Performing Music: Humans, Computers, and Electronics

Elaine Chew*, Andrew McPherson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

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Performing music, communication through music, is a ubiquitous human activity. As tools to assist in human activities have evolved from the mechanical to the electronic, music making has not escaped the relentless tide of technological innovation. This chapter explores forms of technology-mediated performance, and the ways in which the intervention of computers and electronics has changed, and continue to change, our processes and understanding of music making. Advances in computing power and speed now allow machines to simulate aspects of human-like intelligence and behavior so that computers can more closely and dynamically partner with humans in creative performance, improvisation, and composition. Technological innovations have led to new instruments and traditional instruments augmented by electronics that lead to new ways of performing, improvising, and composing.

The technologies considered are broadly divided into two categories: digital instrument systems that extend the sound-producing capabilities of the performer, and generative or intelligent systems that offer control at a higher level of musical abstraction, extending the mind of the performer and/or composer. The two categories, the first of which draws on a combination of hardware and software and the second of which is primarily software-based, are far from clear divisions. Music software is inextricably tied to electronic capabilities and not infrequently coupled with physical instruments. Many digital music instruments embed and take on the capacity of intelligent software. The physical manifestations and constraints of an instrument necessarily impact mental representations of the music; and, the desired high-level representations and handles on musical parameters inevitably shape the design of an instrument. What is clear is that the advent of electronics and computers have introduced profound shifts in musical thought, changing our understanding of the performer’s, composer’s, and listener’s roles and our ideas of what an instrument should be, what a performance can be, and the very notion of creativity itself.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Companion to Music Cognition
EditorsRichard Ashley, Renee Timmers
Place of PublicationNew York
Number of pages12
ISBN (Electronic)9781315194738
ISBN (Print)9781138721050
Publication statusPublished - 28 Jun 2017


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