Digital Imagination in the Making: Digital Music Workshops with Older Montrealers

Line Grenier (Université de Montréal)

Between 2013 and 2016, individuals aged 65 to 85 gathered once a week for three to four months a year, to attend digital music workshops offered by the Digital Literacy Project (DLP) of the Atwater Library and Computer Centre in Montreal. The workshops aimed at "empowering musically oriented seniors to use and teach others to use computers to record and create music." Designed and facilitated with Eric Craven, director of the DLP, and conducted with the help of graduate students and a senior "mentor," the workshops were designed to provide participants that have different music backgrounds and even more contrasting social locations and life trajectories, with the basic knowledge of the equipment, software and technical skills necessary to undertake their own audio recording and editing project. These projects ranged from vocal ensemble pieces of mainstream Anglo-American popular music through mashups of contemporary and traditional Andes music, to spoken word and poetry driven compositions and field recording based soundscapes, to take a few examples.

In this paper, I want to critically reflect on the workshops, the learning and creation pathways of the participants, as well as the potential reverberations of these practices beyond the "classroom." I will do so by examining the workshops as moments of "music in action" (DeNora, 2000) through which the "gear" became mediation (Hennion, 2007; Williams, 1985), the computer-as-machine turned into instrument, and songs took on a new identity as collective hybrid productions. In the process, participants experienced new ways of "musicking" (Small, 1998) which, I argue, enabled them to develop new "imaginative engagements" (Keightley and Pickering, 2012) with digital technologies. As I hope to show, this research-creation/participatory action research is especially relevant given that it shows how negotiating age and ageing through culture involves navigating norms, expectations and prescriptions through which taken-for-granted ideas about older adults' practices and (non-)connections to digital technologies (Sawchuk, Grenier, Fontaine, 2020; Hernandez-Ardevol, Sawchuk, Grenier, 2017) are rendered visible and challenged.

A Stride, A Grave: Old Age, National Identity, and (Un)Conventional Gaming in Passage and The Graveyard

Rachel Gauthier (University of Reading)

In late 2018, the V&A museum presented "Design/Play/Disrupt," a collection of video games that the exhibition's webpage describes as being "united by their ambitions to break boundaries." Among the selection was Belgian developer Tale of Tales's The Graveyard (2008), which eschews convention not only through its rejection of typical "gameplay" mechanics in favor of simply instructing the player to walk, but also through its elderly female protagonist. Despite this "boundary-breaking" structure, the construction of the old woman is a point at which the radicalness of the game falters, as she is rendered simultaneously as an "unusual" body distinctly "other" to the player, and as an uncomplicated "archetype" that the player can easily be placed "inside." My presentation will work through this tension in terms of claims in both the game and secondary texts about the (in)accessibility of the character's interior, rhetorics of empathy and pathos, and the problematic relationship between identification, immersion, and avatars—as well as the particular set of issues that emerges when considering these claims within the context of constructions of old age. I will also compare The Graveyard to representations of old age in American developer Jason Rohrer's game Passage (2007), which has faced similar critical reactions to its departure from common expectations of gameplay. Interestingly, Michaël Samyn of Tale of Tales has written that their peers often found Passage to be "superior" to The Graveyard because of the former's "conventional game structure." This comparison will call upon and question the stability of a range of "boundaries," not least those of age, genre, and national identity.

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