Arts, Humanities, and Complex Networks

Computer Network Music

by Scot Gresham-Lancaster

Abstract

Computer Network Music is a new genre of music practice that grew directly out of the advance in personal computer technology and networking. Since the early 1980’s there has been an enclave of experimental composer/performers who have worked consistently to use the latest breakthroughs in musical hardware and software advances. They make new work using only their impromptu interaction with the nodes and flows of heterogeneous ad-hoc networks as the sole source of structure and determinism in the creation of music. Aesthetically aligned with the utopian visions of machine vitality and cooperative synergy of John Cage and Buckminister Fuller, this work arises from a necessity to directly express the state of network interaction as sound. Starting with a shared memory space, the techniques evolved to be structured like the classic network model of node and flow. Finally, the architecture of network music practice has come to more closely resemble the structured and semantic context found in many complex networks, where process and procedure are semiotically bound to fixed functions, that pass information in expected ways locally, but create unexpected and complex expressions not present in any other musical practice. The future of computer network music promises to be even more entwined with process and dynamic interaction. The ubiquity of homogenous “laptop” orchestras in the curriculum of many graduate music schools begs the question regarding the more heterogeneous techniques of the early work in this field and whether this is a musical necessity or simply a convenience. The direct and interactive sonification of network flows demonstrate the clear value that is present in the direct use of networks in the Arts and Humanities in general.

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