Pinging Filters: From serialism through the 808 to DIY

Williams, Sean (2014). Pinging Filters: From serialism through the 808 to DIY. In: Studying Music: An International Conference in Honour of Simon Frith, 10-12 Apr 2014, Edinburgh, United Kingdom.


Whilst traditional musicological analysis tools work well in some situations, very few work so well outside the genre, style, and instrumentation boundaries associated with traditional musicology. As a result of Simon Frith’s work in the study of popular music, we have been forced to develop a much greater array of tools and techniques to think about all kinds of music practices.

This paper uses a narrative approach to examine culture technology alignments in electronic music, from the high serialism of the West Deutsche Rundfunk Studio for Electronic Music in Cologne in the 1950s, through voltage controlled synthesizer compositions in the 1960s and 1970s, drum machine use in 1980s Hip-hop, 1990s dance music production, to 2010s DIY modular synth communities. The examples I use concern essentially the same technology but used in an extraordinarily wide range of ways. This allows us easily to get past any arguments of technological determinism and poses some really interesting questions about the use of technology in music practice.

I try to find some common ground based on use of a particular type of technology – the pinging filter - that links these widely differing styles, attitudes, social, economic and cultural music making practices. Since Simon Frith’s work has already removed the obstructive idea of high versus low music, I am able to explore a variety of different ways in which all kinds of musicians have engaged with this highly specific technique, and thereby suggest a different kind of order which we can use to think about the practice of music in the technological context.

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