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Session 2-27
Music, New Media, and Digital Culture

Joseph Auner (SUNY at Stony Brook)
Timothy D. Taylor (Columbia University), Co-Organizers

"It is simple common-sense that, when industry erupts into
the sphere of art, it becomes the latter's mortal enemy, and
in the resulting confusion of functions none is carried out well."
--Baudelaire, "The Modern Public and Photography,
"The Salon of 1859"

The rapid development of digital technologies, new media, and the internet, are profoundly transforming the production, distribution, and reception of music. Traditional notions of the interaction of the human and machine, what it means to be a musician, and how music relates to the audience are being profoundly reconfigured. Bringing together perspectives from composition, musicology, ethnomusicology, media studies, and the music industry, the panel will examine the emergence of these new technologies and their implications for music, music making, and music as industry and commodity.

 

"Sing It For Me": Human Loops and Sad Machines
Joseph Auner (SUNY at Stony Brook)

A crucial moment in Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey shows the lone surviving astronaut, Dave, deep within the ship's computer HAL's memory banks, methodically disabling its higher brain functions. With each turn of the screw we hear HAL's calmly pleading voice as he feels his consciousness slipping away. The final stage of the process is marked by HAL's sudden regression through memory to the day of his first public demonstration as he sings "Daisy" about a bicycle built for two. In contrast to the overall cool tone of the film, this is a moment of great emotional intensity. But strikingly it is the broken and dying machine that is expressive, and not the astronaut who remains silent, encapsulated in a hard, reflective, plastic shell.
The complex blurring of the human and technological in the scene anticipates important characteristics of a broad range of contemporary music that uses the sounds of old recordings, "obsolete" electric and electronic instruments, defective devices, and the whole sphere of low fidelity. Drawing on writings by Hayles, Jameson, and Rose, and with reference to songs by Moby, Radiohead, and the Lo Fidelity All-Stars, this paper will consider a range of pieces in which technological brokenness and obsolescence, often in interaction with tropes of race and gender, become a central locus of expression. That these reconfigurations of the interaction of human and machine have broad implications is suggested by the conclusion of 2001. HAL's swan song also marks the last time Dave speaks in the film; his final words--before his cosmic journey when he leaves humanity and technology behind--are "sing it for me."

 

Real-time Interaction among Composers, Performers, and Computer Systems
Cort Lippe (SUNY at Buffalo)

Real-time interactive computer music poses interesting technical and musical problems. While some composers use the computer to imitate musical instruments, and others are interested in replacing human performers with machines, certain composers feel that musicians do a more than adequate job of making instruments speak expressively, and therefore should remain an integral part of musical creation. Many of these composers create mixed-media pieces for acoustic instruments and electronics, and have a particular interest in designing new sounds (something at which computers are very useful), and exploring algorithmic compositional structures (simulation being another forte of computers).
Real-time quantification of characteristics of a musical performance is now possible on desktop computers. Thoughtful high-level event detection which combines the analyses of frequency, amplitude, and spectral information (i.e. pitch, dynamics, and timbre) can be used to influence a computer part during a performance. Subtle changes found in a musical performance, such as an accelerando, a change in bowing, staccato articulation, or the use of portamento in a phrase can directly affect the electronic output of a computer. A dynamic relationship between performer, musical material, and computer can become an important aspect of the artistic experience for composers, performers, and listeners alike. Compositions can be fine-tuned to individual performing characteristics of specific musicians, performers and computers can interact expressively, and musicians can readily sense the consequences of their performance and musical interpretation.

 

Music, Marketing, and the Internet
Peri Shamsai (BMG Entertainment)

In the past five years, the internet has changed the relationship between the musician and his/her audience. In particular, marketing and promotional sites have catalyzed both a real shrinking of the social distance and a perceived shrinking of economic distance between the producer and the consumer. However, with the advent of MP3 and digital downloading of music, the industry is experiencing a revolution, which is profoundly altering the relationships between modes of production, distribution and consumption of music. In this paper, I will explore these relationships through an examination of the advent of A&R (i.e., Artist and Repertoire) sites, the myth of disintermediation, and the development of communities of interest around aggregated content. Furthermore, I will demonstrate that each of the five major record companies has interpreted the fundamental nature of these relationships differently, resulting in highly diverging internet strategies.

 

Digital Technology and New Modes of Music Consumption
Timothy D. Taylor (Columbia University)

The advent of digital technology has brought with it new modes of storage and retrieval of music, which are changing the nature of the consumption of music. Individual tracks can be downloaded from the Internet, facilitating increasingly eclectic and personalized modes of collecting and listening. Downloaded music, and music copied onto computer hard discs from compact discs can be manipulated, remixed, remade. Listeners can also purchase particular songs at kiosks that are burned onto compact discs while they wait.
While there has been a good deal of attention to new kinds of production in the last couple of decades, characterized as post-Fordist, or "flexible consumption," or "disorganized capitalism," theories of new modes of consumption have been less in evidence. This paper will survey recent theories of consumption and marketing and in order to show how new digital technologies are resulting in increasingly eclectic modes of consumption. But, unlike what the most influential theorists of consumption such as Jean Baudrillard have argued, the increased availability of cultural forms has not reduced consumers to dupes, overwhelmed by the availability of signs from all over, but rather facilitates new forms of aesthetic reflexivity and eclecticism.

 

Cybertarianism, Technology, and the Future
Toby Miller (Department of Cinema Studies, New York University)

This paper draws on my books Technologies of Truth: Cultural Citizenship and the Popular Media and The Well-Tempered Self: Citizenship, Culture, and the Postmodern Subject. The basic approach is to address cultural technology as a social practice, not as something with either a utopic or dystopic inevitability to it. This means considering "new technology" and music in the context of discourse and institution.
We need to link issues of the audience-producer relationship, encoding-decoding, and the prospect of everyone becoming a music-maker (or at least compiler) with what I call cybertarianism--that strange amalgam of libertarianism and computer-on-line dependency which matches individualism with the most-interconnected domain of knowledge in world history. The idea that the new world privileges consumers over producers and makes all of us into artists, needs to be understood within the paradoxes and contradictions of these discourses. With respect to institutions, the three key areas are (i) corporations, (ii) the state, and (iii) labor. Clearly, corporate mergers mock the idea that new technology is a consumer-driven cornucopia of choice. Just as clearly, moves by the state to do the bidding of these corporations over copyright makes a mockery of the same. And equally visibly, the New International Division of Cultural Labor imperils established lines of operation of work.
The paper will conclude with a claim that renewed discourses of citizenship and labor are the way through this maze for a left future.

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