Re: On illegal software in an academic assignment ...

Subject: Re: On illegal software in an academic assignment ...
From: Kenneth Newby (
Date: Sun Nov 13 2005 - 17:14:08 EST

This gets more and more interesting. When, as a child, my parents
wanted us kids to have a direct musical experience they invested in a
piano. They didn't expect the music school to provide an instrument
for free. It was simply too expensive. When I decided to learn any
musical instrument I either bought outright, or, if on a tight budget,
found a store with one of those lease-to-own programs. When we got to
university and decided we wanted to dig deeper into computers and music
than the limited access to institutional systems provided we made a
decision on financial priorities and invested in our own systems and
learned to compose our own musical software.

Now... this was made perhaps easier then than now for several reasons.
The piano as musical system is relatively stable -- the initial
investment, while it stings, is sure to endure for years to come.
Similarly for most physical musical instruments one might consider.
Software, in an environment of mutating operating systems and hardware
capabilities is constantly evolving and going out of date. While the
investments are often much less than that of the purchase of a fine
musical instrument, in the long run, when you add up the costs of
upgrades and shifts to new hardware platforms, it ends up costing much
more. That's where the culture of feeling "burned" by the current
economic system comes in. But more profound relationships to
technology are possible.

If you want to get into the new hi-tech culture you literally have to
"buy into it" (in more than financial terms as well) and continue to
invest as you ride the wave of novelty. At least with programming
languages one has the added power of evolving one's own tools and
techniques (until the hardware dies). The bad faith that occurs is
with people objecting to their "burned" state, yet not taking the
appropriate moral action in opposition to the culture that produces
their discomfort. One response is to simply turn away from technology
and the culture of control that drives much of its evolution. This
delightfully radical response makes a powerful statement of
alternative, embodied culture that needs, in my humble opinion, to be
kept alive. I spend several hours every day trying to master the
violin for this reason. My body/mind/spirit feels healthier as a
consequence and it's a domain that's relatively immune to the influence
of management culture -- not to mention the powerful reminder it
provides as to what constitutes an effective musical tool. Another
approach is to become a developer rather than a user. Artists are not
really users anyway, so why buy into the current culture of users,
ease-of-use and efficiency? That's why I think it's always better, to
paraphrase John Cage, to use a piece of software to generate a musical
output than use a sample based on that software... but even better
still to create the software to compose your own work than "use"
someone else's tools/instruments. So... invest in programming
environments that allow you to create your own priceless nuggets of
creativity. It's worth the investment.

Programming languages/compilers are much more temporally robust than
the products they generate. The process of upgrading a compiler for a
new version of the operating system is often just the inclusion of a
set of free library files. While Pd is, on the surface, less evolved
than MaxMSP/Jitter.... there's nothing stopping anyone from getting
under the hood and compiling the extensions that will make it just as

Free tools are out there and extremely powerful: Csound, Soundhack and
Pd to name just a couple. What we *could* use is an effective waveform
editor that runs native on several operating systems and provides basic
editing and fade/crossfade functionality. If the tools provide plugin
capabilities one can include dsp processes of choice compiled for open
source release with composition tools like Pluggo.

Ultimately, it seems unreasonable to me that people should expect all
of this to come for free. Nikola Tesla worked on this for years to no
avail!!! ;-) The strategy is not to join the pirates but to beat them
at their own game. There are good people out there providing the means
to create your own alternative to the emergent info-culture. Support
them and become part of a viable alternative. It takes some investment
in both financial terms as well as ethical and socially conscious


Kenneth Newby — Computational Poetics
School for Interactive Arts & Technology
Simon Fraser University
Integrated Media - Emily Carr Institute
7 7 8 . 8 5 8 . 0 3 5 9

On 13-Nov-05, at 8:23 AM, Owen Grant wrote:

> There is a huge catch 22 here: how does the student -- often on the
> bread line -- afford to by their compositional tools? And how does a
> student learn to create music without the tools they need to compose?
> Although there are free alternatives to many of the big software
> programs, they are rarely as easy to use. Many students have enough
> problems understanding electro-acoustic music, never mind trying to
> learn how to operate non-user-friendly software. Moreover, the
> lecturers that have greater experience with music software are often
> provided with the big-name software on behalf of their institution.
> While students, presumably, have to use less user-friendly software
> such as PD, so they can work on things outside the University walls.
> J. Simon van der Walt Wrote:
>> Owen Green wrote;
>>> Absolutely - as far as software is concerned, open-source is
>>> invaribly
>>> the better way, both ethically and pragmatically.
>> I agree in principle, but not necessarily in practice; in terms of
>> functionality, ease-of-use, documentation and stability. I can get
>> stuff
>> done in Max/MSP, and my students can figger it out just by hacking
>> around.
>> pd is rocket science with a blunt penknife by comparison.
> They are required to learn twice the software -- for home use, and
> university use. They are required to put up with inferior software --
> way to go, make things harder for students!
> If a student surgeon was told: “Sorry, we can’t afford surgical knives
> for student surgeons; you’ll need to make do with that chisel.” there
> would be a riot!
> Why should student musicians accept this double standard? Universities
> aren’t supplying what the students’ need, and the capitalists are
> pricing out the creation of new art.
> I think that a lot of students aren’t as morally bereft as you might
> think. In fact, quite the opposite -- I think that a lot of students
> are consciously deciding that they think it morally acceptable to use
> cracked software. And whether anyone believes me
> I actually think that most students desire to replace cracked software
> as soon as their financial situation changes for the better. Students
> often feel forced into this criminal activity, and although I have
> never heard it expressed outright anywhere, I have a suspicion that
> students -- if not expected -- are tolerated in engage in this
> criminal activity.
> The question we should be asking is why aren’t further education
> institutions supplying the tools students' need? Why do further
> education institutions have these student-lecturer double standards?
> Should the software companies be offering almost-free yearly rental of
> their software to students?
> Owen
> Owen.C.Grant

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