Switch ContentsQuestions Concerning Music Technology

by Agostino Di Scipio

8. Music composing and the deterministic mindset

Up to the present day, both the scholarly study of music and more experimental approaches have indirectly supported the ideology of technology just mentioned. Being conceived as a human science, musicology has never really recognized that there is a hermeneutic dimension in the tÈchne of music, not to consider its cognitive and aesthetic dimension. The obvious consequence is that, doing so, musicologists have failed to provide musicians with a constructive critique of the tÈchne they live in, work with, help designing - and perhaps they themselves design.

To tell the truth, that scenario is both the effect and the cause of the fact that a simplistic concept of technology is widely shared among professional musicians ("OK, now let's put this technical details aside and start making music!"). Following such an attitude, a musician's free relation to technology would primarily reflect into a plea for presumedly (more) neutral resources readily applicable to the tasks raised by her/his unconstrained, autonomous imagination.

Such state of affairs today is well reflected in the policy of many temples and churches of computer music, and it is witnessed by a telling phenomenon: the largest number of composers welcomed in these venues includes composers who set out to employ the power of the computer at the service of their mastery of instrumental music writing. They are literate composers (a definition proposed by Barry Truax) exploiting an unconventional means to strenghten the efficiency of their compositional process. This may be a reason why today the live instrument + electronics medium is, for many, the only thing meant with terms such as computer music or electroacoustic music. The computer is seen as a device which enhances the efficiency of the productive process. At its best, it can suggest novel strategies to add on top of routinely applied strategies.

Observe how closely this resembles Heidegger's free relationship to technology: technical objects and processes are Bestand supposed to enrich and to perfect the artist's performance, still leaving her/his understanding of art unquestioned. We could say that in the mindset of technological determinism composers are spoken by music more than they speak it: They pretend to exploit new technical resources while keeping their own composing and their knowledge untouched. They simply need better tools in order to better do what they already know how to do.