Reading Response #2:
to Artful Design • Chapter 2: Designing Expressive Toys

Noah B.
Music 256A


I’d like to respond to the idea of the symbiotic nature of music making and technology. Although it’s undoubtedly true that music, science, and technology have been inextricably bound for millennia (Pythagorus, to pipe organs, to hurdy-gurdys, to DJs, to laptop orchestras) I wonder sometimes how convenient the historical narrative is. What ideologies are we perpetuating through this particular narrative?  It makes a lot of sense, in an institution such as the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics, to have a compelling origin and a storied history for the marriage of music and tech. And there is truth to it. But – as was alluded to in the chapter – to what end are we eternally searching for new means of sound-making? Companionship amongst loneliness? Amateur (read: one who loves) music? Must music necessarily be on the bleeding edge of technology? What is “most important” about music to us – the sound-making, the rituals surrounding it, or the stuff underpinning it? 

I’m interested in these questions because I personally feel the intense attraction of increasingly complex technological mediations for my own music making. Often, it’s as simple as novelty – something is cool, interesting, unexpected, or simply different. Other times, I feel like I’m actually grasping for something akin to magic – the ability to “dream” sounds and make them reality, the ability to throw sounds around in space, the ability to change a voice into a flute into drums… I’m curious about examining that instinct.

Considering the video on ‘Assassin’s Creed’, it seems as if a major pull of technology and design is world-crafting. When I want to do something “magical” with sound, I’m playing God on a small scale. When someone crafts a whole virtual video game world, they are more literally playing God (although also relatively small scale). "Playing God" has egoistic and negative undertones, but in some cases, one could imagine it as an intense act of imagination – imagining how the world might be, or could be, if the world was designed differently. And sometimes, as in ‘Assasin’s Creed’, that parallel world allows us to reflect on and perhaps even act differently in our own. So maybe the attraction of technology is it’s ability to move us into new imaginative realms by making our imagined worlds a little more real.

As a sidenote, I had no idea that Ge made the lighter app! That brings back some very niche memories of sixth grade for me. Talk about the invisibility of ubiquitous technology – turns out I’ve been playing with ChucK unwittingly since I was 10. surprised