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Music Technology and Musical Expression

Abstract

Understanding how something works is an understanding of how a typical, but unreal instance of how that thing works. It does not allow a detailed understanding of the precise details of a real example of the thing itself, including in this its physical aspects, including its location.

Abstract

Music is frequently viewed in very different ways by its different enthusiasts to such an extent that it is possible to view music in the terms of these dichotomies. One common view of music is that it is one of the more 'artistic' of the arts and that this view is supported by music's abstract nature - it is the form that communicates less practically than any other. On the other hand it is this very abstraction that has led others to view it as one of the most mathematical of the arts. A third view is that music is a technology - something that has been arbitrarily manufactured by man as a 'parasite', either for sensual pleasure or the creation of bonding between society's members. Currently much research is focusing on how and why music may be able to do this.

To add to the confusion, there is little or no agreement or sympathy between these various wings - nor, incidentally between anyone whose views are located close by on the continuum of opinion that lies between them.

Music has both aesthetic and technical aspects - in order to express oneself freely in music, whether performing or composing one has to learn a variety of technical skills to the point where they become second nature - and it can be argued that one area where currently this is most obvious is the growing use of technology in music. Music today seems to be fragmented as never before and one of the greatest divisions lies between those who embrace 'new technology' and its implications and those who reject it. But what, if any, real differences are there between the 'old' and the 'new' technologies? Is there a fundamental difference between a performance on a standard instrument and a 'performance' on a computer or synthesiser? Is there a fundamental difference between a live performance and one assembled on tape and then played back 'live'? If a composer develops a computer programme for composing music, who is doing the composing - and of what relevance are different compositions made by the same programme? Can there ever be such as thing as a 'standard' musical instrument that relies on technology - or does one - the computer currently exist? How does a piano, for instance, compare with a computer as a musical instrument?

Richard Hoadley, February 2000