Music 256a, Reading Response 4

Phew, this week’s reading is a lot to digest. Not because of the amount of pages or the difficulty of the material, but more because the musings contained can be considered and applied in so many different ways. Even just the talk of mutualization and demutualization, around pages 224-225, could likely be expanded into its own book. In my guitar wheelhouse, expectation of mutuality comes naturally. The experience of playing an acoustic guitar especially allows for extremely delicate physical choices that drastically change the resulting sound. But there are some augmentations – such as loopers and noise-inducing effects pedals – that somewhat decouple the directness of touch to sound, but are still considered commonplace/fair play within the guitar world. It’s fun to employ a sort of “let’s plug it all in and see what happens!” mindset with these effects, but, as Chapter Five reminds us, it’s equally important to philosophize about the impact of the expanded signal chain. Why am I adding each competent? How does it affect my playing/the overall sound, in composite with other effects and individually? This is, to be sure, a narrow reading of the mutuality conversation, but it came to mind immediately.

Perhaps more related to this course, it’s enlightening to read these passage after the process of creating the audiovisualizer project. In the zen interlude section, Ge’s statements on page 296 about a non-linear design process, co-design, and the overall messiness of design workflow definitely resonated with me. Often in the audiovisualizer design process, I found myself influenced not by a step-by-step plan, but by constraints of form (or skill) that led to goal-setting shifts. At the beginning of the design, I started with a spectrum based trampoline park, which evolved into a more contained bouncy spectrum, which morphed into a wacky 1990s screensaver inspired rumination on expanded workloads and inboxes. Each of these steps was not planned, but was in response to small aspects of the design that I most enjoyed. Of all the ideas that I sifted through over the course of the design, the trampoline aspect and, shortly thereafter, the ‘90s aesthetic remained consistent and formed the core of the project. And honestly, despite my sometimes slow progress, I started to feel much better about the project once I unwittingly adopted Perry’s principle I.1 – “funny is often better than serious.”

Once I embraced the nostalgia and humor of the crappy screensaver-esque aesthetic, I started having fun with the design: floating spawn triggers, exploding colorful objects, Ge’s bucket hat! Leaning into the wackiness freed me from the question of “what is skillful or technically proficient,” and allowed me to ask “how can this project center a clear and memorable vibe?” There’s something zen about letting go of the technical achievement factor and emphasizing the user experience, regardless of what’s under the hood. It’s a lesson that I keep seeing in this course, and I think it’s starting to sink in.