Peter Kirn

Between Thought and Object: Music and the Material

At first blush, music might seem to lag a full act behind the discussion of post-digitality. The academic discourse often struggles to find a language to encompass the expanded temporal and timbral capabilities of digital and electronic music. But digitality itself can be part of a continuum in music that embraced reductionist models of recording music, in scores and the fixed pitches of Church music, that looked for mathematical ideals in sound, form, and musical architecture. Alongside that Hegelian approach to theory was, naturally, a progressive ideal in technology.

The new-found ubiquity of digital musical media has brought on a crisis that demands a broader view, and producers are beginning to respond. This includes not only musical creations that are directly anti-digital, but also digital works that are newly grounded in materials. In both recorded media and performance, from cassette-tape labels to mechanical performance constructions, these artists reimagine the bounds of the musical object.

I differ from the binary assumptions of the conference abstract, at least in regards to tendencies in music. Digitality as a rejection of materiality, the “virtual,” is indeed problematic. But the alternative need not be a choice between self-reflexive glitch or digital native. The emergence of digitality in music was itself fully grounded in the physical, literally punched in paper cards. Digital engineers are always intimate with the material and the physical, in the fundamental existence of the necessary digital-to-analog and analog-to-digital circuits. The transformation, then, is a broader awareness in musical circles of the sensitive dance between digital and analog, virtual and acoustic, idea and material. This mediation is at the essence of the practices of performance and composition.


CV  Peter Kirn is a musician, media artist, and technology journalist. He is the editor of two daily sites that chronicle creative process and technology, Create Digital Music and Create Digital Motion (which, despite their names, are not restricted to digital work). He was also recently editor of The Evolution of Electronic Dance Music (Hal Leonard Books). He has also helped develop open source technologies and uses them in his performance practice, including co-creating the MeeBlip hardware synthesizer (itself a digital/analog hybrid) and contributing to the software library libpd (based on Pure Data). In musical and audiovisual performances, he produces experimental ambient and experimental dance music, as presented at venues such as B-Seite Festival (Mannheim, DE), Frequency Festival (Lincoln, UK), and LEAP Gallery (Berlin, DE).
Kirn is completing a PhD in music composition at The Graduate Center of The City University of New York. He has taught at Parsons The New School for Design, Brooklyn College, and others, and now lectures and teaches workshops internationally. He is based in Berlin.