DAW, Music Production, and Colonialism, a Bibliography

It shouldn’t be surprising that many of the sustained critiques regarding decolonizing music production tools is coming from the global south, minoritized peoples, and BIPOC and that the most consistent pushback against the idea comes from primarily white male Westerners. With the current push for inclusion of Digital Audio Workstations (DAW) in curricula, and often framed as a panacea for inclusion and diversity in music education, it shouldn’t be surprising that the latter tend to disproportionately benefit the most from such initiatives.

“Unassuming as they may seem, these technologies are far from neutral. Like social media platforms, dating apps, and all data-driven algorithms, music production tools have the unconscious biases of their creators baked into their architecture. If a musician opens a new composition and they are given a 4/4 beat and equal tempered tuning by default, it is implied that other musical systems do not exist, or at least that they are of less value.”

Faber, 2021

As I and many other BIPOC creators have long complained, we’d get more composing or creating done if we didn’t have to constantly find work arounds for the musical styles, genres, systems that we prefer working in rather than the default Western and Eurocentric DAW. Here’s a bibliography of some of those critiques and related pieces. The usual caveat about my bibliographies being works in progress naturally applies. This is also somewhat a companion piece for the Timeline of Early Turntablism, Sampling, and Real Time Audio Recording Manipulation (1900-1960).

POSTED 2/25/2021; UPDATED 12/7/2022

NOTE – I’ve placed my twitter content in a separate section after the main Bibliography


Andita, Aniarani. (2022, July). Mae Mai. Produced by Jon Silpayamanant. In English. URL: Https://silpayamanant.wordpress.com/. Yearbook for Traditional Music, 54(1), 93-95. DOI: 10.1017/ytm.2022.7

Bell, Adam Patrick. (2015, July 1). DAW democracy? The dearth of diversity in ‘Playing the Studio’. Journal of Music, Technology & Education, 8(2):129-146. DOI: 10.1386/jmte.8.2.129_1

Bell, Adam Patrick and Oshadhee Satarasinghe. (2022). From Tin Pan Alley to Trending: Remixing Ragtime and South Asian Popular Music with Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs). In J. Kladder (Ed.), Commercial and Popular Music in Higher Education (pp. 23-35). Routledge. DOI: 10.4324/9781003216728-3.

Benson, Estevan Carlos and multiple authors. (2021, November 14). Is the DAW biased? VI Control: Your DAW. [Forum Discussion]. https://vi-control.net/community/threads/is-the-daw-biased.117101/

Born, Georgia (Ed.). (2022, September 12). Music and Digital Media: A Planetary Anthropology. [Open Access]. UCL Press. https://www.uclpress.co.uk/products/187643

Brown, DeForrest. (2019, April 17). Decolonizing Techno: Notes From a Brooklyn Dance Floor. Afropunk. https://afropunk.com/2019/04/decolonizing-techno-notes-from-a-brooklyn-dance-floor/

Castanheira, José Cláudio Siqueira. (2021, July). Technocoloniality: Social and cultural inequalities within musical technical discourse. International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR), Conference: Rethinking borders and boundaries Beyond the global/local dichotomy in communication studies. https://iamcr.org/node/16625

Castanheira, José Cláudio Siqueira. (2020, November 24). Studio sounds: digital tools and technocolonialism. Border-Listening/Escucha-Liminal. 1: 106-119. http://radicalsoundslatinamerica.com/2020/11/24/studio-sounds-digital-tools-and-technocolonialism/

Denning, Michael. (2016). “Decolonizing the Ear: The Transcolonial Reverberations of Vernacular Phonograph Music” in Ronald Radano and Tejumola Olaniyan (eds.) Audible Empire: Music, Global Politics, Critique. Duke University Press. https://doi.org/10.1215/9780822374947

Ekomane, Jessica. (2021, January 25). Non-western examples of historical and contemporary explicit use of additive synthesis / FM & other sound synthesis processes experiments? Trying to enlarge my syllabus [Thread]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/jessicaekomane/status/1353757223395221507

Ekomane, Jessica. (2021, February 2). Open Sources #29: Early Sound Synthesis in the “Non-West” [Radio]. Cahsmere Radio. https://cashmereradio.com/episode/open-sources-28-early-sound-synthesis-in-the-non-west/

Faber, Tom. (2021, February 25). Decolonizing Electronic Music Starts With Its Software. Pitchfork. https://pitchfork.com/thepitch/decolonizing-electronic-music-starts-with-its-software/

Fox, Aaron and Noel Lobley and Sylvia Antonia Nannyonga-Tamusuza and Vik Sohonie. (2021, March 11). CRASSH: Decolonising Sound Archives? A Roundtable. [Online Panel Discussion\Youtube]. Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH), Cambridge University. https://www.crassh.cam.ac.uk/events/29517 https://youtu.be/OLEZy4t1nrs

Galloway, Kate. (2021). Listening to and Sampling the Land: On the Decolonization of Electronic Music Pedagogy. in Blake Stevens, Teaching Electronic Music: Cultural, Creative, and Analytical Perspectives. Routledge. https://www.taylorfrancis.com/chapters/edit/10.4324/9780367815349-14/listening-sampling-land-kate-galloway; https://www.routledge.com/Teaching-Electronic-Music-Cultural-Creative-and-Analytical-Perspectives/Stevens/p/book/9780367415785

Gómez, Gustavo. (2020, November 11). “They Want Our Music But Not the Struggle”: the Musicians Forging a New Central American Identity. Groove. https://groove.de/2020/11/18/they-want-our-music-but-not-the-struggle-the-musicians-forging-a-new-central-american-identity/

Gomez, Marco. (2020, July 7). European Design Has Colonized House and Techno. Electronic Beats. https://www.electronicbeats.net/ideal-listening-space-house-techno/

Herrington, Tony. (2020, July). White out! Tony Herrington calls time on the monoculture that is the experimental sound and music industry. WIRE. https://www.thewire.co.uk/in-writing/essays/white-out-tony-herrington

Hesmondhalgh, David. (1995). Global Popular Music, Cultural Imperialism and the English Language. LiNQ (Literature in North Queensland), 22(1): 44-63. https://journals.jcu.edu.au/linq/article/view/2218

Iqbal, Nabihah. (2022, August 28). A Little Flat: The Music Our Ears Overlook. [Radio Broadcast]. BBC Radio 4. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m001bkyc

Kabuiku, Jean-Hughes. (2021, April 22). World Music for Who: Personal Histories of Non-Western Electronic Synthesis. Dweller. https://dwellerforever.blog/2021/04/22/world-music-for-who/

Kippen, James and Bernard Bel. (1994). Computers, Composition, and the Challenge of “New Music” in Modern India. Leonardo Music Journal, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 4: 79-84. https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-00143124

Kirn, Peter. (2019, November 7). White Privilege and the Electronic Music Artist – BELP shares one European take. CDM. https://cdm.link/2019/11/white-privilege-and-the-electronic-music-artist-op-ed/

Kirn, Peter. (2020, July 13). Explore tuning: Bitwig, VCV Rack, reading, and why it matters. CDM. https://cdm.link/2020/07/explore-tuning-bitwig-vcv-rack-reading-and-why-it-matters/

Kirn, Peter. (2021, March 8). Escaping tuning’s restrictive default setting – a conversation with Khyam Allami. CDM. https://cdm.link/2021/03/escaping-tunings-restrictive-default-setting-a-conversation-with-khyam-allami/

Kuitenbrouwer, Vincent. (2016, March 29). Radio as a Tool of Empire. Intercontinental Broadcasting from the Netherlands to the Dutch East Indies in the 1920s and 1930s. Itinerario, 40(1), 83–103. DOI:10.1017/S0165115316000061

Kuitenbrouwer, Vincent. (2021, February 15). [Sound Bite] Radio as Tool of Empire, Sonic Entanglements Website, https://sonic-entanglements.com/2021/02/15/sound-bite-radio-as-tool-of-empire.

López-Cleries, Gloria and Sive Hamilton Helle. (2020). The Unreal: Imaginaries of Techno-colonialism. Journal of Media Art Study and Theory, 1(2): 46-56. https://www.mast-journal.org/vol-1-no-2-2020-the-unreal-imaginaries-of-techno-colonialism

Mozzetta, Fiamma. (2020, February 5). Electronic music from Latin America: between creation and heritage. openDemocracy. https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/democraciaabierta/m%C3%BAsica-electr%C3%B3nica-de-latinoam%C3%A9rica-en/

Oubda, Éliézer and Eliot Bates and Leonard Menon. (2020, November 11). Roundtable Discussion about De-colonizing the Digital Audio Workstation. Université de Victoria. https://www.canal-u.tv/video/afrinum/roundtable_discussion_about_de_colonizing_the_digital_audio_workstation.59607

Pahl, Eleanor. (2021, March 30). Dissonance: Dismantling Western Biases in Electronic Music. Horizons Newspaper. http://horizons-newspaper.com/index.php/2021/03/30/dissonance-dismantling-western-biases-in-electronic-music/

Pan African Music. (2022, April 27). The Afrorack, First Experiments on DIY Modular Synthesizers [Online]. Pan African Music. https://pan-african-music.com/en/afrorack-album/

Reese, Henry Peter. (2019, February). Colonial soundscapes: a cultural history of sound recording in Australia, 1880–1930. [Dissertation]. School of Historical and Philosophical Studies: The University of Melbourne. http://hdl.handle.net/11343/224347

Romanow, Rebecca. (2005). But… Can the Subaltern Sing? Comparative Literature and Culture, 7(2). DOI: 10.7771/1481-4374.1263

Rodgers, Tara. (2011). Synthesizing sound: metaphor in audio-technical discourse and synthesis history. [Dissertation]. McGill University. https://escholarship.mcgill.ca/concern/theses/v692t661k

Serra, Xavier and EURAXESS India. (2017, July 21). Interview with Xavier Serra researcher and an ERC Grantee on Music Technology – Discover his contribution to Indian music! Euraxess. https://cdn5.euraxess.org/worldwide/india/interview-xavier-serra-researcher-and-erc-grantee-music-technology-%E2%80%93-discover

Silpayamanant, Jon. (2013, September 1). Timeline of Early Turntablism, Sampling, and Real Time Audio Recording Manipulation (1900-1960). Mae Mai. https://silpayamanant.wordpress.com/about/silpayamanant-bibliography/timeline-of-early-turntablism/

Silpayamanant, Jon. (2013, August 13). Non-CWN Music Notation Software. Mae Mai. https://silpayamanant.wordpress.com/music-notation-software/

Sinnreich, Aram. (2019). Sonic Publics| Music, Copyright, and Technology: A Dialectic in Five Moments. International Journal Of Communication, 13, 422-439.  https://ijoc.org/index.php/ijoc/article/view/8587/2539.

Terren, Michael. (2019). The grain of the digital audio workstation. [Dissertation]. Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA). https://ro.ecu.edu.au/theses/2201/.

Terren, Michael. (2021, April). The Hegemony of the DAW. Disclaimer. https://disclaimer.org.au/contents/where-and-how-to-gather/the-hegemony-of-the-daw

Tomaz de Carvalho, Alice. (2011). The Discourse of Home Recording: Accessibility, Exclusion and Power. [Dissertation]. Université de Montréal. http://hdl.handle.net/1866/7085

Vágnerová, Lucie. (2017). ‘Nimble Fingers’ in Electronic Music: Rethinking sound through neo-colonial labour. Organised Sound, 22(2): 250–258. http://doi.org/10.1017/S1355771817000152

Williams, Austin and Matthew Dosland. (2021). Article Discussion: Decolonizing Electronic Music Starts with Daw’s. [Podcast]. Classical Reboot. https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/article-discussion-decolonizing-electronic-music-starts/id1538638521

Wolfe, Paula. (2012, November). A Studio Of One’s Own: Music Production, Technology And Gender. Journal on the Art of Record Production, 7. https://www.arpjournal.com/asarpwp/a-studio-of-one%E2%80%99s-own-music-production-technology-and-gender/


Silpayamanant, Jon. (2013, September 1). Timeline of Early Turntablism, Sampling, and Real Time Audio Recording Manipulation (1900-1960). Mae Mai. https://silpayamanant.wordpress.com/about/silpayamanant-bibliography/timeline-of-early-turntablism/

Silpayamanant, Jon. (2021, February 25). This is one of the reasons I say that using WPM isn’t the Inclusion tool for music curricula US academics think it is [Thread]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/Silpayamanant/status/1365065535587835911

Silpayamanant, Jon. (2021, March 20). While we’re at it, can we talk about the white male Anglo/Eurocentric music of video games? Twitter. https://twitter.com/Silpayamanant/status/1373449527773036546

Silpayamanant, Jon. (2021, June 5). Which gets into the gatekeeping issue of what’s some electronic musicians outside of the Western world are starting to acknowledge regarding the tools themselves being Western/Euro/American centric and colonialist. Twitter. https://twitter.com/Silpayamanant/status/1401275449335074817

Silpayamanant, Jon. (2021, June 15). Watching a roundtable discussion abt decolonizing DAW by Dr. Eliot Bates & Éliézer Oubda fr November ’20 [Thread]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/Silpayamanant/status/1404803393126809604

Silpayamanant, Jon. (2021, June 16). Which adds another dimension to the decolonising DAW debate since if the purpose of including that in the curriculum is to empower groups that are associated with that kind of music making, then how much have we essentialized tying DAW with race? Twitter. https://twitter.com/Silpayamanant/status/1405195210062184454

Silpayamanant, Jon. (2021, June 21). Uncritical adoption of colonial DAW not only creates an environment of surplus (that privileged populations benefit from) but also leads to standardizations that erase local cultures. [Thread]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/Silpayamanant/status/1406878028009988099

Silpayamanant, Jon. (2021, July 6a). Love how this frames Emaeyak Sylvanus’s analysis of <Prefiguring> and <Texted Music> in Nollywood cinema. “For many composers and producers, however, film music serves as an indigenous tool wielded against the imperialism of Hollywood.” [Thread]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/Silpayamanant/status/1412457414738296838

Silpayamanant, Jon. (2021, July 6b). Of course, this also applies to the production tools used in creating soundtracks and film scores. Twitter. https://twitter.com/Silpayamanant/status/1412476368865181710

Silpayamanant, Jon. (2021, July 31). I’ve tweeted about DAW colonialism enough, and have posted so many pieces in those threads, that I had to do some serious updating of my <DAW, Music Production, and Colonialism> bibliography. [Thread]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/Silpayamanant/status/1421394752528867328

Silpayamanant, Jon. (2021, August 1). Ironically, in doing a lit review of hybrid orchestras, there are a huge amount of pieces discussing blended Western and electronic instruments (almost invariably score orchestras), which ties back into the DAW/Music Production colonialism issue. Twitter. https://twitter.com/Silpayamanant/status/1421895706919542784

Silpayamanant, Jon. (2021, August 3). I’m digging into the lit on technocolonialsm to start fleshing out and contextualizing the bib on DAWs and colonialism and boy is there a lot of work being done there! [Thread]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/Silpayamanant/status/1422624874875523074

Silpayamanant, Jon. (2021, August 4). The intersection of biases built into recording tech; choices of subjects to be recorded; and the usage of those sound archives in music cognition research needs to be interrogated. [Thread]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/Silpayamanant/status/1422910800100999171

Silpayamanant, Jon. (2021, October 6). Been thinking about how modern recording industries are really just commercialized sound archives and how so many of the same colonial power dynamics get replicated in them. [Thread]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/Silpayamanant/status/1445735446198226944

Silpayamanant, Jon. (2021, November 15). Once the moderators deleted a number of the kneejerk and racists comments (SMT Discuss could have benefitted from such robust moderating), this discussion actually has some thoughtful responses to the OP question. “Is the DAW biased?” [Thread]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/Silpayamanant/status/1460213709117210626