Re: encouraging polemics and reflection...

Subject: Re: encouraging polemics and reflection...
From: B. Battey (
Date: Thu Feb 11 1999 - 15:30:14 EST

On Thu, 11 Feb 1999, DG Malham wrote:

> trained - usually not. Even if we think we do spend the time getting
> training, it never compares to, say, the amount of time we spent learning
> to read or write and nowhere near the length of time an instrumentalist
> would spend learning to play their instrument (at least two lifetimes).
> The whole problem being compounded by the rate of change of technology and
> the desparate desire many manifest to always have the latest of
> everything, even if it actual does the job worse.

I think Eno would be on board on this statement. I've heard third-hand
(correct me if I heard wrong) that Eno directed most of his energies for a
number of years into the Yamaha DX7 rather than continually getting
different synths, because he wanted to attain the same degree of
'virtuosity' in controlling the instrument and designing sounds that one
would expect (analogously) of a well-trained acoustic instrumentalist.

Meanwhile, those using software tools are caught between a rock and hard
place. Yes, I might like to keep working in one environment with one tool
over many years so I attain that extraordinary sense of virtuosity with
the tools. I try to actively resist the call "to always have the latest of

But the incapacity of humans to write software that is reliable means I
want to upgrade in hopes that the upgrade will address some of the bugs
that blow up my current tools -- even if I don't care about new features
in the upgrade. (I guess this would be like wanting to get a new violin
with pegs that could actually hold their tuning through a performance.)
Plus, this tool that works has to operate with other tools in the outside
world that will change even if I don't.

Then I find that the upgrade redesigns the interface, introduces new bugs
with the new features, and doesn't work in the existing environment so
*that* environment has to be upgraded to a new and unfamiliar state or to
a new platform altogether. (If I was a violinist, this would mean I get a
violin that holds tune, but now has five strings tuned at thirds.
"Exciting new feature!" says the Marketing Department.) Pretty soon I feel
like I'm a systems administrator much more of the time than I am a
productive composer. But, I guess if I didn't get some kind of pleasure
out of that role, I wouldn't be here!

I assume this is all a sign of how youthful the tools are, constantly
changing design and approach -- like the early history of the piano forte.

But maybe its not 'mere youthfulness': Many world views driving the
contemporary arts ('high' and 'popular' both) tend to emphasize revolution
and novel new techniques/ideas and proving the uniqueness of an individual
vision over alternative emphasis such as evolution of tradition and
community. And this is directly reflected in the way we evolve our tools
and methods as technologists and as composers. "I'm going to find that new
technique that puts my work on the map." Or in the popular music lingo,
"I'm going to do something reeaaally *cool*"

No value judgment here -- just an awareness that we are getting what we
have chosen to create and perpetuate. Perhaps with a different world view,
the way we use and develop the tools would change too.

For the reasons given above, its rare that computer musicians choose
to act in a way that would allow us to attain high scale 'virtuosity' in
our tools -- or methods.

My conclusion: Perhaps the virtuosity of a computer artist in our time is
often the ability to function effectively as an artist without the benefit
of virtuosity!

Gotta go now -- have to figure out how to work around some bugs in the new
version of Adobe Premiere (while learning its new interface). And then
figure out the new MIDI file import object structure in Common Music so I
can repair my code written with the last version...
-=Bret Battey

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