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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Improvising technology : configuring identities and interfaces in contemporary electro-acoustic music

  • Author(s): Kaiser, Jeffrey Glen
  • et al.

This dissertation is an ethnographic examination of contemporary musicians who improvise with new, repurposed and reinvented electronic technologies, along with a critical examination of how these musicians conceptualize their practice and relationship with music technology. This work is based on approximately twenty interviews with notable improvising artists and technologists, including guitarist Nels Cline, turntable performer Maria Chavez, trumpeter and composer Wadada Leo Smith and Robert Henke, one of the original authors of the immensely popular software package Ableton Live, among others. In my research I examine changing notions of agency, instruments and virtuosity in electro-acoustic improvised music, and how the interviewees construct what is valuable and desirable in this emergent practice. In addition to documenting how these creative individuals configure newer technologies for their own purposes, the dissertation highlights how technologies can also configure musicians and musical communities by affording specific ways of creating aesthetic and social value. Musical cultures and communities across time and place are frequently differentiated by geography, by the instruments used, by notions of style or repertoire, and by musical function and venues, among other things. The interviewees blur and decenter many of these identifying characteristics. In conclusion, I argue that practitioners of electroacoustic improvised music form a particular type of epistemic community in which the production, conception, and use of knowledge of musical technology are its primary defining characteristic over other musical specifics

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