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It is hard to think of another field of cultural practice that has been as comprehensively turned upside down by the digital revolution as music. Digital instruments, recording technologies and signal processing techniques have transformed the making of music, while digital dissemination of music – through the Internet and earbuds – has transformed the way people consume it. Live music thrives and mostly relies on digital technology, but alongside it music has become integrated into the patterns of social networking and urban mobility that increasingly structure people’s lives. The digital revolution has destabilised the traditional music business, with successive technologies reconstructing it in different forms, and at present even its short-term future is unclear. (Just as this book is going to press, Apple has announced the discontinuation of iTunes, the most commercially successful response to Napster.) Meanwhile digitalisation has changed what sort of thing music is, creating a multiplicity of genres, some of which exist only online – indeed, downloads and streaming have problematised the extent to which music can reasonably be thought of as a ‘thing’ at all. Technology that is rapidly pervading the globe is re-engineering relationships between geographically removed traditions (including by removing geography from the equation). Some see this near meltdown of so many aspects of traditional musical culture as a harbinger of fundamental social change to come.
This chapter examines the role of music and sacred sound in three types of digital devotional rituals, interpreting these through the lenses of scholarship in media, music and religious studies. In examining these digital devotional practices, including virtual pilgrimages, digital music resources for offline use, and online devotional screen media, the chapter addresses several interrelated questions, including how and in what contexts music is used in online ritual; to what extent music connects online and offline religious practices; and how engaging in music within participatory digital technologies is changing how people experience and practice their religious faith. Addressing these questions through the lens of musical and audio-visual experience will help scholars understand and assess the implications of music within the digital apparatus on religious authority, religious experience and the formation of religious communities.
The impact of digital technologies on music has been overwhelming: since the commercialisation of these technologies in the early 1980s, both the practice of music and thinking about it have changed almost beyond all recognition. From the rise of digital music making to digital dissemination, these changes have attracted considerable academic attention across disciplines,within, but also beyond, established areas of academic musical research. Through chapters by scholars at the forefront of research and shorter 'personal takes' from knowledgeable practitioners in the field, this Companion brings the relationship between digital technology and musical culture alive by considering both theory and practice. It provides a comprehensive and balanced introduction to the place of music within digital culture as a whole, with recurring themes and topics that include music and the Internet, social networking and participatory culture, music recommendation systems, virtuality, posthumanism, surveillance, copyright, and new business models for music production.
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