About

The Project

This website is a digital supplement to my project, “Interface Aesthetics: Sound, Software, and the Ecology of Digital Audio Production.” The idea comes from preliminary research I conducted in regards to the marketing and distribution of digital audio software and hardware. In particular, I’m interested in the values that individuals embed within their instruments, as well as the rhetoric through which they justify their creative practices. Amidst a constantly changing technological landscape, the interfaces chosen by digital audio producers often reflect broader desires and anxieties embedded within contemporary capitalism: uncertainty towards emerging digital maximalist practices, aspirations to transcend technological objects, vaguely ethical devotions to a certain minimalist consumer ethos, the perennial desire for the human in the machine. To what extent are these values products of musical and artistic genealogies, individual creative intentions, and aesthetics preference; and to what extent are they embedded within the design of software and multimedia applications?

The Site

Each chapter receives its own page, which can be found under the “Chapters” heading of the site’s primary navigation menu. Within these pages, an abstract provides an overview of the chapter, followed by a series of multimedia slideshows to supplement the project’s primary text. Of particular significance are the “Flash Tutorials”—short video tutorials that summarize a conceptual or technical idea from the text. These come as a direct response to the pervasive technical tutorials floating around the Internet that require ten+ minutes to learn basic techniques and creative strategies.

The “Blog” presents an aggregation of articles related to specific topics from each chapter, as well as original posts such as concert, event, and product news and reviews.

Sections

I’ve arranged the project into three sections, each dealing with dominant trends in the design of interfaces for digital audio production.

Sonic Architectures

As software design increasingly moves away from the skeuomorphic trends of desktops, folders, and other interface “metaphors” from the past thirty years, digital audio producers and musicians must negotiate emerging technologies with new forms of musicality and instrumentality. Popular digital audio workstations (DAWs) such as Pro Tools and GarageBand have become standard tools across professional and amateur forms of music production for their ability to translate existing modes of musical knowledge into digital studio spaces. Horizontal timelines “remediate” the practice of working with “analog,” tape-based, and linear audio editing hardware; the use of familiar instruments as virtual “plugins” provides recognizable metaphors in the creative process. As musicians continue to seek alternative platforms for music production outside of the desktop and laptop studio environment—such as smartphones, tablets, and countless devices within the ubiquitous “Internet of Things”—these design metaphors become abstracted from existing musical techniques and practices. The more recent acceptance of DAWs such as Ableton Live, Bitwig Studio, and Renoise represent just a few snapshots of the ways in which musicians have expanded the conception of software-as-instrument, transformed the nature of the recording “studio” in the digital age, and introduced emerging forms of creative practice into the increasingly ubiquitous world of digital audio production in the twenty-first century.

When Software Becomes Hardware

In recent years, touch-screen technologies and other forms of haptic interaction have become the dominant modes of consumer engagement with digital media, particularly in the realm of digital audio production. The emergence of mobile “apps” for creating music, kinesthetic control schemes in music-based video games, and an increasing abundance of hardware peripherals for controlling sound parameters in digital audio workstations has coincided with the rise of “accessibility,” “tangibility,” “flexibility,” and other rhetorical metaphors of control in the general technological practice of Western society and culture. While digital audio production tools are often marketed for their so-called “democratizing” capabilities, it is exactly through this rhetoric of technological adaptability and accessibility that these “controllers” make sense in the era of digital convergence. “Touch” becomes a tangible metaphor for the desire of non-mediation and connectivity that mobile social media, video games, and digital audio production thrive for, but continuously fail to achieve.

Software As Gradual Process

Things which grow shape themselves from within outwards—they are not assemblages of originally distinct parts; they partition themselves, elaborating their own structure from the whole to the parts, from the simple to the complex. -Alan Watts

I found this quote from Alan Watts not while perusing treatises on Zen Buddhism, or scanning self-help manuals for spiritual guidance, but rather in the opening sentences of Matt Pearson’s practical guide to using the Processing programming language for creating digital art. The conflation of computer code and algorithmic processes with organic and holistic metaphors is pervasive in many contemporary digital art scenes, and has a long history going at least as far back as the multimedia experiments of the 1960s avant-garde. How have the aesthetics of what has been broadly labeled “generative media” affected forms of digital audio production more generally? How might we discern a potential relational ethics behind these practices that is coterminous with developments in neoliberal forms of creative or “immaterial” labor? The final chapters of Interface Aesthetics interrogate the ethical implications of examining software as process over product, in the midst of what is often perceived to be increasingly fragile economies and ecologies.