Consider a song on the radio. The musicians are performing on instruments, which are recorded with microphones, into computer software that converts sound into data, at which point the data is processed according to the tastes of the artist and producer—tastes shaped, no doubt, by the array of processing software available to them in the first place. After that, the finished product is printed to tape or disc, circulated at various compression rates online, further processed by the radio station, and consumed on everything from car speakers to $1,000 headphones to iPod earbuds. To an extent perhaps only marginally impacted by the content of the song, by the time this song on the radio gets to our ears technology has exerted a huge influence on the sonic character, and thus our experience, of the music. Further, all of these technologies and techniques have complex histories and social contexts that have guided their development and uses, from early experiments to their present-day incarnations. This course explores what technology has done to, for, and with music from prehistory to the present day, focusing on Western musical practice. Rather than adopt a technologically deterministic view of music history, this class considers how technology and music have been intertwined through the years. As a subset of human behavior, music might present us with an especially fertile environment for exploring our creative relationship with our tools, the way that humans and technology are co-constitutive, and the permeable boundary between humans and technology. Some questions this course will ask include: How has technology impacted our perception of music? In what ways does technology variously enable and constrain musical activity? Is music itself a kind of technology? What have humans done with technology in a musical context in various historical periods, and in what way does this reflect on the period in which the music was created? Does technology exert an a priori influence on musical thought? To what extent is our aesthetic evaluation of music imbricated with technology? Though our subject is music, our intellectual sources will be drawn not only from music scholarship but also from anthropology, philosophy, science and technology studies, media theory, and psychology. This is not a class about creating music, though we will work directly with various technologies when appropriate.
Music & Technology from a Critical Perspective
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