encouraging polemics and reflection...


Subject: encouraging polemics and reflection...
From: Martín (maralefu@usa.net)
Date: Sat Feb 06 1999 - 09:09:08 EST


I am forwarding this article that could encourage reflections and polemics....

               [W I R E D] [Image]Archive | 7.01 - Jan 1999 | Feature

               The Revenge of the Intuitive

               Turn off the options, and turn up the intimacy.

               By Brian Eno

               I recently spent three days working with what is possibly the
most advanced
               recording console in the world, and I have to report that it
was a horribly
               unmusical experience. The console, which has more than 10,000
controls on
               its surface and a computer inside, was designed in such a way
that
               music-making tasks once requiring a single physical switch now
require a
               several-step mental negotiation. My engineer kept saying "Wait
a minute"
               and then had to duck out of the musical conversation we were
having so he
               could go into secretarial mode to execute complex computer-like
operations.
               It's as though a new layer of bureaucracy has interposed itself
between me
               and the music we want to make. After days of tooth-gnashing
frustration, I
               had to admit that something has gone wrong with the design of
technology -
               and I was paying $2,000 a day in studio fees to discover it.

               Years ago I realized that the recording studio was becoming a
musical
               instrument. I even lectured about it, proclaiming that "by
turning sound
               into malleable material, studios invite you to construct new
worlds of
               sounds as painters construct worlds of form and color." I was
thrilled at
               how people were using studios to make music that otherwise
simply could not
               exist. Studios opened up possibilities. But now I'm struck by
the
               insidious, computer-driven tendency to take things out of the
domain of
               muscular activity and put them into the domain of mental
activity. This
               transfer is not paying off. Sure, muscles are unreliable, but
they
               represent several million years of accumulated finesse.
Musicians enjoy
               drawing on that finesse (and audiences respond to its
exercise), so when
               muscular activity is rendered useless, the creative process is
frustrated.
               No wonder artists who can afford the best of anything keep
buying "retro"
               electronics and instruments, and revert to retro media.

               The trouble begins with a design philosophy that equates "more
options"
               with "greater freedom." Designers struggle endlessly with a
problem that is
               almost nonexistent for users: "How do we pack the maximum
number of options
               into the minimum space and price?" In my experience, the
instruments and
               tools that endure (because they are loved by their users) have
limited
               options.

               Software options proliferate extremely easily, too easily in
fact, because
               too many options create tools that can't ever be used
intuitively.
               Intuitive actions confine the detail work to a dedicated part
of the brain,
               leaving the rest of one's mind free to respond with attention
and
               sensitivity to the changing texture of the moment. With tools,
we crave
               intimacy. This appetite for emotional resonance explains why
users - when
               given a choice - prefer deep rapport over endless options. You
can't have a
               relationship with a device whose limits are unknown to you,
because without
               limits it keeps becoming something else.

               Indeed, familiarity breeds content. When you use familiar
tools, you draw
               upon a long cultural conversation - a whole shared history of
usage - as
               your backdrop, as the canvas to juxtapose your work. The deeper
and more
               widely shared the conversation, the more subtle its inflections
can be.

               This is the revenge of traditional media. Even the "weaknesses"
or the
               limits of these tools become part of the vocabulary of culture.
I'm
               thinking of such stuff as Marshall guitar amps and
black-and-white film -
               what was once thought most undesirable about these tools became
their
               cherished trademark.

               The Marshall guitar amplifier doesn't just get louder when you
turn it up.
               It distorts the sound to produce a whole range of new
harmonics,
               effectively turning a plucked string instrument into a bowed
one. A
               responsible designer might try to overcome this limitation -
probably the
               engineers at Marshall tried, too. But that sound became the
sound of, among
               others, Jimi Hendrix. That sound is called "electric guitar."
Or think of
               grainy black-and-white film, or jittery Super 8, or scratches
on vinyl.
               These limitations tell you something about the context of the
work, where
               it sits in time, and by invoking that world they deepen the
resonances of
               the work itself.

               Since so much of our experience is mediated in some way or
another, we have
               deep sensitivities to the signatures of different media.
Artists play with
               these sensitivities, digesting the new and shifting the old. In
the end,
               the characteristic forms of a tool's or medium's distortion, of
its
               weakness and limitations, become sources of emotional meaning
and intimacy.

               Although designers continue to dream of "transparency" -
technologies that
               just do their job without making their presence felt - both
creators and
               audiences actually like technologies with "personality." A
personality is
               something with which you can have a relationship. Which is why
people
               return to pencils, violins, and the same three guitar chords.

                
------------------------------------------------------------------------

               Brian Eno is a composer, record producer, and visual artist
living in
               London.

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