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Laptop Music
This nOde last updated December 12th, 2001 and is permanently morphing...
(7 Ben (Corn Stalk) / 11 Mak -
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I am currently writing an article for Mille Plateaux about how the laptop computer has become a internal linkfocal point for some of the issues surrounding "performance" in electronic music today. There are several historical internal linkforces at work here that need to be considered while addressing the problem of "laptop music":

1) The role of the individual in the performance of electronic music.
2) The migration of electronic music to pop culture.
3) Acousmatic music presentation in academic music culture
4) The expectations of an audience in various cultural settings.

All of these forces are currently intersecting at one point and most people are unable to view these various forces with equal clarity.  The resulting difficulty most people have with laptop performance is exacerbated by the fact that most people today arrive at electronic music through the cultural framework (and hence expectations) of pop culture...and even within the cultural framework of 20th century music there are people who still cling to the notion that music performance needs to carry a visual counterpart (I call this "gestural theater") to the actual music being produced...as if the music is made more rich or meaningful through the gestures of a performer...people can't let go of needing to verify causality in a musical setting.

I find it odd that people don't demand the same proof of causality from a piece of visual art but some of this has to do with the difference between temporal and spatial arts. We demand to see proof of causality when a piece is being performed realtime. We need proof that the work is not just a temporal displacement; i.e. playback of a stored "performance". I find this distrust and suspicion tied directly to the distrust of technology in general.

My view is that the laptop acts as a direct connection to the mind of a composer and bypasses most of the apparatus that has been put into place by pop culture over the past 100 years. Hence, many ideas can now be expressed which previously couldn't be because of the highly developed motor skills required to play a musical instrument...

Besides, the fact is that there is very little difference between the construction of a synthesizer/sampler and a laptop computer...they both share I/O, CPU, some sort of storage, and a display for UI. It just happens that one is packaged like a computer and the other like a keyboard (usually)...


I came up with the following quote for an article I wrote for Computer Music Journal:

  "The medium is no longer the message, the tool has become the message".

I think that this is an unavoidable situation given the reliance on internal linkdigital audio tools for creating electronic music but it is no different than musicians being able to hear a Yamaha DX-7, Korg M-1 or an Arp 2600 on a recording except now they can hear plug-ins.  Being aware of the tools used in a work of art is nothing new. I used to hang out with fine arts and film students who could trainspot a particular type of brush, medium or camera internal linklens used in a work. The pressure to create sounds that have never been heard before and/or whose origins are undetectable reeks of a modernist notion of "originality". Originality is no longer a relevant aesthetic problem...we abandoned that idea a long internal linktime ago. I like the fact that tools have become part of the message...it can create very complex surfaces upon which to work.
digital trance formation... Information in formation


I have always felt that the term minimalism when applied to music has been misused. It is difficult to create a work which is emptied of content and refers to itself. All artwork references external internal linkreality in some way but that might be a different discussion altogether but yes, I find minimalism to be an aesthetic dead end. It carries less and less internal linkinformation with repetition and I am much more interested in density of information i.e. multiple channels of information all turned on at once while listeners position themselves within this field.


I am currently reading "Information Theory and Esthetic Perception" by Abraham Moles in which he discusses the concept of "sonic objects". I tend to think in terms of "sound grids" and "sound ornaments" and this informs much of the way I tend to work but all sound objects have a defined lifespan and I tend to submerge the idea of sound objects below the abstraction of layers, surfaces, and spaces. The objects I create are born and die within these spaces but all my objects are pre-defined.

My compositional process has more to do with creating the space in which sound objects can co-exist and form relationships. Again, these spaces are very dense and this enables the listeners to position themselves within this space so they can participate in the production of meaning...


I am not sure all my influences are living but here are some of them: Georg Cantor, NOX, Marcus Novack, Henri Bergson, Iannis Xenakis, Manfred Schroeder, Greg Egan, internal linkMarcel Duchamp...


This is a very deep subject that touches on many contingent concepts: Acousmatic music and pop audiences, the lack of  "gestural theater" in microsound, manipulating the expectations of an audience, etc.. But in my own work, I try to manage the stress of providing music created and performed on a laptop where the gestures are micro and read as "clerical" by most viewers.

The expectation of gestural theater by pop audiences is great so I provide a visual world that complements the sound in the way it was produced (software failure, corruption, broken media, etc)... This gives people a place to focus since my job isn't to wean them off of pop gestures...the video doesn't supply gestural theater but does provide a portal where people can access other parts of the sound...the video was created by my wife who is a multimedia designer.

- Kim Cascone interviewed by Jeremy Turner for external linkCTHEORY Vol. 24, No. 3

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