Electropop and the “Ah-Ha” Moment in the Classroom

Tuesday, September 22: 4:56 p.m.
Posted by Jason Hanley
Jason Hanley, director of education at the Rock Hall

An inside look at the SAGES program.

Many people are surprised when they learn that we teach all ages at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum – from toddlers to adults. As a Presidential

Fellow in Case Western Reserve University’s SAGES program  (the Seminar Approach to General Education and Scholarship) I have been teaching Rock and Roll Hall of Fame courses to undergraduates for the last three years with topics such as “Writing Rock and Roll” and “Rock and Roll Subcultures.”

When I teach, I always try to lead students to that elusive “ah-ha” moment, when they begin to really understand why the subject matters.  Last week in my college course “Electro Pop: The History of Popular Electronic Music,” the class had that kind of moment. Through our discussion of Luigi Russolo’s 1913 essay The Art of Noises students realized that electronic music allowed them to use any and all sounds.  Because of this it gave each of them, regardless of their musical background, a chance to be composers.  And that musicians and artists have been saying that since as early as 1913.  Ah-ha.

Last year, Ted Ottaviano of the synth-pop band Book of Love contacted the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum about teaching a college level course on synthesizer music.  Because of my experience with electronic music as both a scholar and performer, I jumped at the chance to work with Ted. A new course on electronic music was an excellent idea.

Ted and I both wanted students to not only learn the history of electronic music but to become practitioners of it.  Using the Music Department’s Center for Music and Technology students will complete short musical experiments and songs with the Propellerhead Reason software package.  Ted will make several visits to Cleveland to work with the students in an extended workshop where they will create their own music.  We have just completed the third week of class and the students are already deeply involved in both thinking about the history and sound of the music and trying their own hands at the task.  Who knows, the next big synth-pop star may be in our class right now.

Here’s a playlist of just a few classic tracks that we will listen to in class this semester:
·    Kraftwerk, “Trans-Europe Express” from Trans-Europe Express (1977)
·    Donna Summer, “I Feel Love” from I Remember Yesterday (1977)
·    The Human League, “Don’t You Want Me” from Dare! (1981)
·    New Order, “Blue Monday” from the 12 inch single (1982)
·    Depeche Mode, “Master and Servant” from Some Great Reward (1984)
·    Skinny Puppy, “Assimilate” from Bites (1985)
·    Book Of Love, “Boy” from Book of Love (1985)



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