Manifesto for Teaching Online – Aphorism No. 18 – “Course processes are held in a tension between randomness and intentionality.”

“Experimental composers are by and large not concerned with prescribing a defined time-object whose materials, structuring and relationships are calculated and arranged in advance, but are more excited by the prospect of outlining a situation in which sounds may occur, a process of generating action (sounding or otherwise), a field delineated by certain compositional ‘rules’. The composer may, for instance, present the performer with the means of making calculation to determine the nature, timing or spacing of sounds. He may call on the performer to make split-second decisions in the moment of performance. He may indicate the temporal areas in which a number of sounds may be placed. Sometime a composer will specify situations to be arranged or encountered before sounds may be made or heard; at other times he may indicate the number and general quality of the sounds and allow the performer to process through them at their own pace. Or he may invent or ask the performer to invent, particular instruments or electronic systems… Experimental composers have evolved a vast number of processes to bring about acts the ‘outcome of which are unknown’…” (Nyman, 1974; p 4)

In repetitive music perception is an integral and creative part of the musical process since the listener no longer perceives a finished work but actively participates in its construction. Since there is no absolute point of reference a host of interpretative perspectives are possible. So that goal-directed listening, based as it is on recollection and anticipation, is no longer suitable and must be in favour of a random, aimless listening, traditional recollection of the past being replaced by something akin to a “recollection into the future”, actualisation rather than reconstruction. This “forward recollection” removes memory from its privileged position. Stoianova called this a game of “iterative monadism”: what matters is not what the sound may stand for but its physiological intensity, or, as Young puts it: “One must get inside the sound” … Traditional dialectical music is representational: the musical form relates to an expressive content and is a means of creating a growing tension; this is what is usually called the “musical argument”. But repetitive music is not built around such an “argument”; the work is on-representational and is no longer a medium for the expression of subjective feelings…La Monte Young has removed finality, the apocalypse, from his music, and what is left is mere duration and stasis, without beginning or end: eternal music. In fact, Young has said that his Dream House project is a permanent, continuous work that has no beginning and goes on indefinitely.

John Cage (1912-92), Diagrammatic Score for Fantana Mix, (1958)

Many years ago as an undergraduate in London and Arts editor of the college newspaper, I was also taking an evening class in 20th Century Composition at City University. The course covered the ideas and explorations of a number of composers from Debussy, Schoenberg through Stravinsky onwards through Cage, Xenakis, Stockhausen, the Fluxus movement, Cornelius Cardew, many of which who had mile-stoned the progress of ‘serious’ music leading to today. It was fascinating course and linked with what I knew something of the development of visual art. Some elements relate to the present discussion regarding how arguments emerge through the use of electronic systems.

1) There has a been an increasing focus on structure. This is opposed to merely producing or reproducing [as accurately as possible, all be it with subtle interpretations and nuancing] artistic statements, arguments, representations or narratives. There is increasingly independence to any allusion in the work that it visually references either the real world in formats such as ‘portraits’ ‘landscapes’ or’ still lifes’. Neither is there any attempt to portray symbolic worlds of the fantastic (gods, Valkyries’, Greek myths etc.) or the artists imagination. There is much more concentration however on an exploration of the boundaries and limits of expression, of possible forms and materials in themselves, and this can easily be seen in the development of the category ‘abstract art’. Such approaches well up questions such as; ‘are these expression reactions to developments in media technology such as photography and recorded sound? Their has been also work representative of an increased focus on accurately depicting the process of media technology itself, such as we can see in photorealism (where artists recreate images in paint as if they were photographic, or technology that produces authentic sounds of acoustic instruments), or letting people experience the sound of their own anticipation whilst attending a concert performance, or reflexive forms of social science, where the thinking apparatus of the researcher is brought to the fore as an important aspect of the analysis.

2) There has been a focus on process and method opposed to content. What happens, what arguments and other phenomenaemerge, as people explore, create and interact with structure, rules, bureaucracy and provided elements becomes more important than a result? Rather than pure ‘lust for result’ engendered into people through the idea of ‘productive activity‘, it is rather ‘the race is the prize’. This is often self-referential within the school of thought, as much as an effort for the individual artist to extend or adjust his or her method, iterating according with experience, reflection and review.

3) There has been on behalf of those in power in the creative relationship a concerted effort to enrol, marshal and motivate, exploit, participate and interact with, the subjective and interpretative powers of the viewer, listener, student or user. These are undefined, and perhaps difficult to access and understand, but must be accepted unconditionally at face value.

4) An effort on behalf of the composer, artist, writer, designer, researcher To promote autopoeisis in the work, where the listener, viewer, reader, user, or ‘the observed subject’ maintains itself using processes within itself and without exterior resources, teacher to remove themselves from the site of discovery or uncovery, to Minimalist music, for instance makes the listener “actively participate in its construction,”

4) Thoughtful encounter with this work can leave both creator and consumer with as many questions as answers, as you progress, and in spirit of true investigation, the nature of the questions you ask changes. By deciding just what it is you are trying to understand, gives you focus together with the ability to better identify potentially unproductive research directions.


It was during this time that I had the great fortune to meet with the American composer Philip Glass who had been performing with his ensemble in the Royal Albert Hall. I had already seen his opera Akhnaten when it was performed by the English National Opera in Covent Garden. I was immensely touched by his music, which was characterized by cascading arpeggios and poly-rhythmic sequences which were layered over each other to create a mesh of dynamically interacting sonic elements. I had being experimenting with such approaches myself. Glass along with some other notables, Steve Reich, and Terry Riley and La Monte Young to name a few were part of a cadre of modern composers were cast as minimalists. Rather than creating music that followed a kind of narrative or theme, they rather played on the experiential aspects of what happened when one was exposed to music. In some senses it was ‘the third force’ in creativity alluded to by the beat writer William Burroughs. In a sense this broke the authority of the author in terms of deigning the narrative. It also was a conscious effort on behalf of the artist to create spaces which worked with the subjectivity and even perceptual processes of the reader, viewer, or listener. It opened the realm of unconscious thought, such as proposed by Jung when he spoke of a collective unconscious. Burroughs had been experimenting in creative writing with his ‘cut-ups’, cutting up words and passages from newspapers and randomly pulling them out and recombining them. This technique had legacy at least back to the Dadaist movement in the 1920s with the automatic poetry of Tristan Tzara. Burroughs had also been experimenting with the artist author Brion Gyson in the use of a dream machine’ which could induce trances and auto illusions which were a response of the perceptual system to stimulus. It was inspired by neuroscientist and roboticist William Grey Walter’s book ‘The Living Brain‘ (1953)

Returning to the backstage at the Royal Albert Hall, Glass was playing host to a number of journalist and dignitaries and the chances of grabbing him for an interview seemed slim. Nevertheless, I sidled up and getting his attention I asked him bluntly if he thought that his music, and the whole minimalist approach, only worked off of the back of the public having been exposed to a rich cornucopia of mediated music, coming from multiple sources – radio, records, film and television – and potentially thousands of different genres. He was intrigued enough with this question as to break off from his other visitors, order a couple of beers and for us to have a chat. He asked me what I meant. Somewhat taken aback by his intense and genuine interest in what I knew was simply an idea that I had rattling about in my head at the time, I proffered an explanation that went like this; people in modern industrial and mediated societies have had a vast exposure to recorded music which they may hear on a repetitive basis. This includes advertising jingles, hit singles, favourite records that parents played, hymns, songs at school, everything through television and radio, even in department stores.

Records gave people abilities to time-shift, pause and repeat which were not previously open to them before “I really love this bit, let me play it again. ”This vocabulary of tones clearly calibrates and configures an ability to read, to expect, and presume the hidden codes therein – whether this be harmony and melody, counterpoint, rhythm, timbre, verse and chorus, dissonance and so forth. The important thing is that we bring this way of ‘reading’ to a performance, and if that performance is minimal then our memory and brain will fill in the ‘spaces’.

A similar effect on a more reduced level can be experienced when one hears the sound of a ‘third’ when the root note and high note of a chord are alternated in a rhythm. It’s a kind of auditory illusion. Glass acknowledged what I was putting forward, but referred back to his classical training with Nadia Boulanger [1963 till 1965] in Paris [which was interesting as this was also cited by the English minimal composer Michael Nyman in a later interview myself and a colleague did with him)..So it wasn’t at the direct intention of the composer [or writer] to manipulate the codes, but was an effect of them expressing the results of their entrainment in a particular way that gave rise to it. Some people may find, particularly the early work of Glass mechanical but against this mechanical method the mind drifts, especially when it goes on for a very long time.

While i was aware that Glass had taken influence from his work with Ravi Shankar and that his cells and pattern music derived from the use in Asian music, I had no idea at the time that his father had a repair shop for radios and sold record albums. As a result, the young Philip came into contact with recorded and broadcast music at an early stage.Perhaps this was the resonance?

Of course what were speaking of here was the idea of highly subjective reading of a piece of creative work. Music has this flexibility as it is the most abstract of the arts. It had wide open interoperability, although people developed and maintain tastes, some of which accord with their social status and beliefs about themselves in the world (Bordieu and Veblen). Of course getting into the subject of interpretation as a science, which has been the project of cognitive science for some time, is a difficult area, even with the advent of advances in neural imaging giving us perspective on the hidden working of the brain. On a multiple choice exam, a child can demonstrate whether he can read and grasp the gist of a piece of writing, but he cannot usually demonstrate the depth or thoroughness with which he comprehends it.

Alexander John Watson’s biography of the influential and erudite Canadian scholar Harold Innis, a colleague of Marshall McLuhan, details how he came to study civilizations and empires as moulded by the prevailing media of communication at the time. Perhaps the word ‘communication’ should be considered pre-eminent over the categories, ‘media’ and ‘technology’. This is not unusual as the sheer ubiquity of communication – what is communicated and how it is communicated – transcend all categories and disciplinary boundaries largely due to it being the key human product defining and taxonomising them in the first place?

In “Declaration by Design: Rhetoric, Argument, and Demonstration in Design Practice” (1985, reprinted in Margolin, 1989:: p.91), Richard Buchanan wrote: “If one idea could be found central to design studies, it most likely would be communication.” Then we have Andre Mattelmart, who in The Invention of Communication (1997: p.vii), asks us to treat communication by moving beyond the so-called media modality, and specifically from the perspective of ‘the multiple circuits of exchange and circulation of goods, people, and messages.’. This means that things such as transport and events such as migrancy are also treated as communication. And, as a final example of the conflation of the physical and ephemeral as acts of communication, Klauss Kipperndorf, Professor of Communication at the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania, also a designer, has proposed in his The Semantic Turn (2006; p.148) that “The fate of all artefacts is decided in language” (p.148). The actor-network theories of Bruno Latour, Michelle Callon and John Law also conflate material things and semiotic concepts. Contentiously they treat human and non-human actors in the same language.

This is rather like what Kevin Kelly proposes in “What does technology want?” or Jaron Lanier has done in “You are not a gadget”. It is a pertinent research question which carries which is a reverse rational to the idea that technology does nothing without the intervention of human agency. It would be nothing if it weren’t for human agency and particular kinds of agency at particular times as it moves from ideation to full roll-out. It is a view that is ruthlessly semiotic as Law puts it, and it would irk those whose remit (such as Donald Norman and others in the UX crowd) that have pitted poor or unthoughtful design weaknesses upon not properly of fully understand the vicissitudes of use and the user. Even Krippendorf supports this view, when he sees that design “brings forth what would not come naturally (…); proposes realizable artifacts to others (…) must support the lives of ideally large communities (…) and must make sense to most, ideally to those that have a stake on them” (pp. 25-26). Actor-network would speak in terms of how humans ‘made sense’ to machines and environments. While it is still feasible to consider how a biometric sensor reads an individual human subject, or a databases understands a person’s characteristics, attributes, and features and personals details, it most certainly lacks explanatory reasons for why it is doing this.

Issues of why, who, what where and when have been considered in an earlier post on surveillance, and most often point to interest groups with an interest in holding authority or power over others [governments, intelligence agencies, corporations and law enforcement, even social scientists]. Mattelart in Networking the World, 1794-2000 (2006) holds that by letting corporations network the world, we are letting them control the marketplace of ideas, as if they have shackled the invisible hand of capitalistic self-governance. This inevitably leads, says Mattelart, to what is essentially;

“nothing more than human commodification, such that the marketplace of ideas is essentially a parroting frenzy of talking heads socioeconomically engineered to spread profitable memes. These perpetrate managerial and cognitive capitalism, also named ‘world-integrated capitalism’.”

Many objects we know, or even come to know, only through words and depictions. This doesn’t phase our worldview at all. We consider it the central object of museums to try and lend us first hand experience of some of these objects, all be it, often behind glass. What do most of us know of maces, swords, canons, M-!6s and Kalashnikovs? Such questions show how we treat items of which we have no direct experienced of with familiarly almost with the adeptness of social, economic and political experts offering analyses and prescriptions on foreign conflicts which they have never been near. The same is true for the literature and film of fantasy.

We do not know directly of warlocks, dragons and unicorns, but through the “lord of the Rings’ and ‘Harry Potter’ we not only see breakdowns in the fabric of our Newtonian experience, but also expect it. We do not however, expect to witness similar phenomena in our everyday reality, and if we were to do so we or others around us would likely be phoning a doctor. Precisely how technologies, media and all form of communication actually ‘impact’ and shape society is a complex and subtle question (as was previously discussed in the debunkle regarding adverse media effects on violent behavior)., as they do not influence and impact at the same rate, force and magnitude. The same could be offered in a discussion of the development and innovation of a new product where different macro-, meso- and micro- level social influences can also exert motivations for some change in look, function and operational parameters (Eco’s ‘writerly traits’ c.f. previous post) and of course, how this is interpreted and received by end consumers and users (‘readerly’ aspects).

http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20582740,00.html harry potter
Harold Innis along with Marshall McLuhan, had become one of the founding fathers of the new field of communications studies, and both of these scholars has been privy to accusation of technological determinism in their ideas. Determinism is an altogether more difficult problem to grasp when thinking of the effects of communication. Of course communication not only shapes society, but also is a foundational and integral element of organization, and by extension society, a public, a citizenry, and later, an audience. McLuhan continues:

“…the shift from the mechanical technology of the wheel [to] electric circuitry represents one of the major shifts of all historical time. Printing from movable type created a quite unexpected new environment – it created the PUBLIC… What we have called ‘nations’ in recent centuries did not, and could not, precede the advent of Gutenberg technology anymore than they can survive the advent of electric circuitry with its power of totally involving all people in all other people.”

Martin Buber’s theory of knowledge put forward in I-Thou (2004) distinguishes between symbolic communication which seeks an intimate relationship between the communicator and receiver of the message and sign based languages that are more formal, functional, and abstract in usage. For Buber, an I-It relationship is a subjective relationship where the ‘It’ is experienced and utilized by the ‘I’. An I-Thou relationship refers to the joining of identities that occurs when two people come together in an authentic, meaningful way. The symbol inherently points beyond itself to something larger, an idea, a message, a theme, a truth that is vital or inherent to the message of the communicator. A sign, on the other hand, points to itself or other objects and is reflective of an I-it relationship as characterized by materialism and objectivism. In understanding which form of communication is sought in design, the artist or designer can craft a message or create a product as the needs of the situation demand.

What is interesting and relevant to the present discussion is Harold Innis’s method of working which some of us may relate to Watson has Innis surrounded by semicircles of books on the floor, and piles of papers on every surface. He casts an image of a man organizing his information by what would now be recognized as Ctrl-C – Ctrl-V behavior. Instead of the laptop he has penciled notes in the margins of the books he read, and transcribed relevant passages onto paper. He made primitive photostat copies of his notes, giving him white text upon a black background. He cut and pasted, with scissors and glue, forming these notes into a gigantic manuscript. From this he carved out articles and books that now look like a rough form of hypertext. As he did, he treads upon a fine line a fine line between meta-construction, or curation and re-mix, and plagiarism and self-plagiarism. But he was doing in scholarly work what Burroughs was doing in his çut-up’ poetry. For whatever reason this was not a method Innis taught his students.

Hypertext can baffle many people accustomed to a sequential, linear argument. How many reviews have you read where the main critique of the author focuses upon how they do not pertain to the matter at hand, instead loosely flit around ideas as if following a stream of consciousness. Clearly, this comes for those who have for years developed will and interest to keep a narrow incisively focus intact. The reasoning of such a superior mind moves directly from argument a to argument b in a steady linear straight-forward in the box manner. Erudite, crisp and precise against meandering rambling clutter and mess, linear straight responses against those of a fuzzier nature are favoured as typically is a reductionist positivist research perspective, where great emphasis is placed upon painstakingly removing contaminating influences and contexts in order to portray a single determining element or factor.

This was in stark contrast to Innis’s late works, and other more creative works such as Joyce’s infamous Finnegan’s Wake (1939) one of most difficult books of fiction in the English language. Such work baffled more readers than they enlightened with their richness and complexity, and in the later, the substation of even the shared language However, Innis in his The Bias of Communication (2006) reiterates McLuhan’s ideas when contends that the change of literate media from papyrus, to the codex, to paper and to print have all created a new social engagement with human thought that invited people to think about the world differently. So what is the contribution of the link and navigation to knowledge, learning and argument? How does linear and non-linear argument to emerge, online and offline?

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