Behind the Scenes: Research for What if?

Dear All,

Today’s post is all about research. As you know by now, what if? contains a strong research component. We’d like to demystify what this means in the context of this blog and our project as a whole. Is research inaccessible, up in some ivory tower? Absolutely not! Research is, in essence, the process of learning and getting to know more about a subject by studying information about it.

Research is defined as “the systematic investigation into and study of materials and sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions.*”

Perhaps you are wondering what the research process looks like behind the scenes. When she is not composing or interacting with our community, Barbara is constantly hard at work researching.

I was inspired by her work to delve deeper in this direction myself.Ever since the project moved to the University of Music and Performing Arts Graz (KUG), I’ve made it a priority to combine my social media and online skills with research ones. These two elements go hand in hand for our project: since every interaction between us all helps build the project as a whole, these interactions should be observed, documented, and analysed so that we can find the answers to our research questions. Barbara is the one who formulated the research questions and has created our research framework. It’s a tremendously interesting one.

Austrian National Library: Palais Mollard

Austrian National Library: Palais Mollard

The key research questions we work on:

  • How can we establish an online/offline community that picks up on the topic of new media art and cross-over culture and wants to be actively involved in the discourse?
  • Will we be able to further crossover between high art and popular art by offering creative and intellectual incentives and on the other hand listening back to and channeling the community’s own creative voice?
  • What kind of strategies do we need to apply to further and unlock the creativity of the community for maximum benefit?
  • Will this lead to a fruitful interactive exchange between the digital producers, followers and contributors and the researchers/artists that add meaning to both?
  • Based on the interactive exchange with the global and local community, and our artistic research, will we be able to create an event that makes contemporary art more permeable and accessible for the audience?
  • What is the role of the artist/researcher within this community?
  • Will the before unavailable audience turn into available audience for and participants in the arts through the participation in the online community?

Maybe you yourself can think of some potential answers to some of these questions. However, we can’t simply guess at answers: they need to be backed up with facts and findings. Otherwise, it’s just a hypothesis. We need time and hard work to find definitive answers to our questions.

But research is such a huge task! How do we approach a topic as vast as “identity” and keep it all organized? The answer is that we create a framework and keep everything within some sort of reasonable constraints. For what if? the framework consists of participatory art, and we can use the interaction between us and you to examine different aspects of identity.

Getting ready for research takes some work and practice. In fact, it’s very similar to taking up an instrument or doing anything else creative. You have to get ready and read about the theory, then you have to put that into practice and try, try, and try again until you get it right.

My first task was to work through an online course (hosted by Coursera and developed by the University of London) entitled “Understanding Research Methods,” as a sort of primer. I’m still working on the material, and it’s an excellent resource for anyone who’s ever wanted to do academic work better. I finished my master’s degree in 2011 yet I wish I’d done this course back then, because I could have applied knowledge far more efficiently. The course covers such essential subject matter as formulating a good research question and conducting a literature review, then shows you planning and management skills.

The next task at hand is to work on research proper. Currently Barbara and I are working on a paper that discusses how we use SoundCloud to initiate participation, and your motivations for contributing. It’s an interesting window into how the community ticks. I’ve really enjoyed receiving your responses to some questions I’ve been sending out. Some of them have been quite beautiful and touching. For example, one of you wrote that you were discouraged from making music as a child, and are now able to find joy in creating new musical works, one of which was your drone piece which you submitted to us.

Where do we conduct all this research? Some can easily be done online. Today most libraries have access to online journal databases, and we can also access the library catalogues themselves, including, in many cases, e-books, from our computers. This means that I can call up many resources on my device and read them on my right then and there: at home, at the KUG, on the train, or wherever I happen to be.

Next up is the actual physical library. Many people are beginning to think of libraries as obsolete. They are anything but. As an example I present to you the Austrian National Library, home to a vast collection spanning centuries and several palaces in Vienna’s historic first district. The main branch of this formidable library is housed in the Hofburg palace, former home to emperors and empresses. Here you can go to a Lesesaal (reading room) and call up any book from within this enormous collection, or you can discuss in the common areas.

Austrian National Library: Hofburg

Austrian National Library: Hofburg

The KUG (featured image) is where Barbara and I meet to brainstorm and work through our various ideas. There is a wonderful music library with branches throughout the KUG campus. However, the best part about researching together with another person is the synthesis of ideas when you talk about them out loud. Talking through things and figuring out which information to use and which to discard is an essential part of the research process. The other person often thinks of something you haven’t thought of, or sees something in the library collection you missed. When writing a paper together, as Barbara and I are, it is essential to sit down together and actually talk through the content rather than simply bouncing it back and forth. Only then can it become a truly collaborative research work. For me, it is also a tremendous learning process working with Barbara, as her greater experience in research helps me “apprentice” and learn more about the process.

In summary: research is much like art. It takes a certain amount of preparation and practice, and only gets better with increased time and experience.

* Oxford Dictionaries online.

Featured image: University of Music and Performing Arts Graz. All photos  © Clio Montrey.

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