EMS Proceedings and Other Publications

The Deadly Embrace Between Music Software and Its Users

Miller Puckette

Miller Puckette, University of California, San Diego


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One of the many differences between software instruments and physical ones is that software instruments, since they deal in information instead of physical vibrations, can operate in ways that are indirect to the point of being mysterious. Software in the past half century has rapidly increased in complexity and decreased in stability. This raises problems for both designers and users of software intended for musical creation. Specific pieces of computer-mediated music can easily become impossible to perform within a decade of their creation. More broadly, musical practices can easily become embedded in specific software configurations and hard to study from vantage points other than the creator’s chair. What one musician can learn from another one can be limited by incompatible differences between the software paradigms they favor. Although the software designer strives to make software as open and transparent as possible, this transparency is always limited by competing exigencies for efficiency, “power”, and sometimes a commercially imposed need for secrecy. While music software can give the musician great power, its users should stay aware of the risks that can accompany its great and largely hidden complexity.

EMS14 Proceedings