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06/30/2005: "back to school."

A few months ago, I went up to Cambridge, Massachusetts to attend Wayne Marshall's intriguing "Electronic Music: History and Aesthetics of Popular Music Since the 1960s" course at Harvard Extension School. Dig the syllabus--I never got to take a class this cool when I was in school! Required textbooks included Generation Ecstasy and Modulations; homework included making your own grime tunes, reading Sasha Frere-Jones' columns in the New Yorker, listening to Omni Trio... I attended the March 15th class, titled "Hardcore/Breakbeat, Ragga/Jungle, Drum'n'Bass, Garage/2step, Grime/Dubstep." That's a whole lot to cover in a few hours--each could be a semester on its own--but Wayne made a valiant attempt.

It was taught in the Harvard music building, in a music room that was designed for teaching classical music. The chalkboard was inscribed with 5-line staffs for formal music notation, and there was a grand piano looming large in the front of the room. A grand piano! I half-hoped it would spontaneously burst into flames and be magically replaced by a row of cold and beautiful synthesizers.

This is Wayne explaining the legendary Amen break to us. He played The Winstons' "Amen, My Brother," isolated the key drum break, and then talked to us about how this little break in an almost incidental song had become the foundation of entire genres of music. Wayne showed the class how to loop the break and speed it up with Fruityloops. I took some notes: "It is mindblowingly easy to make lousy drum'n'bass, but it is hard to make something awesome."

I'd forgotten what it was like to attend an academic class where the students looked psyched to learn. It was a good feeling. There were about thirty students, I'd say, and they were all different ages. Some were crusty old-skoolers while others looked like they could be high-schoolers. Several had interesting hair. They staked out their respective camps. A girl across from me whispered to her friend, "Wanna go see Ed Rush and Optical tonight?" Extra credit! "Nah," said her friend. "Let's go see Metro Area!"

This is guest lecturer DJ C of Mashit/Beat Research teaching us how to make something awesome:

More later!

Replies: 7 Comments

just an observation

why do music nerd bloggy dudes never use capital letters said @ 07/10/2005 08:35 PM EST

i see your (overly cynical) anxiety, dominic. but take a look at the syllabus: we foreground the blackness of techno and consistently interrogate issues of appropriation. moreover, the students at harvard extension are not exactly privileged--at least in the same way that students at harvard college, generally, are. finally, let's not kid ourselves: no one is learning in 2-3 hours what anyone learns over years of experimentation.

wayne said @ 07/06/2005 10:25 AM EST

a ha . . . . thought harvard extension school was part of harvard -- though surely there's an affiliation?

dominic said @ 07/05/2005 02:08 PM EST

Kevin Saunderson attended Eastern Michigan University, a traditional 4-year college, where he briefly played football...not really a big deal, but how often do the worlds of college football and techno collide?

henry s said @ 07/01/2005 08:56 AM EST

note that harvard extension school isn't harvard's a continuing education class, entirely optional, open to the public, and not very expensive.

geeta said @ 06/30/2005 07:50 PM EST

although i suppose a lot of people who make electronic music studied how to do it somewhere. i.e., think kevin saunderson went to fairly humble community college to learn music production, think that james murphy and kit clayton both learned at wesleyan. i'm sure all kinds of people learned stuff at oberlin. certainly every music engineer takes some kind of couse somewhere on how to operate studio gadgets . . . . so maybe i'm a hopeless romantic, harboring an unrealistic notion of guy called gerald, 4hero and a thousand other underground producers learning the art and science entirely through their own devise

dominic said @ 06/30/2005 01:28 PM EST

hmmm -- i find this slightly disturbing . . . . here's an admittedly overly cynical reading: take the knowledge developed by black musicians, working class musicians, the o/w marginalised, etc, and hand it over to privileged students at harvard extension school. what others painstakingly learned to do over years of experimentation can now be yours in 2 or 3 hours if you fork over the money to attend classes at the harvard extension school . . . . which is to say, is the "recognition" that having such a course taught at harvard entails simply "appropriation" under a more flattering (and pedantic) guise?

dominic said @ 06/30/2005 01:20 PM EST

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