A Manifesto for Music Technologists

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“What is music technology for?” I spent a day at Microsoft Research New England discussing this question with twenty other people. The goal: to produce a manifesto – a rallying point for those interested in the transformative potentials of music technology, and in driving those potentials in positive directions. The resulting “Manifesto for Music Technologists” is now live at http://www.musictechifesto.org/  It is a document not just for people who make technologies, but for people who engage with music technology in all manner of ways – as users, critics, theorists, historians, social scientists… Indeed, it is one of the precepts of the manifesto that “meaningful innovation happens when fields intersect.” So we are all implicated when we say:

Music technologies make worlds. Let us make better worlds.

We invite you to sign on to manifesto, to help build a broad, engaged community of music technologists – and with it, better worlds.

Further reading: Nancy Baym, “A Manifesto for Music Technologists”; Jonathan Sterne, “What is Music Technology For?”

Ghost Songs for Cell Phones (Liner Notes)

Telecommunications have a history of being haunted. When Samuel B. Morse’s telegraph connected distant cities by transmitting electrical signals over wires – bringing people “together in spirit – in communication, and yet in body seven hundred miles apart!” (as a commentator remarked in 1857) – the technology was quickly taken up by those who sought to be “together in spirit” in another sense. Through a kind of “celestial telegraph,” it was believed, the dead could communicate with the living. With the introduction of radio, household objects became accidental antennae for the wireless transmissions; to the people who heard these objects suddenly start to speak, it seemed the voices must be coming from the beyond. The very term “media,” singular “medium,” reflects the ghosts in our communications technologies – “a medium” being a person who channels communications to and from the dead, “the media” being what channel telecommunications among the living.

It is no longer so common to listen for the dead – to explain our new or unaccountable experiences in terms of visitants from the beyond. There is an opportunity to recover such listening here, however, with “Ghost Songs for Cell Phones.” For who is to say that noise in the signal – that sshhh, click or whisper – is not a ghost on the line?

Museum of Imaginary Musical Instruments


Wendy Carlos’s Multiphonic Generalized Keyboard

The Museum of Imaginary Musical Instruments is what it sounds like: a collection of musical instruments (including sound transmission and storage devices) that have been imagined but, for one reason or another, could not be brought into reality. There is a long history of such musical instruments. The museum’s collection spans from Antiquity (Lucian’s Bull of Phalaris) to the present (Antares’s Direct Mind Access). Some of its items (like Bacon’s Sound-Houses) seem prescient; others (such as Grandville’s Steam Concert) seem bizarre. Some (Nadar’s Dagguerreotype of Sound, for instance) appear as prods to technological development; others (like King’s Symphony in 1995) as warnings about going too far. All attest to the intricate process through which our worlds shape our musical and technological imaginations – and vice versa. As Thomas Patteson and I write in our curators’ introduction to the museum:

Ranging from the physically impossible to the simply impractical, from the “never” to the “not yet,” imaginary instruments rattle suggestively at the windowpane separating our comfortable sense of reality from that nebulous space beyond. In the words of Ernst Cassirer, such instruments are “concerned in the final analysis not with what is, but with what could be.”

As of today, the museum is open for visitors. Please wander about, check out some exhibits – we hope you find as much joy and wonder exploring its imaginary musical instruments as we have.

Museum of Imaginary Musical Instruments


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