Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

UC San Diego

UC San Diego Electronic Theses and Dissertations bannerUC San Diego

A computer music instrumentarium


This dissertation reviews representative works of the history of electronic and computer music from the point of view of instrument design. It traces the way in which artists conceived of their systems with respect to traditional musical instruments and practices. While making evident the inherent differences between the mechanical media of the past and the new electronic and computer media at their hands, artists have forged a new kind of instrument. This instrument is presented in contrast to the traditional concept of musical instrument as a passive tool; as an object that provides a stable timbre over which pitch and amplitude can be articulated. In contrast, the computer-based instrument has an active role in determining the shape and sound character of a composition. The traditional conception of music, as closed works contained in scores, shifts to open environmental structures that can only be perceived and experienced through interaction. Theories of embodiment in cognitive science are surveyed to understand the nature of this interaction. Concepts from media theory are used to understand the process whereby new instruments imitate older instruments, while at the same time revealing what is unique to them as new media. The musician then finds himself to be a hybrid between composer, luthier, and performer. However, he cannot start from scratch in every new work of music. In the not so brief history, we find archetypical practices that guide us; communities around computer programs that offer a body of knowledge and code that can be analyzed, appropriated and modified. Because of its relational nature, code contains part of the instrument (and the composition); its exchange advances music as a cultural practice. An Instrumentarium suggests a set of available instruments from which the composer chooses. In the practice of making music with computers however, there are instead, sensors and interfaces, techniques for sound analysis, generation and manipulation, recording devices, hardware, software and speakers. An instrument is not contained in any one object, but consists of a series of elements that can be combined to form an open configuration. The computer music instrumentarium lies in all possible configurations

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View