RE: regarding innovation

Subject: RE: regarding innovation
Date: Tue Feb 15 2005 - 09:43:47 EST

Don't leave out post-modernism and structuralism.

I assume that works of music are better or worse in some sense not well
defined, but that people (history) can, better than chance, agree on.
Without that, nothing to stand on.

For a work to be better than another, it must be different. Does that mean
if it is a lot better, it is a lot different? Probably. Then how is it
different? If it gets a lot different, it seems to be in a different style.
Styles are a historical phenomenon. What makes one style different from
another? Something systematic.

In other words, I think systems and systematic innovation are inherent to
music history, not just to Western history. We just have good libraries and
paid historians. Once you start to learn about gamelan or West African
music or Indian music, you see the styles changing generation by generation
just as they did in Vienna. There's plenty of cross-fertilization that's
not so apparent from the airliner window at eight miles high. An ikon of
that is the Italian fiddle played upside down by "classical" Indian

Does this mean non-Western traditions also are necessarily involved in a
historical dialectic with an inherent, propelling logic as envisioned by
modernist historians? Well, since they increasingly are enmeshed in 12TET
and recording in studios, yes indeed.

But it then follows, no systematic innovation, no continuation of musical
creativity, and no continued production of works of high quality. In this
sense I adhere to the "modernist" (i.e. neo-classical) take on music
history and esthetics: There is no great music for more than one generation
without systematic innovation.

This is related to music software because music software is now completely
wound up with music production in all styles of music in all parts of the
world. Maybe it's not so apparent to performing musicians, but it sure is
apparent to record producers (crypto-composers) and composers.

Your distinctions between approaches to systematic innovation are
interesting, but perhaps it is more fundamental to acknowledge that great
music has been made both (a) starting with an interest in systematic
innovation and then realizing works (Xenakis?), and (b) starting with an
immersion in works in a particular style, solving problems in that style on
a scale and in a depth that leads to new systems (Schoenberg?).

Music software has a low physical capital cost and a high (hidden)
intellectual capital cost (or labor cost). As a result, it historically has
channeled and limited systematic innovation (e.g. the time-crippled
stultification known as MIDI, the fossil known as filtered sampling
synthesis) as much as it has encouraged it (mostly but not always in
patronized pioneers like Xenakis or graduate schools like MIT).

I view one of the most important functions of music software as lowering
the barriers to systematic innovation in both senses mentioned above. A
combination of intuitive ease of use with abstract programming power is
required to do this. I do not believe we have arrived at the saddle point
in this regard yet. I do not think visual programming languages are the
best way to go, because I think they limit abstract power, although I do
think visual representation of musical data is extremely important.

What I really long for is something that the "unlettered" computer musician
(one with no understanding of O log(N) or modes of limited transposition)
can use, that nevertheless supports a formal concern with systematic
innovation, that functions all the way through to mastering hit records or
movie soundtracks in high-precision surround sound.

This will occur when something like Reason is as programmable as something
like Python or Ocaml and as un-confining with respect to musical forms as
Csound. Most of all it depends on developing software protocols and
standards superior to MIDI for representing music, yet still intuitive.

Original Message:
From: Ross Bencina
Date: Tue, 15 Feb 2005 12:16:08 +0100
Subject: regarding innovation

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
(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
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
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
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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