Conditional presents Expanding & Overwriting, the debut album from Stockholm sound-artist, Daniel M Karlsson. Karlsson fits into a rich, and distinct 21st Century, tradition of algorithmic music. From the vocal experiments of AGF to the Jazz-like freedom of Mark Fell, algorithms have become a marker for contemporary electronic music. Part of this latest swing relates to the move away from hardware (synthesisers, drum machines) and towards software (coding, programming). In the last decade more than any other, laptop keyboards have displaced musical keyboards as the site of innovation.
But using algorithms in music is not particularly new. One can trace ‘automatic’, ‘indeterminate’ or ‘programmed music’ back to the voice-leading counterpoint of Bach’s chorals. Here, a formal set of rules automatically generate melodic harmonies. Algorithms are also found in the aleatoric procedures of John Cage, La Monte Young and Iannis Xenakis. These cases were more ideological, in attempt to erase the subject from the musical process. In the case of Cage, his chance procedures worked to dissolve the opposition between art and life. Music instead becomes a means of identifying the here-and-now. As Hans Curjel once wrote, “Cage refuses choice. The historical duality of mind and matter, life and art, is dispensed with.”
When it comes to electronic aleatoric music, it can often seem as if an inverted Turing test is taking place. The trick is not to deceive the audience into believing that the machine is human, but that the human is machine. Unsurprising then, that Karlsson defines himself as a ‘Transhumanist Singularitarian’. Singularitarians typically hold the view that artificial super-intelligence will be here soon, and will bring with it an unfathomable rate of change to society. There may therefore be a heterodox purpose to Karlsson’s algorithmic experiments: to accelerate machine intelligence, and bring us closer to the singularity. If machines can lead the way in art as they have done in science, we could be close to a cultural Renaissance.
But a cultural Renaissance is not the same as a political one. Karlsson states that part of what fuels his interest in live coding is in expanding an interest in computer literacy. As he notes on his website, “I believe computer literacy will become a larger divide in our society in the future to such a degree that no one can imagine it now.” One difficulty in futurist speculation is how you can update the socioeconomic model to match technology of the future. This is never truer than in the supercapitalist Silicon Valley. Here, Sci-Fi visions of the future are underpinned by excessive working hours and mandatory overtime. As one of Elon Musk’s Tesla Inc. employees recently wrote in an article for Medium, “I often feel like I am working for a company of the future under working conditions of the past.”
Following a meeting at the White House as a newly appointed member of the Presidential Advisory Forum, Elon Musk tweeted that he, “doesn’t want to get in politics”. But unlike Musk, Karlsson is aware of the importance in addressing the political context that Transhuman Singularitarianism comes out of. In an interview with Lucia H Chung of Happened, he spoke of his equal interest in Universal Basic Income and in the abolition of aging. The album closes with ‘Zero-Hour Contract’, a brutal reminder of the present before we can reach the future. Or maybe, as William Gibson wrote, “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.”
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