9.20.2005"Collaborating with machines" by Tom Jenkinson.
The old preconceptions of machines (ie: drum machines, samplers, software) as inhibitive to "genuine" creativity/ "soulless" etc. are now quickly evaporating. The machine facilitates creativity, yes, but a specific kind of creativity that has undermined the idea of a composer who is master of and indifferent to his tools - the machine has begun to participate. Any die-hard instumentalists that still struggle to retain their notion of human sovereignty are exemplifying a peculiarly (western) human stupidity - resistance to the inevitable. What is also clear, though certainly undesirable by any retaining an anthropocentric view of composition is that this process proceeds regardless of any ideal point of human-machine collaboration (ie one where the human retains any degree of importance.) One might say that music is imploding in preparation for a time when there is no longer any need for it.
As is commonly percieved, the relationship between a human operator and a machine is such that the machine is a tool, an instrument of the composers desires. Implicit in this, and generally unquestioned until recently, is the sovereignty of the composer. What is now becoming clear is that the composer is as much a tool as the tool itself, or even a tool for the machine to manifest its desires. I do not mean this in the sense that machines are in possesion of a mind capable of subtly directing human behaviour, but in the sense that the attributes of the machine are just as prominent an influence in the resulting artefact as the user is; through his work, a human operator brings as much about the machine to light as he does about himself. However, this is not to say that prior to electronic mechanisation, composers were free and unfettered in their creations. As a verbal langauge facilitates and constricts our thoughts, the musical tradition, language and the factors of its realisation(ie instrumentation, limits of physical ability) were just as active participants in the compositional process as the "composer" was.
The problematic relationship between humans and machines stems from the abject remnants of the modernist idea that we can control our fates, perfect ourselves and our surroundings, postpone or eventually eradicate death. (Anyone who is afraid of dying needs salvation, but not as they might say, from death, but in fact from life, and of course a retreat into dogma suits this purpose very well). This view holds that anything can ultimately be made a subject of our conscious will. However, bending something to our conscious will, whether that is a person, a machine, or a situation always manifests a compensatory and contradictory aspect. Something crops up which subverts our will. Yet it is never admitted that such subvertions are simply the corollary of our obsession with conscious direction of our surroundings and thus the idiocy continues.
One might say that the western tradition simultaneously holds
anthropocentric views and yet makes scientific discoveries that continually point out that we are the center of nothing at all. (In that sense, we are all schizoid - we are all irreperably split, it is simply a matter of how you deal with it.) The use of machines has completed the abolition of anthopocentricity in a radical manner - that we are no longer even the centers of ourselves. Creativity does not seem to be an exclusively human activity anymore, but that begs the question, was it ever?
1) Can machines be creative? If not, how do we characterize the contributions and collaborations with machines in creative endeavors?
2) If we are the center of nothing at all, what are we? If creativity is not exclusively ours, are we anything at all?