This Would Be the Syntax

In a manner of speaking, Shelly Blake-Plock's work can be considered an extended riff on the nature of ambiguity. Or more to the point, some form of learned bilocation. Being in two places at once. Perhaps being two people at once. Perhaps more.

He is a person of indeterminate names. Indeterminate roles — on the one hand a musician of thirty-odd years in the hinterlands of American music. On the other a technologist known in select circles for theories about data architecture and the meaning of experience.

Shelly Blake-Plock (b. 1974) — also known as Shel Plock, Shelly Blake, R. Richard Wojewodzki and by various handles — is a music producer, performer, and technologist.

Since 1988, he has explored and merged a great variety of musical genres and approaches — acoustic, synthetic, and hybrid — on over 20 projects and 400 songs. His output has ranged from highly idiomatic traditional forms to freely improvised music and often blends aspects of the two. He is as comfortable in an experimental electro-acoustic setting as he is playing honky tonk or Bluegrass music.

HMS (Wildfire Music): I see that you have worked in a lot of different genres, and still do, ranging from Americana, to Jazz, to this heavier music. Does that mean, as a listener, you didn’t limit yourself as a young person, and even now?Shel: I think that’s true. I think part of it is that I came of age in the late 80s and early 90s and so one of the things that happened there is you often ended up listening to music that was around you rather than music that you could dial up in an instant. There was a guy up the street whose father played Bluegrass, so I heard a lot of Bluegrass music. The kids in the neighborhood listened to Hip-Hop, so I listened to a lot of late 80s Rap music. In school, I hung out with a lot of the Heavy Metal kids. I played in a Jazz band because it was an opportunity to play music. I don’t know what it’s like right now to play for kids, but that experience of engaging with what was around me was a big part of my musical upbringing.

Blake-Plock is known for his "subtractive" approach to studio productions as opposed to an approach that would favor traditional songwriting and compositional layering. He generally records lots of material and then subtracts from it to form a song.

During a period teaching high school in the late oughts, Blake-Plock started writing about the intersection of the experience of learning and the experience of using technology.

In 2014, he co-founded Yet Analytics to explore these ideas further in the context of software development. His team develops open source software that increases interoperability and data accessibility for orgs responsible for learning and training. They were awarded the Nielsen Data Visionary Award from TechCrunch Disrupt and continue to maintain and develop key pieces of the open source ecosystem for learning and training data.

He has published and presented widely, primarily on the topics of data architecture, synthetic training, data simulation, and the ethics of artificial intelligence. He is a Senior Member of the IEEE and has served as a volunteer officer of the Learning Technology Standards Committee since 2017. He is past-chair of the IEEE IC Industry Consortium on Learning Engineering and has assisted in a variety of working group leadership roles.

In 2022, he was presented with the Distinguished Alumnus Award from The Johns Hopkins University. He lives in Maryland.