by Vinod Subramanian
I believe that the Women in Music Tech initiative has the potential to become a powerful organization that not only helps its own cause but also benefit similar organizations such as women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Music technology is an interdisciplinary field, which involves music theory, music performance, science and technology. The fact that music is an art form enjoyed by many people helps create that initial curiosity in music tech.
The advantage of music technology, particularly with the program here at Georgia Tech, is that we have visually stimulating projects that immediately captivate the attention of people who know very little about the field. Projects like Shimon, which can listen to music and play an instrument in response to the music, are very interesting to watch and make viewers curious about the field. If this audio-visual presence is capitalized on, it brings something new to the table. If all the awareness outreach programs included live demonstrations of the robot musicians, it gives something that people can connect to much more easily. This outreach is very important but it is only the beginning. Live demonstrations only generates superficial interest in the field. Superficial interest does not translate to an appreciation of the technology used.
The challenge of making math, science and technology as cool and accessible is a widespread problem. Worldwide there seems to be a mainstream dislike of math and science to the point where it has to be disguised as something else to be consumed without protest. What would help bridge this gap is to help people realize that a lot of questions that they had when they were growing up were once upon a time unanswered scientific questions, some of those questions are unanswered even today! Questions like how big the universe is, where babies come from, do ants think like us etc. are asked by a lot of children. If we can ensure that this curiosity for asking questions is preserved through the school system then I’m sure we’ll find more women in STEM and thus in music technology.
At a higher level of education like college I think using elements of art to teach traditional science makes the learning process much more interesting for the student e.g. see STEAM education. When I first learnt digital signal processing as a part of my course curriculum in my undergraduate, I found it mundane and did not stand out. However, when I started working on a project which used digital signal processing to identify the scale of a song the subject captured my attention. I think this was because it was an application, so I was actually seeing how the concepts I was learning were used in real life and also because it was music, which is a domain that I am fond of. This way I found the beauty of the subject much more easily. I think the use of interesting media such as videos and stories, application based learning and allowing the student to see the applications of the domain in the field they like is a really good way to generate an interest in science and technology.
My suggestions are not targeted at women specifically. I think there is a lack of awareness in music tech and related fields irrespective of gender. I do not think there are more men in STEM because they are more aware but I think there are less women in STEM because there is not enough awareness.
Author Bio: Vinod Subramanian is a first year graduate student in music tech doing research in MIR.