That was Then, This is Now (and then there’s chip music)

Sometimes I can lose the belief in why chipmusic is still (or, especially) today – artistically and politically – important to present as something other than videogame romantics. I came across something today that hit the spot. It was written by Laurie Spiegel, who was making chipmusic already in the 1960s. In 1995 she wrote That was Then <=> This is Now where she compares the contemporary computer music environment with the one two decades earlier. Here is an excerpt from the text. (sorry about the length of it but I didn’t want to cut it shorter)

Commonly Assumed Then:

  • Diversity and individuality are essential to the methods as well as the results of artistic processes.
  • These technologies consist of hand-created tools bearing the creative stamps of their makers’ individual personalities, identities, values, methods, and goals.
  • It’s amazing that we’ve been able to get computers to do this and how rapidly the technology is evolving.
  • Tools, techniques, and information for doing music with computers should be available to everyone who wants to try.
  • Figuring out how my computer can do music, technically, is how I can do music the way I want to.

Commonly Postulated Now:

  • Whatever can be standardized should be, if consensus can be attained, because standardization simplifies manufacture and use and lowers cost.
  • Tools should be impersonal and devoid of aesthetic bias. […]
  • It’s amazing how long it’s taking these companies to bring out the features we want and how slow progress is.
  • Tools, techniques, and information for doing music with computers are proprietary intellectual property that should not be divulged and can only be used by paying for them or other special arrangement.
  • Figuring out how computers can do music, technically, is too complicated. Fortunately, I don’t have to because its someone else’s job. […]

Spiegel herself expands on mainly the artistic consequences of this. There is a lot to comment about these things, and for me it’s basically about a standardized consumerist view of the user: we expect corporations to satisfy us and make things easy for us, we accept the intellectual property laws (thanks, Bill) and we do not expect to understand how things really work and how we can change it. I enjoyed reading Spiegel’s text about this, because her experience and humble writing gives new light to the commercialisation of computer composing. I recommend you to read the whole text.

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