UCL Anthropology


WP3a: Critical Interdisciplinarity: Musician-Engineer Collaboration in Music AI Research

Synthesizer Circuit Schematic

Christopher Haworth, Senior Lecturer in 20th and 21st Century Music Studies, Department of Music, University of Birmingham

Artists and musicians have frequently turned to for alternative visions of AI, both for their ability to deploy new technologies in unforeseen ways, and for their relative freedom to speak to its risks and injustices (Crawford and Stark 2019). At the same time, art programs at global platforms like Facebook have provided an important means by which the most pernicious aspects of platform capitalism have been rationalised and legitimated (Turner 2018). Indeed, ‘creativity’ generally is the default domain in which the boosterish claims made for unsupervised machine learning are demonstrated, and disruptive technologies domesticised. This study will examine contemporary and historical instances of musician-engineer interdisciplinarity in music AI with a focus on projects that have sought to open a critical dialogue with engineering as a discipline. Examples may include Marvin Minsky’s and Edward Fredkin’s collaboration with Maryanne Amacher at MIT (1980s); musicians Holly Herndon and Mat Dryhurst’s various projects (2010s); and progressive interdisciplinary education initiatives that develop collective resources for socialising and politicising computer science (cf. Malazita and Resetar 2019). Understanding what differences make a difference in music’s encounters with AI will require viewing AI as a conceptual and technological apparatus whose elements extend beyond the particular technological grammars of machine learning and neural networks to include philosophies of creative action and politics. To this end, the project seeks to intervene in debates on instrumentality, technicity and ‘new materialism’ in digital music (cf. Hennion and Levaux 2021).