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It's music Jim but not as we know it!
Old 30th December 2002
It's music Jim but not as we know it! "SOUND DUST"


Kinda deep, attack of the nerds type stuff!

Old 30th December 2002
The linkl is working now, it requires an Acrobat PDF viewer in your browser BTW.

Here it is below in all its glory!

Old 30th December 2002
12 Computer Music Journal
Computer Music Journal, 24:4, pp. 12–18, Winter 2000
The digital revolution is over.
— Nicholas Negroponte (1998)
Over the past decade, the Internet has helped
spawn a new movement in digital music. It is not
academically based, and for the most part the composers
involved are self-taught. Music journalists
occupy themselves inventing names for it, and
some have already taken root: glitch, microwave,
DSP, sinecore, and microscopic music (also "Sound Dust" - Jules).
These names evolved through a collection of deconstructive
audio and visual techniques that allow
artists to work beneath the previously impenetrable
veil of digital media. The Negroponte epigraph
above inspired me to refer to this emergent
genre as “post-digital” because the revolutionary
period of the digital information age has surely
passed. The tendrils of digital technology have in
some way touched everyone. With electronic commerce
now a natural part of the business fabric of
the Western world and Hollywood cranking out
digital fluff by the gigabyte, the medium of digital
technology holds less fascination for composers in
and of itself. In this article, I will emphasize that
the medium is no longer the message; rather, specific
tools themselves have become the message.
The Internet was originally created to accelerate
the exchange of ideas and development of research
between academic centers, so it is perhaps no surprise
that it is responsible for helping give birth to
new trends in computer music outside the confines
of academic think tanks. A non-academic
composer can search the Internet for tutorials and
papers on any given aspect of computer music to
obtain a good, basic understanding of it. University
computer music centers breed developers
whose tools are shuttled around the Internet and
used to develop new music outside the university.
Unfortunately, cultural exchange between nonacademic
artists and research centers has been
lacking. The post-digital music that Max, SMS,
AudioSculpt, PD, and other such tools make possible
rarely makes it back to the ivory towers, yet
these non-academic composers anxiously await
new tools to make their way onto a multitude of
Web sites.
Even in the commercial software industry, the
marketing departments of most audio software
companies have not yet fully grasped the post-digital
aesthetic; as a result, the more unusual tools
emanate from developers who use their academic
training to respond to personal creative needs.
This article is an attempt to provide feedback to
both academic and commercial music software developers
by showing how current DSP tools are being
used by post-digital composers, affecting both
the form and content of contemporary “non-academic“
electronic music.
The Aesthetics of Failure
It is failure that guides evolution;
perfection offers no incentive for
— Colson Whitehead (1999)
The “post-digital” aesthetic was developed in part
as a result of the immersive experience of working
in environments suffused with digital technology:
The Aesthetics of
Failure: “Post-Digital”
Tendencies in
Contemporary Computer
Kim Cascone
748 Edgemar Ave.
Pacifica, CA 94044, USA
[email protected] anechoicmedia.com
Cascone 13
computer fans whirring, laser printers churning
out documents, the sonification of user-interfaces,
and the muffled noise of hard drives. But more specifically,
it is from the “failure” of digital technology
that this new work has emerged: glitches,
bugs, application errors, system crashes, clipping,
aliasing, distortion, quantization noise, and even
the noise floor of computer sound cards are the
raw materials composers seek to incorporate into
their music.
While technological failure is often controlled
and suppressed—its effects buried beneath the
threshold of perception—most audio tools can
zoom in on the errors, allowing composers to make
them the focus of their work. Indeed, “failure” has
become a prominent aesthetic in many of the arts
in the late 20th century, reminding us that our
control of technology is an illusion, and revealing
digital tools to be only as perfect, precise, and efficient
as the humans who build them. New techniques
are often discovered by accident or by the
failure of an intended technique or experiment.
I would only observe that in most highprofile
gigs, failure tends to be far more
interesting to the audience than success.
— David Zicarelli (1999)
There are many types of digital audio “failure.”
Sometimes, it results in horrible noise, while other
times it can produce wondrous tapestries of sound.
(To more adventurous ears, these are quite often
the same.) When the German sound experimenters
known as Oval started creating music in the early
1990s by painting small images on the underside of
CDs to make them skip, they were using an aspect
of “failure” in their work that revealed a
subtextual layer embedded in the compact disc.
Oval’s investigation of “failure” is not new.
Much work had previously been done in this area
such as the optical soundtrack work of Laszlo
Moholy-Nagy and Oskar Fischinger, as well as the
vinyl record manipulations of John Cage and
Christian Marclay, to name a few. What is new is
that ideas now travel at the speed of light and can
spawn entire musical genres in a relatively short
period of time.
Back to the Future
Poets, painters, and composers sometimes walk a
fine line between madness and genius, and
throughout the ages they have used “devices”
such as absinthe, narcotics, or mystical states to
help make the jump from merely expanding their
perceptual boundaries to hoisting themselves into
territories beyond these boundaries. This trend to
seek out and explore new territories led to much
experimentation in the arts in the early part of the
20th century.
When artists of the early 20th century turned their
senses to the world created by industrial progress,
they were forced to focus on the new and changing
landscape of what was considered “background.”
I now note that ordinarily I am concerned
with, focus my attention upon, things or
“objects,” the words on the page. But I now
note that these are always situated within
what begins to appear to me as a widening
field which ordinarily is a background from
which the “object” or thing stands out. I now
find by a purposeful act of attention that I
may turn to the field as field, and in the case
of vision I soon also discern that the field has
a kind of boundary or limit, a horizon. This
horizon always tends to “escape” me when I
try to get at it; it “withdraws” always on the
extreme fringe of the visual field. It retains a
certain essentially enigmatic character.
— Don Idhe (1976)
Concepts such as “detritus,” “by-product,” and
“background” (or “horizon”) are important to consider
when examining how the current post-digital
movement started. When visual artists first
shifted their focus from foreground to background
(for instance, from portraiture to landscape painting),
it helped to expand their perceptual boundaries,
enabling them to capture the background’s
enigmatic character.
The basic composition of “background” is comprised
of data we filter out to focus on our immediate
surroundings. The data hidden in our
perceptual “blind spot” contains worlds waiting to
14 Computer Music Journal
be explored, if we choose to shift our focus there.
Today’s digital technology enables artists to explore
new territories for content by capturing and
examining the area beyond the boundary of “normal”
functions and uses of software.
Although the lineage of post-digital music is complex,
there are two important and well-known precursors
that helped frame its emergence: the Italian
Futurist movement at the beginning of the 20th
century, and John Cage’s composition 4'33" (1952).
Futurism was an attempt to reinvent life as it
was being reshaped by new technologies. The Italian
Futurist painter Luigi Russolo was so inspired
by a 1913 orchestral performance of a composition
by Balilla Pratella that he wrote a manifesto, The
Art of Noises, in the form of a letter to Pratella.
His manifesto and subsequent experiments with
intonarumori (noise intoners), which imitated urban
industrial sounds, transmitted a viral message
to future generations, resulting in Russolo’s current
status as the “grandfather” of contemporary
“post-digital” music. The Futurists considered industrial
life a source of beauty, and for them it
provided an ongoing symphony. Car engines, machines,
factories, telephones, and electricity had
been in existence for only a short time, and the resulting
din was a rich palette for the Futurists to
use in their sound experiments.
The variety of noises is infinite. If today,
when we have perhaps a thousand different
machines, we can distinguish a thousand
different noises, tomorrow, as new machines
multiply, we will be able to distinguish ten,
twenty, or thirty thousand different noises,
not merely in a simply imitative way, but to
combine them according to our imagination.
— Luigi Russolo (1913)
This was probably the first time in history that
sound artists shifted their focus from the foreground
of musical notes to the background of incidental
sound. Russolo and Ugo Piatti—who together constructed
the noise intoners—gave them descriptive
names such as “exploders,” “roarers,” “croakers,”
“thunderers,” “bursters,” “cracklers,” “buzzers,”
and “scrapers.” Although the intonarumori themselves
never found their way into much of the music
in the Futurists’ time, they did manage to inspire
composers like Stravinsky and Ravel to incorporate
some of these types of sounds into their work.
A few decades after the Futurists brought incidental
noise to the foreground, John Cage would give
permission to all composers to use any sound in
composing music. At the 1952 debut of Cage’s
4'33", David Tudor opened the piano keyboard lid
and sat for the duration indicated in the title, implicitly
inviting the audience to listen to background
sounds, only closing and reopening the lid to
demarcate three movements. The idea for 4'33" was
outlined in a lecture given by Cage at Vassar College
in 1948, entitled “A Composer’s Confessions.”
The following year, Cage saw the white paintings of
Robert Rauschenberg, and he saw in this an opportunity
to keep pace with painting and push the
stifled boundaries of modern music. Rauschenberg’s
white paintings combined chance, non-intention,
and “minimalism” in one broad stroke, where the
paintings revealed the “changing play of light and
shadow and the presence of dust” (Kahn 1999).
Rauschenberg’s white paintings were a powerful
catalyst that helped inspire Cage to remove all constraints
on what was considered music. Every environment
could be experienced in a completely new
way—as music.
Of equal importance to Cage’s “silent piece” was
his realization that there is, in fact, no such thing as
“silence”—that, as human beings, our sensory perceptions
occur against the background noise of our
biological systems. His experience in an anechoic
chamber at Harvard University prior to composing
4'33" shattered the belief that silence was obtainable
and revealed that the state of “nothing” was a condition
filled with everything we filtered out. From
then on, Cage strove to incorporate this revelation
into subsequent works by paying attention not only
to sound objects, but also to their background.
Snap, Crackle, Glitch
Fast-forwarding from the 1950s to the present, we
skip over most of the electronic music of the 20th
century, much of which has not, in my opinion, fo-
Cascone 15
cused on expanding the ideas first explored by the
Futurists and Cage. An emergent genre that consciously
builds on these ideas is that which I have
termed “post-digital,” but it shares many names,
as noted in the introduction, and I will refer to it
from here on out as glitch. The glitch genre arrived
on the back of the electronica movement, an umbrella
term for alternative, largely dance-based
electronic music (including house, techno, electro,
drum’n’bass, ambient) that has come into vogue in
the past five years. Most of the work in this area is
released on labels peripherally associated with the
dance music market, and is therefore removed
from the contexts of academic consideration and
acceptability that it might otherwise earn. Still, in
spite of this odd pairing of fashion and art music,
the composers of glitch often draw their inspiration
from the masters of 20th century music who
they feel best describe its lineage.
A Brief History of Glitch
At some point in the early 1990s, techno music
settled into a predictable, formulaic genre serving
a more or less aesthetically homogeneous market
of DJs and dance music aficionados. Concomitant
with this development was the rise of a periphery
of DJs and producers eager to expand the music’s
tendrils into new areas. One can visualize techno
as a large postmodern appropriation machine, assimilating
cultural references, tweaking them, and
then re-presenting them as tongue-in-cheek jokes.
DJs, fueled with samples from thrift store purchases
of obscure vinyl, managed to mix any
source imaginable into sets played for more adventurous
dance floors. Always trying to outdo one
another, it was only a matter of time until DJs unearthed
the history of electronic music in their archeological
thrift store digs. Once the door was
opened to exploring the history of electronic music,
invoking its more notable composers came
into vogue. A handful of DJs and composers of
electronica were suddenly familiar with the work
of Karlheinz Stockhausen, Morton Subotnick, and
John Cage, and their influence helped spawn the
glitch movement.
A pair of Finnish producers called Pan Sonic—
then known as Panasonic, before a team of corporate
lawyers encouraged them to change their
name—led one of the first forays into experimentation
in electronica. Mika Vainio, head architect
of the Pan Sonic sound, used handmade sine wave
oscillators and a collection of inexpensive effect
pedals and synthesizers to create a highly synthetic,
minimal, “hard-edged” sound. Their first
CD, titled Vakio, was released in the summer of
1993, and was a sonic shockwave compared to the
more blissful strains of ambient-techno becoming
popular at that time. The Pan Sonic sound conjured
stark, florescent, industrial landscapes; testtones
were pounded into submission until they
squirted out low, throbbing drones and highpitched
stabs of sine waves. The record label
Vainio founded, Sähkö Records, released material
by a growing catalog of artists, most of it in the
same synthetic, stripped-down, minimal vein.
As discussed earlier, the German project Oval was
experimenting with CD-skipping techniques and
helped to create a new tendril of glitch—one of slowmoving
slabs of dense, flitting textures. Another
German group, which called itself Mouse on Mars,
injected this glitch aesthetic into a more danceable
framework, resulting in gritty low-fidelity rhythmic
layers warping in and out of one another.
From the mid-1990s forward, the glitch aesthetic
appeared in various sub-genres, including
drum‘n’bass, drill’n’bass, and trip-hop. Artists
such as Aphex Twin, LTJ Bukem, Omni Trio,
Wagon Christ, and Goldie were experimenting
with all sorts of manipulation in the digital domain.
Time-stretching vocals and reducing drum
loops to eight bits or less were some of the first
techniques used in creating artifacts and exposing
them as timbral content. The more experimental
side of electronica was still growing and slowly establishing
a vocabulary.
By the late 1990s, the glitch movement was keeping
pace with the release of new features in music
software, and the movement began congealing into
a rudimentary form. A roster of artists was developing.
Japanese producer Ryoji Ikeda was one of the
first artists other than Mika Vainio to gain exposure
for his stark, “bleepy” soundscapes. In con-
16 Computer Music Journal
trast to Vainio, Ikeda brought a serene quality of
spirituality to glitch music. His first CD, entitled
+/–, was one of the first glitch releases to break new
ground in the delicate use of high frequencies and
short sounds that stab at listeners’ ears, often leaving
the audience with a feeling of tinnitus.
Another artist who helped bridge the gap between
delicate and damaging was Carsten Nicolai
(who records and performs under the name Noto).
Nicolai is also a co-founder of Noton/Rastermusic,
a German label group that specializes in innovative
digital music. In a similar fashion, Peter
Rehberg, Christian Fennesz, and the sound/Net art
project Farmers Manual are tightly associated with
the Mego label located in Vienna. Rehberg has the
distinction of having received one of only two
honorary Ars Electronica awards in Digital Music
for his contribution to electronic music. Over the
past few years, the glitch movement has grown to
encompass dozens of artists who are defining new
vocabularies in digital media. Artists such as
immedia, Taylor Deupree, Nobukazu Takemura,
Neina, Richard Chartier, Pimmon, *0,
Autopoieses, and T:un[k], to name just a few, constitute
the second wave of sound hackers exploring
the glitch aesthetic.
There are many artists who have not been mentioned
here who contribute to pushing the boundaries
of this movement. It is beyond the scope of
this article to go deeply into the evolution of
glitch music, but I have included a discography at
the end of this article that will offer good starting
points for the casual listener.
Power Tools
Computers have become the primary tools for
creating and performing electronic music, while the
Internet has become a logical new distribution medium.
For the first time in history, creative output
and the means of its distribution have been inextricably
linked. Our current sonic backgrounds have
dramatically changed since 4'33" was first performed
—and thus the means for navigating our surroundings
as well. In response to the radical
alteration of our hearing by the tools and technologies
developed in academic computer music centers
—and a distribution medium capable of shuttling
tools, ideas, and music between like-minded
composers and engineers—the resultant glitch
movement can be seen as a natural progression in
electronic music. In this new music, the tools
themselves have become the instruments, and the
resulting sound is born of their use in ways unintended
by their designers. Commonly referred to as
sound “mangling” or “crunching,” composers are
now able to view music on a microscopic level.
Curtis Roads coined the term microsound for all
variants of granular and atomic methods of sound
synthesis, and tools capable of operating at this microscopic
level are able to achieve these effects. Because
the tools used in this style of music embody
advanced concepts of digital signal processing, their
usage by glitch artists tends to be based on experimentation
rather than empirical investigation. In
this fashion, unintended usage has become the second
permission granted. It has been said that one
does not need advanced training to use digital signal
processing programs—just “mess around” until
you obtain the desired result. Sometimes, not
knowing the theoretical operation of a tool can result
in more interesting results by “thinking outside
of the box.” As Bob Ostertag notes, “It appears
that the more technology is thrown at the problem,
the more boring the results” (1998).
“I looked at my paper,” said Cage. “Suddenly
I saw that the music, all the music, was already
there.” He conceived of a procedure which
would enable him to derive the details of his
music from the little glitches and
imperfections which can be seen on sheets of
paper. It had symbolic as well as practical
value; it made the unwanted features of the
paper its most significant ones—there is not
even a visual silence.
— David Revill (1999)
New Music From New Tools
Tools now aid composers in the deconstruction of
digital files: exploring the sonic possibilities of a
Cascone 17
Photoshop file that displays an image of a flower,
trawling word processing documents in search of
coherent bytes of sound, using noise-reduction
software to analyze and process audio in ways that
the software designer never intended. Any selection
of algorithms can be interfaced to pass data
back and forth, mapping effortlessly from one dimension
into another. In this way, all data can become
fodder for sonic experimentation.
Composers of glitch music have gained their
technical knowledge through self-study, countless
hours deciphering software manuals, and probing
Internet newsgroups for needed information. They
have used the Internet both as a tool for learning
and as a method of distributing their work. Composers
now need to know about file types, sample
rates, and bit resolution to optimize their work
for the Internet. The artist completes a cultural
feedback loop in the circuit of the Internet: artists
download tools and information, develop ideas
based on that information, create work reflecting
those ideas with the appropriate tools, and then
upload that work to a World Wide Web site where
other artists can explore the ideas embedded in
the work.
The technical requirements for being a musician
in the information age may be more rigorous
than ever before, but—compared to the depth of
university computer music studies—it is still
rather light. Most of the tools being used today
have a layer of abstraction that enables artists to
explore without demanding excessive technical
knowledge. Tools like Reaktor, Max/MSP,
MetaSynth, Audiomulch, Crusher-X, and
Soundhack are pressed into action, more often
than not with little care or regard for the technical
details of DSP theory, and more as an aesthetic
wandering through the sounds that these modern
tools can create.
The medium is no longer the message in glitch
music: the tool has become the message. The technique
of exposing the minutiae of DSP errors and
artifacts for their own sonic value has helped further
blur the boundaries of what is to be considered
music, but it has also forced us to also to
examine our preconceptions of failure and detritus
more carefully.
Electronica DJs typically view individual tracks as
pieces that can be layered and mixed freely. This
modular approach to creating new work from preexisting
materials forms the basis of electronic
music composers’ use of samples. Glitch, however,
takes a more deconstructionist approach in
that the tendency is to reduce work to a minimum
amount of information. Many glitch pieces reflect
a stripped-down, anechoic, atomic use of sound,
and they typically last from one to three minutes.
But it seems this approach affects the listening
habits of electronica aficionados. I had the experience
of hearing a popular sample CD playing in a
clothing boutique. The “atomic” parts, or samples,
used in composing electronica from small modular
pieces had become the whole. This is a clear indication
that contemporary computer music has become
fragmented, it is composed of stratified
layers that intermingle and defer meaning until
the listener takes an active role in the production
of meaning.
If glitch music is to advance past its initial stage
of blind experimentation, new tools must be built
with an educational bent in mind. That is, a tool
should possess multiple layers of abstraction that
allow novices to work at a simple level, stripping
away those layers as they gain mastery. In order to
help better understand current trends in electronic
music, the researchers in academic centers must
keep abreast of these trends. Certainly, many of
their college students are familiar with the music
and can suggest pieces for listening. The compact
discs given in this article’s reference list form a
good starting point. More information can be obtained
by reading some of the many electronic
mailing lists dedicated to electronica, such as the
microsound, idm, and wire lists. In this way, the
gap can be bridged, and new ideas can flow more
openly between commercial and academic sectors.
We therefore invite young musicians of
talent to conduct a sustained observation of
all noises, in order to understand the various
rhythms of which they are composed, their
principal and secondary tones. By comparing
18 Computer Music Journal
the various tones of noises with those of
sounds, they will be convinced of the extent
to which the former exceeds the latter. This
will afford not only an understanding, but
also a taste and passion for noises.
— Luigi Russolo (1913)
Cage, J. 1952. 4’33”. Published c. 1960. New York:
Henmar Press.
Idhe, D. 1976. Listening and Voice: A Phenomenology
of Sound. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press.
Kahn, D. 1999. Noise, Water, Meat. Cambridge, Massachusetts:
MIT Press.
Negroponte, N. 1998. “Beyond Digital.” Wired 6(12).
Ostertag, B. 1998. “Why Computer Music Sucks.”
Available online at http://www.l-m-c.org.uk/texts/
Revill, D. 1992. The Roaring Silence. John Cage: A Life.
New York: Arcade Publishing.
Russolo, L. 1987. The Art of Noises. New York:
Pendragon Press. (Originally published in 1913.)
Whitehead, C. 1999. The Intuitionist. New York: Anchor
Christian Fennesz. 1999. +475637–165108. London:
Touch TO:40.
Farmers Manual. 1999. No Backup. Vienna: Mego
Kim Cascone. 1999. cathodeFlower. Frankfurt: Mille
Plateaux/Ritornell RIT06.
Mika Vainio. 1997. Onko. London: Touch TO:34.
Mouse On Mars. 1995. Vulvaland. London: Too Pure 36.
Neina. 1999. Formed Verse. Frankfurt: Mille Plateaux
Nosei Sakata and Richard Chartier. 1999. *0/rc. Brooklyn:
12K 12K.1006.
Noto. 1998. Kerne. Bad Honnef: Plate Lunch PL04.
Oval. 1994. Systemische. Frankfurt: Mille Plateaux
Pimmon. 1999. Waves and Particles. Tokyo: Meme
Pita. 1999. Seven Tons for Free. Osaka: Digital Narcis
Ryoji Ikeda. 1996. +/–. London: Touch TO:30.
Various Artists. 1999. Microscopic Sound. New York:
Caipirinha Music CAI2021-2.
Various Artists. 2000. blueCubism. Osaka: Digital
Narcis DNCD007.
Various Artists. 2000. Clicks and Cuts. Frankfurt: Mille
Plateaux MPCD079.
Old 31st December 2002
7rojo7's Avatar
🎧 15 years
thank god for journalists or we'd never know how to describe our music.
Old 31st December 2002
Lives for gear
Renie's Avatar
🎧 15 years
Originally posted by 7rojo7
thank god for journalists or we'd never know how to describe our music.
📝 Reply

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