Dit is het tweede deel van de lezing die ik op 13 april 2013 in het Science Museum gaf in verband met de derde PHoSTEM workshop voor musea met collecties op het gebied van wetenschappelijke, technologische en medische geschiedenis. Tijdens de workshop werd besproken hoe deze musea hun collecties op nieuwe manieren kunnen presenteren en onderzoeken. Mijn lezing ging over een project waar ik in 2011 en 2012 bij betrokken ben geweest. In deel een sprak ik over de manier waarop we Facebook gebruikten om liefhebbers van de geschiedenis van elektronische muziek bij de ontwikkeling van een tentoonstelling te betrekken. In dit tweede deel kijk ik terug op de remix wedstrijd die wij organiseerden om muzikanten toegang te geven tot een historische muziekcollectie.
Engaging with the history of electronic music through sound
As part of the project ‘Oramics to Electronica’ the Science Museum reached out to the community of electronic music enthusiasts. We wanted to given them the opportunity to engage with the development of an exhibition about the history of electronic music, featuring the work of composer and inventor Daphne Oram. Many of the electronic music enthusiasts that we encountered were musicians or DJ’s and we believed a Remix Competition would give them the opportunity to engage with historical content in a creative way. We worked together with Soundcloud and used their platform to run the competition. We also teamed up with the Daphne Oram Trust and record label Boomkat who together managed the rights to Daphe’s work and who kindly provided us with samples of Daphne’s music.
We felt that ‘sample Daphne Oram’s music’ would be too vague a challenge. In order to contextualise it we decided to link to content that was being developed for an exhibition about the history of communications. This content seemed to provide a nice fit with some of the themes in the Oramics to Electronica exhibition. Our competition challenge read: Daphne made music for TV shows and commercials (…) Imagine that the producer of Our World, the 1967 TV programme that first linked the world via satellites, had commissioned Daphne Oram, the pioneer of electronica, to make its soundtrack.
In fact, a song was commissioned for that broadcast of Our World. It was ‘All you need is love’ by the Beatles. We didn’t explicitly say this in the competition description, but we hoped that some of the contestants would research the topic and discover this information. We hoped that this extra ‘hidden’ historical layer would contextualise Daphne’s work and show how far ahead of her time she really was.
We worked together with music magazine the Wire and Sound and Music to promote the competition. Brian Eno, DJ Spooky and an editor from the Wire were our judges. Of course there were prizes as well, mostly donated in kind: a premium sound cloud account, a Daphne Oram box set and a feature on the Wire’s website, among other things. But I think most people joined the competition because they liked the challenge of working with Daphne’s material. For example, some musicians pointed out and commented on sections of the samples we provided them with. Another big motivator was probably the possibility that Brian Eno might listen to their tunes.
The practical organisation of the competition was quite complex, because so many partners were involved, including the Berlin and Miami office of Soundcloud, which meant that email correspondence was slow due to the time difference. Communication with our audience also proved to be more of a challenge than it was for the Facebook page. Several people sent us messages through Soundcloud with questions and concerns. Others approached us through Facebook. All these people spent hours working on their tracks so they really cared about the competition. This meant it was even more important to us to get the communication right.
One of the main concerns of the participants was the scoring system. This was a standard feature in Soundcloud competitions that we didn’t use, but we couldn’t switch off. People were worried that songs with the highest scores were automatically shortlisted, which wasn’t the case. Because Soundcloud isn’t designed for mass-communication in text, it’s focus is sound, and because people tended to default to Facebook for their communication with us we had to be creative in how we communicated with everybody involved. Not everyone who entered the competition also followed us on Facebook, for example.
Another concern were the terms and conditions of the competition: People were only allowed to use the samples we provided for the competition. Boomkat was in the process of releasing several exclusive albums of Daphne’s work, so it’s understandable that they and the Daphne Oram Trust were keen to keep control over that material. There were few occasions where people advertised, either on Soundcloud or Facebook, songs for which they used competition samples. We contacted them through a private message and explained that this was against the Terms and Conditions and encouraged them to contact the Daphne Oram Trust to ask for permission. These were among the very few Facebook posts we removed from our page, but we always contacted the person who wrote the post and explained why we had done so.
We received many more submissions that we expected. 156 to be precise. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned from this competition it’s that you shouldn’t organise a Remix Competition if you’re not willing to listen to hours of music, all containing the same hand full of samples. However, for us this was more than worth it, given the positive feedback and enthusiasm of participants. We were also well aware of the fact that together the participants had spent many more hours crafting their contributions than we had to spend on making a shortlist that could be sent to our professional judges.
So, what have we learned from this experience? Trying to engage people online is a lot of hard work.
But we also learnt that it pays off and that red tape is never an excuse to not be open to the enthusiasm and knowledge of people outside your organisation. And I think most importantly, we learnt that although it’s sometimes scary to be in a situation where you can’t control things, it’s a worthwhile place to be in. When you’re open with people about the way you work as an organisation and you are willing to share not just what’s meaningful to you, but also what’s meaningful to them, people will share unexpected and great things with you too. I once read that when you always stay within your comfort zone that comfort zone will get smaller. I think this is true for people, but it’s also true for organisations. Therefore, it’s important that we step outside of our comfort zone from time to time and try to meet our visitors in new and engaging ways.