Georgina Born: Musical Robotics - e Or, Writing the History of Music Technologies

Georgina Born, University of Oxford, Visiting Professor, Aarhus University

2017.11.15 | Betina Ramm

Date Thu 23 Nov
Time 13:15 15:00
Location Kasernen / Æstetiske Fag, Langelandsgade 139, bygning 1584, indgang C, auditorium A

What is it to write the history of a musical instrument? There is a tendency and a temptation, understandably, to write this history and that of all music technologies from the perspective of the winners: those heroic objects that emerge, invariably attached to their heroic inventors, from the melée of competing innovations to become established in the pantheon of key instruments––the piano, violin, clarinet, saxophone, electric guitar, Roland TB303 bass synth. These are instruments that have succeeded in garnering large, expansive markets and communities of practice. But how adequate as history are such teleological accounts of the victors?  

 In this talk I want to consider some of the new perspectives on writing the history of music technology, and histories of music, that have arisen in recent years. I exemplify some of these new perspectives through cases from my current ethnographic research on digital music technologies and cultures. In particular, I focus on the emergent field of musical robotics in order to convey both its history and its dispersion––how connected it is to multiple other developments today. To write this history, I argue, means necessarily taking into account, along with the materialities of brute objects and software systems, their cultural, symbolic and political valencies––something recent theory has found difficult. 


Through the field of musical robotics we glimpse the outlines of a history before, or without, victors or even clear directionality: a fluxious history that some identify as post-digital, or retro-futurist, one that composes and is composed by a drifting mass of related practices and innovations, permeable at the boundaries, and without telos, a decentered cloud of practices involving, often, only minor differences, generating a vast and unsettled diversity. I ask: does this kind of historical portrayal conjure up better the emergent nature of music technologies, before the closures effected by industrial stabilization and standardization? 


Georgina Born is Professor of Music and Anthropology at Oxford University and a Visiting Professor in Musicology at Aarhus University. Earlier she worked as a musician on cello and bass guitar, performing with the groups Henry Cow, Art Bears, Mike Westbrook Orchestra, Michael Nyman Band and other ensembles, as well as improvised music with Derek Bailey’s Company and others. She writes about music and technology, as well as other areas of contemporary media and digital culture. 



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