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Questions Concerning Music Technology

From Heidegger's view to Feenberg's Subversive Rationalization


Agostino Di Scipio

1. Dimensions of music technology

I refer to technology as the complex of social activities that crystallize around the making and using of tools. I refer to music technology as the complex of design activities that crystallize around techniques, tools, practices, shared conceptual conventions and representations - in short around the téchne - constituting the musician's working environment.

There are two relational dimensions of this compositional téchne I consider of major significance: 1) the relation of a composer's work to the techniques of its own production;
2) the relation of these techniques to technology as a general issue.

The first reveals the composer's attitude towards the materials of her/his art. The study of the techniques by which one deals with and acts upon her/his materials allows us to circumscribe the question: What is material here - for the particular composer or community of composers? Moreover this instrinsic dimension also reveals the composer's conception of musical form, either inherited from continuing traditions or invented on completely new grounds. The study of the techniques by which one deals with musical form allows us to circumscribe questions like: What is form here - for the particualr composer or community of composers? What connections are being established between materials and form?

These are crucial interrogatives in the analysis of contemporary music repertoires, like the electroacoustic for example. Indeed electroacoustic and computer music can be seen as a paradigmatical case, I think, in which the relation between art and technology can be analyzed today. Required from the observer (musicologist, analyst) is a detailed knowledge of the particular techniques and technical tools, a "field analysis" of the musicians' work environment. (In the following I will not directly address the issues implied with this first dimension; they were the object of other papers of mine, like [Di Scipio,1995a; 1995b]; on the internet, the reader is referred to http://www.uiah.fi/bookshop/isea_proc/nextgen/j/19.html).

The second is an extrinsic dimension of music technology, and reveals the relationship of the compositional techniques to technology as a broader issue of more general, social, cultural, epistemological implications. I shall try to shed light on this second dimension, where we ask questions such as: To what extent is the artist aware of the knowledge captured in the technical means s/he adopts and/or purposefully designs for her/his work? How far her/his awareness goes of the socio-cultural, aesthetic and ethical - hence political - aspects in the particular technology in use?

The approach taken here leans on a crucial assumption in the epistemology of art, namely that the work of art is always created by creating the technique of its making. This suggests, as I shall discuss below, that there are hermeneutic dimensions of technology that we cannot neglect when discussing the aesthetic and cultural potential of any form of art, let alone today forms of art based on computer technology. Therefore téchne should be regarded as a domain of high significance to music-theory and musical aesthetics, in contrast with approaches of historical and purely discoursive hermeneutic musicology, which usually disregard the relevance of téchne [Di Scipio, 1995b]