Re: academics & computer music & genreism

Subject: Re: academics & computer music & genreism
Date: Sat Dec 18 1999 - 07:15:31 EST

>On Thu, 16 Dec 1999, Hannah Bosma wrote:
>> On ("publications") you can read the text "Why
>> Computer Music Sucks" by Bob Ostertag, published in "Resonance magazine". A
>> strong statement against academic computer music.

Counterly, Nye parried:

>seriously though (and I havn't read it yet though I have read the Ars
>electronica jury statement which it inspired)

By pure happenstance a copy of the article (or at least I think it is!)
turned up on my desktop yesterday (just _what_ are these Santa's elven
folk up to at this time of the year anyway!?).

WHY COMPUTER MUSIC SUCKS -- is a statement ... and sadly, being a printed
document allows for multiple interpretations, without much need for
clarification or specificity. For those from the academic (or any
politicaly heated domain), this form of "debate" (sic) has the
charactereistics of what may be called an 'ambiguous semantic ploy'.

An ASP has parameters something like this: use a term (poorly defined), in
a number of contexts (each invoking different and sometimes contradictory
references), and allow each supporter or opponent to select their own set
of parameters for its interpretation -- a semantic Rorschach Test.

The title itself yields (among many other possibilities):

Why! Computer Music Sucks (mild surprise)

Why Computer! Music Sucks (discovery)

Why? Computer Music Sucks (cosmic angst)

Why: Computer Music Sucks (a study in semantic manipulation [sic])

Why: Computer Music Sucks? (a study in the decline of a proper noun)


And to the last line for the summary:
"And yet Computer Music can find no audience beyond those who make it."

If this is the critique's principal point (or point of principle), then,
{from an academic analytic point of view <ug!> <yikes!>) 'why' didn't the
word audience appear in the first 2 - 3 sentences? This would have placed a
contextual framework, and allowed this reader (at least) to be able to
organize the pieces of the argument being laid out.

A deficiency of printed text is that frequently the same word needs to be
pressed into service to express different concepts. A careful 'reading'
needs to be done to note that "Computer Music", with capital 'C' and
capital 'M' is not the same as 'computer music'. In the first 4
paragraphs, the word 'computer' appears seven times, twice with capitals,
but only once with "quotation marks". (Later it appears in quotation
marks, but without capitals. See below.)

The semantic ambiguity of the second sentence of computer music may not
be as ambiguous as on a first reading: " ... the range of music
considered to be Computer Music has become increasingly fixed and rigid."

Hmmmmmmmmm .........

"considered to be" ... is there as missing statement such as

... "the range of music that I consider to be Computer Music ...", or

... "the range of music that CMJ considers to be Computer Music... " or

" ... that CCRMA considers ...", or

" ... that IRCAM considers ...", or
"... that ICMA considers ...".
" ... or Xenakis" ...
" ... Babbitt .."
"... Boulez ..."

Now come on, 'fess up: which one is being refered to here? or is about
all of them. [chill] ...

Which leads me back to my first consideration: Why 'sucks'.

Now to an older generation of cardigan wearing foggies entering our
anecdotage fannie first, the word 'suck', has a somewhat poorly defined
meaning ... or meanings. Some points on the continuum of meaning that
could be extracted from [sic] this, would include:

 -- contempt and belittlement (traditional foggie view - over 40s)

 -- disappointment regarding unfulfilled expectation (curmudgeon - over
70s who has come to peace with themself)

 -- a term of endearment, longing and loving (hip [sic] (ooops!) under 25)

Maybe the author is resentful that the 'promise' of Computer Music has
not been fulfilled by the continuation of the european tradition of great
german masterpieces by titans of music, and has sadly slipped, sullied
into the hands of the unwashed masses, and the Americans. (But this was
an American competition [?], so there could be no ethnicity implied by
the context <<<<8-(>>>>>>>>.)

(A brief recounting of history will recall that the roots of 'Computer
Music' were in the USA, largely funded by US industry in an attempt to
replace telephone operators with machines. While the french and german
centers debated 'sonic objects' and 'subtractive synthesis', at the Bell
Labs, HALs voice for 2001 was starting to sing "On a Bicycle Built for

But, as far as I can read (where _did_ I put my semanticly corrected
glasses?) the term "Computer", and even that of "music" is left undefined
... again part of the Rorschach Test ... let's see who gets their nose
out of joint with this set of generalizations ...


If I were to be looking at the article with my academic spectacles, I
would point out the writer that it may not be coherent (or fair) to draw
conclusions about general forms of behavior based upon the actions of a
few individuals. Apart from Cage, Varese and Stockhausen (each a unique
[unconnected?] visionary in his own right), is it possible to name say
200 other ... no lets be more realistic, say 100 other ... er well 50 25? ... well maybe 15 other composers of the period ... working
this way?

It's a bit like saying that there were two Baroque composers (Telleman
and Vivaldi) .... IMH (academic glasses / cardigan wearing) O.

Generalizing from the specific is not de facto a weak form of argument:
it is possible that the 'one' is right, and that the others are not.
(There are many simple tests to check this out in classroom situations
where the rowdy voices of the many drown out the correct answer of the

The concept of Artistic Stasis, agains calls upon the 'ambiguous semantic
ploy' (viz) ... "For all the self-professed interest in using digital
technology to create new musical forms, in fact the agenda of "computer
music" [sic] quickly ossified around the concerns of the Western avant
garde prevalent at the time of the introduction of computers into music
... " (Maybe Babbit and Matthews would interpret this differntly ... Hiller)

[Joel Chadabe's Chapter Five, Computer Music from ES would be a good
starting point for those interested.]

There's that living body of "computer music" ... but wait! this one has
no capitals, just quotation marks .... is this the new player in the
field? Can't keep track of 'em without a score (oooops) card.

And then the enlightenment that: "algorithmic composition (which is
really a digital extension of serial music)," ... _really_, now no-one
taught me that in school. Sounds like a conspiracy between Schoenberg and
Shannon ... see those Americans keep getting on the great german
tradition! <yikes!>

PS Please don't let Xenakis know about this: it would imply that he
either knew nothing about this (a real dupe), or was part of the
'Computer Music' conspiracy.

Yes, yes, yes ... enough, but why does Computer Music Suck?

<<<<<<<<8-()>>>>>>>>>>> ....



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