan, Erin Brooks, Matt Brounley, Ragnhild BrøvigHanssen, Justin Burton, Joshua Busman, Mark Butler, Daphne Carr, Theo Cateforis, Jace Clayton, Norma Coates, Amy Coddington, Ali Colleen, James Currie, Anne Danielsen, James Deaville, Zach Diaz, Jess Dilday, Emily Dolan, Kira Dralle, Jarek Ervin, Mike Exarchos, Rebekah Farrugia, Jessica Feldman, Andy Flory, Murray Forman, Kate Galloway, Luis-Manuel Garcia, Rolf Inge Godøy, K. E. Goldschmitt, Wells Gordon, Sarah Hankins, Anthony Kwame Harrison, Jasmine Henry, Madison Heying, Jessica Holmes, Umi Fangyu Hsu, Robin James, Brian Jones, Katherine Kaiser, Loren Kajikawa, Sarah Kessler, Eve Klein, Adam Krims, Elizabeth Lindau, Alejandro Madrid, Andrew Mall, Noriko Manabe, Caitlin Marshall, Wayne Marshall, Katherine Meizel, Esther Morgan-Ellis, Darren Mueller, Kjell Andreas Oddekalv, Justin Patch, Sean Peterson, Benjamin Piekut, Catherine Provenzano, Guthrie Ramsey, Chris Reali, Katie Reed, Anders Reuter, Griff Rollefson, Bjørnar Sandvik, Margaret Schedel, Justin Schell, Martin Scherzinger, Joel Schwindt, Victoria Simon, Mary Ann Smart, Jason Stanyek, Victor Szabo, Nick Tochka, Jon Turner, David VanderHamm, Lisa Cooper Vest, Steve Waksman, Elijah Wald, Oliver Wang, Eric Weisbard, Christy Jay Wells, Justin Williams, Griffin Woodworth, Brian Wright, Simon Zagorski-Thomas.
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