Tag Archives: dissertation

Things I’ve started writing but haven’t published

  1. A blog post about the anniversary of R.E.M.’s Green, because somehow this blog has become obsessed with R.E.M.
  2. A blog post in anticipation of my workshop on podcasting at the 2015 Computers and Writing conference–a workshop and conference that has now ended, with the post sitting there unfinished, unposted
  3. A scholarly webtext on the materiality of sound, vinyl records, and the crazy ways that these things can inspire composition pedagogy (few of which I’ve actually tried in the classroom yet), a text that I drafted last summer over 3 weeks of using 750words.com every day
  4. It depends what we mean here by writing, but maybe when I talk to a friend in the car about writing routines and relationships and kindness, maybe that’s a kind of writing and maybe saying good things out loud together is a kind of publishing
  5. A chapter from my dissertation on historical attitudes toward the rhetoric of music and how we can do better
  6. A chapter from my dissertation reporting on interviews with student music composers
  7. A piece of music, which I admit hasn’t even been started or considered until now, but a piece of music that tries to capture what it’s like to write but not quite doing so, sitting there, dodging it all by organizing your mp3s and reading good scholarship and tweeting good tweets–which are writing too, we can all agree on that, it’s the 21st century–and if you don’t know why a piece of music would be good for that, why are you even reading this list
  8. An bizarre, juxtaposition-filled audio essay that jams together the sounds of my favorite movies/TVshows/videogames with the words of scholars on the phenomenology of sound
  9. That one above actually exists, even though you’re starting to wonder if any of these things actually exist, and I don’t blame you, how could anyone have this much that they haven’t finished, how could anyone be so much like cookies that just went into the oven?
  10. This one doesn’t exist, but I wish it did: a blog post on Pearl Jam and aggressiveness, chronicling how intimidated I was by their first album and how I forced myself to like it anyway and then how they slowly came to just seem like nice guys playing rock music but when did that happen I mean don’t you remember “IT’S . . . MY . . . BLOOOOOOOD!!!!” and all that from the second album?
  11. A personal essay about the time in 4th grade when I stayed the night at Andy’s house and jammed a thumbtack through the face of a kid I didn’t like on his copy of our class photo, followed by the time in 5th grade when I pulled the fire alarm at school but before it started so that’s not as bad I think
  12. A personal essay about my youngest brother and our weird mutual aggression over our lives, if you can call it that, and I’m not sure you can, but don’t you think I should use the word aggression to echo #10 above?
  13. A personal essay about chaperoning a bunch of college student singers on a trip to Florida
  14. Episode nine of my podcast which is on teaching with podcasts kind of self-referential isn’t it podcast podcast podcast kind of a weird word when you say it too often
  15. Self-referential blog posts that–and you won’t believe me here–that actually help move these texts toward a public, which is really where they ought to go, so let’s get to it, folks

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More on Digital Copyright

The other day I wrote about my first copyright dispute, over a 1931 classical recording that I (legally) posted to Soundcloud. I promised to give an update, but it’s not very exciting: within 24 hours I got a very simple email from Soundcloud saying that they had allowed me to post the track. Yay for Soundcloud! But not yay for Drama.

So it’s up. It’s not even a very exciting clip of music, but it’s up:

Seems like a lot of fuss over a quiet, scratchy minute of 1931 sound.

Even more, I decided not to use the sound clip as posted. If you remember, my reason for uploading it was to use it as a “sonic epigraph” in the introduction of my dissertation, to make a point about the nature of hearing sound as opposed to talking about it. Instead of embedding the sound into the Word file, I thought I’d just host it on Soundcloud and give a link to it there. But for the conclusion of the dissertation, I wanted to share the last minute of the same piece, but this time from a recent recording–which means a recording very much still protected by copyright. But after going through the “defending myself” thing, I don’t want to upload that other clip to Soundcloud, and I don’t want to send readers to one online space for one sonic epigraph and then another space for another sonic epigraph, so I just put them both online somewhere else that wasn’t Soundcloud.

The thing is, I think I’m within my fair use rights to share that final minute (of a fourteen-minute copyrighted recording) in the conclusion of my diss, in the same way that I’m within my fair use rights to share quotations (within reason) in my academic publications. The paradox of fair use is that it’s both awesome and crazy-frustrating that there is no absolute way to know if a use is fair or not until a judge says so. The best we can do is work our way through the four-part test included in U.S. copyright law, perhaps with the help of an awesome tool like the University of Minnesota Libraries’ “Thinking though Fair Use” tool. 

But even with the tool, whether or not I can fairly use that last minute of the track is sometimes really hard to tell. Here are a few checkmarks that I wasn’t sure how to check:

  • “Criticism or commentary”: I decided not to check this one, as I’m not criticizing the work or the recording itself. In fact, I’m saying, “Hey, let this work do to you exactly what it’s meant to do!” That is, listen to it.
  • “Transformative use”: I’ve heard this phrase tossed around in different ways, which has left me unsure when something is transformative or not. The checklist’s description is “creates a new work with a new purpose,” which seems to describe someone singing a cover song on YouTube (more on that below), but doesn’t seem to describe the transformative use implied by my using audio editing software to grab a clip. What if I had added fades? Sped the whole thing up a bit? (How much?) How transformative is transformative?
  • “Decorative or other non-critical, non-commentary use”: In some ways, I absolutely want this to be decorative music. But on the other hand, I want it to inspire self-commentary, complex meaning-making. In my dissertation’s conclusion, I ask people to “Listen to it with the weight of this project weighing on it.” That’s kind of critical, kind of not.
  • “User owns lawful copy of the work (bought or otherwise legitimately acquired”: I’ve never heard of this as a factor before. (They list it under the 4th factor, “Effect on the potential market value of the work.”) In this case, they’ve got me: I streamed the track through Spotify and used Audacity to snatch the audio straight from my sound card. Sneaky, yes–but if someone has a definitively fair use reason, isn’t circumvention like this justified? For instance, the DMCA allows professors to break DVD copy protection to grab clips of movies to show in class (at least it did the last time I checked). That means that those professors are using all sorts of sneaky software for sneaky actions that in some circumstances would be mad illegal–but which are totally fair in that case. In another situation, I published an audio essay once that used a couple clips from the score to the 1927 silent film Metropolis. The version of the score I listen to was ripped directly from a DVD by some dude who knows how to do that, and thus it includes tracks that aren’t available on the commercial release of the score. Does the availability or unavailability of a track give me more or less moral ground when using that music for another purpose? I didn’t worry about it for the audio essay because I felt very strongly that I was within fair use (for lots of reasons)–but if I hadn’t been, would the source of the music have mattered?

Above, I mentioned YouTube cover songs, particularly because I just read a stellar piece from Wired on the subject: Andy Baio’s “Criminal Creativity: Untangling Cover Song Licensing on YouTube.” (If you haven’t read Baio’s account of the copyright kerfuffle over the cover image for his 8-bit cover album of Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue, you need to get over there and read it stat. Seriously, why read my blog when you can read his?)

In the Wired piece, Baio describes the crazy difficulty of trying to figure out exactly when a cover song on YouTube is illegal–that is, if I’m allowed to pull out my guitar and record myself singing “Cherub Rock” or not. He points out the trouble behind how we treat creative people who are skirting the edges of current copyright law:

But there’s something strange about this begging-for-forgiveness approach to copyright. It’s like driving without traffic signs, only finding out you broke the law when you’re pulled over.

That’s exactly how I felt with the copyright dispute on my Strauss clip: that I hadn’t been speeding, but I was pulled over anyway and had to explain myself. And now, I think I’m still in my fair use rights to upload my second sound clip to Soundcloud, especially since I can list it as private so that no one will stumble upon the link unless they have a direct link to the file, which they would only get from my dissertation. But I don’t want to explain myself to any more cops.

Baio also gives us the real solution to these issues:

The best solution is the hardest one: To reform copyright law to legalize the distribution of free, non-commercial cover songs.


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My First Copyright Dispute!

I haven’t been blogging lately because of a little ol’ dissertation that I’ll be finishing up next week—but this story is so good that it needs to be shared while it’s still fresh.

In short, I just filed a claim with (the awesome sound-sharing site) SoundCloud to contest its accusation that I had uploaded copyrighted material to the site. Here’s what happened:

Throughout my dissertation, I use tons of epigraphs at the beginning of chapters and sections. This makes sense, because when someone has read so much stuff on his topic, he’s got to use all those awesome quotations  somewhere, and it would be bulky and annoying to fold them all into the main body. But for the introduction to the whole diss, I wanted to use a musical epigraph—a one-minute clip of instrumental music that would do the same things epigraphs usually do: whet the appetite for the upcoming content, surprise the reader a bit, poetically or subtly hint at information to be more didactically expounded upon later. This echoes my argument through the diss for more emphasis on sounds themselves, not sounds-as-explained-in-words or sounds-as-symbolized-on-paper.

For this musical epigraph, I chose to use a minute at the beginning of Richard Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks (for lots of reasons that I won’t go into here; just read the dissertation if you want to know). Happily, I found a copy of a recording that Strauss himself had conducted for a 1931 78 RPM recording, which the good folks at archive.org had digitized and shared online here. They gave it a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 3.0 license, meaning that users may legally download this, remix it in any way, and reshare it how they choose, as long as they 1) attribute the work (probably both to Strauss and to the archive.org people who digitized it?), 2) don’t make money from this re-sharing, and 3) use the same CC license when resharing.

So I took the mp3, used Audacity to cut out the first minute, and uploaded it to SoundCloud. (I admit that in my rush, I didn’t check to make sure I was “share aliking” the exact Creative Commons license in the options on SoundCloud, something I figured I would do later. This was definitely my bad—but I was writing some awesome stuff right then and didn’t want to pause.) I wanted to insert a link to this online audio file in the text of my dissertation’s introduction, which seemed a better idea than linking to the whole fourteen-minute piece hosted on archive.org or embedding the file into the Word Doc (which is possible, but I didn’t know how it would translate to different word processors or if it would survive a translation into pdf). 

But SoundCloud stopped me in mid-upload. The sounds matched copyrighted material, they said, so I couldn’t upload it. They gave me the option of contesting the claim, which I did, but they certainly tried to scare me out of it, saying that I was risking future legal trouble, the revocation of my SoundCloud account, and so on. It was definitely big, scary, legal language designed (it seemed) to convince me not to contest the thing at all, to just move on and live a happily timid life where all copyrighted material was STAYED AWAY FROM for all time.

After I agreed that yes, I was dumb enough to contest this thing, I got to these two options:


But as I explained, neither quite fit my experience. Here’s what I wrote:

My claim doesn’t quite fit into either of the options I’m given here. That is, I do believe that the copyright content has probably been “mistakenly identified,” but I’m *not* “the sole original creator of the uploaded material.”

Simply put, I tried to upload a clip of a piece that archive.org has licensed with a Creative Commons license (BY-NC-SA 3.0), which I downloaded from http://archive.org/details/StraussTillEulenspiegelstrauss. To share just the first minute of this piece, I deleted the parts I didn’t want on my home computer and then reuploaded to SoundCloud to share just the beginning. (That’s because this CC license allows derivative works.)

It seems to me that there are two possibilities for why this was flagged, though there might be more. 1) The archive.org recording is correctly licensed, in which case I may legally share it here (as long as I use the same CC-BY-NC-SA 3.0 license). If that’s true, then perhaps SoundCloud misidentified it because it so many other recordings of this piece *are* copyrighted. If that’s not the case, then there’s the other possibility:

2) Archive.org mistakenly gave this CC license to material that they didn’t have the right to share in this way. If that’s the case, I apologize for trying to upload this copyrighted material to SoundCloud and I take back this request to put it up.

Then at the bottom of the screen, after I gave all my full contact information (required), I checked each of these exciting boxes (also required):


Intense, huh?

I’ll report here what happens, if anything. As you can probably tell, I’m feeling a little pushed around, but also fairly respectful. That is, there are inevitably defensive emotions that come up when it’s implied that you’re a criminal when you don’t think you are, and I’m still trying to wrap my head/heart around the exact nature of those emotions. But on the other hand, I do support SoundCloud’s decision to use auto-detection technology to keep copyrighted material off their site, and I do support their decision to give me space to explain myself. 

But still, I can’t help but wonder how much people restrict their fair use activities because of this kind of thing. I hate the idea of creative folks wanting to make amazing remixes that exercise their very legal fair use rights, only to shut themselves up out of fear of being bullied. Sigh?


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Transcribing Sound

I’ve gone back and forth a few times about how to present transcribed interviews in my work on music composition practices, essentially going one way in one chapter and another way elsewhere. I want to use this post to present some options and get some opinions.

I’ve written before about Laurel Richardson’s decision to present interviews as poetry, including some of her reasoning. Since then, I’ve browsed through some of the (surprisingly common) scholarship on the method, and I’ve found some intriguingly resonant connections to my work on music. For instance, here are some great lines from Garance Maréchal and Stephen Linstead’s “Metropoems: Poetic Method and Ethnographic Experience” (Qualitative Inquiry 16.1 (2010): 66-77; abstract):

[I]t seems important that research poems develop the ability to take a position that neither turns exclusively inward toward the ethnographer’s self nor exclusively outward toward an empathic relation with the ethnographic other, but is focused in the moment, in place, and in motion. . . . [S]uch a poetry in the moment could perhaps deploy a discipline that is very much derived from a specific activity and seeks to embody the rhythms, time, and space of that activity, which would contrast with poetry that recollects or represents. (70)

What musical purposes! We can use poetic transcriptions to draw attention to present moments, places, motions, rhythms–all issues I write about when discussing the epistemologies and ontologies of music. So by transcribing words about music in poetry, those words would become like music, in that they echo its ways of being.

So after all that reading, I’ve come to two simultaneous conclusions: 1) Wow, that’s something I must must do. 2) Um, do my readers really want to have their reading jolted by all this verse?

Here’s an example of what the differences might look like. The first quote is a prose transcription that removes uh and um and imposes a fairly standard set of punctuation (a typical practice in many fields, though of course the degree of “fixing up” that is acceptable varies considerably; I’ve taken the liberty to use quite a strong clean-up brush here, for emphasis):

I’m definitely freer with my music. With my music, I always consider my audience to be somebody who has empathy, who can relate to the music in a sense. It’s like I write unto myself.

Especially for this album that I’m recording now, it’s like I want this album to be for people who can relate to a lot of situations, topics that are like self doubt, and a lot of insecurities, and stuff like that, so people could relate to it in that level. And I would hope that it would be a way that they could listen to my music and be like, “Oh, I’m not alone in this.” So usually I write in that emotional level for an audience that is like me.

So now contrast that with the following verse transcript, which attempts to include each word and sound exactly as my participant said them (presented as a screenshot of Word, to preserve line-breaks as I crafted them):

An image of a transcript presented in verse

With this example especially, there’s a pretty clear (yet subtle) statement being made by the transcriber (me). Just as this participant is describing the uncertainties of others, whom she wants to comfort with her music, her own language seems to betray an uncertainty of her own, and the verse draws attention to some of that–the repeated words, noticeable um‘s, etc. It’s a move that I think some would think unfair to the participant while others would appreciate it. (This moves us to the really important move: what the participant herself thinks. I plan to show her a draft of the chapter quite soon to find out, which might change this entire discussion.)

So, I’m finally left with the question of what it would mean to present two imbalanced sets of participants in a larger work.

  • On one hand are my two chapters full of quotations from professional and amateur composers I interviewed who (naturally) want their names to be shared publicly, and whose words are thus presented on equal footing with those of published interviews with professional composers. In other words, I quote from published work and my own participants equally, presenting them as on the same plane. These transcriptions are all clearly in the same genre: they tend to be clean and readable, without verbal bumps like uh and like included unless it changes the meaning of the sentence. And everything they say is in prose.
  • But then in another chapter are the results from five student composers, all of whom are protected with complete anonymity, including pseudonyms. (Not all of them requested this, but some did, so it seemed that the best way to protect the identity of some was to hide the identity of all.) These participants are then quoted in verse, as shown above.

Does this award a discursive power to the non-students? Or does it honor the students that their words are presented as having the social umph/capital of poetic verse? What about the fact that the verse draws attention to my transcribing activity–does this lessen the relative power of the students when I represent their words in a way that blends them with my imposed form? Of course, my non-students’ words are blended with my own imposed form just as well, but in a prose form that hides my involvement. Thoughts?

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Computers and Writing 2011 Proposal

I’m excited to present my first video proposal to speak at a conference. I put this together for Computers and Writing 2011 at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. If accepted, my presentation will be called “Sound Composing: Musical Rhetoric in the Ears of Composers.”


For my visually minded friends (me included, ironically enough), here’s the video’s script. The italicized parts are contiguous quotes from Steven B. Katz’s The Epistemic Music of Rhetoric: Toward the Temporal Dimension of Affect in Reader Response and Writing.

Perhaps time, and all it stands for, is the basis of the experience of language as sound, emotion a lump of time caught in the throat.

It’s hard to talk about sound–what exactly it does for audiences, how composers manipulate it. Rhetoricians are well versed in discussing images, fixed in time and graspable. But the question of how composers of sound apply rhetorical principles is less well explored–the temporal, unfixed nature of sound complicates things.

Perhaps it is through time that we can know the affective experience of language as an indeterminate flux and flow.

Rhetorical principles have been applied to music for hundreds of years, especially in Western Baroque and early classical texts on music composition. These composers were taught to use their instrumental music to communicate emotional states that audiences would clearly comprehend, relying on a series of rhetorical musical figures and gestures. More recently, Steven Katz has written on how knowledge is fundamentally emotional, temporal, and musical. Along similar lines, Joddy Murray has drawn attention to the importance of non-discursive rhetoric. And in 2006, Byron Hawk and Cheryl Ball co-edited a  special issue of Computers and Composition, “Sound in/as Composition Space.” [And I forgot to mention the parallel issue of Computers and Composition Online.]

Perhaps it is in time that the essential unity, the oneness that oral cultures experienced in sound, exists.

I want to add to this work by developing a composer-centric rhetoric of sound. I conducted a qualitative study of music composers (students and professionals, practitioners and scholars), using their explanations of their compositional aims as the bedrock of a new understanding of sound’s rhetorical possibilities and functions.

Perhaps we have not lost it. Perhaps it is still in the music of language.

My interviews focused on questions of how music communicates–what kinds of things it can say, how composers plan for their audiences, how they think rhetorically. More specifically, I asked them about influence, emotion, their use of preexisting musical forms, and digital composition, both in terms of composing with electronic sounds and using computer notation software.

Could it be that voice and felt sense, that dissonance and disequilibrium, that harmony and resolution in reading and writing are musical in nature, are the epistemic basis of affective knowledge, are a temporal form of knowledge?

I’ll report on what my participants said about their own work and about music in general, playing clips of their interviews and compositions when appropriate. I’ll also engage the audience by briefly playing selections of music that showcase the problems my participants brought up, inviting the group to consider the different ways that music can mean.

Music Credits (in order)

Image Credits (in order; all with various Creative Commons licenses)


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Rhetoric, Music, Exactitude

Giuseppe Carpani, writing about Haydn’s symphonies in 1812:

You find in it, as in orations by Cicero, almost all rhetorical figures applied; among them are gradatio, antitheton, dubitatio, isocolon, repetitio, congeries, epilogus, synonymia, suspensio; but very special is his usage of reticentia and aposiopesis, which, when used in one of his incomparable fast movements, create a marvelous effect.

The point? That you could listen to Haydn’s music and apply rhetorical figures/topics to it. For example, in a speech, to practice aposiopesis is when “a speaker comes to an abrupt halt, seemingly overcome by passion (fear, excitement, etc.) or modesty” (via). It’s not hard to imagine hearing something similar in music, which makes sense, since they’re both fundamentally aural arts.

Ok, fine. This kind of analysis could go on forever, applied to pretty much whatever music you wanted to. And when these figures were being actively taught to pretty much everyone educated in Europe in the 16th-18th centuries, it makes sense to assume that composers were purposefully using them (as, for example Ursula Kirkendale demonstrates in really, really deep detail in her reading of Bach’s Musical Offering).

But still: so what? I’m deeply interested in overlaps between music and rhetoric, as I’ve been telling people over and over since I decided on a dissertation topic. But I’m not really interested in this kind of thing, beyond a casual, “Oh! Interesting point!” It’s so detail-driven, so focused on a clever critic finding example after example of an obscure rhetorical figure with a Latin name in a measure of music.

That’s why I’m drawn to my project of speaking with composers instead of texts. I want to know in looser, more expressive terms how they want their work to be experienced by audiences, and what choices they made that make those purposes possible. That puts the composer in the driver’s seat, seconded closely by the reaction of the audience–and with me, the critic, sitting back in the distance to try to understand that interaction. It feels more honoring, more listening instead of speaking. I like that.

Still, that doesn’t mean I think the figures/topics are worthless. I mean, I did at first, when I first encountered them in a graduate class. But I changed my mind when I heard how that professor teaches them to students: as possible ways to frame a text when nothing is coming to mind, when you need a jumpstart to suggest ways of approaching a problem in a way that will work best for an audience. In other words, as inventional tools. But what inventional tools do today’s composers use? Surely not ones with rhetorical bases and Latin names, right?

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The Beginning of a Dissertation Prospectus

Sure, you’ve noticed I haven’t written lately. But I have–just not here! After returning from two weeks in Germany (including some amazing times at the Remake | Remodel conference), I’ve been plowing through my dissertation prospectus like nobody’s business. So for your reading pleasure, here’s my (unapproved, yet) beginning paragraphs. (I’m rather wildly excited about this project.) (“Rather wildly excited”? That’s like a negative modifier followed by a positive one, yet without negating either. Weird.) It’s followed by a Wordle image of my entire draft, unfinished as it is.

Definition of Purpose
This project investigates the intersections between musical and written composition through qualitative research of student composers in both music composition and English composition courses. Through this investigation, I will identify aural literacies that help composers both understand and use sound effectively for diverse audiences in many different contexts. I’ll gather composers’ explanations of what how they learned to use sound strategically in online videos and interactive websites, to hear the musical qualities of spoken language and written composition, and to decide how to proceed when composing music. Studies in various literacies are nothing new in rhetoric and composition, but my project fills a gap in those studies in two specific ways: my focus on music and sound, areas that receive far less attention than visual literacies, and my focus on how composers describe their choices, as opposed to analyzing texts or studying the reactions of listeners.

My main research questions can be simplified as queries into what goes into a composer’s mind and what the composer intends to come out of it. In other words, I’m interested in how student composers describe their reliance on sources, both purposefully and naturally “cited,” and in how they describe the choices they make to shape their compositions for their audiences. More formally:

Research Question 1: In what ways do students search for and integrate sources into their compositions?
Research Question 2: What effects do students try to achieve in their compositions?

Both of these questions are designed to apply to a wide variety of texts: alphabetic and musical, discursive and nondiscursive, rhetorical and artistic, logical and emotional. For instance, concerning question 1, students in English composition courses practice integrating sources effectively and ethically into their compositions by learning to cite paraphrases, summaries, and quotations; however, in a more slippery sense, they also rely on the genres, structures, words, and delivery choices with which they are already familiar through the intertextual nature of language and rhetoric. In music composition courses, sources also affect the work that students create, both through purposefully cited or modified musical phrases from other work and through the natural ways that instrumentation, musical structure, voicing, and genre are leaned on whenever any new music is created. Concerning question 2, composers of alphabetic texts often have a variety of overlapping aims for how their texts will affect readers; following James Kinneavy’s aims of discourse, texts can have expressive, referential, literary, and persuasive aims. But I’m also interested in how nondiscursive texts (including music) are composed with overlapping but potentially disruptive categories of aims, as some aims are wrapped into mediums like music that are perhaps more suited to aesthetic immersion than rhetorical persuasion.

In a deeper sense, then, my study purports to use questions of sound composition as an inroads into questions of how creative work functions as a blend of heteroglossic complexity and individual volition. I find that many writers make claims about how composers “stand on the shoulders of giants,” though few systematically have talked to composers themselves about their reliance on influence and their creative purposes. And as a rhetorician, I also seek new ways of understanding the traditional split between rhetoric and poetics; though Jeffrey Walker has successfully argued for a more unified view of rhetoric and poetics in antiquity, much analysis remains to be done on the aims used today by contemporary composers in digital spaces, who often blend aesthetic decisions with audience-attuned meanings with impressive sophistication.

Wordle: Dissertation Prospectus

(Clearly, I use the words work and ways too often. Who knew?)

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