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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Between the Body and the Machine: A Critical-then-Speculative Reading of Bryan Jacobs' Mechanical Clarinets

  • Author(s): Greenstone, Madison
  • Advisor(s): Burr, Anthony
  • et al.

This thesis brings together writings of the critical theorist Theodor W. Adorno, and asks questions about the nature of mechanics and robotics within contemporary music. This is primarily situated in a standing collaboration I have with the composer and instrument-inventor Bryan Jacobs, in which we have developed a series of mechanical clarinets. Through readings of Adorno's Philosophy of New Music, Stravinsky: A Dialectical Portrait, The Form of the Phonograph, and Vers un musique informelle, I explore what the act of composing is with regards to these instruments, and how formerly a singular locus of composition has become articulated across multiple material locations. I explore different aspects of musical "writing" within the ecology of these instruments and their performing practice, I unpack the implications of the reckoning between a subjective breath and mechanical operation, and a subsequent antinomy of organic/mechanic that these instruments and the emergent vocabulary around these instruments imply. This thesis closes with two compositions of my own, that through rigorous and simple processes actuated over the course of three hours, ask in their own right questions about the human body mediated through a compositional mechanics.

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