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  • Writer's pictureGregtheSquare

Post-digitalism vs. AI

Here's an excerpt of a cover letter I just submitted that explains the technological philosophy/practice of post-digitalism. Could it be a meaningful bulwark against, or parallel path to, the coming AI revolution? What do you think?

I've included a photo from my new hobby of old digicam photography, which is within the post-digital (ie. hipster?) aesthetic.


My current creative focus is on post-digital music. Rather than accept the current landscape of digital hegemony, post-digitalism harnesses the noise, materiality, and idiosyncrasies of acoustic instruments, hardware, and software. My practice in this milieu integrates composition, improvisation, and performance, to discover and develop new instrumental techniques and new approaches in electroacoustic musicking. My doctoral research-creation in feedback saxophone is one such example: in using a novel fingering system on the tenor saxophone combined with a specific instrumentarium of analogue media, I systematized the feedback response to create a wholly new approach to electroacoustic saxophone and feedback works.

Similarly, I spent a great deal of 2022 working under a Canada Council for the Arts research and creation grant to develop a practice centred on cassette tape media. While their use has largely fallen out of fashion, cassette tape media offer a great deal of creative potential. They are an accessible way for artists to record, produce, and perform with a distinct visual and sonic aesthetic that moves beyond the desire for nostalgia or the wish to capitalize on the popularity of “lo-fi beats to study to.” Furthermore, unlike the bulk and expense of some hardware, they are light, easily repaired, and circuit-bendable. While cassette tape media do not fit every artistic situation, their use is an effective example of how “obsolete” technologies can be recontextualized in contemporary music.

With the accelerated pace of innovation in, and availability of, digital tools, why should musicians and universities pay attention to post-digitalism, an approach that eschews cutting-edge digital media? AI is already displacing the role of skilled artists in visual media. Generative AI programs such as Midjourney show how the entirety of an art style can be reduced to a few well written prompts, allowing anyone to harness the collective human practice of visual art. This allows for an unprecedented degree of innovation in visual art without the involvement of artists themselves. How can human artists, who devote their lives to their craft and accordingly charge at least enough for a living wage, compete with compelling art made with 10-word prompts for a low, monthly fee? Unless serious legal reform happens soon, such AI programs threaten to displace human craftspeople for many visual art applications.

Recorded music eroded the importance of live performance, digital streaming services greatly devalued recorded music, and now AI could threaten the role of human composers and sound designers in musical practice. Artists in sound could be months, weeks, or days away from facing a similar situation to those in visual media. Yet, by recentring musical composition and production towards creative processes that include instrumental technique, physical media, and the errors and shortcomings of software, post-digitalism bolsters the importance of human involvement. Furthermore, by including video documentation (as I have done in my practice thus far) the importance of human-technological interactions is highlighted. While many composers and sound artists will have to collaborate with video artists in this regard, video documentation nevertheless contributes to communicating the depth of musical processes – countering the product-centred capabilities of generative AI.


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