Switch ContentsQuestions Concerning Music Technology

by Agostino Di Scipio

6. Questioning Heidegger

According to Heidegger's arguments, technology should be considered a human activity extraneous to the artist's work, as in fact this latter is rather presumed to contrast the essence of technology and to limit the predominance of technological understanding. Clearly, things like electronic art or computer music - and, even worse, computational approaches to artistic creation (e.g. algorithmic composition) - would account for among the least desirable manifestations of technological understanding, for they testify a change in - and even a betrayal of - the function of art as described by Heidegger.

In which sense could we, then, take computer music and the diverse manifestations of electronic arts as a domain of genuine human creativity? Where Heidegger's account would be flawed? Is it in the function and the notion of art? Or is it in the function and notion of technology?

To circumscribe the whole matter, I think we'd better ask the question: How do artists (musicians among them) transform concepts and visions into tangible, audible, perceivable objects called (musical) works? How do artists implement ideas (2)?

The area of inquiry opened up by such questions is of primary interest for studies in cognitive musicology and, especially, composition-theory. In these areas of concern, it is widely accepted that composers either invent new methods or apply inherited methods in order to transform their concepts into percepts, to make ideas become sounds [Laske, 1991]. What they do is modelling their own experience - an activity which involves an incessant struggle between the conceptual and the perceptual [Di Scipio, 1994]. This modeling requires the development of strategies and techniques. To say it with Heidegger's own words, poets do speak language - and are not spoken by it - because they have the means and the knowledge for doing so, the knowledge that is necessary to challenge and provoke language. According to a well-known Chomskyan distinction, that knowledge is of a double nature - action knowledge and knowledge of the field. And, more important for our present discussion, it is captured in the design strategies and techniques employed in the making of art.

There is no reason to believe that Heidegger was not aware that any artistic endeavor always implies some form of technology. But evidently that was of no importance for him (3). An explanation for this would be that his was a narrow focus on technology, as Feenberg observes [Feenberg, 1995], even though the concept of technological understanding of being would seem to enlarge the scope and purview in his arguments and not to narrow them.

(2) My adaptation of a statement made by the conceptual artist Sol LeWitt [LeWitt, 1967]
The opinion of conservative music commentators who, in the '50 and '60, condemned the advent of electronic music as a dehumanisation of music (see discussion in [Borio, 1993]) is perfectly understandable if we admit that tÈchne has nothing to do with art. Indeed, those denigrators based their attack against electronic music on arguments very similar to Heidegger's arguments against the primacy of technological understanding.