MUSIC EDUCATION THROUGH INNOVATION: THE CONCORDIA LAPTOP ORCHESTRA AS A MODEL FOR TRANSFORMATIONAL EDUCATION
The Concordia Laptop Orchestra (CLOrk) is an ensemble of 20-25 laptop performers, which operates in the framework of a university course in Live Digital Practices—an advanced undergraduate course for electroacoustic studies (EaSt) majors at Concordia University’s Music Department in Montreal. The curriculum is built around highly participatory planning, production, and realization of innovative interdisciplinary and networked laptop orchestra performances, which take place in professional, academic, and cyber settings. In its three years, CLOrk has collaborated with a symphonic orchestra, jazz and chamber ensembles, laptop orchestras, soloists, dancers, and VJs, among others. The innovativeness of CLOrk’s performances has encompassed artistic (new forms of creation, collaborative composition), sonic (sound design, space, aural perception), technological (tools, network), and social (listening culture, encounter, interaction, collaboration, audience) facets. These innovations constantly introduced new, and often unique, practical and philosophical challenges to the creative process, but also opportunities to apply innovative educational approaches. Due to its adaptability to quickly evolving processes, action research has served as a useful transformational inquiry method for supporting and developing a better understanding of CLOrk’s creative and educational evolution. Action research involves participants as co-researchers to promote a better understanding of a social process in the group most involved in it. It is structured in cycles of observation, critical reflection, and action designed to allow improving a process while studying it—metaphorically “designing the plane while flying it” (Herr & Anderson, 2005, p. 69).
In CLOrk’s context, the “plane” being designed is its body of performance work and its educational structure, while each performance functions as a research cycle. Qualitative data is collected from recorded (pre- and post-event) discussions, email communications among all stakeholders (students, teacher, and collaborators), and anonymous questionnaires regarding efficacy and emerging problems related to all aspects of the performance’s planning and realization. The structure of each performance and the roles of every student (creative, technical, managerial) emerge democratically through this process of transformational inquiry. All data are coded, categorized, and analyzed using responsive evaluation methods, considered through a process of critical reflection, and used to design further actions. While at times, this process may yield (social, artistic, technological) hierarchies related to the performance, the action research study remains open to an equal impact from all participants, due to its openness to all emerging issues. All possible explanations, working assumptions, and actions arising from critical reflection are put under the scrutiny of participant feedback.
In my presentation I will provide the global context for CLOrk’s activities and introduce the philosophy and practicality of its creative activities as part of the undergraduate electroacoustic music curriculum. I will demonstrate how the creation, research, and education aspects of this study are inseparably interrelated. The presentation will include audiovisual examples of CLOrk’s performances accompanied by a descriptive account of the action-research transformational process that lead to them.