Blog Post

Interface Seminar: Interactive Digital Music

Ben Crawford's exploring the edge of music and computers, and his background readings gave us a preliminary exploration of this emerging field. Perhaps the importance of music is best understood in relation to Andy Clark's the extended mind thesis. Normally, one can quite easily think of extending one's intellectual abilities out into the world, such as how everything from pencils and books to computer workstations extend our memory.

Yet let us not fall into some sort of extended Cartesianism: how can we think of extending our emotions, our passions, out into the world? Art, and in particular, music seems to allow us to extend our emotions into the world around us, allowing us to experience collective emotions? How does digital technology change music fundamentally? When one thinks of electronic music, one does not think of a revolution in music. Instead, to follow Garnett, usually one thinks of very horrible electronic music, the "aesthetic of the machine" where "electronic music has been used to imply the non-human." This is " indicative of the 20th century's ambivalent relationship to the technology of machines - on the one hand looking to technology to bring humanity out of menial labor, while on the other fearing the enormous potential for the technology to control human live and value." However, is this justified, or are their latent possibilities behind computer?

Strangely enough, the answer to how technology can revolutionize music may lie strangely parallel with with the case of virtual reality: The way to revolutionize music is through "interactivity," as Myron Krueger, the creator of "Meta-play" pints out, "the technological community has embraced interactivity as a key ingredient in the art of their culture. The traditional art establishment still keeps its distance, but an alternative art establishment has arisen round the new tradition. Folmer does a study of this new alternative aesthetic and culture of music on the Internet, noting dimensions such as "interplay with network characteristics," "interactivity/openness," and "complexity/flexibility." This brings a notion of strangeness of the telematic embrace, where "users can only confirm the actual presence of each other by taking a specific action" that The "would thus relate previously unrelated elements [of an interactive musical composition] in such a way that a group can establish collective meaning." This would require a general update of music criticism, where aesthetic value, as defined as "the artistic valorization or system of valorization in a work or experience", would have to include interactivity. No longer would the "listener be much more at the mercy of the performer" but that "we should coerce the machine into being an extension of the compositional and performing self. This would require insights from continental aesthetic thought, while reminding us that it "has remained rooted in a time and place some 50 or more years distant from our present." Also, part of the problem with previous electronic music , taken to its extreme in algorithmic tape music, may actual be its attempted removal of the human, and instead we should place value on the "inherent variability brought about by the insertion of a human performer."

Indeed, while it is unclear if right now everyone can be famous, if only for five minutes, with the proliferation of interactive electronic music, we should all be music composers in five minutes. If digital technology would allow everyone to be fisherman in afternoon and literary critics in the evening as well.


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