Thuistezien 66 — 27.05.2020

Sonic Writing
Thor Magnusson

‘The bible was the most popular book, but after that there were musical books…’ Dr. Thor Magnusson during the opening lecture of the Instrumental Shifts Symposium, part of Rewire Festival 2019. The festival is internationally renown for its progressive electronic music program. During the symposium, these new developments in the field of music in relation to computer science and future technologies were brought together in the form of lectures and a debate.

Dr. Thor Magnusson, Head of Music at the University of Sussex, envisioned how the borders between the role of the composer, the instrument, the piece of music and the audience are slowly fading away in contemporary music. Tradition is changing, therefore the way we study, teach and discuss music ought to change accordingly. This is not yet the case, as many conservatories stick to old traditional patterns. To understand these shifting boundaries Magnusson descended into the origins of music itself, to help him interpret present forms and tendencies and give him an impression of their future. This lengthy study developed into the book ‘Sonic Writing’, divided into three parts: ‘Material Inscriptions’, ‘Symbolic Inscriptions’ and ‘Signal Inscriptions’. The chapter ‘Material Inscriptions’ starts with the instrument, describing how music composition begins in the design of the object. He asked questions about the role of the instrument in culture and how culture is written in the instrument itself. Examples of this can be traced back to the mythology of ancient Greece, in which the flute was seen as a chaotic instrument and the harp as rational in ways they were designed and played. Here the instrument gives us sociological insights about the politics of that time. In addition, the instrument was already regarded as a scientific measuring instrument. Magnusson then explains that contemporary developments of this can be found in what is called today: ‘Art Science’, in which machine learning is implemented in contemporary music through artificial intelligence.

At the start of the symposium, Magnusson introduces us to the past of contemporary music as we know it today. He reminds us of what we have lost because of time and abstraction, the abstraction that is carried along with the technological developments of the future. Instrumental Shifts Symposium was organized by The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision RE:VIVE initiative, Rewire and West The Hague.