More Than 'Just a Hammer': Critical Techniques in Electroacoustic Practice
Department of Music, City University, London
Last modified: November 29, 2006
Presentation date: 11/26/2006 9:00 AM in McR 028
The emergence of 'sound art' as a phenomenon has been coincident with a period of spectacular technological change, and it is clearly possible to view it in such terms; it has been often noted (see, for example Wishart's "On Sonic Art" (1985, p.5)) that the increased sophistication of recording technology has made it possible for artists to explore the creative possibilities of sound in new ways, and that its increased accessibility—economically and ergonomically—has gone some way to reducing the degree of privileged specialisation associated with serious audio manipulation.
This paper will explore the notion that, rather than this state of affairs having arisen from an inevitable technological progression, what has taken place (and continues to) is a change in the politics of technology that has influenced the nature of technological change, and also resulted in musicians engaging critically (and explicitly) with their technological means of production in such a way as to reduce the perceived difference between their activities and those of a creative practice that had been so engaged for some decades.
In the first instance, it will be argued that technologically based sound artists have been engaging continually in what Andrew Feenberg has termed 'subversive rationalisation'—the repurposing of technology-as-supplied. Numerous examples of this can be suggested, from the relatively specific such as bending/hacking or turntablism, through to the much more general, such as the redesignation of the personal computer from engine of the late-capitalist workplace to free-form creative environment. Each of these has had effects, profound in their compound totality, on subsequent offerings from the technology industries, as well as being accompanied by increasing activity in democratised design models like open-source software development.
Focus will then be placed on the work of two artists whose practices feature differing critical approaches to technology. Recent pieces by Agostino Di Scipio have sought to follow on from theoretical work dealing with the role of technology in music making. The `Audible Ecosystemics' project sets out to create a musical system in which every component of the local sonic environment has an effect upon the emerging work, including the technological elements of the signal chain. An alternative approach can be found in work by John Bowers, specifically in his conception of the 'infra-instrument' as a sound making interface that resists qualities more commonly looked for by technological instrument builders, such as the possibility of (if not requirement for) virtuosity. The critical thrust of these approaches will be outlined and compared.