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THE AESTHETICS OF FAILURE:
Kailas | October 15, 2007 at 01:07 pmby
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Computers have become the primary tools for creating and performing electronic music, while the Internet has become a logical new distribution medium. For the first time in history, creative output and the means of its distribution have been inextricably linked. Our current sonic backgrounds have dramatically changed since 4'33' was first performed - and thus the means for navigating our sur-roundings as well. In response to the radical alteration of our hearing by the tools and technologies developed in academic computer music centers - and a distribution medium capable of shuttling tools, ideas, and music between like-minded composers and engineers - the resultant glitch movement can be seen as a natural progression in electronic music. In this new music, the tools themselves have become the instruments, and the resulting sound is born of their use in ways unintended by their designers. Commonly referred to as sound ‘mangling' or ‘crunching,' composers are now able to view music on a microscopic level. Curtis Roads coined the term microsound for all variants of granular and atomic methods of sound synthesis, and tools capable of operating at this microscopic level are able to achieve these effects. Because the tools used in this style of music embody advanced concepts of digital signal processing, their usage by glitch artists tends to be based on experimentation rather than empirical investigation. In this fashion, unintended usage has become the second permission granted. It has been said that one does not need advanced training to use digital signal processing programs - just ‘mess around' until you obtain the desired result. Sometimes, not knowing the theoretical operation of a tool can result in more interesting results by ‘thinking outside of the box.' As Bob Ostertag notes, ‘It appears that the more technology is thrown at the problem, the more boring the results' (1998).
Futurism was an attempt to reinvent life as it was being reshaped by new technologies. The Italian Futurist painter Luigi Russolo was so inspired by a 1913 orchestral performance of a composition by Balilla Pratella that he wrote a manifesto, The Art of Noises, in the form of a letter to Pratella. His manifesto and subsequent experiments with intonarumori (noise intoners), which imitated urban industrial sounds, transmitted a viral message to future generations, resulting in Russolo's current status as the ‘grandfather' of contemporary ‘post-digital' music. The Futurists considered in-dustrial life a source of beauty, and for them it provided an ongoing symphony. Car engines, ma-chines, factories, telephones, and electricity had been in existence for only a short time, and the resulting din was a rich palette for the Futurists to use in their sound experiments.
Over the past decade, the Internet has helped spawn a new movement in digital music. It is not academically based, and for the most part the composers involved are self-taught. Music journalists occupy themselves inventing names for it, and some have already taken root: glitch, microwave, DSP, sinecore, and microscopic music. These names evolved through a collection of decon-structive audio and visual techniques that allow artists to work beneath the previously impen-etrable veil of digital media. The Negroponte epi-graph above inspired me to refer to this emergent genre as ‘post-digital' because the revolutionary period of the digital information age has surely passed. The tendrils of digital technology have in some way touched everyone. With electronic com-merce now a natural part of the business fabric of the Western world and Hollywood cranking out digital fluff by the gigabyte, the medium of digital technology holds less fascination for composers in and of itself. In this article, I will emphasize that the medium is no longer the message; rather, specific tools themselves have become the message.