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Alan Jacobs

Computer Control

Who's in charge?

The perfect technique is the most adaptable and, consequently, the most plastic one. True technique will know how to maintain the illusion of liberty, choice, and individuality; but these will have been carefully calculated so that they will be integrated into the mathematical reality merely as appearances.

—Jacques Ellul, The Technological Society


In 1986 a musician, composer, and computer programmer named Laurie Spiegel used her Macintosh to produce the first version of an application she called Music Mouse. Music Mouse is not easy to describe, but, in Spiegel's own account, it works like this:

It lets you use the computer itself as a musical instrument, played by moving the mouse with one hand while you control dozens of available musical parameters from the Mac's "qwerty." It's a great musical idea generator, ear trainer, compositional tool, and improvising instrument. The software does a lot of harmony handling for you (you control the variables it uses for this), so it's useful—as are all "real instruments" at any level of musical training, experience, or skill, from beginning through professional.

The effects produced by Music Mouse are more striking than any description of the application, as many laudatory reviewers of Music Mouse have noted. If you have a Macintosh—or, buried somewhere in your basement, a by-now ancient Atari or Amiga computer—you can discover Music Mouse for yourself (a free demo of the most recent Mac version can be downloaded at http://retiary.org/ls/programs.html); but for the great majority who dwell in GatesWorld, alas, Music Mouse has never been ported to Windows.1

In light of recent developments in computer-assisted and computer-generated music, Music Mouse may sound almost quaint, but in its early years it certainly knocked a lot of socks off; including the rather distinguished socks of Richard Lanham, a professor of rhetoric at ucla, who wrote approvingly of Music Mouse in a 1989 essay called "Literary Study and the Digital Revolution." ...

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