Groove Column: on machine love

Day 119 Project 365  2 18 10

A girlfriend of mine once half-joked that I was more intimate with my computer than with her. I don’t think she was suggesting David Cronenberg make a film about me, but the relationship I have with this ready-to-hand-24-7 aluminium work-and-play-pal is undeniably a close one. When I sleep alone it’s usually on the adjacent pillow. Many of us began our computing lives hands firmly around a joystick and now in this haptic age we are encouraged to caress our trackpads and iDevices like proxy lovers.

I am happy to admit that I’ve developed warm feelings towards lots of the tools I use on a daily basis, the ones which look nice and work well. But it’s what they do that matters. I love my coffee machine partly for its cheery curves but mostly because it makes my flesh and blood beloved a little less homicidal in the morning. I love my Dyson not just because even after sixteen years it looks like something from ‘the future’ but because it ruthlessly disappears the crumbs she leaves in her wake.

Similarly when I flip the power in my studio and a hundred lights blink back at me I glow in turn, excited by all this potential to make stuff. I haven’t ever gone as far as to give any of my machines names, but you can see why people are prone to anthropomorphise. Certainly my analogue synths have personalities, seem even to have moods, good days and bad days like the best of us. The fact that some people insist that their iPods are choosing the music rather than randomly shuffling it, says a lot more about us as social and emotional creatures than the fact that we mostly don’t understand probability.

And so it doesn’t seem to me odd two weeks ago to have written a short thank you letter to the man who helped shape so many of the machines I use on his retirement from Apple. For making a computer for people like me with no training in science or the dark arts of the command line, and for insisting that it wasn’t wrong to experience delight or wonder in its use. Our affection for the objects we use to make things ought sometimes to be directed at the people who in turn made them; the likes of Bob Moog, Leo Fender, Dave Smith and Steve Jobs. Blessed are the tool-makers, the dreamers of our dreams.

4 Responses to “Groove Column: on machine love”

  1. EGZ says:

    btw “tool makers”, have u read Attali’s “Noise – The Political Economy of Music”?
    In brief, he describes the story of man/society and music as 4 historical stages, the 4th of which, probably parallel somehow to our times, or the future, is called “Composing” – and is characterized by the centrality of the tools being made.
    Alternatively, it’s also called “post-repeating”, which refers to the 3rd stage – “repeating” – which coincides with the rise [and possible demise we might be witnessing today] of recorded music & the industry, and which he characterized with concepts like “fidelity”.
    Anyway, it’s a great read, and quite far out for something written in 77

    • Suade says:

      Hello EGZ,

      I’m sure Ewan has read Noise. Perhaps he even likes it…. I’m pretty sure it’s mentioned in Ewan and J Gilbert’s book Discographies.

      If you’re around to reply can you tell me why you like this book? What idea did you get from it that you thought was good? I’ve read it and I pretty much hated all of it but I’m still curious about it’s appeal to other people.

      • EGZ says:

        Hi Suade,

        First off, to my shame i wasn’t at all aware of Discographies, so I’ll def check it out.

        I liked Noise cause it was thought provoking, a good ‘story’ – as every history is some kind of story – which even though i found fault with it at points, it made into an interesting, sometimes even wild, interpretation of the relationship between people and music, and that between culture and economics.
        Specifically I arrived at it while writing a paper about the invention of the phonograph, and got to Noise on my search looking for what ways has the possibility to record sound, and more specifically “playing it back”, has brought into our lives.
        And in these times when the music world is changing so fast, it’s still a sphere in which different kinds of know how’s – how to create it, how to program/edit/curate it (as dj’s do) – still maintains strong value, which goes beyond just having it, as everyone nowadays sort of has all the music ever made (as long as they’re connected to the web).
        And it’s a special kind of knowledge, as everyone ‘likes music’, and we have an active, ongoing, non-stop relationship with it, either at the club or home alone, and yet, not everybody manages to ‘speak’ with it.
        Am I making any sense?

  2. Kai Handberg says:

    That was an inspired read. Certain sound tools give me a certain tingling sensation in the bottom of my stomach, but I wouldnt call it love. More a nervous twitch I cant wait to scratch.

    Now, your Bitter Devotion remix that I just discovered, that I DO love – and I plan to listen literally ad nauseum to it. Thanks!

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