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For more than ten years, there have been two significant areas of interest in my musical practice:

  1. As an improvisor, I am interested in the dynamic relationship between stimuli and responses. Even when working with composition in a relatively traditional manner (i.e., using musical notation), it is the non-static, or that which changes or evolves, that is at the very core of my involvement.
  2. I have worked with the computer in almost all of my artistic work. As an artist I feel a responsibility to explore the world and its artifacts. The computer has become an important part of this world and hence, a part of our culture. In the Western world it is part of daily life and allows for our most basic as well as our most intimate communications. It cannot be placed outside of our culture, nor can it be regarded as merely a tool or a fashionable gadget with a limited import; rather it must be included in our understanding of the world as well as in our artistic explorations.

The basis for my PhD project can be traced back to my difficulties in successfully integrating two different types of music - improvised or open form music and computer-music. For the sake of argument one might make some rough generalizations and move to a more abstract level, calling this a dichotomy between the continuous or analog on the one hand and the discrete or digital on the other. The problems I experienced in my practice occurred in the contexts of improvisation as well as composition and resulted in growing artistic frustration. It was my attempt at addressing this frustration that led me to form the current research project.

The problem for me was that I could not achieve the merge between the analog - i.e. the acoustic intruments - and the digital - the electronic instruments. My aim was, and still is, to be able to alter, distort or expand the traditional notion and pre-conception of the sound of the musical instrument; i.e., to introduce a discontinuity between the expected sound and the perceived sound. To achieve this result I use digital sound processing of the acoustic instrument(s), sometimes in combination with pre-recorded and synthesized sound sources. If the two sound sources do not merge successfully, then the desired effect will fail to appear and the perceptual result will be that of two discrete sound sources. This undertaking, along with the wish to explore the computer in the sphere of contemporary culture is in principle an attempt to move past ``the 20th century's ambivalent relationship to the technology of machines'' [Garnett, 2001]. Having said that we could further generalize the dichotomy above and talk about the human/machine relationship; I believe the tension between man and machine is at the very heart of my project.

To use Garnett's words, this is not only an ambivalent relationship, it is also a complex one. He continues:

The machine did not make the life of the factory worker better, at least not at first. Rather, the worker had to learn to adapt to the pace and consistency of the machine, with sometimes rather unpleasant effects. Part of my contention here is that this view of technology is now no longer relevant. Technology is beginning to empower individuals. (ibid)

Garnett brings up a practical aspect of the relationship between man and machine, dating from the early ages of industrialism. I agree that there is a need for an updated view of technology,3 but even if it is true that technology is empowering the individual, what is the nature of our relationship with technology? Are we comfortable with the tools we have been given? Skepticism towards the machine can be found in many sources. In Derrida's reading of Freud in ``Freud and the scene of writing'' [Derrida, 1978a] he discusses the Mystic Writing-Pad, a construction that ``shows a remarkable agreement with my hypothetical structure of our perceptual apparatus'':4

That the machine does not run by itself means something else: a mechanism without its own energy. The machine is dead. It is death. Not that we risk death in playing with machines, but because the origin of machines is the relation to death. (ibid. pp. 285)

The machine according to Derrida is dangerous because it is the opposite of life; it is ``pure representation'' and ``never runs by itself'' (ibid. pp. 286). So far it is difficult to argue with Derrida. But is there no way around this? Is the machine destined to be ``complexity without depth''? (ibid.) Danish philosopher Peter Kemp argues that Derrida's interpretation of the machine is problematic because it posits a 'technique' (now in the sense of techne): a 'technique' that is only problematic in the way we make use of it. According to Kemp, Derrida argues as if the ``technological development of our culture did not confront us with an existential inquiry of planning and organisation'' [Kemp, 1981, pp. 139]. I find Kemp's idea that we are in fact in control, or at least that we may gain control, of the multiple, co-existing technological systems, to be a very useful one. We can use them and inform them. The machine cannot run by itself but it can run alongside us. It is not merely a tool and part of our 'technique', but may also become a part of our culture. More specifically, if we move to the field of music, our creative intentions and our wish to play (in every sense of the word) need to be communicated to the machine in order to integrate it into the larger sphere of (musical) communication. This does not make the machine autonomous in any way - the machine still does not run by itself - it runs by means of parallel representation. This is somewhat closer to Deleuze and Guattari's notion of the war machine that, according to them, can potentially be ``an `ideological,' scientific, or artistic movement'' [Deleuze and Guattari, 1987, pp. 466]. But even Deleuze and Guattari choose to call it a ``war machine'': a machine with a potential power to kill, hence closely related to death.

What then are the issues that have to be overcome in order to move from the idea of the machine as death to the machine as a potential instrument to be included in artistic practice? Derrida's main point is that the machine has no energy and by definition cannot express anything, but can only represent. Could this be related to the reason for my inability to merge the two elements in practice? Let us for the time being move away from abstract philosophy and turn to the natural sciences.

Digital computers are superb number crunchers. Ask them to predict a rocket's trajectory or calculate the financial figures for a large multinational corporation, and they can churn out the answers in seconds. But seemingly simple actions that people routinely perform, such as recognizing a face or reading handwriting, have been devilishy tricky to program.
[Copeland and Proudfoot, 1999]
This is in essence the reason Derrida calls the machine 'dead'. It can do things that are incomprehensible for a human being but yet it cannot solve routine tasks that we perform on a daily basis. But Alan Turing, who was the first to conceive of the abstract machine that we now refer to as the digital computer, was already beginning to think about connectionist networks in 1947: ``Perhaps the networks of neurons that make up the brain have a natural facility for such tasks that standard computers lack. Scientists have thus been investigating computers modeled more closely on the human brain.'' (ibid) And over the last few decades, not only the way we think about computers, but the way computer science thinks about programming, is moving away from an extreme formalism with a focus on the program, towards an increasing attention to the programmer;
[...] from the logical and computational structure of algorithms to the cognitive structures of the people who produce them [the programs]. Innovations such as interactive programming environments, object-oriented programming, and visual programming have not been driven by considerations of algorithm efficiency or formal program verification, but by the ongoing drive to increase the programmer's effectiveness in understanding, generating, and modifying code. [Winograd, 1995]

The interaction between machine and programmer and, eventually, betweeen machine and end user, is the key issue, if the computer is to be fully incorporated in our practice - in our culture and in our artistic expressions. And this interaction must take place on multiple levels. It cannot be simply the tapping of fingers on a keyboard, but also has to move to yet unresolved spheres of action. We need to find ways to navigate the 'de-territorialized,' smooth, nomadic space of the war machine as Deleuze and Guattari refers to it, ``a tactile space, or rather `haptic,' a sonorous much more than a visual space.'' [Deleuze and Guattari, 1987, pp.421] They discuss this further in the chapter following ``Treatise on Nomadology'':

[...] the reinvention of a machine in which the human beings are constituent parts, instead of subjective workers or users. If motorized machines constituted the second age of the technical machine, cybernetic and informational machines form a third age that reconstructs a generalized regime of subjection: [...] the relation between human and machine is based on internal, mutual communication, and no longer on usage or action. [Deleuze and Guattari, 1987, pp. 505-6]

The need is not only to move focus away from the program and towards the programmer but further, towards the meaning of the program in relation to the intended context for the program, including the user, and any possible output from it. In the context of the construction of music, the programming of a machine is an artistic endeavour comparable to the preparation of a score for a performer or a group of performers. It is a prescriptive notation meant for the machine as expert interpreter and performer. For this to even begin to be possible, the fear of the machine as a representative of power and/or destruction must be abandoned. Furthermore, great care must be taken to the way in which the flow of information within the man/machine system is understood, since we are no longer talking about a simple sender/receiver information theory system. We are looking at a potentially very complex and continuous system in which we need to allow for concepts such as `interpretation,' `multiple meaning,' `sign' and `signifier,' `cultural convention,' etc.

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