Minds and machines: Creativity, technology, and the posthuman in electronic musical idioms

Minds and machines: Creativity, technology, and the posthuman in electronic musical idioms

Thomas Brett

Language: English

Pages: 429

ISBN: 2:00179033

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


This dissertation is a study of creativity, technology, and the posthuman in contemporary electronic music-making. The posthuman is understood as the meeting point of humans and machines that reconfigures humanistic conceptions of the autonomous, creative self. From a posthuman perspective, the discourses of technoculture (comprising the concepts of control, transcendence, virtuality, mutation, and distributed cognition) suggest a means of interpreting a range of electronic musical practices, aesthetics and technologies. The dissertation proposes the posthuman both as a theory of musical technoculture and a framework through which to understand the actions and ideas of musicians who work within it. Over a range of historical, musico-analytical, theoretical and ethnographic case studies, I loosely draw on the discourses of technoculture to interpret the musical and social meanings of the mind-machine nexus in electronic musical practices over the past half-century. My findings suggest that the ubiquitous tools of the electronic musicians---notably, the digital technologies of computers and software, but also including older technologies such as tape recorders and the Chinese I-Ching ---impact how musicians think about and actualize creativity and the idea of what is human. In sum, the mind-machine nexus foregrounded in electronic musical idioms is a productive site for understanding the contours of an emerging techno-musical cultural imaginary where the human becomes posthuman through its reconfiguration in machine terms.

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the creative ecology, or set of relationships, that links what musicians do and the musical hardware and software with which they do it. Drawn by the question of how technology shapes creative practices in electronic music-making, my hypothesis is that creativity is located in a range of interactive moments between minds and machines. 7 Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. My Conclusion draws on a perspective on collaborating

revealing digital tools to be only as perfect, precise, and efficient as the humans who build them. New techniques are often discovered by accident or by the failure of an intended technique or experiment” (Cascone 2000:13). The roots of glitch can be traced to the pioneering work of Japanese-American sound artist and Fluxus movement founder Yasunao Ton_. Evoking the prepared piano experiments of John Cage decades earlier, Ton ’s 1985 work “Music for 2 CDs,” was created by slicing CDs with razor

with one another. This quickly became (and remains) an industry standard, facilitating the compositional process known today as “sequencing,” whereby different sounds are layered one at a time to replicate the sound of an entire band. A second technological development contributing to the programming approach of the 1980s was the widespread use of the drum machine. This first section examines how this posthuman rhythm technology has shaped the creation of electronic music in the last two decades

the techniques of modem sampling. Combined with the rapping of MCs, turntablism was integral to the development of hip-hop culture and rap music. During the early days of hip hop in the late 1970s, DJs such as Here refined the practice of spinning records and isolating instrumental and “breakbeat” sections where rhythm tracks are foregrounded or featured solo. Using two copies of the same record (typically a funk or R&B record from the 1960s or 70s), DJs let each record play for a few bars,

are reminded of how a sound sample and can move through a population, like a virus that changes people as it travels. Sampling technologies also allow one sound sample to “infect” another, as can been heard in remixes and “mash-ups” where different samples are superimposed, the social meanings of disparate sounds impacting one another and creating new webs of meaning. The metaphor of infection could also apply to MP3s and issues pertaining to the circulation and consumption of music via computer

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