Katherine C.

Sunday, Oct 23, 2022

Music 256A / CS476A, Stanford University

Word count: 402

Reading Response to Artful Design Chapter 4

From this week's reading, I'd like to respond to Artful Design Principle 4.8, which states:

Principle 4.8: “Experiment to illogical extremes! (And pull back according to taste)” (p. 198).

– where illogical extremes can take many forms – physically impossible rhythms, improbable sounds (e.g., modeling a plucked string the size of the golden gate bridge), superhuman precision, mass instantiation of simple elements, and uncanny manipulation of sonic and musical properties.” (p. 198).

I really like the idea of experimenting to the extreme as part of the design process, as well as the “curiosity pushes forward, taste pulls back” approach. I find it fascinating that the programmable parameters in computer music is very sensitive (i.e., changing a number in code can lead to wildly different results). It seems to me that this leads to two implications:  1) precision is important, and 2) rapid experimentation can be super fun, producing a monstrous multi-dimensional spectrum of effects that one can explore and eventually choose from.

This principle reminds me of a time when I attended a taiko (Japanese drumming) workshop where they taught us a “stick and noodle” exercise. The idea that they were trying to get across is that while drumming, we should be holding the bachi with arms that are not too stiff, not too loose, but at a flexibility that is somewhere in between. We experimented with the extremes, arms as rigid as sticks and as wobbly as noodles, then “pulled back” according to aesthetic taste, eventually settling at the right flexibility.

This principle, specifically the phrase “uncanny manipulation of sonic and musical properties,” also reminds me of Principle 3.14: “Savor strange design loops.” From the last chapter, I came to appreciate that adding the uncanny to design can be an aesthetic way to close the gap between function and form. So when we experiment to illogical extremes using uncanny manipulation, maybe the result can be something beautiful – so beautiful that we can leave the illogical extremes in the final design and don’t even need to “pull back.”

One question, however, that arises from this principle is: How extreme should we go when experimenting with illogical extremes? Also, such exploratory experimentation takes time, and I feel like it is often almost impossible to experiment to fully satisfy curiosity. Therefore, when a designer is on a time crunch, how can they prioritize which parameters to experiment with first, and to what degree?