The Social Life of Tunes: Representing the Aesthetics of Reception

  • Norman Makoto Su
Conference paper


I report on two years of participant observation of traditional musicians in Dublin, Ireland. In Irish traditional music, players from all walks of life gather at pub sessions to play tunes together. Due to the ethos of traditional music, the representation of tunes is a constant aesthetic concern. Drawing on the aesthetics of reception, I show how arriving at the proper “text” of a tune poses unique challenges. Rather than simply reading notes on sheet music, traditional musicians must imaginatively read the creative text on a “virtual space” to create art. Making music involves a nuanced process of learning, knowing, and retaining a tune. The tune is not a static entity but one dynamically shaped by its social context and provenance. The social life of tunes suggests that technologies ought to support the practice of practicing seamlessly across the performance-oriented session and the solitary pursuit of skill, while allowing novices a way to conceptualize the historical flexibility of the tune. I will outline a new agenda of surveilling tradition to represent the aesthetics of reception. With the burgeoning interest in the collaborative work of tradition, this work provides new perspectives into the creative processes involved in representation.


Literary Criticism Literary Work Virtual Space Base Version Learner Session 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



I am grateful for Danny Diamond, Bryan Duggan, Brendan Knowlton, and Padraic Lavin’s invaluable assistance in data collection. Leslie S. Liu and Lisa Shields provided helpful feedback on my drafts.


  1. Ackerman, M. (2000). The intellectual challenge of CSCW: The gap between social requirements and technical feasibility. Human-Computer Interaction, 15(2/3), 181–203.Google Scholar
  2. Benford S., Tolmie P., Ahmed, A.Y., Crabtree, A. (2012). Supporting traditional music-making: Designing for situated discretion. In Proceedings of CSCW’12 (pp. 127–136). New York: ACM.Google Scholar
  3. Brown, B. A. T. (2001). Unpacking a timesheet: Formalisation and representation. Computer Supported Cooperative Work, 10(3–4), 293–315.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Chalmers, M., & Galani, A. (2004) Seamful interweaving: Heterogeneity in the theory and design of interactive systems. In Proceedings of DIS’04 (pp. 243–252). New York: ACM.Google Scholar
  5. Dreyfus, H. L., & Dreyfus, S. E. (2005). Peripheral vision expertise in real world contexts. Organization Studies, 26(5), 779–792.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Duggan, B., & O’Shea, B. (2011). Tunepal: searching a digital library of traditional music scores. OCLC Systems and Services, 27(4), 284–297.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Fine, G. A. (1998). Morel tales. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Fleming, R. C. (2004). Resisting cultural standardization: Comhaltas Ceoltóir Éireann and the revitalization of traditional music in Ireland. Journal of Folklore Research, 41(2), 227–257.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Forsyth, M. C. (2011). Teaching “Trad”: A fiddling ethnomusicologist’s reflections on fiddle camp. Canadian Folk Music/Musique folklorique canadienne, 45(2).Google Scholar
  10. Fry, P. H. (2009, January 30). Configurative reading []. ENGL 300: Introduction to theory of literature. Lecture conducted from New Haven, CT: Yale University.
  11. Graefe, C., Wahila, D., Maguire, J., & Dasna, O. (1996). Muse: A digital music stand for symphony musicians. Interactions, 3(3), 26–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Grudin, J. (1988). Why groupware applications fail: Problems in the design of organizational interfaces (pp. 85–93). In Proceedings of CSCW’88. New York: ACM.Google Scholar
  13. Iser, W. (1972). The reading process: A phenomenological approach. New Literary History, 3(2), 279–299.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Jauss, H. R., & Benzinger, E. (1970). Literary history as a challenge to literary theory. New Literary History, 2(1), 7–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Lee, C. P. (2007). Boundary negotiating artifacts: Unbinding the routine of boundary objects and embracing chaos in collaborative work. Computer Supported Cooperative Work, 16(3), 307–339.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Letondal, C., & Mackay W. E. (2007). The paperoles project: An analysis of paper use by music composers. In Proceedings of the 2nd International Workshop on Collaborating over Paper and Digital, Documents (CoPADD’07).Google Scholar
  17. Mainwaring, S. D., Chang, M. F., & Anderson, K. (2004). Infrastructures and their discontents: Implications for ubicomp. In Proceedings of Ubicomp’04 (pp. 418–432). Berlin: Springer.Google Scholar
  18. Morton, F. (2005). Performing ethnography: Irish traditional music sessions and new methodological spaces. Social and Cultural Geography, 6(5), 661–676.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. O’Shea, H. (2008). The making of Irish traditional music. Cork: Cork University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Robinson, M., & Bannon, L. (1991). Questioning representations. In Proceedings of ECSCW’91 (pp. 219–233). Norwell, MA: Kluwer Academic Publishers.Google Scholar
  21. Shipman, F. M., & Marshall, C. C. (1999). Formality considered harmful: Experiences, emerging themes, and directions on the use of formal representations in interactive systems. Computer Supported Cooperative Work, 8(4), 333–352.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Star, S. L., & Griesemer, J. R. (1989). Institutional ecology, ‘translations’ and boundary objects: Amateurs and professionals in Berkeley’s museum of vertebrate zoology. Social Studies of Science, 19(3), 387–420.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Titon, J. T. (2001). Old time Kentucky fiddle tunes. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky.Google Scholar
  24. Veblen, K. K. (1996). Truth, perceptions, and cultural constructs in ethnographic research: Music teaching and learning in Ireland. Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education, 129, 37–52.Google Scholar
  25. Veblen, K. K. (2008). The many ways of community music. International Journal of Community Music, 1(1), 5–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Waldron, J. L., & Veblen, K. K. (2008). The medium is the message: cyberspace, community, and music learning in the Irish traditional music virtual community. Journal of Music, Technology and Education, 1(2/3), 99–111.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Whalen, J., Whalen, M., & Henderson, K. (2002). Improvisational choreography in teleservice work. The British Journal of Sociology, 53(2), 239–258.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Information and Library StudiesDublinIreland

Personalised recommendations