A method for the analysis of handmade electronic music as the basis of new works

Teboul, Ezra
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Bahn, Curtis
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Electronic arts
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``Handmade electronic music'' is the set of sonic works in which a unique combination of technical systems must be used. In other words, handmade electronic music emphasizes and explores the sonic potential of electronics, shifting the location of expertise to include manufacturing in addition to performance. In this document, I suggest that a generalizable mode of study of such works has remained elusive but can be formalized by acknowledging prior work in related disciplines: technology studies and engineering. I assess the potential of, specifically, reverse engineering, as a qualitative practice-based research method which can serve as the basis for such a generalizable mode of study. A critical deconstruction of technical objects for comprehensibility, maintenance, and improvement, this approach has underexplored potential in the humanities generally, and electronic music discourse specifically. I focus on electronic circuits, computer code, and human-legible representations of these technical media. I offer a view of reverse engineering through the lens of technology studies as not only a complement to interview and archival-based research, but also as a necessary step in the full documentation of artistic experiments rooted in electronic mediums. I present how this new approach to musical analysis in a sociotechnical context enables better-informed documentation and reiteration of electronic works by connecting material decisions with artistic consequences. The generalizable nature of this reading is illustrated through six case studies: four focusing on previous projects by significant practitioners in the field, and two detailing my own inquiries. My pieces are the aesthetic response to the scholarly process of analyzing and reverse-engineering systems with musical potential. In other words, if reverse engineering allows for connections to be made between tools and aesthetic experiences, it can also reveal alleys of artistic experimentation with musical technologies left unexplored by past artwork. Here, research and practice do not only serve each other, they are co-constructed.
School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences
Dept. of the Arts
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY
Rensselaer Theses and Dissertations Online Collection
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