Imaginary Music Technologies: a survey

Professor Andrew Hugill

Centre for Creative Technologies (Director)

Music, Technology and Innovation Research Centre

De Montfort University, Leicester, UK

ahu@dmu.ac.uk

 

Given as keynote paper at the conference Technologies Imaginaires: l'approche pataphysique de la musique at Université de Paris-IV Sorbonne MINT-OMF, 30.03.05, organised by Andrew HUGILL MTIRC (De Montfort Uniiversity, Marc BATTIER, MINT-OMF (Paris-Sorbonne) and Philippe CATHE, CRLM (Paris-Sorbonne)

1. Introduction

I would first of all like to thank Marc Battier for the invitation to visit the Sorbonne today, and for the inspiration for this quite unique study-day! I would also like to thank Philippe Cathé for all his hard work in preparing the day and for his contributions to its content.

It is quite a daunting prospect for me to deliver a paper within these hallowed walls, a prospect that is made all the more daunting by two facts:

Firstly, for an Englishman to address remarks on 'pataphysics to a predominantly French audience may be seen as either highly presumptuous or foolishly impudent! I am very conscious of this, and can only say in my defence that I have been a member of the Collège de 'Pataphysique for twenty years and have studied the topic for at least ten years more than that. Pataphysics has been inspirational for me and I intend to discuss in the paper how I see it having a particular relevance for digital music. I hope the interest this may generate will outweigh any idiosyncrasies that other pataphysicians may perceive in my approach to the topic.

Secondly, my spoken French has all the typical characteristics of the English public schoolboy. I was taught French almost entirely through books and without conversation, something I have been trying hard to overcome ever since. Thus my pronunciation has a certain accent and my comprehension is sometimes at fault. I apologize in advance if this becomes a problem today. I think there are enough friends here who can help me if I get into difficulties!

This study-day is entitled 'Imaginary Technology: the pataphysical approach to music'. The word 'pataphysics' has recently acquired renewed relevance in the field of digital music. Two examples will suffice to give an indication of the extent of this revival.

The first is a book: Plunderphonics, 'Pataphysics and Pop Mechanics by Andrew Jones, published by Firefly in 1999. This Canadian text presents a survey of 'musique actuelle', describing the various musical activities of a succession of 'left-field' or 'radical' artists, including Fred Frith, John Oswald, John Zorn and The Residents. It's an entertaining read, but it is remarkably silent on one word in the title: 'pataphysics. I hardly need to explain that word to the present company, but 'plunderphonics' refers to a compositional method pioneered by John Oswald and relying entirely on digital samples taken from well-known sources. The first CD using this technique, called Plunderphonic, contained manipulations of familiar recordings by artists such as Michael Jackson, Glenn Gould, Dolly Parton, and Elvis Presley. Michael Jackson took exception to the cover of this album, which depicted the singer as a naked white woman, and pursued Oswald through the courts, thereby guaranteeing a notoriety for the plunderphonicist.

The second example is a group of net-artists who call themselves Farmers Manual  (see www.web.fm ). Their primary output is a kind of extended techno music, using network data feeds of various kinds to generate sounds and, usually, images. The members of the group are Mathias Gmachl, Stefan Possert, Gert Brantner, and Oswald Berthold. This last I had the good fortune to meet at the Music Research Centre, University of York, last year when he gave a presentation to the Digital Music Research Network about Farmers Manual. The description of the group he had brought along included the word 'pataphysics', so after the presentation I asked him the obvious question. He engagingly confessed that he had no idea what it meant, but simply that it was a 'buzzword' to indicate the sort of thing they were trying to do. For a 'pataphysician, of course, this definition is as good as any other, all things being equivalent, but I was intrigued to discover that it still has such currency.

What both these examples show is that, for these musicians at least, 'pataphysics' suggests a notion of something beyond, something experimental and, crucially for this study-day, something involving new technologies. We cannot pretend that the use of the word is anything other than loose in this context, but nevertheless I think it is no accident that it has emerged into the music world at this time. The science of imaginary solutions has found a musical realisation in the field of digital technology.

The word ‘technology’ derives from the two Greek words 'techne' and, of course, 'logos'. 'Techne' translates as ‘craftsmanship’, but also is distinct from episteme or ‘knowledge’. ‘Technology’ may therefore be complementary to ‘epistemology’, and so embodies the human knowledge of solving problems in the design of standard tools, machines, materials or the process thereof. The problems that are thus solved are often real: that is to say, they have a physical existence.

One possible interpretation of the phrase ‘imaginary technology’ is therefore: an unreal, or imagined, solution to a real problem. We might call this ‘imaginary technology of the physical’. Most technologies that have come into existence fall into this category. For the purposes of this paper, we are interested only in that stage of the process where these exist in the imagination, although this existence can often only be deduced from their subsequent physical realization.

A second interpretation of ‘imaginary technology’ reverses this idea and uses the imagination to extend the capabilities of a known or existing technology beyond the physically possible and into the imaginary. We might call this ‘imaginary technology of the metaphysical’. A great deal of science fiction and futurology falls into this category, and current theories point to a ‘technological singularity’ when technological progress accelerates beyond the ability of present-day humans to fully comprehend or predict.

The final interpretation, and one that is dear to us gathered here today, is the ‘imaginary technology of the pataphysical', that is to say: an imaginary solution “which symbolically attributes the properties of objects, described by their virtuality, to their lineaments” (Jarry). These technologies are ‘inutilious’ yet are standardized by virtue of their conformity to the laws governing exceptions. They tend to remain imaginary, although apparently real artifacts are sometimes created to provide evidence of their existence.

One question that remains: is the human imagination itself a technology? Research into Artificial Intelligence certainly treats it as such, just as the human body is seen as a technology by sports scientists and dancers. However, we will leave this as an open question, to be touched upon in particular when considering the the compositional imagination. Let us proceed to a consideration of these various imaginary technologies in relation to music so as to approach, little by little, the ‘pataphysical. We will survey work by artists, writers, composers, musicians, thinkers, scientists, engineers, in short: anybody who has dreamt up or of an imaginary music technology. Finally, I would like to describe some imaginary music technologies in the digital age, including some of my own research work.Thus, we will consider various tendencies within the field and set a framework for discussion for this study-day.

 

2. Imaginary Technologies of the Physical

 

Let us begin with one of the most celebrated examples of imaginary music technology, described by Francis Bacon in The New Atlantis of 1626:

"We have also sound-houses, where we practise and demonstrate all sounds and their generation. We have harmony which you have not, of quarter-sounds and lesser slides of sounds. Divers instruments of music likewise to you unknown, some sweeter than any you have; with bells and rings that are dainty and sweet. We represent small sounds as great and deep, likewise great sounds extenuate and sharp; we make divers tremblings and warblings of sounds, which in their original are entire. We represent and imitate all articulate sounds and letters, and the voices and notes of beasts and birds. We have certain helps which, set to the ear, do further the hearing greatly; we have also divers strange and artificial echoes, reflecting the voice many times, and, as it were, tossing it; and some that give back the voice louder than it came, some shriller and some deeper; yea, some rendering the voice, differing in the letters or articulate sound from that they receive. We have all means to convey sounds in trunks and pipes, in strange lines and distances."

This is, of course, an example of an extraordinary imagination anticipating developments that were to occur many centuries later. The sound-houses correspond well to contemporary music studios, with their ability to record and process sound. The language of music has expanded to include microtones. We have the ability to pitch-shift (to alter the pitch of a sound without changing its duration) and to time-stretch (to extend a sound without changing its pitch). We can and routinely do create new instruments in the studio and we can send sounds along 'trunks and pipes, in strange lines and distances', whether these be audio cables, telephone lines, or digital networks.

Although Bacon's text was Utopian, there is some indication that he was influenced by technological experiments of the day. For example, Salomon de Caus (c.1576-1626), a French hydraulics engineer, demonstrated in England such sonic curiosities as musical fountains, hydraulically activated songbirds, and even a kind of player piano. Bacon's well-known interest in new technologies (he went on to invent a deep-freeze, for example) and his inductive method of scientific research established a basis for imaginary solutions of the physical. This is presumably why his imaginings are at once so precise and so prophetic. One searches in vain for echoes of this amongst contemporary musicians. Indeed, it is not until the late 19th and early 20th centuries that the musical world seems to catch up with Bacon's vision. Thus, in 1911, Ferruccio Busoni wrote in the Sketch for a New Aesthetic of Music:

'We have divided the octave into  twelve equidistant degrees because we had to manage somehow, and have constructed our instruments in such a way that we can never get in above or below or between them. Keyboard instruments, in particular, have so thoroughly schooled our ears that we are no longer capable of hearing anything else - incapable of hearing except through this impure medium. Yet Nature created an infinite gradation - infinite! Who still knows it nowadays?'

Instruments capable of playing these infinite gradations were in fact being developed at the time, as Busoni confirms a little later in the same chapter:

' While busied with this essay I received from America direct and authentic intelligence which solves the problem in a simple manner. I refer to an invention by Dr. Thaddeus Cahill. He has constructed an apparatus that makes it possible too transform an electric current into a fixed and mathematically exact number of vibrations. As pitch depends on the number of vibrations, and the apparatus may be 'set' on any number desired, the infinite gradation of the octave may be accomplished by merely moving a lever corresponding to the pointer of a quadrant.'

Cahill's Dynamophone, or Telharmonium.
It weighed about 200 tons and was 60 feet long. It used 145 modified dynamos with geared shafts and associated inductors to produce alternating currents of different audio frequencies.

Busoni's text was influential for music at least inasmuch as it described a vision for the music of the future linked to feasible developments in technology, but the music it describes was imaginary.

This relationship between what might be called the 'pure' imaginings of Francis Bacon and the 'looking-ahead to the future' of Busoni illustrates a common pattern in the field of imaginary music technology: writers, thinkers and artists tend to be freer in their technological imaginings than musicians. This is probably because musicians dream up technologies purely as tools, that is to say: as a means to an end. They are the result of a practical imagination, and are not seen as an end in themselves. The impulse to imagine usually comes from a perceived shortcoming in the way music is made or created. For the composer, the imagination is more present in the act of composition itself than in dreaming of any associated technology. To quote Busoni again:

'The instant that pen is set to paper, the [musical] thought loses its original form.'

This vision of notation as an essentially reductive action is one that many composers would share. A technology which aids the production of music from thereon in would seem to be relatively unimaginative compared to the conceptions of the compositional imagination itself. Indeed, one could argue that, for the composer, every act of composition involves an imaginary technology of music.

One composer for whom this was true Percy Grainger (1882-1961). From his early experiments with chance, such as 'Random Round' (1912), to the Free Music machines of the late 1940s and 1950s, Grainger dreamt of a new music that would be realised by imaginary technologies. Here is an early example:

'One of his ideas at this time (1898) was to dispense with the baton-waving conductor at public orchestral concerts. He wished to substitute for the conductor an 'orchestral supervisor' who would operate, by some form of remote control, mechanical music desks through which would pass the parts of the score written out in strip fashion. Apart from translating the supervisor's wishes in tempo more precisely, he no doubt felt that it would eliminate in some measure the human element in the performance of orchestral music.' John Bird (1976) Percy Grainger London: Macmillan p. 37

This apparently purely mechanical technology for reading conventional music notation (which has since been made in both mechanical and digital forms) concealed a more creative desire to free music from rhythmic constraint. This became a major theme in Grainger's later life and led to the 'Free Music' made from continuous sliding and beatless tones produced by Theremins or solovoxes (monophonic electric keyboards). Grainger's imaginary technology was really a controller, as the 'Kangaroo Pouch Machine' of 1948 shows, using undulating paper rolls to manipulate the parameters of pitch, volume and timbre.

The attached text reads as follows:

'8 oscillators, able to play the gliding tones and irregular (beatless) rhythms of Grainger's FREE MUSIC (first thought of around 1892), are manipulated by paper graphs, towered discs and metal arms. A sheet of light brown wrapping paper 80 inches high (called "main paper"), is rolled continually from the "Feeder" revolving turret into the "Eater" revolving turret, passing through a metal cage on its way (the cage keeps the Main Paper, the graphs and the discs in place).

Each of the 8 oscillators has its own special pitch control graph and sound strength control graph. To the front of the main paper are attached 4 pitch-control graphs (mauve and greenish paper) and 4 tone-strength control graphs (pinkish paper), their top edges cut into "hills and dales" in accordance with the intervals & tone strength desired. These graphs operate oscillators 1,2,3,4. To the back of the Main Paper are attached 4 additional pitch control graphs and 4 additional tone strength control graphs, operating oscillators 5,6,7,8 The bottoms of these 16 graphs are sewn onto the main paper at various heights but the top of each graph is left unattached. Into each pouch thus formed (between the main paper and the graph paper) is inserted a towered metal disc, the tower riding the upon the top edge of the graph & following its up and down movements. These movements are passed on to the axle and tone strength control box of each oscillator by means of metal arms, causing whatever changes in pitch and volume are intended. The blue-and-white discs controlling tone strengths are smaller than the variously coloured discs controlling pitch. In the above sketches the connecting electric wires are not shown."

 Here is a colour drawing of the machine:

and a photograph:

For some composers, the imagining and realisation of a new and unfamiliar music technology is integral to their music. Probably the most complete example of this in recent times is Harry Partch. It is difficult to categorise Partch's instruments as imaginary music technologies, since they came into existence alongside the music itself. In fact, his insistence on 'corporeality' meant that there was an indissoluble connection between the physical objects he made and the sounds they produced. In what sense can a real object be said to be imaginary? In this case, I think the exception can be made because Partch's whole musical vision presupposes an imaginary divergence from known music theory and practice. Thus the musical instruments become sculptural evidence of a solution to the problem of tuning systems: namely, the substitution of 43-tone just intonation for equal temperament. Partch argues fiercely in Genesis of a Music that Western civilization took a wrong turn in abandoning whole-number ratios as a basis for tuning musical instruments and seeks to correct this error by inventing a language of music based on what he imagines to be Ancient Greek practice. This is where a pataphysical element begins to appear, for Partch's tools are of course contemporary. Thus, various pieces of junk: old harmoniums, cloud-chamber bowls, aircraft nose-cones, bits of tubing, and so on; are adapted to create a ritualised performance anachronistically modeled on classical music theatre.

Harry Partch Zymo-Xyl

Partch and Grainger were by no means the only composers and musicians to invent new musical instruments to realise their ideas. We could add: John Cage's prepared piano, Jean Tinguely's machines, Max Eastley's new and rediscovered instruments, Johannes Bergmark's surrealist music-making, The Glass Orchestra, Einsturzende Neubaten, Reed Ghazala's circuit-bent toys, the From Scratch group and many many others to the list.

All the preceding examples, in their different ways, are the product of some kind of utopian vision, in which the musical technology reflects a general desire to change the world. We can observe the same tendency in Edward Bellamy's novel Looking Backward (1888). The hero, Julian West, awakens in Boston in the year 2000, after more than a century of sleep to find the world changed beyond recognition and with most of the social problems of his time resolved. In describing the world of the future he outlines numerous imaginary technologies, including the following description of a music system. It is Julian West's hostess, Edith, who is speaking:

'There is nothing in the least mysterious about the music, as you seem to imagine. It is not made by faeries or genii, but by good, honest, and exceedingly clever human hands. We have simply carried the idea of labor-saving by cooperation into our musical service as into everything else. There are a number of music rooms in the city, perfectly adapted acoustically to the different sorts of music. These halls are connected by telephone with all the houses of the city whose people may care to pay the small fee, and there are none, you may be sure, who do not. The corps of musicians attached to each hall is so large that, although no individual performer, or group of performers, has more than a brief part, each day's program lasts through the twenty-four hours. There are on that card for today, as you will see if you observe closely, distinct programs of four of these concerts, each of a different order of music from the others, being now simultaneously performed, and any one of the four pieces now going on that you prefer, you can hear by merely pressing the button which will connect your house wire with the hall where it is being rendered. The programs are so coordinated that the pieces at any one time simultaneously proceeding in the different halls usually offer a choice, not only between instrumental and vocal, and between different sorts of instruments, but also between different motives from grave to gay, so that all tastes and moods can be suited.'

It scarcely needs to be remarked that this is a highly prophetic description of a radio broadcast network, or even of iTunes! There is essentially no difference between Bellamy's imaginary technology and what exists today, which is exactly the kind of thing one expects from the best science fiction.

The reforming ideals and utopian tendency of Bacon, Bellamy and the rest are shared by Jules Verne, whose observations about the development of twentieth century music are discussed at length by Marcel Moré in Nouvelles Explorations de Jules Verne (1963) and by François Raymond in an article in the Bulletin de la Société Jules Verne. The music technologies Verne imagines are usually rather conventional: Captain Nemo's organ being a typical example. What sets them apart is the context in which they appear, generally signalling the presence of a sophisticated and cultured individual in an unlikely setting, making rarefied music. In this sense, they truly are imaginary technologies! We might begin to classify these as imaginary technologies of the metaphysical.

 

3. Imaginary Technologies of the Metaphysical

 

Synaesthesia seems to have been one frequent cause of the development of these imaginary technologies. Synaesthesia, it will be recalled, is the medical term for a confusion of the senses: people hear colours, or see sounds, for example. A number of composers have suffered from synaesthesia (and it is indeed a debilitating condition), most notably Olivier Messiaen and Alexander Scriabin. In Scriabin's case, he linked his ability to see sounds as colours to his mystical vision. The result was a piece of imaginary music technology which he did attempt to realise: the colour organ. This instrument resembled a music keyboard, except that depression of the keys produced a coloured light rather than a sound. The instrument is given an extensive part in Scriabin's Fifth Symphony, Prometheus: A Poem of Fire and by all accounts the effect achieved in his lifetime was too puny to satisfy him. Recent performances have been able to realise his dream of a concert hall bathed in light.

From the point of view of purely imaginary music technologies, however, the more interesting work is the unrealised Mysterium on which Scriabin laboured for the last years of his life. This was conceived as a massive festival encompassing the entire globe, centred on a specially constructed temple on a lake in India, at the heart of which sat Scriabin himself playing the piano. Among the various musical instruments used for this imaginary performance were bells suspended from clouds over the Himalayas.

The mystical impulse has always been productive in terms of imaginary music technologies. Charles Ives conceived his Universe Symphony in 1915 as: 'striving to ... trace with tonal imprints the vastness, the evolution of all life ... from the great roots of life to the spiritual eternities, from the great inknown to the great unknown." It was intended to be a "spatial" composition for two or more orchestras in three sections:

Part 1, "Past: Formation of the waters and mountains"
Part 2, "Present: Earth, evolution in nature and humanity"
Part 3, "Future: Heaven, the rise of all to the Spiritual".

The orchestration includes a part for 'overtone machine', an instrument that did not exist at the time but that might resemble the 1919 invention of the theremin.

There are plenty of examples of imaginary technologies of the metaphysical amongst composers living today. Karlheinz Stockhausen's dreams of flying influenced his earlier instrumental compositions, but eventually came to a realisation in 1993 when the Helikopter-Streichquartett has each member of the string quartet flying in their own helicopter above the concert hall, with their sounds (and associated images) relayed and remixed to the audience below. Tom Johnson's Imaginary Music (1974) includes the "Celestial Music for Imaginary Trumpets," which ascends 103 ledger lines above the treble clef.

Some composers' entire musical output has been created in anticipation of a better, more sophisticated, music technology. Here, the music itself imagines itself differently: delivered by means as yet unavailable to the composer. A good example is Edgard Varèse, whose anticipation of electroacoustic music affected all his instrumental composition. Having tried and failed to persuade Bell Laboratories to build composing machines to his own design, he composed instrumental music that mimicked their operations instead. This gives his music a peculiarly impassioned, even Romantic, quality: impassioned towards science, which he saw as offering the potential for development of these tools. One example will suffice to illustrate this point. Varèse became fascinated with prisms, and the way they split light into its component parts. He imagined a technology of music that could do the same to a sound. This technology now exists, of course: we can create a spectrogram of a sound and observe its spectromorphology. We can manipulate its various harmonics and other parameters. For Varèse, this process became something of a compositional holy grail and, in the absence of a suitable available technology, he fell to evoking the same effect in instrumental composition. Thus, in Hyperprism of 1921, we hear numerous moments where a single sound is passed through a prismatic event, to emerge split into its component parts.

What we can observe in all these cases is that the metaphysical goal is transcendence to reveal a greater truth. These imaginary technologies may seem exceptional, but implicit in each one is a universal relevance, a sense that in another, better, world, these things would be commonplace. Beyond our earthly existence lies a realm where such technologies present no obstacle. But imaginary music technologies of the metaphysical need not be quite so serious, in fact many exhibit considerable humour. Erik Satie's best-known examples are called cefalophones, presumably after the kind of molluscs which also inspired the Embryons Déssechés.

"Cefalophones (by Erik Satie)
2 flutes with keys (F sharp)
1 alto overcoat (C)
1 duckbill (E)
2 stroke clarinets (G flat)
1 siphone in C
3 keyboard trombones (D flat)
1 bass in leather (C)
Chromatic tub in H

Instruments belonging to the remarkable group cefalophones, with 30 octaves extent, completely unperformable. An amateur in Vienna tried in 1875 to handle the siphone in C; after having jarred with a piercing drill, the instrument burst, broke the spine on the executor and scalped him completely. Since then no one has dared to concern oneself with the powerful assets that cefalophones contain and the state has forbidden all schools teaching the instruments."

It is a short step from Satie's wit to people who have made careers from such hilarious 'takes' on the technology of music. The most famous was Gerard Hoffnung (1925-1959), who in 1956 staged concerts at the Royal Festival Hall in London featuring classical music performed on domestic appliances such as vacuum cleaners and hosepipes. His more imaginary technologies of music, however, appear in the books of cartoons he published throughout his career. One in particular, Hoffnung's Musical Chairs (1958), contains drawings of adapted animals of which Satie would presumably have approved. An elephant becomes a gramophone, or a hippo becomes a grand piano:

This kind of graphic depiction of imaginary music technologies is further developed by Carelman in the Catalogue d'Objets Introuvables (1976):

Piano d'angle

Violinodoppioaltocello

Tubaharp

 

4. Imaginary Technologies of the 'Pataphysical

 

This seems a good moment to ask whether Jarry himself made any contribution to the field of imaginary music technologies. There are numerous references to music throughout the texts, such as the 'Ringing Isle' in Faustroll, and the songs in Ubu. With Claude Terrasse, Jarry wrote musical comedies for his Théâtre Mirlitonesque, and there seems to be ample evidence that music was part of his work at all levels. However, his main interest was in using popular forms as a vehicle for his ideas, so neither the music nor the technology that produced it is particularly innovative. The most significant contribution was therefore, of course, the idea of pataphysics itself and its associated texts. I would suggest that 'Commentary and Instructions for the practical construction of the Time Machine' is the most important from this perspective, since it addresses music's most fundamental parameter: time. The definition of Duration that ends the text seems to me a good description of the way music works:

"Duration is the transformation of a succession into a reversion.
i.e.:
THE BECOMING OF A MEMORY"

The concept of time the text describes also suggests Marconi's idea that sounds once generated never die, but rather have a half-life like radioactive elements. An imaginary music technology constructed along the lines of the Time Machine could presumably reverse sounds to the point that we could actually listen to Satie himself playing Vexations. Since Satie seems to have appeared once more, let us remind ourselves of his great contribution to the imaginary technologies of the pataphysical, the phonoscales:

"Everyone will tell you I am not a musician. That is correct.
From the very beginning of my career I class myself a phonometrographer. My work is completely phonometrical. Take my Fils des Étoiles, or my Morceaux en forme de Poire, my En habit de Cheval or my Sarabandes - it is evident that musical ideas played no part whatsoever in their composition. Science is the dominating factor.
Besides, I enjoy measuring a sound much more than hearing it. With my phonometer in my hand, I work happily and with confidence.
What haven't I weighed or measured? I've done all Beethoven, all Verdi, etc. It's fascinating.
The first time I used a phonoscope, I examined a B flat of medium size. I can assure you that I have never seen anything so revolting. I called in my man to show it to him.
On my phono-scales a common or garden F sharp registered 93 kilos. It came out of a fat tenor whom I also weighed.
Do you know how to clean sounds? It's a filthy business. Stretching them out is cleaner; indexing them is a meticulous task and needs good eyesight. Here, we are in the realm of pyrophony.
To write my Pièces Froides, I used a caleidophone recorder. It took seven minutes. I called in my man to let him hear them.
I think I can say that phonology is superior to music. There's more variety in it. The financial return is greater, too. I owe my fortune to it.
At all events, with a motodynamophone, even a rather inexperienced phonometrologist can easily note down more sounds that the most skilled musician in the same time, using the same amount of effort. This is how I have been able to write so much.
And so the future lies with philophony."

For a detailed account of the actual workings of the phonoscales, I refer you to my text Le Poids des Sons published in the Collection Cliques et Claques by the Cymbalum Pataphysicum in 1986 (under my earlier name of Andrew Thomson). In that I create a weighing chart for the entire range of pitches and attempt to weigh some well-known melodies.

This meta-ironic treatment of the questions of skill and weight recall of the imaginary solutions of another Normandais: Marcel Duchamp. The importance of music in Duchamp's work should not be underestimated. In fact, we can trace an interesting path from the imaginary music technologies of Busoni through to the Large Glass itself. In 1908, Gabrielle Buffet, having graduated from the Schola Cantorum, went to Germany to join her fellow student Edgard Varèse. Both of them were so fascinated with the Sketch for a New Aesthetic of Music that they actually tried to build machines to realise Busoni's ideas. Buffet noted in her essay Musique d'aujourd'hui:

'Grâce a des bruiteurs mécaniques et perfectionnés, une reconstitution objective de la vie sonore deviendrait possible. Nous découvririons la forme des sons en dehors de la convention musical...' Buffet, Musique d'aujourd'hui reprinted by Slatkin, in the multi-volume reprinting of Les soirées de Paris, vol. II (Geneva: Slatkin reprints, 1971) 181-183.

At the same time, Buffet first met and married Francis Picabia. As Roger I. Rothman points out in a recent article: 1

"[...] the chain of influence that leads from Busoni to Buffet to Picabia, [...] I consider fundamental to an understanding of the painter's conception of the stakes involved in the development of abstract painting."

This connection is exemplified by Picabia's conception of a close analogy between music and painting:

Francis Picabia Music Is Like Painting, 1915

This painting took its inspiration from  a scientific illustration of the effects of a magnetic field on alpha, beta and gamma particles:

Scientific illustration from 1905, reproduced in Camfield, W.A. Francis Picabia (Princeton: 1979)

This is one of a number of Picabia's paintings that express a musical concept of abstraction that seems to derive from Busoni. By June 1912, when Picabia, Buffet, Duchamp and Apollinaire famously attended a performance of the stage version of Raymond Roussel's Impressions d'Afrique in Théâtre Antoine, Paris, this had evolved into a mechanomorphic style that was to characterise both Picabia and Duchamp's output for many years to come. As we shall see later, Roussel may be regarded as the master of imaginary music technologies and many of the fantastic machines in Impressions d'Afrique were created for musical performance. This places music at the heart of so-called conceptual art, and makes this event immensely significant for our study today. We can find the echoes of Roussel's musical imagination in the soundtrack of the Large Glass, outlined in the Green Box:

'Musical Sculpture

Sounds lasting and leaving from different places and forming a sounding sculpture which lasts.'

In the later box, A l'infinitif this theme is developed:

'Construct one and several musical precision instruments which produce mechanically the continuous passage of one tone to another in order to be able to record without hearing them sculptured sound forms (against 'virtuosism' and the physical division of sound which reminds one of the uselessness of the physical colour theories)'

The Large Glass itself is the shadow of just such a machine, and its music includes the sound of the splash, the litanies of the chariot, the song of the Bottle of Benedictine, and all the grindings and workings of the whole contraption. The machine it describes exists in the imagination and is itself but a shadow of a four-dimensional object, whose music resembles quantum mechanics in its continuous motions. It eludes the ear, as the Green Box notes:

"One can look at seeing; one can not hear hearing".

Raymond Roussel himself trained as a musician, and the form and structure of a number of his books echo musical forms (the Nouvelles Impressions d'Afrique are a good example). He created music technologies that are both imaginary and set in an imaginary context. In the Impressions d'Afrique, we encounter examples of apparently physical and apparently metaphysical music technologies, but all are in fact 'pataphysical according to the definition given earlier. Thus, the thermo-mechanical orchestrion of the chemist Bex translates variations in temperature into musical timbres, but does so as the result of the punning phrase "sabot à dégrès", where 'sabot' means either a clog or a dud violin, and 'dégrès' refers both to the steps of a musical scale and the degrees on a thermometer. This fact is concealed from the reader, who only discovers the truth of the poetic method after reading Roussel's Comment j'ai écris certains de mes livres. Examples of such imaginary music technologies abound, as the shipwrecked prisoners entertain themselves and their captors. We encounter: Louise Montalescot, who breathes through the braiding on a military uniform each pipe of which contains a small reed, which means that she emits a chord that rises and falls in intensity with her breath; Skariofszky's worm, which raises segments of its body in sequences to allow single drops of heavy water to fall through holes drilled in the bottom of an aquarium onto the strings of a zither below, playing czardas and other Hungarian dances; Stephen Alcott and his six sons, whose concave stomachs are arranged in a careful disposition across a wide area of ground such that a sound can be passed around and around, bouncing off the stomach walls, creating unbelievable echoes; Cuijper's squeaker, which allows him to deliver enormous amplification and effects with seemingly little effort; A chariot which emits a C drone as it travels along; Lelgoualch's flute carved from his own tibia; The singer Ludovic, whose flexible lips allow him to sing all four voices in a round of Frère Jacques. The descriptions even include an account of an imaginary technology of composition: the composer Handel writing an oratorio based on a theme which has been mechanically constructed using chance.

 

6. Imaginary Music Technologies in the Digital Age

 

Digital technologies and in particular the internet have opened up possibilities in the field of imaginary technologies. The virtuality of the digital domain itself seems to call out to the pataphysical imagination. This applies to music as much as to anything else. The North American Embassy of Anaphoria Island, http://www.anaphoria.com/ describes music that is closely related to Partch's interest in tuning systems, but the elaboration of an imaginary context and culture for their work seems just as important. The imaginary world of Umbagollah http://www.umbagollah.com is a utopian virtual state which has its own music and orchestra, and the Museum of Jurassic Technology http://www.mjt.org/ explores pataphysical ideas that have at least some relevance to music, such as Obliscence, Theories of Forgetting and the Problem of Matter by Geoffrey Sonnabend.

Some imaginary technologies of music have already been realised in the virtual world. The Institute for the Study of Perpetual Emotion http://turbulence.org/studios/rumor/emotion/# for example, has created an Audio-Visualiser which slices through audio time in an imitation of machines developed by the chronophotographer Étienne-Jules Marey for 'seeing the invisible' in movement. Certain key concepts, such as open source code, are enabling the routine creation of music technologies that exist purely in the digital domain and to the specification of a single user. This is true, for example, of Max/MSP and innumerable interfaces and controllers that rely upon it. A synaesthetic technology presents few difficulties when digitized. Perhaps soon we will digitize smell and find ways to transmit smells via the internet.

I dream of a number of technologies: something to retrieve lost sounds; a loudspeaker that sucks sounds out of the environment rather than putting sounds into the environment (we might call this a 'soft listener'); a neuro-technology for transcribing musical ideas as they form (preferably whilst asleep); and wireless everything! Where my research starts to draw upon some of the ideas discussed earlier is in relation to the potential offered by virtual environments, and in particular MUDs and MOOs. The first MOO was created by Pavel Curtis in 1994 as a Multi-User Domain for other computer programmers, mainly for online games. As computer programming languages developed, so MUDs evolved into MOOs: Multi-User Domains: Object-Oriented. This means that everything in a MOO, including the players themselves, and the virtual spaces they inhabit, are objects whose characteristics are defined by those same players. Players in the MOO can talk and interact with objects and with one another in real-time. The objects can sound, can move and can have a 'look', all of which opens up enormous imaginative possibilities.

One project that I am developing which explores the potential offered by this technology is the Internet Orchestra. This is a new kind of orchestra that emerges from internet culture and will rehearse and perform both in cyberspace and in the physical world. The orchestra will allow collective real-time sound-manipulation using digital musical tools in an online environment as well as social and musical interaction between musicians using conventional instruments and/or internet instruments. The orchestra will therefore comprise a potentially unlimited number of musicians playing a range of conventional or internet instruments in a variety of synchronous and asynchronous situations, be they public concerts, private rehearsals or informal MOO-based interactions. There will be four main types of Internet Orchestra musician:

The MOO will allow these musicians to create new and original instruments and play them in spaces whose acoustic properties are also determined by the player. Rapid movement from one room to another is a feature of MOO interaction, so the entire orchestra could play in a cathedral at one moment and move underwater the next.

7. Conclusion

I know that there are several contributors to this study-day who have their own imaginary music technologies, and I look forwards with great excitement to hearing about them. I am equally aware that there are many people present for whom the study of 'pataphysics is the primary focus of interest. To my mind, the two areas are one and the same because, whereas technology may be said demonstrably to progress, the human imagination and its solutions remain constant and unique. The decisions of history reveal both the apparently real world and the world parallel to this one, just as Jarry's spiral simultaneously draws itself and the other spiral delineated by what is drawn. For all that, I do believe, with Francis Bacon, that:

"[...] time, like a river, bears down to us that which is light and inflated, and sinks that which is heavy and solid." (Francis Bacon, Novum Organum: Aphorisms Concerning the Interpretation of Nature and the Kingdom of Man, 1620)

An imaginary technology is not necessarily inferior to one that has been realised and we can measure technologies not purely by their apparent usefulness but by the extent to which they present an imaginary solution to their pataphysical existences.


1. Rothman, R. Between Music and the Machine: Francis Picabia and the End of Abstraction Tout-Fait: The Marcel Duchamp Studies Online Journal, Vol. 2/Issue 4, January 2002, p.2