Concerning Music Technology
In approaches reflecting a heretical notion, the artist's technology is
seen as an opportunity to challenge the established, known modalities of
personal or shared creative processes. Therefore, it is also a way to challenge
the aesthetic reaches substantiated by the audible results achieved. Only
in such case, I think, Heidegger's metaphor would be correct: For an artist
to speak her/his material is primarily to put it into question, and
that is only possible if one keeps a critical, dynamical, explorative perspective
on the tÈchne by which s/he acts upon her/his material. That is not
what Heidegger meant with his metaphor, though.
Ultimately a heretical notion of technology can be viewed as an instance
of what has been defined subversive rationalization [Feenberg, 1995].
This "requires technological advances that can be made only in opposition
to the dominant hegemony [...], an alternative to [...] the ongoing celebration
of technocracy triumphant" [ibid., p.20] - and an alternative to a
conservative, anti-technological view as well. In a sense to be discussed,
I claim that all that electronic arts are about is just giving context and
support to this critical and constructive, inventive attitude towards
electronic technology in the social context.
The field of electroacoustic and computer music provides many examples of
such an attitude. The German composer Gottfried Micheal Koenig (now in his
70s) is a case in point: It has been rightly noted that he can be seen at
the same time as a representant of critical theory (the Frankfurt school)
and a researcher applying scientific reasoning to music composition [Metzger,
1995]. More examples, also among the younger generations, can come to mind,
regardless of particular aesthetic positions. Still, we can hardly say that
such attitude is common among today professional electroacoustic composers.
The problem is in part in the definition of professional composing
(that I suspect is hardly separable from technological determinism), but
it also relates to issues in technology design, as I shall argue in the
The more popular example of technological indeterminism, today, is
the Internet: its meaning and social scope - largely unforeseen at its outset
- have been determined by the people who freely accessed it and worked with
it, before industry and politics realized its potential. However, a similarly
striking example has been before the musicians' (and music-theorists') eyes
for decades now: In the 1940s and 1950s Elektronische musik and musique
concrËte were born by an unprecedented re-interpretation of technical
instruments which were solely meant for scientific measurements and control.
In that case, means of reproduction, control and storage were bent to a
form of creative production - of poiesis - which was completely alien
to their original technical code.
Another example is that of Edison's phonograph (patented in 1877), a device
meant to serve much different purposes than storing music (it was primarily
meant for keeping governative records, and documentation of official speeches).
Its enormous impact on music contrasts with the poor impact of early electro-mechanical
devices purposefully designed to be utilized by musicians - e.g. Ondes Martenot,
Trautonium, etc... The technical principle of the phonograph became a new
medium for artistic expression which in the end transformed music entirely,
while many devices launched as new musical instruments have become, at their
best, additional colors in the palette of traditional musical timbres.
These examples, like many in other areas of human activity, contradict and
invalidate the assumptions of technological determinism. They show that
technology does not develop as an autonomous, extra-social process but rather
as a process dependent on the active partecipation of people who confront
with, enrich and challenge the hegemonic code and the knowledge embodied
in the design of technical tools.