Music technology

Recent recording technologies such as GarageBand allow songwriters to shape sounds through loops, samples, layering, distorting, adding reverb, and recording and mixing sounds from the musical instruments, the voices of the songwriters, and their environment. Shaping sounds in this way may ensure they create a sound that best expresses their story. Creating music in this way does not require the physical skill of playing a musical instrument, so it increases access to the music creation process in a way that may be inaccessible using traditional musical instruments. Songwriters may be more likely to participate in the process when they recognize that they can 'produce songs that sound like what they like on the radio'. One clinician interviewed described the story of a seven- year-old boy from the Dominican Republic who was undergoing weekly nursing procedures that were painful and involved injecting saline into a tissue expander under his scalp. Using electronic music technology, the sounds and the music he made took on symbolic meaning.

He was very fearful of the nursing procedure. During music therapy, he was encouraged to explore and work through his anxiety concerning the tissue expander. As he described the procedure from his point of view, I periodically asked him to describe the feelings he felt with each step of the medical procedure. He struggled to find words beyond 'mal' (bad). When given options to choose from, he described himself feeling scared and nervous, and having pain with the expansion. He also reported he could hear the sound of the saline being injected into his expander.

During the following session, the music therapist brought a laptop and suggested the boy create a song that described the steps within the tissue expansion procedure as well as music to express his feelings and reactions toward those steps. Although he was initially reluctant, he soon engaged in the process, exploring and selecting sounds for his beating heart (fear). He also chose a loop to express how he felt sitting in the clinic room, waiting for the nurse to come. Next, he found the sound of footsteps and added it, saying it was the sound of the nurse approaching. After the footsteps sounds stopped, he added a siren to represent his fear of the needle and the procedure as the nurse prepares to inject him. At this point, he stopped all other loops and chose the sound of electricity to represent the needle insertion. Once that sound stopped, he chose a bass loop to express how his heart beat during the procedure and wanted the sound of water to show how he hears the saline entering the tissue expander. During this section, he added the sound of a police car siren to express his feelings of alarm and fear. This section ended with the removal of the needle, again represented by the electrical sound. The first theme returned with the initial bass loops. After these loops, he ended the song with the siren and an unsettled mysterious chord.

Once the song was finished, the music therapist and the boy listened to the song one time through. As he listened, he yawned and stated he was tired. Recognizing that composing this song required him to stay in his state of anxiety and fear and share these overwhelming feelings with the therapist, the music therapist ended the session early.

Microphones are another technological tool that can support the songwriting process. The microphone is symbolic; it allows for uninterrupted 'stage' time. It allows people to 'rap' and move into the flow. Even the way the microphone is held says something about the songwriter - holding it close to the mouth expresses the songwriter's vulnerability, whereas holding it away is more distant, less vulnerable. Similarly, adding reverb to the voice creates a feeling of space, making people feel freer in their vulnerability, whereas compressing the sounds makes them feel like they are in a hole (Viega, in press b). As one interviewee stated:

Importantly, hearing your voice back in recordings is a meaningful experience; hearing yourself but it does not sound like yourself . . . it is a new version, enhanced with reverb, chorus, echo, etc. That is such a powerful metaphor for me in relation to therapy.

Many clinicians working with at-risk youth have recounted how young people just take a microphone and start to verbally share their inner worlds. A clinician working with young people at risk in the United States described a profound experience she has had with a group of children who used the microphones to share themselves with others. She explains:

The children were talking into the mics, just talking, and a part of me was thinking, 'I can't believe that they're talking about this. I can't believe they're allowing themselves to share this much detail'.

In this instance, the microphone became a symbol of 'Now it's my time and I'm going to tell my story'. The microphone gave them the space to have uninterrupted stage time, to place them at the center of everyone's attention while they shared their stories. The microphone communicated the message: 'This is my story and can you handle it? Can you be with me in that?'

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