So, I effectively deejayed my way to an MA. And along with my research project came this paper. I defended it fine and was awarded my MA, and when I pay off my library fines apparently the institution will send me the piece of paper. But fuck ‘em, they can’t take away the knowledge. I thought I’d publish the paper here, some of the formatting might have gotten lost in the process of blogging my MA paper, but blogs that I control could give a fuck about MLA or APA. Anyway, it was finished, and can be read. Here she is:
I apply the theoretical concept of Bey’s ‘temporary autonomous zone’ to the technical media craft of contemporary deejayism. Insomuch, the work is an exercise and experiment in autonomous and participatory media. I apply the ‘temporary autonomous zone’ to deejaying via two modes of media production, both the live and broadcast media formats. Several outcomes emerge; insights into the perception of audiences from the DJ’s point-of-view emerge, insights into the nature of individual and group autonomy emerge, insights into participation emerge, as well as insights toward the traditional DJ contexts versus TAZ DJ contexts. The project was successful in opening up a part of the process of production to the audience; the audience did participate in the construction of a playlist, and so too the social construction of a discourse. Furthermore, the temporary autonomous zone proved effective as a means for dissecting and examining this participation and social construction.
I would like to thank the following people. Dr. H. Warwick for all his help and time given to towards my better understanding and application of Bey’s model. The regularity of our chats helped keep the project on track. Also, I would like to Dr. R Lachman for reading and critiquing my work. Importantly, I would like to thank all the audience members who participated and exerted their own media autonomy during the course of this project; The Way, Dovi Hu, Brendan N.R. Roy, Michael Bremner, and Sumit Misra. I also would like to thank Elliot for putting my name and project on the bill at his happenings. Thank you as well to Sandeep ‘The Soul Survivor’ Chauhan at CHLY 101.7 FM who was willing to give this project a platform for broadcast. Thank you also to Albert ‘Elmo’ Nguyen for all his help and encouragement during all of my projects. Sincere gratitudes as well to Allison ‘Alli Sunshine’ Devenish for all of her pushes in the right directions. And to my family who sometimes understand me, but are always willing to try. I would also like to thank my cohort and colleagues for their support and inspiration during the course of this project, I couldn’t have asked for a better group to come through it with me. I would like to thank all of the faculty at Ryerson’s RTA school for their guidance, patience, and worthwhile lessons. Finally, I would to thank Aina Arro for all of her hard work in helping and encouraging the project during the course of year.
Echoing themes initially found in Walter Lipmann’s 1922 seminal work titled Public Opinion, Bernard Cohen remarks that the press “may not be successful much of the time in telling people what to think, but it is stunningly successful in telling its readers what to think about (Cohen 1963 135).
Media power remains a very significant dimension of contemporary reality and an emergent form of social power in complex societies (Couldry 2003 4). It is this empowerment that this project attempts to liberate. By using my own specialized media craft, that is, by leveraging the media role and position of the contemporary DJ, I undertake a project that engages audiences in exploring the possibilities of autonomous media spaces. By producing a series of live DJ media events and broadcasts, I put forth the idea that the audience can experience a freedom from external control or influence and have greater control over the content, thus, determining for themselves what is worthy of discussion in the culture. The project is an essaye at engaging media users and audiences to assert greater levels of autonomy in their practice of media. Specifically, as it refers to my own technical craft, this means having audiences determine the content that is worthy of being placed on the turntable platter. Rather than the producer/DJ being undemocratically and unilaterally responsible for choosing which music/sound/audio is worth disseminating, audiences will be encouraged to assert autonomy over content themselves. The project/series will consist of 3 x DJ sets broadcast over terrestrial radio and 2 x traditional performance sets where the audience will decide what content gets played. With Cohen and Lippman’s aforementioned sentiments in mind, the goal is to draw attention to an alternative form of media and have an audience determine salience.
There is a bias in my work toward to the critical traditions insomuch that I see the work from a social place where access to the media is a central element of social justice work. “[Media] is intrinsically a contestation over private property and the power concentrated in media institutions” (King & Langlois, 2010 101). This project attempts to create spaces in which alternative forms of culture can be created and diffused. I engage the audience and undertake a crowd-sourcing mode of production by asking the audience to suggest entire playlists to be mixed and broadcast over terrestrial radio or in performance form. In doing so, I contend spaces will be constructed that are free from typical structural controls.
The theoretical model I suggest we employ in unpacking these constructed spaces is that of the temporary autonomous zone, hereafter TAZ (Bey 1985). I posit that having the audience assert control over the mix content will result in the production of TAZ spaces that will allow alternative culture to disseminate or be perceived.
Hakim Bey, a contentious figure who belongs to no school, is the originator of the TAZ. The TAZ is a useful concept that can be applied to critical media theory however the TAZ is a difficult object to define, and even its originator has challenges. In fact, Bey deliberately refrained from defining the TAZ (Bey 1985 57). Rather he circled around the the subject, firing off exploratory beams. In the end Bey argued “the TAZ is almost self-explanatory, and if the phrase became current it would be understood without difficulty…in action” (Bey 1985 57). However the candidate argues that the term does in fact pose some difficulty and ought to be better defined for our purposes here.
There are no concrete steps as to what one can do in creating the TAZ, although there are hints littered throughout the literature as to what should be present in the definition of a TAZ. For example, Bey declares “the TAZ is interested in results, successful raids on consensus reality, breakthroughs into more intense and more abundant life” (Bey 1985 67) but he also claims that he “does not intend the TAZ to be taken as more than an essay, an attempt, a suggestion, almost a poetic fancy” (Bey 1985 57). Thus the TAZ then cannot be constrained by notions of what it should be or what it can’t be. The TAZ is a space in which individuals can operate with “freedom from external control or influence.” The TAZ is a critical model, an “operation which liberates an area (of land, of time, of imagination) and then dissolves itself to re-form elsewhere/elsewhen” (Bey 1985 58) but one that, in the critical tradition, attempts to solve social dilemmas. The point of TAZ, to Bey, is to “change the world (1985 Bey 58). According to Bey, the TAZ is like “an uprising which does not engage directly with the state…it’s greatest strength lies in it invisibility” (Bey 1985 58). The TAZ is therefore a perfect tactic [of resistance] for an era in which the state is omnipresent (Bey 1985 58). Moreover, to Bey, the TAZ is a microcosm of a free culture (Bey 1985 58). The TAZ is a theoretical construct giving a view of an entirely different world (Bey 1985 62). It allows for the construction of a space where the individual can develop new ways to live and thrive. According to Gretchen & Langlois the TAZ “is defined as a place or endeavour where people can engage in activities and ideas as though capitalist ideologies and state legislation does not apply. The TAZ presents the possibility of spaces that propose and develop alternatives (Gretchen & Langlois 2010 105).
In her work on autonomous radio, Van Der Zon puts forth a helpful set of indicators as to what comprises a TAZ; “first they are freely chosen. Rather than a family based on genetic membership, a TAZ includes a band of individuals, or an intentional affinity group. Second, a TAZ involves the element of festival. Fun and celebration are valued. A festival cannot happen everyday so it creates special meaning. It is an intense moment, a shift in consciousness. TAZ is a state of mind and being. It includes travellers who are curious and adventurous and who are not tied down, TAZ involves intention and a shift from passivity to activity. TAZ could be a tactic, a place, or a platform to speak in alternative and temporary ways” (2010 119). Van Der Zon’s work is pertinent to our project insomuch that she explores the temporary autonomous zone via the means of terrestrial radio, a space historically occupied by the DJ and so important for us to exploit and explore. Autonomy is at the centre of TAZ and so we should look categorically at the topic.
What exactly is ‘autonomy’ is the prescient question? The OED defines autonomy as (1) the right or condition of self-government, (2) freedom from external control or influence; independence. For the purposes of this paper, it will be useful to use the later definition as a framework and apply it to media, thus, this work aims towards a media practice that is free from external control or influence. But there is still much contention over what scholars mean when they employ the term autonomy. Colby suggests we use a trifocal perspective when answering what what we mean by autonomy. He breaks autonomy down into three categories; the traditional liberal conception of autonomy, the progressive liberal conception of autonomy, and the consummatory conception of autonomy (Colby 2005). The “progressive liberal conception of autonomy has been concerned
with collective self-determination which has meant an almost exclusive focus on political debate, or the kind of access accorded to basic norm-setting: the stuff of social integration. The progressive liberal conception of autonomy is forced to privilege the ideal form of autonomy that decides on a form of justice, while everything else that has nothing to do with the principles of this autonomy are relegated (religion, ideology and culture, for example) to the status of ethical, political life, or merely social relations ruled by the rationality of marketplace exchanges” (Colby 2005 459). Though Colby’s progressive liberal conception of autonomy is perhaps a useful lens in terms of justice, our project is indeed a cultural work that should not be reduced merely to the social relations ruled by the rationality of marketplace exchanges.
In contrast to the progressive conception, “the traditional liberal conception of autonomy hinges on a concept of autonomy oriented to consumerism, [where] consumerism means, in part, the range of methods employed to increase the consumption of commodities in order to create economic benefits” (Colby 2005 438). Thus this conception identifies an autonomy based largely on economic activity.
However Colby also highlights a third category of autonomy, one that will be most pertinent to our work. Colby identifies the consummatory approach to autonomy whereby unlike the autonomy of the traditional liberal, in which freedom is configured by consumerism, and unlike the autonomy of the progressive liberal, in which freedom is found in the balance between property rights and the need for the public to know, “the consummatory approach to autonomy advocates uses of new media that offer a freedom that is both a form of…liberty and a form of equality” (Colby 2005 456). “Consummatory autonomy is free from constraints to create, and is equally accessible to all persons because the marginal costs of doing so via the uses of new media approach zero. An autonomy realized in consummatory activity is what is set free when property rights in cultural reproduction wither away” (Colby 2005 456). Colby argues consummatory autonomy is an “autonomy [that] could be conceived as a kind of freedom in which self-expression, equality of access and consociation are combined in an ongoing praxis” (Colby 2005 457).
The literature reveals a two-headed dragon where collective self-determination, thus group autonomy, exists in relation to individual self-determination, thus personal autonomy. Indeed, Wellman points to this with what he concludes is a “paradox of group autonomy,” where group autonomy exists when the group as a whole, rather than the individuals within the group, stands in the privileged position of dominion over the affairs of the group (Wellman 2003 273). However what this means, or at least suggests, is that the individual’s right to self-govern eventually comes into conflict with the right of the group’s. Wellman finds that respect for group autonomy is owed to the members of these groups because group autonomy is an extension of the autonomy of individuals. Stated another way, group autonomy often matters morally because individual autonomy matters morally, and individuals sometimes exercise their autonomy in concert with others (Wellman 2003 277). Wellman continues and stresses that crucial to regarding group autonomy as an extension of individual autonomy is that the group actions derive at some basic level from the autonomous actions of the group members’ self- determination (Wellman 2003 277). “The liberal ideal of the individual right to self-determination is a condition for democracy, and democracy can be justified only on the assumption that ordinary people are, in general, qualified to govern themselves [and] everyone should be assumed to be the best judge of his or her own good or interests” (K. Karlsson and C. Nilholm 2006 194). If we consider Wellman’s statements alongside
Karlsson and Nilholm’s, we arrive at a point where we can say that qualified people governing themselves, where everyone is assumed to be the best judge of his or her own interests, results then in what is also best for the larger group, the community, or society. The best group decisions are arrived at are when ordinary people informed enough to govern themselves are making choices based on freedom from external control or influence. Therefore, with regard to our topic of media we can say; when individuals are making media choices based on freedom from external control or influence the best media systems for the group will emerge.
The question then arises, how can we, as producers, facilitate media spaces where individuals are able to practice media with a freedom from external control or influence that will result in the most effective media systems from the group’s, community’s, or society’s point-of-view? In answering this question I employed the model of TAZ and produced a DJ mix series project that consisted of 3 x DJ sets over terrestrial radio, and 2 x traditional performance sets where the audience decided what content was disseminated.
TAZ Live Event Model #1 Heavy Blooms feat. DOVI HU, THE WAY and DJ TIM MILLS – May 10 2013, @ Maxwell’s Bistro and Nightclub, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
Before performing a crowd sourced DJ set, I used live audio production techniques in creating a professional public address audio system. 2 x high quality Technic 1200 SL1 Mk II’s, a Pioneer DJ mixer, an external Serato sound-card, and an apple MacBook Pro fed both digital and analog audio into a Mackie sound-board. Finally, audio was sent from the mixing desk to two top monitors and a subwoofer. Microphones were also set-up for the different musical acts sharing the stage. Likewise, the microphones fed into the mixing desk, where the audio media signals were mixed and sent to the public address system. As well as musical acts, the temporary autonomous space was also occupied by visual artists performing their craft on-hand in front of the audience; the painter usually paints in the private and closed setting of a studio, but in this TAZ the painters produced works on canvas in the same space shared by the audience, thus the audience could witness and affect the blank canvas coming alive before their eyes. The space itself was a commercial bistro transformed into a living arts studio where performing artists and visual artists could interact with their audience. There were few separations between the producers and their audience. The event was an out-of-place happening that seemed closer to life (Kaprow 1966 5). For a temporary amount of time, a capitalist service industry structure was transformed, by use of multi-media which included the DJ’s craft, into an arts space where people met and came together without regard for economic consumption or gain. All media services and art where performed and exchanged without cash transaction, the space operationalized in a barter and trade economic system, thus, for a temporary amount of time the production-consumption paradigm of capitalism was overcome. For a brief amount of time a different socio-economic order was conceivable. This trade and barter system satisfied what Bey claims is essential to the autonomous zone; the raison d’etre of this project was not for economic gain and so it existed free of structural capitalist constraints.
TAZ Terrestrial radio DJ Mix series for ‘The Late Shift’ @ CHLY 101.7 FM. (Mix #1 of 3)
I engaged his audience and had a member therein compile a list of rudimentary elements of production, that is, a list of songs, which were then mixed per the researcher-DJ’s technical craft and abilities. Rather than the DJ/Producer undemocratically choosing the songs worthy of listening to, the audience member chose the building blocks of the production. The audience member dictated what was important in the elements of the mix and, so too, the structure of the discourse.
What emerged was a production of completely different content unable to be achieved at without the crowd-sourced elements. The paradigm of production was turned around; rather than taking requests, the DJ/MA candidate sent out a request for participation. The concept is indeed a play on the idea of requests, but rather than the audience member requesting a single song that may or may not get played, (if not, thereby leaving the audience out of the creative production process,) the responsibility of creative foundations of the production was given entirely over to the audience. Rather than a single requested tune, the audience had the responsibility of crafting an entire set. Thereafter the professional skill set of the DJ was used to produce an aesthetic mix.
The mix went to air on June 12, 2013 at 10 PM PST at CHLY 101.7 FM. The audience member compiled a playlist of a genre outside of the regular tastes of the candidate-producer’s. The audience member dictated the entire collection of material, insomuch a more participatory and democratic form of production was achieved. The audience was offered in return something that they helped produce rather than being spoon-fed something that was worthy of cultural production. The audience thus had a powerful say in controlling what elements of culture were deserving of dissemination and salience in the media. Rather than a top down paradigm of production, a bottom-up paradigm was achieved. In this temporary zone of alternative media production a radical paradigm was able to be conceived whereby the agenda, in the form of song, was set by the audience rather than controlled by media gate keepers, ie: the DJ, the producers, the station managers, music programmers, etc. For a fleeting moment there existed a space in the mediascape where the audience received the message which they themselves deemed to be important and worthy of exposure. For a temporary moment the audience controlled the message.
The outcome of TAZ Mix #1 was a frame, in the form of music, that could not have been viewed without the lens of the audience. We can transfer this idea to other parts of the media. For example, consider what the news and headlines in the printed media might read if the audience of readers, (as opposed to the body of advertisers,) were telling the news editors what was appropriate as news. I contend that if the audience possessed more power to set the agendas, the constructed socialreality of the news would read much differently. The constructed reality that came out of the first of three radio TAZ DJ mixes was one where salience and importance was placed on a different sound and genre. What was broadcast over terrestrial radio airwaves (as well as streamed on iTunes) was the temporary salience in the media of content unable to be found elsewhere without the direction of a specific audience and it’s members. What emerged was a space where the audience directed content. This is an alternative way of practicing media. Instead of seeing the audience as passive objects, the production exploited their active capabilities in determining the message and content.
TAZ Model 2.2 Radio Mix Compiled by audience member Mike B. (To air June 19th, 2013 @ 101.7 CHLY)
This mix was built in largely the same way as radio mix # 2.1 however something entirely different in terms of sound, so content and message, emerged. The product ended up quite aesthetically different from the other mixes. The compiling audience member was engaged via social network and a playlist was constructed over the course of a handful of days. The playlist was then submitted and mixed using a DAW and editing techniques. Finally, the mix was submitted to the station for broadcast over terrestrial radio.
This specific audience member was targeted because of the nature of the relationship they shared with the position of DJ. This audience member is a break-dancer, therefore, a symbiotic relationship existed between the dancer’s social position and that of the DJ. This made for a social interaction that was interesting and worth exploring in the contexts this project.
The participant submitted a set list which was varied but could have been described as ‘dancing music’. But this eclectic sound set caused trouble for the producer-DJ-researcher in mixing the songs. Mix # 2.2 needed to be recorded and rerecorded in order to achieve what the candidate contended to be the best aesthetic result. This was interesting because even though it is a participatory project, the obligation to make executive choices existed. For example, because the platform on which the TAZ mix went to air is a third-party radio show, it had been agreed with a host that mixes shall be 30 minutes in length. This time-limit framed the mix and made it so not all sourced content could be played. As such, this formed a media filter that constrained the message even in the participatory and autonomous model. After pre-recording the radio mix, it was ‘back-announced’, a brief spoken vocal description of the project and the instalment’s participants was read while the music was ‘ducked’ and played in the background. This form of audio production also formed a type of media filter and aesthetic that was not avoided, and was interesting to note. We might argue that total media autonomy here could not be achieved.
TAZ Model 2.3 Radio Mix Compiled by audience member S. Misra. (To air June 26th, 2013 @ 101.7 FM CHLY)
This was a particularly interesting example of TAZ, as it aired in Canada but was sourced from an ex-patriate audience member living in Botswana. The mix was successful in opening up the process of production to the audience. The audience inhabited an autonomous zone by means of the construction of a playlist, therefore the audience constructed their own discourse. What we found emerged was a certain afro-centricity to the sourced media discourse, for example, rhythmic styles reflected an afro-centricity as did some of the instrumentation. These rhythms and instrumentations composed the discourse, and this dialogue was sparked from the community itself.
The TAZ, in this case, stretched over hemispheres and a wide geographic area, uniting international media practitioners in an alternative media-space that evaded the nation state and political filters. This evasion is consistent with Bey’s legitimation and reasoning for TAZ (Bey 1985). The mix itself was sourced using the same method as the previous pre-recorded mixes intendedfor broadcast; the audience was engaged via social media. Content was suggested by the audience, suggested playlist tracks were then acquired and mixed in the form of a DJ mix using the Ableton Live DAW. After performing and recording the mix, back-announcing happened using simple vocal microphone techniques. The mix was then mastered, (slight EQ was performed alongside re-levelling using ‘ducking’ techniques on the audio, e.g., the music drops in volume as back-announcement occurs. The resulting .aif was converted to .mp3 file formats and forwarded to the radio station CHLY 101.7 FM for broadcast.
TAZ Model 3.1 – The Immediatist Potlatch
The previous methods of the radio mix did well to engage audience members on a certain individual level, in a collaboration. These collaborations formed discrete parts of a larger complete group’s participation. However I wanted to engage a larger group of individuals simultaneously. Thus I turned to the literature to find details of what Bey would call a group operating in an autonomous zone. In his 1994 text ‘Immediatism’ , Bey describes an example of a TAZ, what he calls the ‘immediatist potlatch': “Any number can play but the number must be pre determined…six to 25 seems about right…the basic structure is a banquet…perhaps the banquet could have a theme” (Bey 1994 49). With these instructions, (as well as Van Der Zon’s) in mind, a TAZ was planned where the theme dictated that “each [invitee] must bring a [collection of music]” (Bey 1994 49). With these defining qualities of the TAZ found in the literature guiding the way, 53 invites were sent out to a TAZ banquet, to which 27 individuals obliged. Of those 27 individuals, 7 participated in the TAZ and contributed a collection of music. Thus Bey’s criteria of “six to 25” (Bey 1994 49) was met. Guests were instructed they could contribute songs and upload songs to the TAZ via USB flash drive/CD/or vinyl record, any audio format would work however .mp3’s were encouraged due to their flexibility considering our technology. After songs were uploaded by guests into a common directory, the DJ mixed and played the contents of the directory back to the group/audience gathered.
Several outcomes emerged as a result of the work. One of these emergent lessons spoke to the role of a traditional performing DJ versus the role of a DJ performing within TAZ paradigms. During a traditional DJ performance attention is paid by the DJ to the non-verbal cues of the audience, these cues guide how the DJ perceives the audience’s reception of the content and further guide what else the DJ plays. For example, dancing and foot-tapping generally signify the appreciation and enjoyment of a sound, while vacating dance areas typically mean the audience disapproves of the sound. By understanding what the non-verbal cues signify and by knowing where to find certain sounds in an archive of music, the attentive DJ can perceive what pleases an audience and work towards such. However the non-verbal cues coming from an audience in a TAZ context signify different emotions. Continued practice in a TAZ context and research is required to decipher what those cues mean in a TAZ context. Furthermore, the TAZ playlist is compiled in a public directory without the DJ’s prior knowledge, thus the TAZ DJ, for the most part, has no prior information as to where to find certain sounds or what the effects of those sounds will have during the set. In effect, the TAZ DJ is working somewhat ‘blind’ in a confusing space compared to the typical performance DJ.
The traditional DJ perceives an audience in terms of the songs he/she already possesses in their own archive, whereas the TAZ DJ perceives an audience based on songs the audience suggests themselves. Thus, the TAZ DJ allows the audience to express something about itself rather than imposing, from the top-down, the terms (songs) that come to define the group. Thus my perception of the TAZ audience emerged as one that asserts it’s own group identity. Another outcome I perceived was that the broadcast format worked better in terms of audience participation. During the live sets, the concentration of the DJ must remain on the immediate on-going live mix itself, whereas, while producing pre-recorded mixes for broadcast over radio, starting and stopping of the tracks/mix can occur, and as such the mix itself can be produced over the course of hours or even days rather than the mix immediately having to be performed in realtime. This freedom from concentrating strictly on the mix as it occurred allowed me to connect and communicate on a deeper and more engaged level with the audience. This attentiveness produced greater results in terms of audience participation. The broadcast elements of the project resulted in a limited but more active form of audience participation. I argue that having control over the airwaves comes across to audience members as more of a novelty and radical form of media production thus inspired more engagement than having a playlist performed in a live space on the audience’s behalf, the later bears a strong resemblance to the simple idea of making requests.
However some audience members during the course of the live performances did indeed participate. Much of the time these audience-participants, however, were already content creators themselves. For example, during the course of the ‘Heavy Blooms’ event in Ottawa in May, several audience members were more than willing to provide lots of music for the DJ to mix and broadcast but it should be mentioned that these audience members also had projects with whom the DJ was sharing the stage with. The audience members happy to provide content at ‘Heavy Blooms’, (in the form of their own recorded songs,) were themselves performing indie musicians and artists at the event who jumped at the chance to have their own recorded original music transmitted to an audience. Regardless, what resulted was an autonomous agenda being constructed by parts of the group.
Another interesting aspect that emerged during the project was the actual resulting aesthetic of the product itself. The crowd-sourced mix elements changed the DJ’s sound/personality completely. As such, the result was something surprising and unforeseen. Thus the mix could not have been conceived and produced as such without the input of the audience, it was unique and particular to those that participated. The outcome was something new to the DJ-producer. For example, mix #1/3 in the TAZ Mix Series resulted in a compiled playlist of songs particular to the genre of what the compiling audience member called ‘bachelor jazz.’ This was a new context I had never heard before, thus a previously unknown part of the culture was brought to the surface and disseminated. Although this project dealt with songs on a playlist, we can graft this idea onto social issues that receive salience in the press and news media; we can say that opening the authorship process up to the audience has the capacity to reveal previously unknown contentious issues.
LIMITATIONS & DIRECTIONS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH
One area where I feel the project lacked, something that would have gone a long way in fostering participation, was an adjoining interactive web page aspect of the project. Besides a research blog, (used mainly for the use of keeping track of my own developing ideas,) the project lacked a web element. A strong interactive web presence would have made engaging audiences, cultivating and tracking participation and autonomy easier. Insomuch that there was no web presence, there was no central place or hub that the project could be accessed by the audience, continuous ongoing communication therefore lacked and I feel this had a negative effect on the project’s overall propensity for participation and crowd-sourced content. Alas, web-page construction is a media project in and of itself.
As well as what a strong web presence could do for the project, it would also be interesting to see how the project would change as per the medium. For example, our project relied on audio media in the form of recorded songs and the DJ mix, but how might results and project design have changed if the project unfolded in, say, newsprint media, or film, or new media such as apps? It would be interesting to see how the contexts of the work would change if we were to work in a different medium. Would we have to ask the audience to assert autonomy by writing a script? Would the audience have had to contribute cinematography? How would an audience assert autonomy if it were a different form of media? For example, if we had been working in the news-print world, would we have asked the audience to write entire news stories?
One difficulty I experienced during the project was that, though focus was always placed on playing crowd-sourced content, not every crowd-sourced playlist was appropriate per the venue/platform. The creative control lost to the audience was sometimes troubling because the larger group did not always react positively to the audience’s (its own) chosen list of songs. The commitment to playing the crowd-sourced material overrode the DJ’s professional sensibilities as to what effect crowd-sourced material would have on the group. In other words, the DJ’s autonomy and ability to “read the crowd” and react to the room was diminished. The DJ/producer occupies a privileged position whereby their tastes and sensibilities are indeed trusted. In this project’s commitment to audience autonomy and the participatory crowd-sourced content approach, I relinquished some of this privilege when, at times, it might have been best to reserve the right to trust professional instinct.
Although the foundations of the content were sourced entirely from the audience, when things went awry, it was not on the audience or group where responsibility fell. Rather, the buck stopped solely at the DJ. For example, during one of the live performances, crowd-sourced songs were playing however the result of the sound was to the dismay of the venue owner, however it was not the larger audience of individuals who were reprimanded but the researcher-DJ alone. The point I make here is that although the crowd sourced the content, the individual alone bore negative responses. Conversely, the individual DJ solely received praise even though the product was a result of a group’s autonomy.
A related and similar complicating factor of the project was that the DJ occupies a position that answers to a higher chain of command. For example, venue owners’ opinions trumped the audiences, this speaks to the control ownership classes have within structural capitalist paradigms. The project failed in evading this typical labour structure where the labouring DJ answers to management. A future question worth asking, one previously touched upon, is ‘what forms of media are more conducive towards audience participation compared to others?’ For example, we found that audience engagement and crowd participation was easier to encourage during the broadcast section of the project compared to the live section, however these are only two forms of media; might a print-media project result in greater levels of participation and autonomy? What forms of media lend themselves best to crowd-participation? For this project we used audio media in the form of the DJ mix, was this the most effective form to initiate crowd involvement? Again, future research might look at which forms of media are better suited for crowd-participation.
Yet another limitation of this project was the solo nature of the product. The contemporary performance DJ works by him or herself, but more enriching data would be cultivated if a number of DJ’s teamed up or if the DJ teamed up with research assistants? For example, (especially during live performances,) I missed the opportunity to gather vital qualitative data due to the fact that the labour of mixing requires attention and concentration, it is difficult for researching and deejaying to happen simultaneously. I argue a small team of researchers working on a similar project would result in richer data; what the individual DJ-researcher working alone might miss due to the task of mixing, a small research team could notice and record. For example, semi-structured interviews might occur during the mix as it happens with a team. The traditional solitary nature of the DJ’s craft operated as a research limitation here, future research design would be better served if a number of DJ’s teamed up, or if a small research team was exploited.
Yet another limitation of this work was that it worked alongside the whimsy of venue operators, other promoters, and other media gate-keepers. For example, the broadcast section of worked by relying on other workers in the media, as such, our broadcast sections aired Wednesdays at 10 PM PST – we had no control over this. Was this the best time to fuel user engagement? Would levels of participation, thus autonomy, changed per time and day of week? For example, would TAZ mixes airing on Sundays have produced better results? This day of the week might have given the audience weekends to be involved. Did the scheduled time of the broadcast project limit the level of engagement?
Likewise, another limitation was that parts of the live performance section of the project relied on venue operators and promoters, this fact alienated the researcher and audience from parts of the final product? For example, venue operators ultimately have final say over what comes through the PA in the venue, this affects the level of autonomy a crowd can ultimately experience. More creative control could have been achieved by renting the venue, rather than ‘borrowing’ the venue. Had the project rented a designated space, that is, paid for the complete use of a venue, there would have been more complete control over the space, thus, the student-producer could have let audience autonomy run it’s course. For example, during the ‘Heavy Blooms’ event in Ottawa during the month of May, the venue owner requested the song be changed even though what was playing had been had been submitted by an audience member; in this context, ownership held a trump card over autonomy.
This project was an experiment in media autonomy, we were interested in the results of an audience’s active participation in the production of the DJ’s entire playlist. Maintaining a theoretical framework based on Hakim Bey’s model of the temporary autonomous zone (TAZ), we asked the audience to compile entire playlists that would then be mixed by a professional DJ and sent to air over terrestrial radio or performed in a live media event/DJ set format. Two DJ sets were compiled and performed in a live media event format, and three mixes were compiled in a series for radio broadcasts. The compiled playlists of songs by the audience members composed what the candidate defined as TAZs. The audience was able to dictate the foundations of the production, this resulted in the creation a TAZ and a space where the audience were rendered as active practitioners of media (Couldry 2004). This active agency given to the audience temporarily changed the dominant paradigms of production. The project was successful in opening up significant parts of the process of production to the audience.
The audience did participate in the construction of a playlist, and so too the social construction of a discourse. And the temporary autonomous zone (TAZ) proved effective as a means for dissecting and examining this participation and social construction. The project was successful in formulating a thorough understanding of Bey’s TAZ model by use of DJ media, as well as raising questions for future research.
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