Morten Breinbjerg


The Faculty of Humanities

Department of Aesthetic Studies

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Morten Breinbjerg

The Computer as Instrument and Interface

Contemporary digital music reflects better than any other art form the significance of the computer as a cultural interface. The computer’s fundamental operations ( copy, cut, paste, undo ) are distinct in this music, which constantly mixes and remixes in new constellations. The computer’s characteristic qualities are evident in the musical structures and musical expression and manifest themselves as new aesthetic forms of expression. In this way the computer challenges the fundamental ideas of musical culture in that it challenges culture’s idea of what it means to compose and make music, what a musical instrument is, which skills are traditionally necessary to play and compose music, and the character of the musical material. These are ideas that are themselves anchored in the restructuring of musical culture by former media technologies (interfaces). We can, for instance, regard common music notation and classical instruments as musical interfaces defining the boundaries of the existing musical material (tones) and of the musical forms. As an interface, the score is a visualization of the musical space of time that makes it possible to organize horizontal and vertical structures that it was not possible to operate with earlier in “pre-literary” musical culture. The computer thus not only creates the framework for new aesthetic practices and forms of expression, but also redefines culture’s understanding of what it means to compose and make music. Digital culture therefore gives occasion for rethinking the relationship between art and technology in a historical perspective.

The subproject asks how the computer, as a new musical instrument and as an interface, gives rise to new aesthetic practices and forms of expression. The subproject will therefore analyze and describe the signification of the computer for the forms of expression of digital music and for its battle with the basic ideas of musical culture. In this analysis the subproject focuses on the connections between the computer’s instrumental, computer-science layer, its role as a programmable and automatable machine, its interface, and the forms of musical practice and expression to which it gives rise.

Simultaneously, the project will work on developing prototypes for new musical interfaces with a view to experimenting with current design strategies and design metaphors. This part of the project takes place in continuation of my ongoing cooperation with the research project called “Listen kids! A Sound Lab for Children”, which is under the Department of Computer Science at the University of Aarhus.

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Revised 2010.02.17