- History and Memory
SOMETIME IN THE SPRING of 1990 I received a phone call from Larry Polansky inviting me to contribute to the premiere issue of Leonardo Music Journal (spun off from the venerable Leonardo journal of art and technology), of which he was the founding editor. Larry’s timing was auspicious: ordinary life was suspended in my Bleecker Street loft as I awaited our firstborn and engaged in rewinding and fast-forwarding the tape of my life. Fearing that the blessed event would render me incapable of composing for months to come, I accepted the offer on the assumption that writing words would be somehow easier than writing music. I was wrong on both counts: the expanded family slipped into a blissful trio state, but writing turned out to be a more serious challenge than anticipated .
My previous writing experience had been largely confined to grant applications, concert and liner notes and the odd lecture. Larry’s invitation provided an excuse to indulge in musical self-analysis on a larger, more detailed scale. So, as my son napped, I typed, slowly cobbling together an essay whose style perhaps owed more to the ghost-written sports autobiographies of my childhood than to academic journals but that nonetheless accounted reasonably well for the evolution of my recent musical activities .
I found the process cathartic. Over the next few years I became increasingly involved in writing and editing essays, lectures and a book, An Incomplete Handbook of the Phenomenology of Whistling . Self-reflection gave way to broader analyses of the interaction of musical aesthetics with technological, social and economic developments. Writing became an integral part of my life.
Seven years after Larry’s phone call, I found myself sitting in a sunny Berlin apartment with my new daughter in my lap, while fellow composer Jonathan Impett prodded me to apply for the now-open position of Editor-in-Chief of LMJ. A paternal déjà vu of my first encounter with the journal prompted me to reflect on the current state of music.
Post-Cagean composers developed approaches to technology that were experimental, analytic and, above all, idiosyncratic. The existing tools of musicology were ill suited for analyzing music based on echolocation, CD error correction, Doppler shift or speech patterns. Criticism fell into the gap between journals serving academic composers and musicologists and magazines dedicated to more popular styles. As a result, we were left with a body of work—conveyed largely in oral tradition, unlabeled circuits and forgotten computers—whose details, and sometimes very existence, were unknown outside a small circle.
The desire to chip away at this ignorance fueled my modest activities as a writer and editor. LMJ had given me my first opportunity to make a statement about my own work, so it seemed appropriate that I offer others a boost onto the same soapbox.
Since 1997 I have organized each annual volume around a rubric that I hoped would be specific enough to provide focus but broad enough to attract a diversity of contributors and contributions: Southern Cones: Music Out of Africa and South America, Pleasure and The Politics of Sound Art, among others . My initial three-year contract was extended to five, after which I seemed to have acquired squatter’s rights to the position of Editor-in-Chief. Some months back I realized I was coming up on 20 years, 20 volumes, some 500 papers and authors. Both children are out of college; a generation has passed. It is time for a change of leadership, but also for reflection; hence this meandering preface and the theme for my final volume: History and Memory.
In this issue, writers take the prompt both literally and metaphorically: memory embedded in neurons, silicon and architectural spaces; history as archive and as distant experience. Several contributors look at the metaphor of faulty memory embodied in recorded media, often in “obsolete” formats such as cassette, DAT and MiniDisc (Michael Bullock; Mat Dalgleish; Joseph Kramer), but also through encoding for the Web (Justin Gagen and Amanda Wilson). Others have addressed the intersection of location with memory, through sonification and focused listening (Richard Graham; Mikael...