regarding innovation

Subject: regarding innovation
From: Ross Bencina (
Date: Tue Feb 15 2005 - 06:16:08 EST

Hi All

Greetings. I'm back after a few years out of this pond.. but something is
bugging me, and i could think of no better place to discuss it, so here goes
(apologies for the length)...

I'm wondering about when interest in "innovation" or "the creation of new
systems" and/or "originality" became an important focus for individual
musical creation, and whether this is/was a historical phase, an artifact of
the pedagogical tendency to use new innovations as milestones to describe
history, an intrinsic element of my/our definition of "art", part of our
culture's obsession with "the creator", all, or none of the above etc.

What I learnt at school was a history of innovations:

Diatonic harmony and it's other related predecessors were a stable systems
basis for musical composition for a few hundred years (accepting slow or
sometimes drastic excursions), then the vienna school decided the whole
system could be dismantled and reorganised. Around the same time Stravinsky
(I gues Webern too) derided the barline, some other guys (Varese, Grainger,
Rusollo) decided tuned instruments weren't necessary anyway you could just
use sounds, and the rest of the 20th century is a role call of new systems
and approaches (tunings, stochastics, etc). These days it's not uncommon for
composers to invent a totally new system for each composition.

I know some of the facts, but I don't have a good enough grounding to say
something like "Oh that's a manifestation of the general trajectory of
Western thought in the late industrial period where people were mostly
concerned with X,Y and Z due to A, B, and C, important themes were explored
by I, II and III" -- not that that would necessarily satisfy me, but it
might be a good place for me to start.

Accepting that I probably need to go take a course in philosophy and art
history, can anyone give me some hints or point me at something good to read
about the above themes?

...while i'm talking about systems, what do you (or others) think about
different approaches to systems innovation in art and music:

- Apply existing system (write a sonata in C Major)
- Modify existing system (take Xenakis' stochastics and put a new spin on
- Combine multiple systems in a new way (take a Partch tuning and compose
with chance operations)
then you can get trans-sensory:
- Make a painting and turn it into sound
or interdisciplinary:
- Model the physics of a saxophone, then scale it up to the size of a
skyscraper and play it with a virtual inteligent tornado bred to play like
Ravi Shankar using evolutionary algorithms...

... i think i know it's a risk to be so "systems" centric... but that's how
i'm thinking this morning .. and i would think someone has written abou

Actually what I'm really interested in is music software systems and some
concrete reasons why some people make their own, why others use existing
systems etc. I think digging into the above might provide some useful
clues.., does anyone want to join in?

Best wishes


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