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Interference patterns: reframing historical perspectives on interconnections between electronic music and cybernetics

Watson, Joe (2016) Interference patterns: reframing historical perspectives on interconnections between electronic music and cybernetics. University of Leeds. [Dataset]

This item is part of the Alternative Histories of Electronic Music collection.

Dataset description

This paper presents a ‘diffractive’ encounter (Karen Barad, 2003), or ‘mapping of interferences’ (Donna Haraway, 1992), between four disparate, interconnected ‘personae’:  Electronic Music: Systems, Techniques and Controls by Allen Strange, 1972 1st ed., 1983 2nd ed. Long out of print pedagogical text mainly focused on modular synthesis. References to cybernetics abound. The 2nd ed. becomes a ‘bible’ to denizens of muffwiggler. The 1st ed. has a long description of one electronic performance piece by: Ranulph Glanville. British composer of the 60s, who in 1972 gave up music and became a cybernetician. He was a very early adopter of live performance electronics, though his not being institutionally affiliated meant his electronic setup had to be cobbled together or self-made. His approach was unconventional and resolutely DIY: “A key notion in our work was that anyone (including us) could make music” (2001). Glanville notes “how music provided an initial developmental test bed for later work” in cybernetics, where he was tutored by: Gordon Pask. One of the key developers of ‘2nd order’ cybernetics. Pask is not to be found in any historical study of electronic music, but his MusiColour performance system of 1953, in which a musician conducts an improvisatory conversation with a machine that generates a responsive light show, can be seen as a highly sophisticated and prescient anticipation of much later work in electronic music centred on human-computer interaction, algorithmic/generative approaches and machine learning. MusiColour, like much of Pask’s later work, was created outside of any institutional support structure, and like Glanville’s performance systems, was DIY. Pask did much work on machine learning. Glanville called him “the father of CAL” [computer aided learning], and his work of the 60s and 70s pre-figured later collaborative knowledge sharing environments to be found today online today in the shape of forums such as:  muffwiggler. The pre-eminent modular synthesis forum. Has taken Electronic Music to its heart, with many posts presenting realisations of Strange’s example patches on contemporary modular setups. Founded by Mike McGrath out of a frustration at the paucity of information online. He never promoted the forum, yet it ‘grew itself’ to become the number one source of modular synthesis information on the net. It is not without irony that McGrath tells the tale of the Cal Arts electronic music professor pleading with him to change the name of the forum so he can recommend it to his students: CA is one of the few privileged places where this information was always available, in the shape of knowledgeable synthesists, a well stocked library and some of the most important modular synth resources such as the Serge system. A diffractive accounting troubles boundary making and linear progress narratives, as exemplified by ‘the history of electronic music’. Here, interconnections between these four players allow us to draw a circular, non-linear history that touches on: interconnections between electronic music and cybernetics, maverick designers and thinkers who operate on the margins of institutional support and structure; complex feedback networks and systems; self-generating or organizing systems; collaborative knowledge communities.

Subjects: W000 - Creative arts & design > W300 - Music
W000 - Creative arts & design > W300 - Music > W310 - Musicianship/performance studies > W316 - Electronic/electro-acoustic music performance
Divisions: Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures > School of Music
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Date deposited: 27 Jul 2017 19:08



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