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December 26, 2003

We no longer think of the history of cinema as a linear march toward a single
possible language or as a progression toward perfect verisimilitude. On the
contrary we have come to see its history as a succesion of distinct and equally
expressive languages each with its own aesthetic varables and each closing
off some of the possibilities of its predecessors.

Lev Manovich: The Language of New Media p.8.

During DEAF’03 I bought a 3
CD collection of early electronic music
. One of the recordings that really
astonished me was Clara Rockmore playing “Valse Sentimentale” by Tchaikovsky
on a Theremin. The expressive quality of this kind of performances has since
been more or less lost in the further development of electronic music.

There has not been a lot of attention drawn to the 20th anniversary
of the MIDI protocol in January 2003.000 Even
if the development of MIDI as a standard for communication between musical devices
has been one of the major inventions of electronic music ever it leaves a lot
to be desired. The MIDI protocol is modelled after one of the instruments that
offers the least interaction and expression the organ. The most basic information
of the MIDI protocol is “note on” and “note off” messages.
Once you’ve programmed the synth to use a certain sound the ability to further
interact with the sound during performance is minimal: When to start when to
stop and also how hard to hit the key. Once the key is down there’s no further
possiblities of changing or moulding the sound.

The MIDI protocol provides some additional messages for expressive
means (breath control after touch expression). The problem is that except
for a crude joystick controlling pitch bend and vibrato and a single fader
hardly any keyboard provides additional support for continuous controllers.
In addition manipulation of continuous controll data is physically detatched
from the keys used to trigger the notes. This is very different from the way
you are able to mould the sound for the total duration of the notes when playing
violin flutes or singing.