Retrieving Realism: A Whiteheadian Wager

Re-blogging Matthew Seagall’s piece here. I have a great deal of sympathy with the Whiteheadian position he outlines in this article.

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Ontology supervenient upon epistemology: a question…

Can anyone unpack Quine’s slogan a bit?

“[Quine] holds, quite generally, that we should not postulate entities without having clear identity-criteria for them. (This is the view that he sums up in the slogan “no entity without identity” (1969: 23. Ontological Relativity and Other Essays, New York: Columbia University Press)) in Hylton 2014

I’m looking for support for the notion that ontology is supervenient upon epistemology. All pointers, one way or the other, welcome.

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Jazz Improvisation, Agency and Freedom: Between the Human and Inhuman Lies the Assemblage

This is the title for a panel session to be given at New Frontiers, the 11th Annual Joint Conference of The Society for European Philosophy and the Forum for European Philosophy at the University of Dundee between 3 and 5 September 2015


Dr. Martin E. Rosenberg—New Centre for Research and Practice

Dr. David Roden—The Open University

Tom Hewitt—The Open University

These three papers seek to frame a discussion of the complex relationship between creativity and agency in the performance of improvised music.  Here we expand the definition of improvisation to refer to avant-garde noise experimentalists as well as jazz instrumentalists from the African-American classical tradition.  The act of creation no longer appears to emerge from the mystical depths of the human subject isolate, but finds itself embedded in relationships which require recourse to theories of hybrid agency:  between the embodied subject and the musical instrument; between the instrumentalist and a digital interface; between embodied instrumentalists networked in aural proximity or, at a distance through digital interfaces.  Even the medium of notatable musical expression, shared by the range of improvisers who are proprioceptively altered by the distinct agency of their instruments, requires a more nuanced view:  current neuroscience experiments have found that some of the neuronal regions that processes harmony, melody and rhythm are shared by those in the cognition of language, yet, significant differences between linguistic and musical cognition exist.  Furthermore, even avant-garde or “free” jazz seems initially to have boundaries guided by rules laid down by those features of the musical system that may behave like a  “language game.”

In Tom Hewitt’s paper “Degrees of Freedom: Agency In Improvised Music—Searching For Boundaries in Entangled Network Space,” he inquires into the paradoxical relationship between freedom and rules, with respect to the cyborg instrumentalist as “performer-clarinet-software-hardware assemblage,” argues that the boundaries “between the ergon (work) and prosopon (person) are fuzzy and indeterminate” and asks “If we cannot with certainty, say where these boundaries are, how can we, with certainty, describe where the agency lies in improvised (or any) musical production?”  He postulates an “Entangled Network Space” to describe the processes of deterritorialization and reterritorialisation  of these entangled assemblages.

In David Roden’s paper, “Improvisation, Time and the Posthuman,” he uses composer Ray Brassier’s essay “Unfree Improvisation/Compulsive Freedom” (2013) in order to move from a voluntarist model of expressive freedom initially to confront the rule-forming behavior akin to “language games” that seems to govern processes of both conventional and avant-garde improvisation.  Roden argues that a “language games” approach remains inadequate to describe the improvised event, stating that “musical rules….do not apply in improvising contexts, or in contemporary compositional practice.”  He then argues for a reexamination of the model of “remorseless temporality” that Brassier argues governs the moment of improvisation, in order to develop “an ethics or politics fit to explore Roden’s earlier concept of “possibility spaces” from his book Posthuman Life (2014).

In Martin E. Rosenberg’s paper on more conventional jazz performance, “Jazz Ensembles and Neuronal Ensembles,” he begins with his distinction between preparing for improvisation (“Projective Apprehension”) and the performance of improvisation (‘Proprio-Sentience”), in order to examine the embodied cognitive processes that complicate our understanding of agency even in the context of “free jazz.”  Rosenberg reviews the recent neuro-scientific research on the emergence of neuronal ensembles feeding back in real time in the brain of an individual embodied jazz performer.  He then reviews the mechanisms by which improvisation “in-the-moment” can take place despite the constraints of executive function on the immediacy of sensory reception, in order to confront the empirical implications of saxophonist Sonny Rollins’ exhortation: “Don’t play the music man; let the music play you.”  Rosenberg then describes the neurological role of the hardwire link from the cochlea to the motor regions that enables the feedback loop from the ensemble back to the individual performer to argue that, in the optimum conditions of performance, the soundscape of the jazz ensemble shapes the trajectory of an individual performer’s improvisation.  Thus, the emergent neuronal ensemble behavior within an individual during performance is reflected at scale by the behavior of the jazz ensemble, which takes on a life independent of the individual embodied performers.

Tom Hewitt

The Open University

Degrees of Freedom.  Agency in improvised music: searching for boundaries in Entangled Network Space 

“Jazz stands for freedom. It’s supposed to be the voice of freedom: Get out there and improvise, and take chances, and don’t be a perfectionist – leave that to the classical musicians” – Dave Brubeck.  The implication is that the jazz improviser is a free agent in the production of the sonic object.  But is she?  Another musician, a clarinet improviser, says that he is very aware, during performance, of being part of a performer-clarinet-software-hardware assemblage.  This paper will question the notion of agency in respect of the improvising musician by looking at the synchronic and diachronic nature of the entanglements between the sub-assemblages which cause and constitute the musical phenomenon, by drawing on the connectionist philosophies of Deleuze and Guattari, Latour, De Landa and Hodder.  In his essay Paergon, Derrida discusses the problems associated with defining the boundaries or frames of artworks.  Borrowing from the spirit of Derrida’s coinage, I use the term paraprosopon to discuss where the boundaries of a person might lie.  I argue that, pace Kosko, such boundaries, between the ergon (work) and prosopon (person) are fuzzy and indeterminate.  If we cannot, with certainty, say where these boundaries are, how can we, with certainty, describe where the agency lies in improvised (or any) musical production?  And if the agentive subject ‘itself’ is difficult to pin down, how can we even begin to discuss the question of free-agency?  Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by this.  Humans have been cyborgs since they started using stone tools, and musical cyborgs since they first blew a bone flute.  We are, in Clark’s terminology, human-technology symbionts.  Our symbiotic association with technology becomes ever more pervasive and entangled with the passage of time.  I posit a metaphysical space, Entangled Network Space, where the de- and reterritorialization of these entangled assemblages plays out. 

Clark, A. 2003.  Natural-born cyborgs: why minds and technologies are made to merge.  New York: Oxford University Press
Clark. A. and D.J. Chalmers 2010 (in Menary, R. (ed.) 2010). “The Extended Mind” The Extended Mind. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press. (27-42)
De Landa, M.  2006.  A new philosophy of society : assemblage theory and social complexity.  London: Continuum
Deleuze, G. and F Guattari, 2004.  A thousand plateaus: capitalism and schizophrenia. London: Continuum
Derrida, J.  1979.  “The Parergon” October. 9. 3-41
Hodder, I.  2012.  Entangled.  Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.
Kosko, B.  1994. Fuzzy Thinking. London: Flamingo (Harper Collins)
Latour, B.  2005.  Reassembling the social : an introduction to actor-network-theory.
Oxford: Oxford University Press

Dr David Roden, The Open University

Improvisation, Time and the Posthuman

Ray Brassier’s “Unfree Improvisation/Compulsive Freedom” (written for the 2013 collaboration with Basque noise artist Mattin at Glasgow’s Tramway) is a terse but insightful discussion of the notion of freedom in improvisation. It begins with a polemic against the voluntarist conception of freedom. The voluntarist understands free action as the uncaused expression of a “sovereign self”. Brassier rejects this supernaturalist understanding of freedom. He argues that we should view freedom not as the determination of an act from outside the causal order, but as the self-determination by action within the causal order.

According to Brassier, this structure is reflexive. It requires, first of all, a system that acts in conformity to rules but is capable of representing and modifying these rules with implications for its future behaviour.

Brassier’s proximate inspiration for this model of freedom is Wilfred Sellars’ account of linguistic action in “Some Reflections on Language Games” (1954.) Sellars distinguishes a basic rule-conforming level from a metalinguistic level in which it is possible to reflect on concepts using articulate speech. Following Kant, Sellars regards concepts as a kind of rule for connecting judgements. Genuine agency involves capacity to follow or deviate from a rule. An agent must be able to hold herself and others accountable to a rule and this is only possible – for Brassier – if we make concepts explicit as moves within a language game (Brassier 2013b: 105; Sellars 1954: 226).

Brassier does not provide a detailed account of its musical application in “Unfree Improvisation”. His text implies that the act of improvisation requires an encounter between rule-governed rationality and more idiomatic patterns or causes but does not specify how such rules operate in music, what their nature is or how the encounter between rules and more rudimentary “pattern-governed” behaviour occurs.

In my paper I will argue that the reason he does not do this is that there are no such rules to be had. Musical rules in, the sense that the Sellarsian account requires, do not apply in improvising contexts, or in contemporary compositional practice. Instead, claims about what is permissible or implied in musical processes index highly-context sensitive perceptual and affective responses to musical events.

I will argue that this perceptual account of musical succession provides an alternate way of expressing Brassier’s remarks on the relationship between music and history in “Unfree Improvisation” – one that eschews normative discourse of “rules” in favour of a descriptive account of the processes, capacities and potentialities operating in the improvising situation.

This adjustment is of more than aesthetic interest. Brassier’s text suggests that the temporality of the improvising act provides a model for understanding a wider relationship with time: in particular the remorseless temporality explored in his writings on Prometheanism and Radical Enlightenment (See Brassier 2014). I will conclude by using use this analogy to develop an ethics or politics fit to explore the radically inhuman “possibility spaces” for life discussed in my book Posthuman Life (Roden 2014).


Brassier, Ray 2013a. “Unfree Improvisation/Compulsive Freedom”, (Accessed March 2015)

Brassier, Ray. 2013b. “Nominalism, Naturalism, and Materialism: Sellars’ Critical Ontology”. In Bana Bashour & Hans D. Muller (eds.), Contemporary Philosophical Naturalism and its Implications. Routledge. 101-114.

Brassier, Ray (2014). “Prometheanism and its Critics”. In R. Mackaey and AVenessian (eds.) #Accelerate: the Accelerationist Reader (Falmouth: Urbanomic), 467-488.

Roden, David. 2014. Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human. London: Routledge.

Sellars, Wilfrid .1954. “Some reflections on language games”. Philosophy of Science 21 (3):204-228.

Dr. Martin E. Rosenberg, Global Center For Advanced Studies 

Jazz Ensembles And Neuronal Ensembles 

I wish to describe top-down cognitive processes that I call “Projective Apprehension” involved in preparation for the performance of improvised music, and bottom-up cognitive processes that I call “Proprio-Sentience” involved in actual improvised performance.  The aim is to inquire into the black box where individual, embodied cognition becomes distributed amongst the collective of embodied improvisers during performance.

By “projective apprehension,” I refer to the mapping and then internal spatial visualization of routes across the instrument.  To improvise in response to the musical resources of a song, as well as in response to the improvisation of the other musicians performing that song, a musician must anticipate conceptually, find visually, and master proprioceptively any number of routes that may be taken at any moment during the course of a performance.  Embedded in proprioceptive memory through long practice, those routes remain contingently available “beneath the fingers,” and become enacted immediately “in the moment” of performance.

“Proprio-sentience” refers to the extent by which the enaction of proprioceptive memories remain contingent and flexible enough so that, in the process of performing, the hands and fingers make micro-decisions by grasping one or another of a myriad of pathways unfolding during improvisation from one instant to the next.  These micro-decisions are, necessarily, both precipitous and beneath the threshold of conscious awareness.  One key symptom of the emergent nature of this process is the appearance, through fMRI visualization of real-time improvisation, are the appearance of global neuronal ensemble behavior indicating massive synchrony, and unexpected feedback loops between disparate regions of the brain.  Another crucial feature of this moment revolves around the intimate connection between the cochlea and the motor regions that enable responses to the sound contributed by the other musicians which surround the embodied musician, responses that lie beneath conscious awareness.  This complicates our understanding of intentionality in the performance of improvised music.

Details from recent cognitive neuroscience research may help us to understand what the great saxophonist Sonny Rollins means, literally, when he says to aspiring jazz musicians, “Don’t play the music, man, let the music play you.”  The immediacy of performance, involving the intentionality of the performing improviser, involves as well the ears of the performing musician registering and then responding, proprioceptively, to the immediate stimuli of the other contributing musicians’ performance while continuing to play at the same time.  This suggests feedback loops on a larger scale that are suggestive of the neuronal ensemble behavior at the level of the embodied individual, and also require the theorization of a form of distributed cognition that remains embodied: the jazz ensemble takes on a life of its own, yet remains dependent upon the network of embodied individuals.

Donnay GF, Rankin SK, Lopez-Gonzalez M, Jiradejvong P, Limb CJ (2014) Neural       Substrates of Interactive Musical Improvisation: An fMRI Study of ‘Trading Fours’ in Jazz. PLoS ONE 9(2): e88665. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0088665

Levitin, Daniel J.  This Is Your Brain On Music: The Science of a Human Obsession.
New York: Plume/Penguin, 2006.

Limb CJ, Braun AR (2008) Neural Substrates of Spontaneous Musical Performance:       An fMRI Study of Jazz Improvisation. PLoS ONE 3(2): e1679. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0001679

Rosenberg. Martin E.  “Jazz and Emergence: Part One.” _Inflexions: A Journal of         Research-Creation_ Vol. 4, pp 183-277. December, 2010,

Rosenberg. Martin E.  “Neuroscience Research on Top-Down and Bottom-up Styles             of Cognition During Jazz Improvisation in Light of Recent Theoretical           Research on “Cognitive Capitalism.”  Workshop Lecture for The New Centre    For Research and Practice, April 4, 2015.  Two hour You Tube Lecture:

Varela,  Francisco.  “The Specious Present.”  In Naturalizing Phenomenology:  Issues           in Contemporary Phenomenology and Cognitive Science.  Eds.  Petitot, Varela,     et. al.  Palo Alto:  Stanford University Press, 1999, 266-316.

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2nd Royal Musical Association, Music and Philosophy Study Group’s Workshop on The Philosophy of Human+Computer Music

Held in the Department of Music, University of Sheffield on 27th May 2015

Jessop Building

In our report on last year’s workshop we stated that the day ‘was a success, as much for what it did not achieve as for what it did.’  The feeling being that there was any number of burning musico-philosophical issues relating to human+computer music which simply could not be given an airing within the limited confines of a single day’s workshop.  With these thoughts in mind, our call for papers for this second workshop stressed the importance of considering aspects other than the technical mechanics of human+computer music’s inception, composition and performance (conferences on such topics being legion) in favour of a debate about the aesthetics (broadly construed) of these musics.  We invited contributors to consider the philosophical aspects of musics outwith the conventional work structure paradigm of Western Art Music.  And we were not disappointed.

The first part of the workshop was structured conventionally, with two sessions of paper presentations, but the day was rounded-off with a live musical performance by Pete Furniss, a clarinettist, followed by a discussion, chaired by Dr David Roden, of the philosophical issues raised by the performance.  The programme for the day and the paper abstracts can be found here.

My paper, Entangled Network Space – The Fuzzy Space Where Music Is, started proceedings.  Taking a view on the metaphysical possibility spaces described by writers including Deleuze, Guattari, Latour, Hodder, Vitale and De Landa, and invoking the ‘fuzzy logic’ of Kosko, I questioned whether the ‘assemblages’ which we usually describe as ‘persons’, ‘minds’, ‘computers’, ‘musical works’, and so on, are really quite as discrete as ordinarily supposed.  My conclusion is that they are not discrete and that the dynamic, diachronic activities within the possibility space mean that they are ontologically fuzzy and entangled.  The script and slides for the talk can be found here.

Robert Bentall’s paper Imagined performances in electroacoustic music examined aspects of ‘virtuosity’ as between musicians using ‘conventional’ instruments and those using ‘technology-mediated’ instruments.  In using technologies which allow, for example, the sounding of a hexachord on what would conventionally be a four-stringed instrument or the creation of infeasible ensembles, are we listening to a ‘disembodied extension of human capabilities’?  He introduced Climent’s notion of ‘de-hyper-instrumentalisation’; the thought that the sounds produced within an electroacoustic performance ought to be, in principle, performable, even though they are technologically mediated.  I was struck by his use of the term ‘unimprovisation’, the practice of musicians using improvised samples as part of the palette of sounds in further composition.  This question of normativity raises many issues concerning the path of current and future performance practice and organological ontologies.

Owen Green gave us Surfaces, systems, senses, social circumstances.  His contention was that there is no ‘waiting set of lingual and conceptual tools’ to enable us to discuss ‘the music’ simpliciter, given the ‘plurality of disciplinary and musical commitments at work in the current milieu’.  There is a real difficulty (or impossibility?) in developing an adequate discourse of the praxis of improvised electronic musicking (in Small’s terminology) by relying on a consideration of the musical surface alone.  Owen acknowledged the relevance of the assemblages described in my paper when discussing the importance of ‘the concrete social and material circumstances of production / reception’ of these musics; such assemblages, he said, ‘Enlarge the frame of what we consider to be technology.’  He suggested that the work of philosophers such as that of Richard Shusterman’s bridging of the pragmatic / continental divide might help us here.

There was a great deal of heated debate and conversation over a splendid (and most un-conference-like) lunch at a nearby Turkish restaurant.  All of the delegates expressed their satisfaction.

The afternoon paper session began with Amy V. Beeston’s Do we need robust audio interfacing based on psychoacoustic principles of hearing? Amy began by pointing out that the human ear/mind is able to compensate for the surroundings in which a sound source is produced in under a second (probably in virtue of our brains’ massive parallel processing capacities) whereas even the best current technology cannot ‘learn’ to do this in under several hours.  If we are ever to use the microphone (or other sound input mechanism) to control the dynamics of the mediated electronic performance of musical outputs, then ought we to consider the application of the processes of our biological psychoacoustic principles to these technological tools?  My question would be, would the development of these ‘intelli-mics’ have relevance to the issue of agency in musical performance (more of which below in the discussion of Pete Furniss’s performance)?

Next was Valerio Velardo with his paper Are computational composers really creative?  He pricked up our ears with the fairly bold claim that a computer (Iamus) is a better composer than Mozart!  Iamus, Valerio says, is an autonomous compositional system.  The notion of autonomy in this context certainly needs further exploration.  Valerio asks whether such systems (autonomy aside) can be considered to be creative.  He proposes the concept of General Creativity to explore the ontologies of human / human-machinic hybrid / machinic creativity.  He gave us a schematic nested ontology space, in which musica humana is a subset of musica mechanica, which itself is a subset of musica mundana.  I took these categories to represent the possibility spaces of, respectively, all possible human-composed musics, the much larger (but machine-tractable) space of machine-composed musics and, finally the intractable, but possible space of all musics.  This latter space, at least in its outer fringes, must (of computational necessity) be some transcendent Platonic realm which need not concern us.  Valerio considered the corpus of machine-only musics, i.e., musical artefacts composed by machines and only understood by machines.  Whilst these entities might have a bearing on the aesthetics and politics of posthuman possibility space, I am left wondering in what sense they might be properly called ‘music’.  Valerio’s paper received animated response from the audience throughout, such that there was no time for questions at the end.

Our final paper was Textility of live code by Alex McLean.  He described the production of music from the changes written in real time to computer code.  Such code is, according to Alex, a meta-order object, where individual components of the code (unlike, e.g., a crotchet in a conventional score) might trigger a number of lower-order musical events.  In this sense, the code is a ‘live material’ and part of a feedback assemblage of an iterative process of musical activity.  Apart from the constraining nature of the real time decision-making processes, Alex points out that these changes to digital inputs in order to vary the outputs are nothing new.  He gave us the example of weaving patterns on looms from the Neolithic to the present day.

Our final session was a musical performance / discussion session. We were lucky to hear two pieces/systems played by the clarinettist Pete Furniss: Ripped up maps by Andrew May and gruntCount by Martin Parker, the first on clarinet and the second on bass clarinet.  Since the aim of this workshop was to eschew technical descriptions and commentary, I will do so.  Suffice to say that Pete improvises his clarinet output, which, via microphone input, is mediated, moderated and mashed around by a computational process involving manipulation of his input signal with the addition of synthesized elements and output as sounds through loudspeakers which complement his playing.  These speaker sounds provide material for feedback which further influences his improvisatory playing.  And the effect on the uninitiated auditor such as myself?  It is the fascinating effect of a musical duet between the observed clarinettist and some acousmatic partner.

Pete Furniss 1

The discussion session following Pete’s performance was co-ordinated by David Roden, who, in his introductory remarks, tied some of the phenomenology of Pete’s performance into aspects of the day’s previous papers, particularly the topics of assemblages and of agency in human+computer performance.  Pete said that it definitely feels to him that he is collaborating in a co-performance with another live agent.  Whilst he knows that the sounds the system is generating are not the result of action by an intelligent agent (in the AI sense), nonetheless, it seems like an improvisatory duet that is being performed. Certainly, that is the effect which I perceived as a lay listener.   Pete has installed a ‘cut-out’ pedal into the system so that he can occasionally mute the system-produced sound in order to take back an element of control.  He says that he is very aware, during performance, of being part of a performer-clarinet-software-hardware assemblage.  There was a discussion about what it would mean for a machinic ‘collaborator’ to possess real agency and about what criteria would need to be applied in order to tell – a kind of musical Turing test.  David asked Pete about these dynamic interactions between him as performer and the system.  Pete is very aware of them.  Certainly as an observer/auditor it was possible to see the haptic effects that certain system sounds seemed to induce in Pete (from hunched shoulders to smiles).  There is much further work to be done in this area, not least in terms of the epistemology and ontology of such ‘works’ and of performance philosophy more generally.

The day was rounded-off with a cocktail session and snacks in the foyer of the Jessop Building.

We are in discussions with an academic publisher about producing a volume of the proceedings of the workshop.  We also hope to set up a page on our website of suggested reading on these topics, such an online resource being singularly lacking at present.  There are plans to run a further workshop next year.

The organizers would like very much to thank Tom McAuley, the chair of the RMA’s Music and Philosophy Study Group and the committee for allowing us to run the workshop under the aegis of the MPSG.  Thanks also go to the MPSG’s Golan Gur for his work in updating the webpages on our behalf.

We were grateful for financial support from CHASE, one of the new AHRC doctoral training partnerships and also from the University of Sheffield Arts and Humanities PGR Forum.

Follow our Twitter updates at Φ H+C Mus

And finally, many thanks to the co-organizers,  Mark Summers for his impeccable management of the day, Adam Stansbie and David Roden.

Tom Hewitt

Department of Music

The Open University

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2nd Workshop on Philosophy of Human+Computer Music

I have “borrowed” this text from the Philosphy of Human+Computer Music website (here

Workshop schedule and paper abstracts

10.30 Arrival/coffee
11.00 Paper session 1:
Entangled Network Space – the fuzzy space where music is
Tom Hewitt, Open University
Imagined performances in electroacoustic music
Robert Bentall, Leeds College of Music
Surfaces, systems, senses, social circumstances
Owen Green, University of Edinburgh
12.30 Lunch at a nearby restaurant
1.30 Paper session 2:
Do we need robust audio interfacing based on psychoacoustic principles of hearing?
Amy Beeston, University of Sheffield
Are computational composers really creative?
Valerio Velardo, University of Huddersfield
Textility of live code
Alex McLean, University of Leeds
3 Coffee
3.30 Keynote discussion session:
Human+computer music performed live by Pete Furniss (clarinets)
Session chaired by David Roden, Open University
5.30-6ish Gin & tonic


Do we need robust audio interfacing based on psychoacoustic principles of hearing?

Amy V. Beeston
Department of Computer Science, University of Sheffield

For human+computer music, sound has always been the output modality for the machine. Increasingly, sound is now used as the input modality in addition. When received at the microphone, the audio signal present may subsequently (i) undergo signal processing to produce transformed audible sound layers and/or (ii) be used to derive specific items of control information. While the latter procedure does not directly create sonic material to listen to, it can offer structural influence over a live performance, for instance in the organisation of time-based score following procedures (Orio et al, 2003), or in crafting fluid interactions between networks of control variables (Di Scipio, 2003).

Despite its increased prevalence, there is still incomplete understanding of the microphone as a sensor for real-world signals. Specific recommendations to summarise signal properties in perceptually-relevant dimensions (e.g. Peeters et al, 2011) are based on databases of conventional instrumental sound rather than electro-acoustic sound, and thus may under-estimate the importance of certain timbral properties. Moreover, there are few methods to reliably target ‘interesting’ variations in the input signal, or to otherwise account for perceptually irrelevant signal variability arising from microphone characteristics or placement, background noise sources, or environmental acoustics. The current paper therefore asks whether a machine-listening approach motivated by psychoacoustic principles of hearing might eventually lead to a robust audio interface for performances involving acoustic instruments and live electronics, and what the advantages (or disadvantages) might be.

• Di Scipio, Agostino (2003). “‘Sound is the interface’: from interactive to ecosystemic signal processing.” Organised Sound 8(3), 269-277.
• Orio, Nicola, Serge Lemouton, and Diemo Schwarz (2003). “Score following: State of the art and new developments.” In Proc NIME, Singapore, 36-41.
• Peeters, Geoffroy, Bruno L. Giordano, Patrick Susini, Nicolas Misdariis, and Stephen McAdams (2011). “The timbre toolbox: Extracting audio descriptors from musical signals.” JASA 130(5), 2902-2916.

Imagined performances in electroacoustic music

Robert Bentall
Leeds College of Music

In this paper, I will be examining some of the issues that have arisen from my practice-led research within the field of electroacoustic composition. These works, although fixed-media in format, are primarily made up of instrumental recordings; these are both of directed materials and improvisations. Ivory Terrace (2013) makes use of the bass trombone, Sauntering (2013) uses the violin, Two Movements (2014) uses the concertina and Summer Anthem (2013) presents the mandolin as the sole source materials. The compositional process relies on the re-organisation of these instrumental materials into a new structure, thus creating an imagined performance. Improvisation plays a key part in human + computer music of both live and fixed-media varieties, despite being diametrically opposed to the perceived rigidity of music technology. Recent multi-channel works, as well as those of Strniša and Perkins use pointillistic spatial technique to simulate novel ensembles e.g. mandolin sextet; spatial loudspeaker arrays thus allow for instrumental combinations that would be difficult to assemble in everyday life. It seems logical to make use of music technology to enhance instruments in a way that a human cannot perform, for instance, adding notes lower or higher than are playable, time-stretching notes or having a hexaphonic chord on an instrument with four strings. However, equally pertinent is idea of de-hyper-instrumentalisation as proposed by Climent; most of the sounds within an electroacoustic should be perceived as performable, even if they are technologically mediated. This brings up the issue of whether instrumental virtuosity is seen as less necessary than technological virtuosity in human + computer music – is a well-developed piece of software or strong command of processing tools more valuable than what can be done on an instrument?

1. Particles of Accordeon, 2014.
2. Axe, 2010.
3. Term coined with regard to Koorean Air (2010) for Violin and Live Electronics.

Surfaces, systems, senses, social circumstances

Owen Green
University of Edinburgh

It is not uncommon to come across the complaint that, as an academic discipline, computer/electronic music spends rather too much time discussing ‘the technology’ rather than ‘the music’. Whilst this is justified, I shall suggest that it is not a problem that is simply overcome: given the plurality of disciplinary and musical commitments at work in the current milieu there isn’t a waiting set of lingual and conceptual tools to which we can turn and start discussing ‘the music’ with any hope of widespread comprehension. The challenge seems especially acute in live electronic and improvised musicking. Whilst we may have patches of inherited vocabulary from allied practices, there doesn’t appear to be a way of getting at the musicality of what goes on without recourse to a discussion of the concrete social and material circumstances of production / reception, to the occasional frustration of those who contend that an adequate discourse should be available from examination of the sonic surface alone.

Can a philosophy of technology help us here? In particular, can a Feenbergian approach that seeks to resolve the tension between abstract instrumentality on the one hand, and lived practice on the other, be of help to we researchers in live electronics who need to account for both building and playing in our practice? Feenberg’s work gets us to a point of better understanding ways in which the technical, socio-cultural and sensual are intertwined and helps us map the issues involved in getting better at discussing ‘the’ music. With some additional support from anthropology (Born, Ingold) and pragmatism (Shusterman), I suggest that we can do better but that it needs to be a cooperative effort.

Entangled Network Space – the fuzzy space where music is

Tom Hewitt
Open University

Here are a musician, a computer and a work of musicTH_fig
And they are easy to tell apart, aren’t they?  In this paper I will suggest otherwise.

Taking as a starting point the Extended Mind hypothesis of Clark and Chalmers (2010) and Derrida’s discussion of the nature of an artwork’s frame in Parergon (1979) I will suggest that the boundaries between people, their tools and their artistic artefacts are far fuzzier (pace Kosko 1993) than we usually imagine.

I will draw on Derrida and the broadly “connectionist” philosophies of Deleuze, Guattari, Latour, DeLanda, Vitale and Hodder to propose a metaphysical space – Entangled Network Space (ENS) – where the interactions and connections between people and things can be explained and understood.  I will borrow Derrida’s description of the parergon, i.e., that which perhaps is, or is not, part of the work and conjoin that discussion with a description of what I call the paraprosopon, i.e., that which perhaps is, or is not, part of the person.  It is in this Entangled Network Space where our ever-shifting prosoponal encounters with the ergonal things in the world ultimately have meaning.

• Clark. A. and D.J. Chalmers 2010 (in Menary, R. (ed.) 2010). “The Extended Mind” The Extended Mind. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press. (27-42).
• Derrida, J.  1979.  “The Parergon” October. 9. 3-41.
• Kosko, B.  1994. Fuzzy Thinking. London: Flamingo (Harper Collins)

Textility of live code

Alex McLean
University of Leeds

Live coding is a practice involving live manipulation of computation via a notation (see e.g. Collins et al, 2003). While the notation is written and edited by a human, it is is continually interpreted by a computer, connecting an abstract practice with live experience. Furthermore, live coding notations are higher order, where symbols do not necessarily represent single events (e.g. notes), but compose together as formal linguistic structures which generate many events. These two elements make live code quite different from the traditional musical score; a piece is not represented within the notation, but in changes to it. Rather than a source of music, the notation becomes a live material, as one component in a feedback loop of musical activity.

There are many ways to approach live coding, but for the present discussion I take the case study of an Algorave-style performance (Collins and McLean, 2014), for its keen focus on movements of the body contrasted with abstract code and the fixed stare of the live coding performer. In this, the live coder must enter a hyper-aware state, in creative flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 2008). They must listen; acutely aware of the passing of time, the structure as it unfolds, literally counting down to the next point at which change is anticipated and (potentially) fulfilled via a code edit. In the dance music context this point is well defined, all in the room aware of its approach. The coder must also be aware of physical energy, the ‘shape’ of the performance (Greasley and Prior, 2013). All this is on top of the cognitive demands of the programming language, manipulating the code while maintaining syntactical correctness.

The philosophical question that this raises is how (in the spirit of Small, 1998), does this musical activity model, allow us to reflect upon and perhaps reimagine, the human relationship with technology in society? Can we include wider perspectives, by drawing upon neolithic approaches to technology such as the warp weighted loom, in this view (Cocker, 2014)?

• Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2008). Flow: the psychology of optimal experience. HarperCollins.
• Cocker, E. (2014, January). Live notation – reflections on a kairotic practice. Performance Research Journal 18 (5).
• Collins, N. and A. McLean (2014). Algorave: A survey of the history, aesthetics and technology of live performance of algorithmic electronic dance music. In Proceedings of the International Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression.
• Collins, N., A. McLean, J. Rohrhuber, and A. Ward (2003). Live coding in laptop performance. Organised Sound 8 (03), 321-330.
• Greasley AE; Prior HM (2013) “Mixtapes and turntablism: DJs’ perspectives on musical shape”, Empirical Musicology Review. 8.1: 23-43.
• Small, C. (1998, June). Musicking: The Meanings of Performing and Listening (Music Culture) (First ed.). Wesleyan.

Are computational composers really creative?

Valerio Velardo
University of Huddersfield

In the last few decades, the introduction of computers in the compositional process has radically changed the music landscape. Computers have been used as a means to support composers by providing novel musical ideas. The interplay between machines and humans has led to new hybrid creative systems which transcend the traditional notion of composer. A more radical way of using computers in music completely removes the role of humans from the generation process. Indeed, there already are computational systems capable of generating complex pieces autonomously. For example, EMI is able to convincingly create music in the style of a target composer. Iamus composes orchestral contemporary music; and some of its works have been recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra. The development of these artificial creative systems entails a number of philosophical questions that have not yet been answered. Can we define these systems as creative? If so, what are the features which make them creative? Also, should artificial composers be constrained to the generation of humanlike music only? What will be the effect of computational systems on music in the long term? Although there are several theories in philosophy and psychology which aims to explain the compositional process in music, none accounts for the presence of artificial creative systems.

In this paper, I answer the previous questions by introducing the concept of General Creativity.​ I use this notion as a basis to build a formalised theoretical framework which provides the necessary tools for: (i) univocally describing any music creative agent (i.e., human and nonhuman); (ii) studying societies of music creative agents, and (iii) characterising different forms of creativity. I also argue that by letting artificial systems explore new musical styles which go beyond human comprehension, we can derive a better understanding of the rules governing human music.

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ΦH+CMus – Twitter Account for Philosophy of Human+Computer Music

Twitter Picture

We have a new Twitter account to promote the rolling programme of workshops for the Philosophy of Human+Computer Music.

Please ‘follow’ @phihumcompmus and see the website at

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Hydrogenly Feelings


In his book Networkologies, Christopher Vitale muses, “For if the potential for mind is simply the result of the networking of neurons, essentially living wires, and these are themselves the result of the dynamic networking of matter and energy, which are themselves networks of quantum events, then this means that the potential for human experience, and all we have ever felt or even dreamed, lies not in what things are, but in how they are intertwined (Kindle edition, loc. 526).”  He says, “… “being” hydrogen might be really, in a sense, a way of feeling the world “hydrogenly.” (ibid., loc. 536).  He claims that such a view frees considerations of “life” or “consciousness” from the realm of the transecendent, placing it firmly in the immanent, “That which was formerly seen as transcendent of matter, such as life or consciousness, can therefore now be seen as immanent in matter, always already there, part of its potential, down to its very core. (ibid., loc. 573).”

Now, I find it uncontroversial that there is something that it is like for me to be me. Thomas Nagel famously points out that there is something that it is like to be a bat (see, e.g.,  here).


The question which arises here is this: is there some level of complexity (or networking, in Vitale’s terms) below which it ceases to be the case that there is something that it is like to be? Or is Vitale right, and it is the case that there is something that it is like to be anything and everything?  In short, is panpsychism true or not?

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A Rhizomatic Approach to a PowerPoint Presentation

Today I am trying to get a PowerPoint presentation together for an upcoming conference.  The material is complex and I may not be able to do it all justice in the timescale available (or the allotted time for the presentation, for that matter).  I am introducing the notion of the Deleuzian (and Guattarian!) rhizome.  I want to say how the things that go on in rhizomatic space are mirrored in the philosophical spaces of other related writers, such as Latour, De Landa, Vitale and Hodder.  I think that this is going to require the analysis and completion of a “look up” table in order to identify overlaps and synchronicities (which is very un-Deleuzian and positively arborescent!).  I have found a nice image


which shows almost undifferentiated rhizomatic space.  I need a strategy to show how things condense out of this space and territorialize and deterritorialize. What sort of world do these writers describe?  They describe a space of possibilities, potentialities and actualities.  A space of solidity but also of flux. A space of the tangible and corporeal but also of the intangible and incorporeal. Sometimes a space of metaphors.   I may use the standard Deleuzian wasp-orchid ‘becoming’ picture.


I also need to find a convincing musical analogue of this for my particular audience. Perhaps this one of Jacqueline Du Pré-becoming-‘cello?


Having covered these aspects (including Hodderian ‘entanglements’ I want to go on to consider Derrida’s problematic ‘Parergon’, the question of the boundaries of artworks (and works of music in particular).  I have another image to illustrate this point with a pictorial metaphor (of a broken or incomplete frame).


And I want to relate the (Koskoian) fuzziness of this issue to the (in a sense) fuzziness of human boundaries (using Clark & Chalmers Extended Mind Thesis).  Fuzzy things in a fuzzy world, including people – paraprosopons.

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Questionnaire Design Course

My research methodology requires the design and implementation of a questionnaire as part of a ‘screening’ process for my subsequent ethnographic fieldwork.  Earlier this year I decided to make a start on the design of the questionnaire, with drafts using SurveyMonkey and also Google Docs.  But I quickly came to the realization that the task was harder than I had thought.  I looked in vain for a training opportunity within the Open University and the other institutions within CHASE, my doctoral training partnership, but nothing suitable was available.

It was then that I chanced upon this offering, provided through Coursera by the University of Michigan.  The course was extremely well put together, with well-presented online video tutorials and excellent links to other academic reference material.  Other online course providers (yes, you, Open University!) could learn a trick or two from Coursera.  There were weekly tests a project and a final exam.  All in all, stimulating and educational.

And here’s my result.

Coursera questionnairedesign 2015

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2nd Workshop on Philosophy of Human+Computer Music

++++++++ REGISTRATION NOW OPEN ++++++++

We are pleased to announce that registration for this event is now open.  Please follow this link to the University of Sheffield’s bookings page.

There are four pricing levels:

Standard Full Rate – £25

RMA Member Full Rate – £20

Standard Student Rate – £15

RMA / University of Sheffield / CHASE Student Rate – £10

The registration fee covers the workshop activities and is inclusive of lunch, a drinks reception and tea, coffee & biccies throughout the day

I am co-convening the upcoming 2nd Workshop on Philosophy of Human+Computer Music at the University of Sheffield on 27 May 2015.  As last year, the workshop is being run under the aegis of the Royal Musical Association’s Music and Philosophy Study Group. The call for papers is now out (please see this link on the RMA MPSG’s website: A report of last year’s workshop can be seen here: If you are of a musico-philosophical bent (I know you’re out there!) do submit an abstract and come along on the day.  Registration details will be available soon.

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