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Exploding Art Music Productions 

7.1: Unselfconscious Motion: Educating musicians to excel in the Creative Industries in the first quarter of the twenty-first century.

Dr Steve Dillon

Soul Suburban Shakedown (Dillon and Talia, 1999)

These are such confusing times, just can't read the danger signs

Day to day you can feel the strain, isolation tests the sane

Don't believe the facts and figures

Images just don't deliver



Just a souls suburban shakedown, communication breakdown losing every which way you turn

A communication breakdown, postmodern shakedown nobody's sure just whose body's whose

It's a breakdown


Shake down breakdown.



In these times we can talk to the stars, from anywhere to anywhere you are.

Person to person, face to face, is being lost in this human race

Don't believe it brings us together

Just another chain to the tether.

Chorus Solo Verse 1 (repeat)



The song above is about the postmodern condition. It is an attempt by me as a composer/lyricist to respond and make sense of my thoughts about non-present communication or constitutive abstractions in social practice (Sharp, 1985, 1993). I was struck by the question that if humans are made by their contact with others and that many of our relationships are becoming non-present ones, what kind of people are being made? The paradox here is that at the same time as I was thinking about these ideas the process of composing, performing and recording this song was in fact the very opposite of the ideas this question raised. The musical process was a very intensely social and communicative one. The process of making and performing the song was rich in communication and present relationships. Deep musical relationships that were meaningful for me in personal, social and cultural ways:

  • The personal meaning emanating from the process of expressing and working out musical and textual ideas as a lyricist and as a melody writer and singer,
  • The social meaning through the process of co writing and generating the recording with the band in the recording studio.
  • The cultural meaning from the distribution of the CD and live performances that resonated with and communicated with a greater community in a reciprocal way.

So what does this mean in relation to:

Educating musicians to excel in the Creative Industries in the first quarter of the twenty-first century?

As a reflective practitioner (Schon, 1984) I want to use this music making experience and song-lyric to amplify and illustrate some answers to the questions generated by the statement above. To do more rigorously I will draw upon two distinct pieces of recent research. Firstly my doctoral thesis 'the student as maker' (Dillon, 2001b) and secondly the Arts education 21C colloquium (Dillon, 2001a) held at the Digital Arts Education Studio in December 2000. Collectively these research projects asked the questions what is the meaning of art in the twenty-first century? What are the ways that we give access to meaningful music experience and what is an appropriate agenda for research and teaching? Within this process we argued the similarities and difference between musicians/artists lives in this century and the last? And indeed what is the nature of artistic work? Whilst these are complex philosophical questions, I subscribe to what Dewey might describe as a pragmatist aesthetic (Schusterman, 1992). This philosophy seeks to recognise the dual positions of artists as maker and also as perceiver of art and solutions to these problems that interact with a dynamic philosophy of practice (Dewey, 1989). Where practice seeks to put the 'meat on the bones' of theory, testing it and extending it, clarifying and deepening it.

Artists and educators involved in the Colloquium agreed that art itself, as human expressiveness has not changed in this century. What have changed are the media, the context and ways in which we interpret and construct meaningful art. The notions of a postmodern condition (Hinkson, 1991, Jameson, 1984, Lyotard, 1984) perhaps are the roots of this change. Epiphany or insight often occurs to me when I encounter day to day experiences. An important experience I had recently in this regard happened to me whilst observing my pre-school aged daughter in her creative and imaginary play. She moves seamlessly between media, books, the 'floral' iMac computer, dolls house, Barbies, cardboard boxes, recycled collage, 1/16th size Suzuki violin, xylophone, penny whistle, digital sampling keyboard (Dad's). Her musical taste is just as broad she adores Ella Fitzgerald thinks the Wiggles don't have any groove and loves James Brown and Sowetto street music because their groove makes her feel like dancing and Borodin's Nocturne because it is her lullaby. Like Piaget before me was I at risk of seeing a whole field of arts understanding in my own child? Probably not, but the idea of examining how human children are playful with materials is not such a bad starting point for understanding how students might learn and indeed excel in the Creative Industries. After all, my daughter will be one of the inhabitants of this time. What she revealed to me was what I call unselfconscious movement between:

Periods of history in music-contexts

Styles- rock, jazz, pop, classicism, contemporary art music, the isms of the twentieth century, Early European music, high art, popular culture, art for art sake and art as a commodity.

Space and place- ie world music, music from non-European cultures.

Acoustic and electronic instruments

Performance and 'realisation' gesture resulting in expressive sound or realising control over pre created structures.

Representation systems- CPN, graphic or computer language as a means of storing, communicating and thinking/organising sound

Ways of responding to sound ie movement, theoretical deconstruction, verbal, written, re creational, voice, performance on an instrument.

Artistic media- sound, music, visual arts, multi media, drama, new media.

Collaborative and individual creation of art.

What is evident here is that young artists move between these notions freely and un-self-consciously. Many of the artists of the twenty-first century have grown up in a world which has always had these things and the notion of 'being playful' or being expressive with materials is not limited by the artificial barriers that were defined by a previous generation. Access to this incredible range of expressive materials, effects, media and responses leads us once again to the questions about:

The meaning of art in the twenty-first century?

How we give access to meaningful arts experience?

What kind of agenda for research is needed to understand these changes?

And what kind of curricular and environment is needed for 'educating musicians to excel in the Creative Industries?

To answer these questions and the central focus of this discussion I will attempt to take you through the insights that I encountered in the process of researching the above mentioned questions and seek to provide some practical solutions.

The location of meaning.

In my doctoral research, which examined the meaning of music to children I discovered that for music making to be meaningful it needed to be present in three locations:

The first is; that of the personal, where the activity and experience of making music are intrinsically motivated and there is 'flow' from the experience itself and the ability that the music making activity has to communicate with self. This constitutes what I would like to term 'intra-personal meaning'. This meaning may involve a kind of 'living through' the teacher's experience at early ages, a sharing in the teacher's joy of experience. Something of this personal pleasure is evident when children play along with the teacher or experience satisfaction of their achievements in playing music.

Secondly, music has meaning in the social sense &endash; that is, making music collaboratively with others in ensembles, choirs, bands and orchestras. Communication and meaning is then 'inter-personal' or about the relationship of self and others.

The third area of meaning is located in a combination of those mentioned earlier and I have termed this cultural meaning. This constitutes what the individual experiences as someone who 'is musical' or has musical experiences that are expressive, which results from their inter-personal and intra-personal experiences with music making. Fundamentally, this is a sense of well-being and self-esteem gained through music making and it is predicated upon a reciprocal interaction of the music product and the music maker with the community. This is a distinctly reciprocal and communicative area of meaning dependent upon affirmation of the music maker by the community and acceptance of the community's values as worthwhile by the maker. (Dillon, 2001b: 122)

Intuition and analysis, a productive tension.

The implications of this in relation to my philosophy of the student as maker' are that students need access to all three locations of meaning (Dillon, 2001b: 151).

Implications for teaching and learning in music are that teaching music needs to involve a balanced diet of:

A process of making music that involves composing, improvising, performing or realising. Processes of expressively organising sound in such a way that it evokes a response from the audient or for 'the makers' themselves.

A process of meaning making which involves analysis of the expressive qualities of music and its effects on the audient, reflective practice in a variety of media including words- spoken and written, physical/kinaesthetic response, sung or rhythmic response using the body or replication/accompanying response on an instrument.

Swanwick calls this a 'productive tension' between analysis and intuition (Swanwick, 1994). In music education there has long been a difficulty in balancing these seemingly opposing notions. On the one hand analytical aspects of music learning are easily placed into ordered sequences of curricular and are reasonably easily assessed by numerical means of testing. On the other hand how do we teach the intuitive? The obvious answer has been through modelling behaviour/ mentorship- master and pupil style learning. Swanwick suggest that this kind of understanding is 'caught rather than taught'(Swanwick, 1994). Its is learning such concepts as 'groove' or 'swing' by immersion and by being involved in someone's life who knows these concepts intimately, can demonstrate them and take the student into a selection of their life containing these understandings and allow them to experience through them. But how do we institutionalise such practice? How do we make sure that all participants 'catch the understanding'? How do we assess that knowledge?

Rules of thumb for music making in the 21st Century

In response to my doctoral research and professional experience I have developed some 'rules of thumb' that influence how we might engage with music making. Projects undertaken by students need to do the following:

1) Communicate and express something to our community and for the community

2) Have a basis in real world art ie make a contribution to the art form

3) Push the boundaries of that art form

Both arts for art sake and art for pragmatic and ceremonial purpose should form the focus of the works and no distinction is drawn between the value of these works there is unselfconscious motion between the functional and the purely aetshetic.

Let us examine Soul Suburban Shakedown as an example of these rules of thumb. The process of producing a Rhythm and Blues CD with the band Wally on the Window (Dillon, S. C. and Talia, J. 1999) served to communicate and express musical and lyrical ideas to a local community interested in the musical style and the combination of the particular performers. As a commodity in a commercial sense it was an experience located in 'real world' musical activity. In terms of innovation, whilst the R&B style may not be considered a complex musical form, we actually did push some boundaries in the hybrid recording process using combinations of analogue and digital technology and within the rhythmic 'groove' experimented with 'New Orleans' style shuffle rhythms. These 'rules of thumb' are not always easily satisfied but attention to them provides a model for quality and the potential to challenge and produce 'flow' for the participants. The CD as a project experimented with analogue tape for its high-energy recording qualities and digital editing and mastering. The process was a unique re-examination of 'high&endash;end' analogue technique in a world where digital sound prevails without many of us asking what was lost when we made those movements to digital sound? Music making in this sense becomes research and reflective practice which impacts on the skill development of the musicians involved. This is a rich context for development and a more dynamic interaction with production. What I am describing here is a process of attending to these ideas as a framework for production and a way of using them as a tool for analysis of the product as part of a critical reflective process. The process and product are then not only meaningful to the participants and community but contribute to the development of the domain. This also grounds us in the genre, style culture or discourse.

Initiation into a discourse.

I believe as does Swanwick suggests that our purpose as educators is to initiate the young in to a discourse that values expressive arts making and critical and philosophical arts thinking (Swanwick, 1994). The relationship between arts teacher and student needs to be that of artist to artist. Experiences need to be built around real artistic needs of the community for music for ceremony, entertainment, expressive communication within cultures and sub cultures and a need to extend the pedagogical boundaries of the art and the arts interaction with other media.

Art can be taught through domain projects- simulations (Gardner, 1992) having a basis in 'real world' practice (Bruner, 1986, Dewey, 1989) if not part of a cultural need of the community ie commission or recording. We can also create new and experimental contexts to create music within and respond to. Beyond the classroom we need to extend our skills through access to ensembles built around people rather than people built into ensembles. Innovative combinations of instruments and composers of media and size should abound as a response to context and availability- some for a moment or purpose or an experiment, others becoming institutions and reframing the definition of ensembles. Styles ranging from improvisational jazz ensemble, through electronic art ensembles to rock bands, choirs, big bands, chamber groups, orchestras and multi media ensembles that cross arts discipline should be the norm. These ensembles 'work' for the community, for their own youth subculture and extend the boundaries of their art form and present music to the wider community. Students need access to 'experts', mentors who perform with their instrument or are active music makers in the community. They need access to technical and analytical skill development extension programs. In these ways students will be able to make meaningful music in personal, social and cultural ways. They feel the obligation as members of the discourse to expressively create and reflect on art made by them and for them by teachers, peers and the community.

Meta Skills- the skill of skill acquisition: Where in this process do students gain the skills needed to excel?

Zane Trow in his keynote at the Arts Ed 21 C Colloquium(Dillon, 2001a) talked about the kind of artist and skill he sees in the mixed media-multi arts of such ensembles as 'Rock and Roll Circus'. Defined as 'physical theatre' their skills come as equally from gymnastics and circus as they might classical ballet. Their main skill is the ability to acquire skills necessary to make the kind of art they need to make and to change rapidly from one show to the next adjusting and acquiring skills as the performance requires. Where did they learn how to do this? Who taught them these generic skills? These kinds of artists no doubt have strong backgrounds in any one of a number of disciplines. More importantly they are able to transfer these skills of analysis of form to discover the essence or spirit of the expressive form. They can translate that understanding into a creative structure that replicates that form and can isolate the skills needed and create a regime of practice that builds the skills needed to acquire those skills and then use them expressively in performance. This ability to acquire skills, this meta-skill, is essential in their work. This is what is meant by the productive tension between analysis and intuition and the fusion of creation and reflection into a unified expressive art-work. This process involves the unselfconscious motion between the extensive repertoire of post modern expressive tools and the fashioning of these into art that effects the audient and produces leaders in the arts community rather than mere repertoire reproduction.

I have listed here how we might replicate such skill development in a tertiary institution.

1) Provide a broad range of excellent artist in residence and sessional teachers that can demonstrate these skills.

2) Have lecturing staff act as 'animateurs' who 'broker' arts experiences.

Who can turn artistic knowledge as demonstrated by artists in residence into generic meta-skill acquisition.

Who can create domain projects that stretch the boundaries of arts making.

Engender a culture of research into analysis and replication of excellent arts practice.

Create a discourse of making and reflection that stresses a dynamic philosophy of the expressive quality of art and its effects on culture and community.

The university needs to:

Provide a research infra structure and value system that dynamically examines and re examines the nature of art, culture and community.

Create an interface with the local, national, international community and the Creative Industries that socially engineers opportunities for artists to present artistic products in whatever forms and media are available.

Provide resources for skill development based upon the developing needs of the students to challenge and develop the boundaries of expressiveness in sound and across media. This means skilled people, literature, research, multi-media and action research that models how to gain and develop new skills.

Whilst this provides general structural differences to the kinds of policies and curricular required to accommodate 21st century student needs, where does this place the traditional notions of skill development?

So what constitutes skill development in the 21st century?

Skills development for industry in Australia has traditionally been associated with TAFE colleges rather than Universities but traditional conservatoriums are not far from being highly exclusive TAFE colleges and the pathway to incorporating these kinds of disciplines into universities raises the issue of skill training and education. In the Creative Industries we are seeking to educate a different kind of musician to that which might have come from a TAFE like institution. We are trying to create the kind of 'flexible worker' described in much of the rhetoric of the late eighties which resulted in Dawkins reports and policies (Dawkins, 1988) for schooling and universities (Hinkson, 1992). We are trying to create musical leaders in the domain rather than orchestra or band 'canon fodder' or even trying to fit non- western and contemporary music within 19th century European concepts of music making and skill development. In the same way that notation systems are incapable of capturing complex aspects of rhythmic groove many notions of traditional European musical training and education are inappropriate for the understanding, communication and training of these musical forms. This is why I argue for conceptualisation of skill and meta skill development and expanded notions of musical form and educational constructs. This is not to say that skill development at a level of excellence is unnecessary rather that the notions of skill need to be matched to the purpose of expressiveness rather than for reasons of tradition or pedagogical convenience.

What is different about 21st century skill development is that it is embedded in real world need rather than pedagogical sequence alone and leads to clear changes in the ability of the musician to be more expressive in musical forms. This expressiveness is made available by the sheer range of musical effectors and effects that unselfconscious motion between time, space and media provides. What has changed is that aural and musicianship training, now focuses upon a range of representation systems which best facilitate the ability for the musician to express themselves- to communicate, store and think in musical ways. This means that we may train musicians to use C++ and Java as well as excellence in notation. Even this traditional representation is enhanced by its digital presence in such musical production tools as Sibelius and Finale so this too requires reinterpretation about how we engage with it as a technology for music making and as a partner in the process. We need to provide access to ways of reading visual and aural information in a variety of representation systems from wave file editing to MIDI. We need to provide skills of use, access and projects that utilise a variety of technological tools for musical production, thought and feedback. Most significantly we need to value a culture of critical analysis of technology and representation systems in relation to their effect on our ability to express, understand and think musically.

Expanded notions of performance, creation, skill and analysis.

In relation to instrumental skills we need to expand the notion of instrument or principle study to include other sonic production devices such as synthesizers, turntables, computers and new combinations of technology and acoustic sound production devices. We need to include real time and non real time performance modes and engender a philosophy of engagement with technology (Brown, 2000) that activates the expressive quality as the focus. Notions of repertoire as a list of great music alone should give way to concepts of repertoire as replication of important musical processes. As well as excellent notated works we need excellent replicable processes. The concepts of musical analysis and musicology need to be presented as part of our initiation into the discourse. This includes the expanded notion of repertoire, the effects of context on the making and production of that music and a quest for understanding that leads us to comprehend the effect of music and the combinations of elements (effectors) which created that effect. Skill in the traditional sense needs to be expanded to reflect the unselfconscious movement between media, time and space that is the central argument of this thesis. Skill and meta-skill acquisition, production and reflection, research and development in a clearly integrated system makes skill or analysis forge a productive relationship with intuitive understanding (Swanwick, 1994).

Sustained involvement: an artist for life.

In student as maker I argued that a sustained involvement with arts making evolves from a continuing relationship with music making that is meaningful.

Personally in terms of the dialogue we have with our selves as artists to express our being. We gain what Csikszentmihalyi calls 'flow' from this (Csikszentmihalyi, 1994, 1996, Csikszentmihalyi, Rathunde and Whalen, 1993).

We gain a distinct social meaning, as we know others in a non-verbal way. The flow we get from 'swinging' or 'grooving' as a group of musicians part of sharing in the expressive discourse'. A wordless way of knowing others.

Finally, we gain cultural meaning because each act of arts making reflects something of the culture that generated that art. There is a dynamic and reciprocal process where the artists' work is valued by the community and the community takes the artist and the work and suggests that it contributes to the definition of that community.

Music makers and all artists need access to all of these locations of meaning. Over emphasis of any one or elimination of any one results in negative outcomes such as:

Poor personal meaning = the lone artists in his/her room playing the same riff over and over. First for bars of any song is all they remember from their music lessons.

Poor social meaning = the artist who could just as easily get this meaning from sport. The experience is less specifically and uniquely musical.

Poor cultural meaning = the one concert a year that washes away 12 months of poor teaching and negative music experience.

Excellence in artistic expression and production is intimately associated with continued quality engagement with music making, artists need access and meaningful experience in all three locations to fully comprehend and actively engage in the discourse.


In the beginning of this essay I talked about the conditions of post modernity that produced the ideas in Soul Suburban Shakedown. I discussed the paradox of raising the question that if many of our relationships are becoming non present ones and we are made by our relationships with others what kind of people are we making? The answer to that question can be easily answered by reference to the idea of the student as maker. In this kind of music making we communicate with self in a personally meaningful and expressive way, we communicate with expressive others in ensembles and responsive performance (Social meaning) and we communicate both with our community and become part of something that community reflects about itself. Making music in these ways grounds us in deeply present relationships. Arts making becomes an aesthetic diving belt that grounds us in relationships of presence and provides not only active participation in this communication but a significant means for critical analysis of the discourse and leadership in the domain.

I have argued for expanded notions of performance, creation, skill and analysis. I have provided a framework for a curriculum that will develop these ideas so that they lead to the outcome of production of musicians who are able to excel as artists in the twenty-first century. I have emphasised a philosophy of meaningful making and critical reflection. These ideas may appear to be merely theoretical or abstract philosophical arguments or at worst empty rhetoric. The evidence from my case study research over a seven-year period suggests that the type of philosophical and theoretical constructs I am proposing here does generate the kinds of outcomes that I have described. Furthermore participants from this program have consistently demonstrated musical leadership and significant production in a broad range of music and sonic arts industries in the years that followed their secondary music education. If such a program works with general student population in a secondary school setting then imagine what would be possible if these philosophical tenets, values and access to resources framed tertiary music education and elite-chosen artists.

So how do we educate musicians to excel in the Creative Industries in the first quarter of the twenty-first century?


By providing access to meaningful music making experiences that are relevant and reverent to community, that are critical and reflective of its past, present and future and that continually seeks to extend the boundaries of expressiveness within across and beyond the discipline.



Brown, A. (2000) Modes of compositional engagement, Australasian Computer Music Conference-Interfaces, Brisbane, Australia. (P: 8-17)

Bruner, J. S. (1986) Actual Minds, Possible Worlds, Harvard University Press, Cambridge Mass.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1994) Flow: The Psychology of Happiness, Random Century Group, New York, USA.

(1996) Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, Harper Collins, New York.

Csikszentmihalyi, M., Rathunde, K. and Whalen, S. (1993) Talented Teenagers, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, Great Britain.

Dawkins, J. (1988) Strengthening Australia's Schools: The consideration of the focus and content of schooling., Australian Government Publishers, Canberra.

Dewey, J. (1989) Art as Experience, Perigree Books, U.S.A.

Dillon, S. C. (2001a) Arts Education 21 C: The meaning of arts in the twenty first century and the implications of this meaning for teaching learning and research., Primary Arts, 2.

(2001b) The student as maker: An examination of the meaning of music to students in a school and the ways in which we give access to meaningful music education. PHD, La Trobe, Melbourne.

Dillon, S. C. and Talia, J. (1999) On Wally on the Window (Ed, Dillon, S.) Exploding Art Music Productions, Melbourne, Australia.

Gardner, H. (1992) Arts Propel : A Handbook for Music (with video of evaluation methods and approaches), Harvard Project Zero, Boston USA.

Hinkson, D. J. (1992) Misreading the Deeper Currents : The Limits of Economic Rationality, Arena, Vol. 98: 112-132.

Hinkson, J. (1991) Postmodernity State and Education, Deakin University Press, Geelong, Victoria.

Jameson, F. (1984) Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, New Left Review, Vol. 146: 53-93.

Lyotard, J. (1984) The Postmodern Condition, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, USA.

Schon, D. (1984) The Reflective Practitioner, Basic Books, Harper Colophon, New York, USA.

Schusterman, R. (1992) Pragmatist Aesthetics: Living Beauty, Rethinking Art, Blackwell Publishers, USA.

Sharp, G. (1985) Constitutive Abstractions in Social Practice, Arena Journal, Vol. 70.

(1993) Extended Forms of the Social, Arena Journal, Vol. 1: 221-237.

Swanwick, K. (1994) Musical Knowledge: Intuition, Analysis and Music Education, Routledge, London.


Dr. Steve Dillon

Lecturer in Music Education

Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia.

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