• "Let’s say the computers I was working with had been powerful enough for me to do my experiments in real time. I’m not at all sure that I would have made the discovery! Because the condition under which I was working, on a time-share machine, a few seconds of sound might take me nearly two hours. So the time it took, perhaps specifically the time between experiments, I had to think. These were discrete times: I would generate a sample of a sound that was 20 Hz, with a modulating frequency of 20 Hz and a deviation of 100 Hz. Then I would wait. Then I would listen. Then I would increase to another. If I’d had continuous control, I think I probably would have missed it. I could have let the carrier sweep through frequencies that were way too high, and I would have missed the points where they converged to harmonic spectra. That being the case, the fact that I had to sit and wait and think, and listen, and then think about what I heard, “what will be the next step?” greatly enhanced my ability in realizing the discovery." John Chowning on how not having realtime feedback was an asset, rather than a problem.
  • "This course is an advanced seminar in the anthropology of attention. What makes the
    anthropology of attention different from other ways of studying attention (e.g.
    psychology) is that we study it as a social and cultural phenomenon: attention is not just a matter of individual minds selecting objects from environments. Rather, attention is collectively organized and valued. We learn how to pay attention and what to pay
    attention to from other people; other people make technological and media systems to
    intentionally organize collective attention. We learn to value certain kinds of attention
    (e.g. intense focus on work, mindfulness, or multi-tasking) and to criticize others (e.g.
    absent-mindedness, distraction, intense focus on entertainment) in cultural contexts. So, while we will be experimenting with our own attentions throughout this course, we will remember that our attentions are not really our own. No one pays attention alone." This paper sounds brilliant.

Don Buchla died. This is the Guardian’s obituary.

Although Moog is often credited with having invented the first modular synthesizer, Moog even admitted during his lifetime that Buchla was the first to have a full concept of how to put all the modules together to add up to an instrument. Buchla tended to avoid the term ‘synthesizer,’ preferring to use terms such as ‘electronic instrument.’

That is, I guess, the neatest summation of what I valued most about Buchla – who I came to late. Not just neat synthesizers with tangles of wire, but a clear understanding of how they were instruments. Whilst the System 100 and 200 are all obviously hugely important, for me, nothing summed that up more than the Music Easel. I might still write something about how perfect the Easel is as an electronic instrument; I’ve found that the more I stare at Buchla’s instruments, the more cleverly put together they are. (Not to be a downer on Moog, but some days, I’m sad how dominant the Moog-subtractive East-Coast model is. It’s a great model for synthesis, but god, therea re so many others.)

This also reminds meme of the work I did on Twinklr, and the work I’m continuing to do on something like an instrument:

“…if a designer expects to design legitimate instruments, he has to design them from the outside in,” Buchla continued. “He has to build the outside of the instrument first. This is what the musician is going to encounter. You cannot become obsolete if you design a legitimate instrument from the outside in.”

It was all there, right from the start, and he kept playing and making throughout his life. As somebody pointed out on Twitter: even if you don’t know his instrument or name, his influence is in every music studio in the world, every softsynth, every EDM track. It was all there.

Then again, maybe the most pertinent quotation from the obit is Suzanne Ciani:

“He never wore matching socks, but oddly, as an enthusiastic tennis opponent, always wore pristine tennis whites.”