Tuesday, September 6, 2016


Adagio: indicating that the music is to be played slowly or a composition intended to be played in this manner.

I tighten up the bow and apply the rosin.

I love the smell of rosin, its texture, the gesture involved in its application.

Hour upon hour of practice built a relationship between myself and the instrument.

That time was my own, and no one else's.

I find myself talking to an inanimate instrument.

It becomes a means of mediating my soul.

I remember the pressure of the strings on my fingers.

I remember the gloomy, musty smelling claustrophobia of that music practice room. 

At no moment did I really think of working on composition myself. 


I press an icon on Garageband and I hear a sample of a drum beat. 

I press an icon on Garageband and I hear a sample of piano playing.

I might as well be pressing an icon on Spotify and listening to a musician's piece of music.

It's pretty much the same.  

It takes less than a second.

A physical relationship between myself and the creation of sound is virtually non-existant.


I move my fingers up and down the screen on the ThumbJam application.  

Instantly, I am able to hear what sounds like perfectly bowed cello playing.

What of my involvement in the sound?

I tilt the phone and I am able to hear vibrato on the notes played.

I take another sampled sound and add it to the cello loop. 

I have the impression that I am able to compose music.

Is this composition?

Is it a seductive simulacra of artistry?

After hours of practice of cello, composition never felt accessible.

The experience of playing the cello clearly influences my search for sensitivity and musicality from the application.  

I begin to ask myself questions.


Why is it, I ask myself, that Thumbjam feels more like an instrument to me than Garageband?

I find an article written by Mikkel Bech-Hansen entitled "Musical Instrument Interfaces."

I read:

"Originally being a drummer, my approach to creating music has always had a very physical and tactile dimension to it."

I can relate to this lack of relationship that Bech-Hansen feels towards electronic synthesizers.

Garageband feels flat and unresponsive, I feel unable to establish a relationship with the application.

I think again of the time that it took me to go to the music room take the cello, adjust the spike to the right length, tune the strings, tighten the bow...

I think of the angle of the bow on the strings, the pressure of the fingers on the steel strings.

I hear the resonance of the instrument in my body.

I feel the vibration of the instrument within the confines of the room.

It is as if the instrument and myself have become one.

A smartphone application, while capable of reproducing faithfully a myriad of sounds feels like a social, emotional and physical impoverishment.

I feel disconnection.

As Bech-Hansent says:

"The advent of electronic and digital audio technologies severed the ties between the physical form of the mechanical instrument artefact and the actual generated sound, thus paving the way for sound generation liberated from the confinements of physical acoustics."

On one hand a new world of sound is opened up for me, on the other hand I feel amputation.

"The natural mappings between the bodily gestures of the musicians and the audible and haptic feedback determined by the very shape and materiality of acoustic instruments were nevertheless entirely missing."

Can one really build relationships with applications or electronic "instruments"?

I search around and find an "instrument" which blurs the lines somewhat.

Feeling alive.

Which applications, I wonder, offer me "feel"?

There are perhaps two that come to mind: Thumbjam and Paper of 53.

Which applications, have I spent time building stories with?

Image manipulation applications: PicPlayPost, Fusion, Strip Designer, Prisma have become of interest to me when using them in combinations to answer artistic questions.

It is hacking the applications together which interests me.

I resist the idea of soulless reproduction.

How does Prisma, for example, engage one artistically if one simply flicks through a series of filters?

I don't see a person, I see Prisma.

I don't see art, I see commerce.

After a short time, I see nothing.

I feel nothing.

How does Garageband engage one artistically if one simply flicks through a series of sampled loops?

After a short time, I hear nothing.

I feel nothing.

I find an interview with David Byrne entitled "When to resist technology?"


When I played the cello, I was so small that my peers used to say jokingly:

"Ensor is not playing the cello, the cello is playing Ensor."  

I suppose I was perceived as instrumentalized.

I wonder about the time spent sharing links, gory click-bait, borrowed drum beats, photos, drawings,  and existential yearnings across social media.

Am I playing or am I being played?

I think about power differentials present on these participatory networks.

I find an article by David Byrne and share it with others for future reference.

I see the same article by David Byrne shared back to me by Terry Elliot with an accompanying comment:

I open up his annotations and I read:

"This is one of the most serious problems with online life - we live in a zero sum "attention world".

"I find the digital 'look at me, look at me' attention culture we live in is...shallow and devious."

I think back to David Byrne's words about resistance towards what the computer wants of us.

Terry reminds us time, and time again of the importance of real engagement

He is right, to remind us thus.


To live is to engage, to relate is to deeply entwine story.

What are our relationships if we flick between avatars like so many virtual instruments in Garageband?

To appreciate life and relationships we must play our parts adagio.

Attending but not attended.

I read Byrne's article again.

He speaks of the appropriation of lesser known artists' images by pop-stars.

"Sometimes ideas and images are lifted by commercial entities without attribution - and one wonders if, in the eyes of those creators, commercial and mainstream work becomes cooler if it harvests from hip unknowns. There seems to be a sense that unknown artists ideas are there for the picking. In fact it's often viewed as an honor to be picked."

To what extent are we simply commodified by these "participatory networks" to be gobbled up by those with a more highly developed attention credit rating?

Kanye West made that bitch...

Are we forgetting that the time we engage even soullessly has value...to us - perhaps none to others?

We share "freely" and yield data to data brokers, our souls encoded in zeros and ones.

Are we just there for the picking?

Are we just stringed puppets to be plucked pizzicato by those with the means to marketize?

Are we playing or are we being played?

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