Undergraduate Research Dispatch: Carmen Zheng

01 Jun, 2017

Undergraduate Research Dispatch: Carmen Zheng

This year, BCNM initiated its undergraduate research fellowships, which offer undergraduates the chance to engage in direct research experience with BCNM graduates. Carmen Zheng was selected to work with Ritwik Banerji on his project Music, Improvisation, and Ethnography.

Carmen is responsible for transcribing field recordings of conversations between the researcher and ethnographic subjects, collected during fieldwork over the past several years. The recordings are conversations that occur in the context of the researcher asking musicians to play with an interactive music system designed to listen, respond, and play like a human musician and subsequently asking the musician to evaluate and offer critical feedback on how the system behaves. The transcription task allows the assistant to become well-versed in the techniques of conversation analysis (CA) research, a research tradition widely used in the fields of sociolinguistics, linguistic anthropology, and related fields. For each recording, the assistant is to produce two texts: 1) a transcription according to CA conventions, notating pauses, simultaneous speech, and other typical features of conversation, and 2) a “legible” text, one without the CA conventions and more easily readable for a typical scholarly audience unfamiliar with the conventions of CA. This project also allows Carmen to become familiar with research in human-computer, musical, and social interaction research. Carmen is a perfect Fellow, having worked with transcriptions and text-editing as an RA at Haas. She’s excited to work ethnographic communities and music in particular. She’s looking forward to developing these skills for her own thesis, which is on the coverage of war in Afghanistan.

In her own words:

This past semester, I worked under Ritwik Banerji, whose project involved speaking to various musicians involved in the field of improvisation. Ritwik created and designed a music improv tool completely on his own named Maxine, and he discussed with these musicians what it was like to improv with a computer versus a human, how Maxine could be improved, etc. My main task was to transcribe the audio file conversations Ritwik had. It was difficult at first because although I had experience with transcriptions, I was unfamiliar with a lot of the terms and composers Rtiwik brought up in conversations. Ultimately though, I learned a lot along the way and was able to recognize common themes in ideas the musicians brought up. This was my first experience doing research involving music and it was definitely very interesting. I would like to thank Ritwik and BCNM for giving me this wonderful opportunity!