Introduction

Musical instruments are amongst the earliest human technologies. Possibly preceding fire and weaponry, we could speculate how early humans used rocks or sticks to hit other materials in order to define territories, communicate, or synchronise movements. For a social animal like the human, music is clearly a sophisticated and multipurpose cohesion technique. Some of the oldest known musical instruments are flutes found in Germany (the Hohle Fels flute) and Slovenia (the Divje Babe flute), estimated to be between 35,000 and 42,000 years old. Preceding these flutes would be generations of forgotten instruments in the form of rocks and sticks that might not even “look like” musical instruments at all.

Today we talk about “music technology,” a two-word coinage that conjures up the image of plastic- or metal-surfaced equipment offering interaction through rotating knobs, sliders, or buttons, which are mapped to functionality represented on a screen of some sort. However, a quick etymology of the word “technology” clearly demonstrates that we are not discussing plastic gadgets here, but rather an embodied knowledge, skill or craft. The root of the Greek word techne is “wood,” but at the time of the early philosophers, it had begun to denote the craft of producing something out of something else. For Aristotle, techne (T?%vn) is an activity where the “origin is in the maker and not in the thing made” (Ackrill 1987, p. 419). In Rhetorics, Aristotle uses the word “technology” to signify the “craft of the word” (techne and logos) as used in grammar or rhetoric, which is an inverse meaning to the later use signifying the knowledge (logy) of craft (techne). The word is not used much until the 17th century, which is when it enters the English language (Mitcham 1994, p. 130). At no point did the word signify objects, but rather the skill of doing things, as evidenced in Marx’s Das Kapital: “Technology discloses man’s mode of dealing with Nature, the process of production by which he sustains his life, and thereby also lays bare the mode of formation of his social relations, and of the mental conceptions that flow from them” (Marx 2007, p. 402). Earlier in the same paragraph we read: “Darwin has interested us in the history of Nature’s Technology,” and it is clear that he means the ways nature goes about its business. Bernard Stiegler defines technology as “the discourse describing and explaining the evolution of specialised procedures and techniques, arts and trades” (Stiegler 1998, p. 94) and encourages us to use the word in the manner we apply the words “psychology” or “sociology”.

We do music technology: we don’t buy it, own it, or use it. Thinking, designing, discussing, performing and composing are all acts of music technological nature. Musical instruments are the tools of music technology and represent the musico-theoretical framework of the specific culture. However, let’s not forget the Greek origins, where the technology was about shaping something out of something else: in contemporary music technological practice, we are applying hardware, code libraries, communication protocols, and standards that become the material substance of our design explorations. We are working with designed materials, not wood or skin, but entities that already are of an epistemic nature

(Magnusson 2009). The new materials are semiotic in that they are part of a complex organisation of protocols and standards, which are needed for the diverse code libraries and hardware to be applied in the complex ecosystem of wired and wireless inter-software and inter-hardware communication.

When we create digital instruments we operate like a Latourian ant: busily operating as a part of a larger whole, applying actor-networks consisting of other actor-networks, or, in short, inventions that have become blackboxed in other technological processes, to the degree that we lose the possibility of grasping any origins. Where would a technological object originate from anyway? For this reason the instrument often appears before we know its expressive scope or indeed rationale (how, why, where, etc.).[1] The history of the saxophone provides a good example of how undefined the role of a new instrument can be, slowly gaining diverse functions amongst different musical cultures. In this context it is interesting to behold Attali’s statement that in “music, the instrument often predates the expression it authorizes, which explains why a new invention has the nature of noise; a ‘realized theory’ (Lyotard), it contributes, through the possibilities it offers, to the birth of a new music, a renewed syntax” (Attali 1985, p. 35).

  • [1] The 160 character text message is a good example: the SMS (Short Message Service), althoughinvented as part of the GSM cooperation in 1984, was initially implemented in Nokia phones fortheir engineers to test mobile networks. The technology was quickly adopted by users who beganenjoying this mode of communication. This became a protocol of sorts, and as of 2016, Twitter isstill respecting this 140 char limit.
 
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