Nov 2 Readings

Music Cyborgs.

The readings of November 2 class include several chapters from Donna Haraway's "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist - Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century," Kiri Miller's "Schizophonic Performance: Guitar Hero, Rock Band, and Virtual Virtuosity," William Echard's "Sensible Virtual Selves: Bodies,Instruments and the Becoming - concrete of Music," Philip Auslander's "LIVE FROM CYBERSPACE or, I was sitting at my computer appeared he thought I was a bot."

The presented materials demonstrate a high diversity of applications of the term Cyborg. So, to me it seemed necessary to figure out the root definition and history of this concept.

Cyborg - is usually understood as the hybrid of bio-organism and machine. The term was first coined by Manfred E. Clynes1 and Nathan S. Kline in the article "Cyborgs and space" (September 1960) (Cyborgs and Space, in Astronautics , by Manfred E. Clynes and Nathan S. Kline.) The word itself derived from Cybernetics, - "the science of communication and control in animal and machine," (Cybernetics entry in Web Dictionary of Cybernetics and Systems).

According to Clynce and Klein - cyborg "deliberately incorporates exogenous components extending the self-regulatory control function of the organism in order to adapt it to new environments." This statement reveals an initial purpose of cyber-technologies - further live adaptation. First the cyborg field was a specified branch in astronautics, aimed to improve human productivity and survival factor in the environments different from Earth.

Clynce and Klein in their article define characteristics of Cyborg. One of them is that the mechanical elements of the system are fully autonomous and do not require a host-body control. "This self-regulation must function without the benefit of consciousness in order to cooperate with the body’s own autonomous homeostatic controls."

Cyborg - is a highly used term at the present time. And we can see how different the meaning and the applications of this conception may be: from a human involved in a video game (K. Miller's "Schizophonic Performance") to a program on a computer to respond in human manner (Auslander's "Live From Cyberspace") to a profound political and social transformation device (D. Haraway's "A Cyborg Manifesto").

William Echard's "Sensible Virtual Selves: Bodies,Instruments and the Becoming - concrete of Music"

William Echard - is a Canadian ethnomusicologist, an associate professor of music, at the School for Studies in art and culture at Carleton University, Ottawa. He holds MA and Ph. D degrees in Ethnomusicology from York University, Toronto.
He has published a book “Neil Young and the Poetics of Energy” which concluded years of his early research. He is also an author of numerous articles on topics in ethnomusicology. His current focus is meaning of the music in the modern society in relation to popular music. According to W. Echards' Curriculum Vitae The next planned book is going to be about “musical topic theory and psychedelia.”

In the Article "Sensible Virtual Selves: Bodies, Instruments and the Becoming - concrete of Music," Echard applies a concept of ‘Virtuality’ to music and its elements - music, instrument, bodies. And the concept of ‘Virtuality’ as it presented by Gilles Deleuze.

First of all, the term ‘Virtuality’ here is not in an opposition to ‘Reality.’ Rather it is an immanent quality, which is presented in the real objects and phenomena through Actualization. So, “Virtual - is being real but not actual” (p.8). And “Actual things are actualizations of virtual objects.”
So virtual - is real in the same level as actual, with the difference that virtual has no fixed and outlined shape. Rather it possesses the fluidity and fleeting quality, which allows multiple actualizations. Virtual is a “space of [all] possible states” (p.8).

The author also outlines a difference between virtuality and virtual reality. The concept of virtual reality has being heavily used by computer technologies, and became a manifestation of possible reality. For Deleuze though, the possibility and virtuality are not the same ground. Possible is bound to follow a law, when the virtual is a space of countless scenario.

“possibility is constrained by law and is therefore unable to move beyond the status quo in any profound sense.The virtual, by contrast, always exceeds any form of actuality and can only be glimpsed in the new.”

In relation to music, William Echard discusses certain ways to think of the virtuality. They are:
virtuality can be evoked through multiplicity in representation. Thus, multiple interpretations of the same musical piece are actualizations of the same initial idea. They do not resemble each other, but manifest different, fully valid versions of pre-existing musical idea. And each of them represent this idea.

The second way of describing musical virtuality is that virtuality may be felt is through affect.
During the performance the musicians became aware of “potential to vary,” and that awareness creates a “bridge between their physical embodiment and the virtual potential of music.”

The two major corollaries are: First, musical texts and objects themselves are virtual in nature. The virtual nature of music text is self-evident. It is a big question if the music should be represented by objects or any kind of fixed form. I personally prefer the idea of process, “musicking.” Even if we agree on objective representation of music, it can not be strictly defined, as we know so many alternative ways to represent music piece: scores, recording, CD, Live Performance etc. So, the same music piece is usually represented by numerous performances, score editions, traditions, and analyses. And the true nature of music is always somewhere behind the scene in a form of virtual object.

Second, involvement in music often affords performers and listeners a heightened sensitivity to virtuality. The ability to vary and change on the spot - the true creativity, which may or may not happen during the performance, that invites us to observe an intimate correlation between virtuality and spirituality. In the true creative process, the musician almost forgets himself. That is what Jerry Garcia told about group improvisation:

“It’s sort of stumbling into this area where there’s a lot of energy and a lot of something happening and not a lot of control… It’s not something that we’re creating exactly, in a way it’s creating us”2

Haraway's "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist - Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,"

Donna Haraway (born September 6, 1944 in Denver, Colorado) is currently a distinguished Professor Emerita in the History of Consciousness Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz, United States.

This substantial work "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist - Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century," by Donna Haraway is considered to be one of the most significant in defining the term ‘Cyborg.’ The book was published in 1985. The author gives an extended political implementation of the cyborg conception. This work has almost nothing to do with the subject of music.

Firmly standing on the feminist point of view, Haraway does not miss a chance to use the concept ‘cyborg’ in her fierce fight against "phallogocentric" ideology, male-dominant capitalism, and domination in general. Haraway argues for the cyborg to be a fiction mapping our social and bodily reality, and as an imaginative resource suggesting some very fruitful couplings.

According to her, in modern society, thanks to the emergence of cyborgs, boundaries and dualities are rapidly melting down. Major myths and domination are crashing down. All existing binaries and dualities Haraway sees as a threat and as a tool of abusive power in a male-dominated world. That is why she seems really relishing the claimed three breakdowns of following differences:

1. “By the late twentieth century in United States scientific culture, the boundary between human and animal is thoroughly breached,” thus creating a phenomenon of “human animality”(p.152). The author admits a criticism which may arise. Indeed, I’m not sure of how to interpret this statement. If people are equal to animals, is it all right now to marry an animal? Yes.

2. “The second leaky distinction is between animal-human (organism) and machine.”
From the scholar’s point of view, now it is appropriate to consider “machine and organism as coded texts through which we engage in the play of writing and reading the world.” So, if they both are coded texts, then really there is no difference. The new machines have possessed a liveliness, which does not very frequently appear among humans.

3. "The boundary between physical and non-physical is very imprecise for us.”
The new generation of machines is so significantly different from the older generation, that one may claim that the solid materiality of the machine is no more. Being the objects on the nuclear level, the machines become almost non-physical matter.

“So my cyborg myth," - D. Haraway colcudes, - "is about transgressed boundaries, potent fusions, and dangerous possibilities which progressive people might explore as one part of needed political work.”

Overall, there are two possibilities of the cyborg-oriented society:

“From one perspective, a cyborg world is about the final imposition of a grid of control on the planet, about the final abstraction embodied in a Star Wars apocalypse waged in the name of defense, about the final appropriation of women's bodies in a masculinist orgy of war (Sofia, 1984). From another perspective, a cyborg world might be about lived social and bodily realities in which people are not afraid of their joint kinship with animals and machines…”

The following statement is no less controversial as well as terrifying :

By the late twentieth century, our time, a mythic time, we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism; in short, we are cyborgs.

Kiri Miller's "Schizophonic"3 Performance: Guitar Hero, Rock Band, and Virtual Virtuosity"

Kiri Miller is a Manning Assistant Professor of Music Department of Music of Brown University, Providence, RI; Affiliated Faculty, Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies and Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America

This work is dedicated to an exploration and analysis of two video games: “Guitar Hero” and “Rock Band.” Those two games are sets of guitar and rock band simplified controllers which were highly popular after their releases c. 2005. Miller defines these games as 'schizophrenic' because they place gestures of live performance with pre-recorded sounds. These games are designed to be theatrical in nature, not to encourage musical creativity. Before reading the entire article you need to check out the great Freddie Wang.

In case of Guitar Hero we have big joystick (controller) attached to a gaming console or computer. The controller is made into a guitar shape, so people can imagine themselves guitarists. Five buttons are colored fret buttons (green, red, yellow, blue, orange) on the neck of the controller. Another one is a strum button, which should be touched simultaneously with every fret button. The technique of playing on that device is quite simple: one should learn how to read groups of descending notes on the screen. All combinations and sequences include only 5 buttons. There are three levels of difficulty.

In case of Rock Band, more instruments are included in the set: Electronic drum set, microphone for karaoke singing, and a Bass guitar.

The following characteristics describes the nature of those rock music games:

1. All the music compositions are pre-recorded by a real band. The process of playing on Guitar hero is supposed only to reproduce the recording as close as possible.
2. Musical expression is limited to a strictly pre-determined notation on the screen. The best player is expected to hit the suggested buttons on time, much the way a performer reads a composer's score.
3. No dynamics control is allowed during the performance. (No soft or loud sounds)
4. There are avatars on the video representing a Rock Band performing in various venues.
5. The are programmed sounds of public appreciation or disappointment, which is supposed to provide a feedback to a gamer.
6. In the Rock Band set (incl Drum Set and vocal) obviously there are a few more performance possibilities allowed.

Game designers admit that the whole idea was not to give their customers an accessible musical experience, but to provide people with the ability to experiment with their egoic ambitions of being “hero,” star, showman, etc. involving semi-musical activity. Rob Kay, the lead designer for Rock Band and the original Guitar Hero games, tells about his project:

“We definitely wanted, in the design stage, to find a way to make the simulation more than just a clinical recreation of music, and we had this whole kind of ambition that started out pretty loosely articulated to bring some showmanship, as well as musicianship to the experience. So we kind of decided early on that we were going to have this metric of “star power.” and we didn’t know what it was. … Somehow, we were going to try to find a way of raising your rock-star persona and your showmanship.” (p.412) GH/RB was never supposed to be a guitar simulator but a musical performance simulator. This is augmented in Rock Band which is much more communal and allows for more improvisation as opposed to the original Guitar Hero.

In her article Kiri Miller discusses many of aspects of this emerged technological miracle, - positive and negative. Acknowledging the criticism about the whole idea, she states that:
“A mass-market video-game that simulates the performance of authentic music potentially undoes all that authenticating work, devaluing the repertoire’s subcultural capital. Musical works that formerly represented creative genius, technical mastery, and sincere commitment become 'easy, hollow, and accessible.'” (p.406) Guitar Hero/Rock Band becomes a site for the replaying of classic high versus low culture distinctions. Playing guitar, even if it is just power chords or cowboy chords, is seen as acquiring a real skill that is creative while the memorization and hand eye coordination of the games is mind numbing repetition. It is interesting to note that in many of professional fields of late capitalism such as accounting or programming, this kind of repetitive memorization and being able to repeat somewhat complex patterns is highly valued.

Nevertheless Miller admits that by observing the amount of sales, one may consider a strong cultural impact on the society. “[I]f sales figures are any indication, the cultural impact of these games has already been substantial.” (p.401)

A critical distinction is made in the mind of one gamer, who is also a drummer and in fact the majority of people who play these games also play musical instruments, between first person shooters that don't result in a bunch of dead bodies stacked up in your living room and Guitar Hero/Rock Band where 'real' music is being made and performed. 'Realness' is constructed or constituted in two different ways. First it is through the players "sincere respect for the aesthetic quality, technical difficulty, and affective power of the original recordings" (p. 408) which are transposed through the enactment of technological play and performance. The second way that realness is constituted is through the games "capacity to inspire the feeling of making music" (p. 408). Respondents reported that process of learning how to play guitar and how to play the video game are very similar. GH/RB often results in a changed way that you interact and listen to music. When listening to songs players were breaking them down in their heads, reading the notation, and producing a heightened listening. This akin to Frith's observations on how dancing produces a heightened, more concentrated sense of music.

The author ends up with a justification of the games as indeed musical activity, saying: ”Guitar Hero, Rock Band, and similar video-games are working in exactly this way to create new modes of musicality.” (p.425)

Studying Guitar Hero and Rock Band enhances our understanding of performance at the intersection of the 'virtual' and the 'real,' further elaborating on the virtual and computerized performance conventions.

Philip Auslander's "LIVE FROM CYBERSPACE or, I was sitting at my computer appeared he thought I was a bot."

…. in progress ….

Questions for the discussion:
1. Would you consider Video games Guitar Hero and Rock Band a musical activity?
2. How would you evaluate a social impact caused by spread of the musical games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band?
3. Would you consider a symbiosis of a human and a sound/video controllers in Guitar Hero and
Rock band a cyborg? How great is the measure of virtual and real in the process of playing with those music games?
4. Do you share the Haraway's excitement of "cyborg writings" being a tool for survival ("Cyborg writing is about the power to survive" p.175), women liberation, and destroying of any domination?
5. Do you agree on the Haraway's statement, that we all are cyborgs? And what would it mean for us to be cyborgs if they are a fiction?
6. Do you agree on the Echard's assumption that the music texts are virtual in their essence?


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