Progression: An Argument Towards The Engagement of Research Practices

- Posted March 17th, 2017 by

Hey guys! Tuberz here with a little bit of something different. Follow along at home, and prepare to read something you don’t often see associated with Chipmusic.

Those of us who create content understand the difficult nature of progression. I don’t mean story progression. I don’t mean a jazz standard progression like a ii-V-I. I mean the progression of our craft. When we create something we want it to succeed more than our last venture. We want to get better. The real question that people arrive at is ‘how?’ What if I said I had a possible answer for all of you brilliant readers out there? Does that sound good? Good. Let’s jam.

This word may strike fear into the heart of many (and with good reason), but you will soon learn to love it.

Research

Whoah right? We just make music on a Game Boy, a NES, maybe a Megadrive/Genesis if we’re super highbrow. Research is reserved for academics right? I gotta get a Ph.D for that right? Wrong. Let’s take a look at the word research.

research
[ri-surch, ree-surch]

noun

  1. diligent and systematic inquiry or investigation into a subject in order to discover or revise facts, theories, applications, etc.: recent research in medicine.
  2. a particular instance or piece of research.

verb (used without object)

  1. to make researches; investigate carefully.

verb (used with object)

  1. to make an extensive investigation into:
    to research a matter thoroughly.

It doesn’t state anywhere in the definition that you must be an academic to participate in research. In fact it doesn’t talk about the demographic engaging in research whatsoever. I guess that means we’re able to do it too huh? Now this is the part of the blog where I tip my hand and say that I found my way into research through my university. I did a classical music degree majoring in composition and participated in an honours degree at the end where I wrote a thesis. It was only six or seven months into the degree that I realised I had been doing research my whole life without knowing it. So why did it help me? I’ll let you ponder that and revisit this discussion at the end.

We’re publishing a paper on how Dungeons and Dragons teaches real life conflict-resolution.
It’s pseudo biographical.

WHY WOULD ANYONE PARTAKE IN RESEARCH ???

Sure, when we think about research we think about academics and we think about nerds; maybe not the Game Boy tinkering nerds, but the kind of nerds that spend hours in a laboratory finding out what cancer is and how we can persuade it to leave famous actors alone. This could be farther from the truth though. Anyone can participate in research, because of the very nature of it. Looking about at the definition again:

“diligent and systematic inquiry or investigation into a subject in order to discover or revise facts, theories, applications”

Let’s break that down into its key words and subsections:

“Diligent and systematic inquiry or investigation into a subject”
“In order to discover or revise facts, theories, applications”

So, a super revised, layman’s version of this is:
We observe something to learn about that something, or how to use that something.

My best example is my own research. You see, my thesis’ title was ‘Playing with Squarewaves: Exploring composition and orchestration techniques and processes used to write new music for the Nintendo Entertainment System’. First of all, yes, the title is long. Second of all, yes, I am a raging nerd myself. Third of all, yes, research can be this cool. Research is an excellent way to hone in on a topic that you love and find out more about it. My driving ambition for this project was to write better NES music, so my topic was ‘How can I write better NES music?’ This topic is so incredibly broad though, so the next question was ‘how do I hone in on what I really want to learn?’

HOW TO REFINE A RESEARCH QUESTION

Look at what’s relevant to you. For me I wanted to get better at writing NES music. That’s a huge topic with seemingly no end. How can I possibly learn everything there is to know about NES music without chipping away at it piece by piece? That’s exactly why we refine our research question. By limiting the scope of our topic we leave ourselves more room to breathe and more room to explore. So I took a good long look at my topic and went “Okay, what kind of NES music do I want to get better at?” I focused in and realised that I wanted to improve at 2a03 music, and specifically new music. There’s little point in studying Ninja Gaiden’s baller af soundtrack if it obeys different technical demands than a piece of music by ‘Hertzdevil’ (both in function (additive to the game, rather than absolute), and how much processing power could be given to the music). So my research question became ‘How can I write better new music for the 2a03 soundchip of the NES?’ As a personal thing, I would just cut that down to NES music because technically the Famicom was the only version of the NES with the inherent capability of expansion chips.

So that narrows it down. But what do I want to do better in my music writing on the NES? This question was luckily solved for me through three prior years of composition training at a tertiary level. I was going to focus on composition techniques used to write new music for the NES. And so my topic fleshed itself out. That being said, this did not all happen at the beginning, and your topic will migrate to where your research content takes you, and on that note…

HOW TO DO THE RESEARCH THING???

Ask yourself a simple question. If you wanted to know how to change a light-bulb in your house, or how to put more air in a tire on your car, or how to find out if that rash on your arm is a bad thing, what would you do to find out? The obvious answer for this demographic would be to search on Google. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s not academic more often than not, but that’s liberating in that you’re not excluding content on the merit of its peer review. You can look up things on YouTube. You can go to a legitimate library (though I might be asking a big effort of you with this). This is what I like to call ‘Preliminary research’. I call it preliminary because it forms the basis of your knowledge. It shows you what information is already transcribed (whether it be text, video, or interpretive dance (okay maybe not that last one)) and then lets you find the gaps in the literature. You find where the lapse in information lies, and that becomes a central part of your research question.

This is where it gets cool.

You then do what I call ‘Secondary research’ or ‘First hand research’, where you utilise a methodology (more on that later) to generate information. For example, I wanted to learn how to write better 2a03 music, so what better to do than ask someone who knows how to do it well? I wrote down about five or six names of individual who I thought would have a wealth of knowledge and then I condensed it down to four. Those four were ‘Virt’, ‘Chibi-tech’, ‘Fearofdark’, and ‘Glenntai’ (the handsome blog writer that he is). I contacted them about their interest in the project and all of the practitioners sans Virt were keen and able (Virt is a big boy with real music jobs, he had to prioritise putting food on the table, which is fair) The real question from there was… what would I do with them? I had these excellent writers interested in the project, and I had no clue how to involve them. So, this is where methodology comes into effect.

A Dictionary. The universal problem solver.
Great for definitions, impressing friends, and scaring small children.

methodology
[meth-uh-dol-uh-jee]

noun, plural: methodologies.

  1. a set or system of methods, principles, and rules for regulating a given discipline, as in the arts or sciences.
  2. Philosophy.
    a) the underlying principles and rules of organization of a philosophical system or inquiry procedure.
    b) the study of the principles underlying the organization of the various sciences and the conduct of scientific inquiry.
  3. Education. a branch of pedagogics dealing with analysis and evaluation of subjects to be taught and of the methods of teaching them.

The part relevant to this discussion is the ‘The study of principles underlying the organisation of the various sciences and the conduct of scientific inquiry’. Which roughly translates to ‘The processes you use to investigate a research topic’. Methodology is a massive topic in and of itself, so I highly recommend you look into it further if this interests you, but to be honest, the majority of it can be a bit of a no-brainer. Let’s relate this back to my research topic ‘Composition techniques used to write new music for the NES’. How can I study composition techniques and methods? The first thing to come to mind is that I could study the music. A case study (or score study as it’s often titled in musicology) where I look objectively at a piece of music will provide me with underlying information. The next question is how I should study the music. Do I use an .mp3? A WAV? Sheet music? My argument for the most relevant medium was the tracker file. Which became its own set of constraints on the scope of the project. I would limit all research to the medium of Famitracker, and its files. Luckily all the participants agreed to let me tinker with their files (and Chibi-tech even tidied hers up for me which was legitimately the kindest thing in the universe).

So, I was going to look at tracker files by three different practitioners and then write down what I found. This was all well and good… but what if I wanted to elaborate on something? What if I saw something and had no clue what it was trying to do? This is where methodology comes in. I had already conducted my case study, which allowed me to follow up with a very qualitative form of information gathering: the interview. See? It’s not that difficult is it? I asked each of the composers about their songs via Skype (and recorded it (to be transcribed later; be thankful that’s not a requirement for non academic research)) with very specific questions. Some of these lead to answers I expected. Some did not. They all provided a wealth of information.

SO WAIT HOW DOES THIS HELP ME DO THE THING BETTER???

This is the best bit. I studied three pieces of music, and learned so much about writing for NES in the process. So the next step is to apply what I had learned. I found a number of traits in NES music that could be applied to any form of melodic, harmonic, or even just textural figure. I set out to write five pieces of music using the techniques I learned in the research, which I started before the collation of data (which meant you could hear a logical progression in the character of the music). These five pieces of music formed my understanding of the application of these techniques into my own practice, which is now a cemented concept. I sat down to write a track the other day and found myself doing this stuff by sheer muscle memory. The act of research actually helped me improve my craft.

Photographic evidence of a Game Boy tinkering nerd in his natural habitat. Also pictured: $30,000 AU hat.

I hope this has helped you all to understand the benefits of research on your content, regardless of discipline. I encourage you all to go out and embark on this journey. You don’t need to be in a university. You don’t need to pick a ‘high brow’ topic. If you want to research ‘How can I make my kicks fatter in LSDJ’ that’s a marvelous topic and I commend you for taking the initiative to improve your craft.

This is Tuberz McGee signing off. Till next time champs.

xoxo
Love Tuberz~!

Relevant Links:
My Research Blog / How to come up with a research topic

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