Computer music is nothing new, though it has certainly blossomed in the past decade thanks to the rapid spread of personal computing. How does the fact that the technology now is portable alter computer-enabled music?More than anything, the laptop has brought computer music not only out of the closet, but out of the house.And thanks to the laptop’s compact size and ease of use, it’s triggered several successive waves of adopters. The laptop is a proverbial black box—well, generally speaking, a silver one, usually in this context affixed with a glowing Apple logo—and it has many inputs and outputs.
This overview of so-called “laptop music” is an attempt to see what led up to this moment, to highlight some leading figures, and to look ahead to what “mobile music” might constitute down the pike. It’s expensive and powerful and nice to look at, but how many people actually take it over really rigorous terrain?
Well, plenty, in fact, from the microsonics of Tetsu Inoue, to the augmented field recordings of Christian Fennesz, to the spatial immersions of Carl Stone, to the fractured dance music of Autechre, all of whom have made the laptop computer one of their primary tools.
I initially studied computer science in college, and before I opted for an English degree, my favorite professor was an esteemed figure in the field by the name of Alan J.
Perlis, a man who won the very first Turing Award (often described as the Nobel Prize of computing) the year I was born.
He would often digress from a sequence of code that he was reciting from memory in order to tell us stories about the dawn of the study of computing.
From today’s standpoint, in a time of i Pods and Tablet PCs, my own college education feels like it occurred during the Stone Age, with those monochrome monitors and rudimentary programming languages.
But for Perlis, our cathode-ray computer-lab terminals and the Macintoshes popping up in dormitories were generations removed from his Cretaceous-era schooling. Perlis appreciated our difficulty with the problems he assigned each week, those all-nighters we spent eradicating bugs.
He told us that when he was a graduate student there was a commonplace way that programmers went about wrestling with a faulty bit of programming: You’d open up the computer you were working on, enter it, sit on a cozy chair and contemplate the machine from the inside. If anything, it’s become more vivid as computers have gotten smaller.
I'm particularly interested in ones where the extensive dependence on user generated content reduces the need for other methods of content refresh within a game to continue to be fun.