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Mitch SMith


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Is machine music a cultural expression of humans?

In my 20's I pioneered the use of technology on stage.
For 10 years I did well, I had more work than most, the rent got paid and life was relatively easy.

And then I learned to program computers, joined a fortune 100 company as a programmer and .. well, it was like a perpetual holiday.

Since then, I returned to the physical skill of playing a real physical instrument and found the true cultural history of human music in my culture.

It was at that point that I realised that all the machine stuff was no more than an adaptation to the commercial world of money - a cultural desert.
Knowing the difference has become rare. The difference to me is stark, but to others who presume that all music issues from a technologically enhanced stage .. Those in the audience have not the experiential base to realise what they have lost.

Are we at the thrall of the ghost in the machine?

Has performance of the arts become no more than a commercial sports-event?

Has humanity become the ghost?


Closing Statement from Mitch SMith

Many thanks to those who contributed to helping with this question.

You have given me a number of "light-bulb-moments" and progressed my understanding of the subject. I hope it has had similar value for you.

So. Is machine music a cultural expression of humans?

From the perspective of "humanity" as a whole. Yes, it is.

But as one plumbs the scale of "culture" some different shades of yes/no arise.
We can say that machine music is an expression of a sub-culture celebrating our tool-making prowess. And it is in that sub-culture that the answer is emphatically yes.
From the perspective of other subcultures, the answer might be a definitive no. For example, the Luddite sub culture would see machine music as an expression of exploitation of culture at the hands of a capital entity outside of the interests of their definition of humanity.

From the perspective of the sub-culture of culture itself, you could say that machine music is an expression of a deeper agency - the progressive isolation of humanity from its culture. This can be seen as the removal of participation in cultural expression. We have isolated our musicians and artists onto stages and into exhibitions and galleries - thus removing mutuality - that capacity for real-time participation in culture. This is an outcome generated by human specialisation plus the need to isolate creativity generators from creativity receivers. This isolation is necessary for the practice of imposing a rental fee on culture. Once seen as necessary to sustain "
the arts" the practice has had many unintended consequences of cynical exploitation.

The next aspect I will bring up is the issue of demand. Machines are presented to us as a means of freeing humanity from drudgery. That means that supply will always over-reach demand. In a glut of supply, the value of becomes marginal. Who can afford the promised new leisure?
Machine music is, therefore, the devaluation of culture.

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    Aug 8 2013: Of course. Look at a saxophone and tell me it's not a machine.
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      Aug 9 2013: Yes, I see what you mean.

      I'd define a saxophone as a tool rather than a machine. The difference being that if you lay the sax down on a table, it does not continue playing.
      A machine produces autonomous repetition with no human hand required beyond starting it.

      That said .. a tool is crafted to execute a narrow task. It is defined by limitation and in that regard, a saxophone is definitely limited - as are all tool-instruments. The limitation creates a form - within that form, some things are easy, some things are hard - which is why punk music is all the same chords and beats, while jazz can be extremely sophisticated and varied. I can listen to both forms, so long as it's live and performed by real humans.

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