Short-Circuited Digital Mind
Presented at CCRMA Colloquium, Stanford University, CA, 2007
In 1995 Nicholas Negroponte wrote the seminal text Being Digital. A sub-heading
in the book is entitled ‘Don’t Dissect a Frog, Build One’.
As Negroponte discusses, the digital age is all about doing. In this text
he also considers the computer as a machine in constant flux and development
that signals the advent of a world where there are never ending upgrades.
Nothing is ever finished. Furthermore, the ‘virtualness’ offered
by computers has enabled us to experience ‘more’. We can try
things without the fear of making mistakes. There is always the ‘undo’
key, step backwards, and the opportunity to make amends of our unwanted
errors. Virtuality has been used as a way in to exploring the physical.
Arguably the defence industry has pushed such technologies due to offering
simulations of real life and death situations for military training. For
example, we can pre-empt and have a virtual experience of how something
might be without being killed. Consequently, the digital and virtualness
have had a major impact on how we interface with the physical world.
What is perhaps the most significant contribution of computer music and
computer interactivity, is how such technology has made us re-evaluate
our relationship with the physical and the body. Programs such as Max/MSP
and PD have enabled musicians to create and design systems using object
orientated modular environments. On the surface, Max/MSP is modelled on
the physical. But such a programming environment enables some kind of
reverse engineering – moving from the software realm to prototypes
of the physical. Musicians are again patching ‘things’ together
using hardware in, broadly speaking, experimental ways. To refer back
to Negroponte, the digital has enabled us to ‘do’. Conferences
such as NIME and the debate of the human body in relation to the ‘machine’
have become even more topical. Such terms as post-digital have crept into
the vocabulary of musicians, and DIY electronics and hardware seem to
be back in vogue. Is this simply a question of nostalgia, or has the digital
mind been short-circuited?