Switch ContentsQuestions Concerning Music Technology

by Agostino Di Scipio

10. Cognitive relevance of music technology

As I've already observed, within the logic of technological determinism, music technology would be the context-independent power of rational thinking in the service of the musician's context-independent imagination and creative will. Both technology and making music would be contextless, autonomous domains - two separate spheres of human action, reflecting a Cartesian, dualistic worldview: material vs intellectual world; matter vs form.

So far I've argued that this is to neglect the hermeneutic aspects of technology. But I believe this is also to misinterpret music composing. Primarily an activity of design meant to model experience, composing entails decisions about one's own social and cultural environment. Musical form and musical material are both historical, culturally bounded notions determined by a multiplicity of social and cultural constraints [Adorno, 1970/1984]. Therefore making decisions about them is taking a particular position in the cultural context. Also, making decisions about materials and form is acting upon them, i.e. it implies a knowledge of how to act upon them. In short, it requires a technology. Therefore the strategies and techniques by which one acts upon materials and form are as significant as the audible results of the action.

This accounts for the claim that the methods and techniques by which a composer works and operates on materials and forms is a nonnegligible domain for an insight on her/his art. A composer's tÈchne captures a way of understanding art. We cannot put it aside if we want to analyze and characterize the musical objects thus created. The musical tÈchne captures how a composer models her/his experience, reflecting her/his aesthetic position and a more general worldview.

The questionable view conveyed by a simplistic, narrow approach on music technology is that compositional ideas are born independently of any particular technical substratum. This contradicts the important assumption that the work of art is always created by creating the methods of its making. Artistic concepts are born while acting upon materials and designing the techniques of art. Acting within and upon the available or specially designed tools may even dissolve pre-existing concepts or ideas: moving to the technicalities unveils the unreal, metaphysical purity of a given musical idea, as well as the very theoretical assumptions behind it. That is the way composers question their material and, hence, enrich their language.

In composing, concepts do not (always) preceed percepts. I regard the dynamical relationship between the conceptual and the perceptual as the very realm of the method of knowledge known as art. An artist's tÈchne is the medium where this relationship is worked out time after time. It is an ever changing medium, always transformed by the composer and transforming her/him, i.e. forcing her/him to interrogate experience.