Information Overload: Music Studies in the Age of Abundance

Christopher Haworth (Contributor), Danielle Sofer (Contributor), Edward Spencer (Contributor)

Research output: Other contribution


For those investigating any musical activity after about 1994, the main sources of research data will not be print archives or discrete media – they will be World Wide Web media. The Internet Archive, the web’s library, today holds over 525 billion archived web pages, while API and post-API archiving initiatives make social web platforms accessible as research databases. At first glance, no other archive is more inclusive in terms of whose voices it represents, and none more comprehensive in terms of the insights it provides into the thoughts, desires and musical tastes of ordinary people. To paraphrase the web historian Ian Milligan, whose recent book provides the title and framing for this conference, we might suggest that in its scale, granularity and plurality, the web represents the music historian’s dream (Milligan 2019: 1). Many researchers are now using the abundance of musical opinion data online as way of examining the reception of musical works and performances (Cook 2013; Edgar 2016; Spencer 2017; Mangaoang 2019; Moore 2019; Bell 2020; Lamont et al. 2020), while others have introduced digital methods to analyse net-native music genres (Born & Haworth 2018) and harvested user-generated music videos with preservation and future research in mind (Smith-Sivertsen 2020).

Yet there is good cause to be sceptical of claims to a more ‘democratic’ archive in an age of surveillance capitalism. Contrary to early hopes that the internet would bring about greater egalitarianism and democracy (Turner 2006), Shoshana Zuboff argues that the political economy of contemporary digital communications is characterised by ‘radical indifference’ in the service of maximising data flows (Zuboff 2019), and McKenzie Wark sees tech oligopolies as a ‘new ruling class’ (Wark 2019). The harms that algorithms perpetuate through biased and incomplete training data suggest that visibility within the archive remains strongly patterned according to race, gender, prosperity, ability and geography (Apprich et al. 2018; Noble 2018). Intersecting with these concerns is a question of how the superficial ‘abundance’ of stories to be told about music in the last twenty-five years impacts on questions of historical theory. If we accept the claims of cultural theorists of neoliberalism (cf. Beradi 2009, Gilbert 2015), then is it possible that a surfeit of available paths through the data compensates for a lack of meaningful historicity over the same period?

With this conference we seek to gather researchers who are interested in epistemological, methodological, ethical, and disciplinary problems that arise when studying music in the age of abundance.

All papers and the two keynote talks are planned for days one and two (Wednesday 8th and Thursday 9th September), with participation via Zoom. Day three (Friday 10th September) will also be delivered through Zoom. The guest respondents will deliver responses to papers heard on days one and two, leading to open discussion of the themes, case studies, and issues encountered during the conference.
Original languageEnglish
TypeConference organisation
Media of outputEvent
Publication statusPublished - 8 Sept 2021


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