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  • A Tool Is a Tool
  • Pamela Z (bio)

I am often asked how recent changes in technology have affected my art. It is difficult for anyone to be alive today in this culture and not be in some way touched by the sudden upsurge of computers and digital technology, and in this regard I am no exception. Not only has this technology had a major effect on my work as composer-performer, but it has also infiltrated practically every aspect of my life. I compose music on the computer. I use digital sound processors and MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) equipment in live performance. I record, edit, and construct sound works using digital sound editing software and hardware in the computer and then use peripheral devices with my computer to burn CDs of those works so they can be heard by others. I use musical notation software to create scores when I compose works for other musicians. When I’m not working directly on my art, I’m using the computer to communicate with others through e-mail and to make others aware of my work through a Web site.

I am aware of the ironies around the computer’s effect on productivity. For every task that is made more efficient, there is at least as much new busywork around crashes, upgrades, and incompatibilities. Even so, I chose to succumb to all of that and continue to work as I do. In fact, I have been thoroughly seduced by computers ever since my introduction to the Macintosh 128K machine in the mid-1980s, and I enjoy using the computer beyond the practicality of what I’m able to accomplish with it. The computer is a tool, and I have a very strong relationship with my tools.

Of course, tools alone do not make great art. I like to think that the artistic advances it gives me stem from the combination of the effects of the new tool and my strengths as an artist. An important part of an artist’s process is selection, and it takes an intelligent, open, and inventive ear to recognize and select good ingredients and then build them into something viable. It is always important for me to be concerned about what work I am actually making with this tool. It frustrates me to see a world so seduced by new technologies that many have forgotten to be concerned about the output. We suddenly see a superabundance of works being created by people who are clearly more interested in what software they have mastered than they are in the value of what they are making with it. One hears endless jokes about content as sort of an afterthought. (Worse yet, sometimes they’re not jokes.) The “multimedia” industry (with terminology pirated from the fine art world) blurs the line between art making and commercialism, thus [End Page 62] attracting many people who are seduced by both the possibility of becoming professionals in a big-money industry and the cachet of being able to call themselves artists. There have always been people who believe that having a great tool will make them great artists or magically result in the creation of great art, but buying the finest violin or tennis racket does not a great musician or athlete make. However, having a new tool can certainly inspire great work from someone who has the potential to make it.

Some of the most exciting work I’ve seen lately combines very different types of tools. Acoustic instruments with electronic ones, mechanical devices with digital devices, machines with flesh-and-blood instruments. And it is interesting that, in a field that historically has seemed very male dominated, many of the artists doing this are women. There are quite a few more women in the field than one might think from reading most of the books and journals on the subject. Along with all the other reasons, tools may have something to do with that. People’s expectations of the kinds of tools an artist would use are somewhat separated along gender lines. In fact, when I have remarked about the absence of women’s names in various histories or...

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pp. 62-64
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2005
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