Drx from Bodenstandig 2000 responds here to some recent bluster on this page, offering among other things a pretty fine argument that one cannot abuse commercial digital products:
The discussion about using or abusing instruments is not really fitting to digital instruments i think. You might take a saw and cut through a violin and record that, at some point in history that would have been cool and considered being an abuse of an instrument. To really abuse it you might want to drive nails in a wall with a violin and not even record that. -- But to say one is abusing digital instruments is in my opinion only a way to make yourself look cool. Abuse=Punk=h4rdc0re!! There is no such thing as turning the knobs in the wrong direction on a sampler. Not to follow the instruction manual or failing to reproduce demo songs is not abuse. It's just that after some time another sound becomes acceptable to listeners. You might consider what i do to the YM2149 chip is abuse, but in fact, thru exploiting all the things it can do, i bring it to blossom and beauty. It's all inside the machine. Maybe some things were not even considered by the constructors of the chip, but it is still there. And a sampler can just store any sound, so to put there as many different ones as possible seems natural to the materiality of the instrument. Not doing so is misunderstanding of the machine. Digital artefacts can be brought to a different context. Nintendo hardware, more closed source than anything, can be freed and brought to everybody, not only developers paying licenses. (Yes, maybe 15 years later, but still!) A chip that was intended to control the printer and make keyclick sounds can become a musical instrument. (YMROCKERZ!!) Powerpoint can be used to make art. All this is not abuse, it shows us the great potential of software. Nothing breaks, only more things appear.
Thanks. As mentioned earlier, Drx represents the absolutist position, which might be summarized as:

1. Data wants to be free, except when being hoarded from frienemies in the computer music scene. (*smiley emoticon*--this addresses an earlier statement of Drx's in the same thread.)

2. As Robert Pirsig argued in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance back in the '70s, everyone has the means to hack the machinery that controls our lives given time, patience and the right holistic frame of mind, except those who can't figure it out.

But we shouldn't be so quick to relinquish the term "abuse" when talking about what artists do to anything. Clearly a continuum exists from "Listen, I made a weird squawk" to "something the manufacturers never intended" to "total irrevocable damage to the product." Nothing breaks? Tell it to a musician friend of mine whose digital keyboard crashed during a live gig when he hit two mute keys simultaneously. He emailed the manufacturers (smart hacker dudes in a small company) and they said, "You're right, that's a bug and will be fixed in version 1.4." And the ymrockers reference reminds me of the recent New Museum group show where several screens were frozen (not theirs, and warning, dyspeptic rant). As long as computers and digital gear fail naturally, and they do all the time--they're stinky with failure--it should be possible to speak of counter-abuse coming from artists, or "use of abuse." All that said, Drx's status-quo-disrespecting statement offers a jolt of pure inspiration.

An earlier post on Drx is here. See also this discussion on whether code knowledge is relevant to making art with digital tools. Before getting sidetracked on the term "abuse" I wrote a few posts back about "undiscovered uses or misuse of products by musicians": "misuse" referred to Samuel Delany's argument in Mark Dery's Flame Wars that hiphop culture was oppositional to rather than merely consuming of "sci fi" electronic products.

- tom moody 3-05-2005 6:53 pm

John Parker sent this in by email. Drx also had a follow-up comment that I'll post once I get his OK. --tm

Bullocks! You can certainly abuse digital equipment.

First of all there seems to be: a loose use of the word 'abuse'. I would say 'abuse' is defined as any use that was not intended by the creator of a particular instrument. Intention is the key part of the definition. Sure all consequential sounds are already there, but there are two key ingredients to finding a new sound:

1) A free-thinking human must manipulate the machine.
2) He or she must be interacting with the machine in a way that coaxes the sound from it.

Abuse is a viable way to do that and has a propensity to get at the heart of something more rapidly than the much milder, inquisitiveness.

Too much credit is given to the original creator/programmer if you say that all consequential sounds were intended. A programmer for a digital instrument has to make a series of solutions to particular tasks. No matter how comprehensive the tasks, there will always be phenomena that the digital instrument makes that comes from leftfield, that was unintended, that is a 'crash'. What else could be expected from something that is made by an imperfect human being.

Commercial stuff is enticing for abuse because it is easy to screw with the manufacturer's original intention -- to make an instrument that will appeal to a commercial market. All the interesting stuff can be found in their failings. Softsynths are a fertile resource for new digital sounds. Their many failures in trying to sound real leave behind interesting residue. Also, in a program like Reaktor, all you have to do is change parameters to unrealistic amounts or just randomly re-arrange wires to get some interesting stuff especially if it was intended to sound like a Juno 106 (that's why I like Reaktor better than MAX-MSP). Sure the sound is already there, but without a particular mindset, one would not find it.

My favorite machine, which is the one mentioned in this thread, crashes all the time. Evidently I am not using it the 'right' way by making boring, derivative techno. I don't even have the skills to make that shite. I struggle with it and try to make something that is not boring or derivative. Often my only recourse is to break the rules which causes crashes because I am not working in a predictable way. So now the company is struggling to fix it. Again referencing some arguments made in this thread, if i can push the machine to failure then what I am doing can be termed 'abuse' even if only a playful and gentle sort.

I find in making art either visual or aural, I am more inspired to take something that is already right and make it wrong, to abuse its intention. Sometimes I find something new. And, isn't the opposite just what the entire rest of society is busy doing all the time?

--John Parker, aka jenghizkhan

- tom moody 3-07-2005 5:41 pm

to me software "abuse" should be destructive. I wrote code on my printer that blows the power supply when you run it.

personally, I think you have to go a bit further than setting some extreme settings in a softsynth to call it "abuse". Randomly hexediting the EXE of the softsynth, that's abuse, haha.

and STs crash all the time no matter what you're doing!! ;o)

- paul (guest) 3-08-2005 9:15 pm

I suppose my own contribution to this dialogue--just jotting down some random thoughts away from the horrible glare of exposure of the main page---ri--i-ght--would be that I'm interested in using certain programs more or less exactly the way they were intended but searching for psychological abuse, abuse of attitude, and abuse of context. MSPaint and Paintbrush are toy programs and very mechanical so to do "classical" or even "expressionist" drawing on them is a potentially jarring category shift. Similarly with the music, these synths have evolved to "play techno" so I'm interested in "playing techno wrong" in a way that's still entertaining and I suppose still techno but calling attention to its limitations and hidebound genre conventions (drum and bass must be played a certain way, etc.). Conscious amateurism and irony would be my way of nailing the violin to the wall. This overlaps somewhat with what John is saying about just using the damn instruments, and seeing what comes out and where you can take it.

[A problem, though, is I keep producing stuff that's kind of "good" and I don't know how to deal with it. Part of me wants to be a real techno guy. Or a real artist. Or whatever. Uh oh, this is getting too candid, I may have to delete this.]

- tom moody 3-08-2005 9:54 pm

I guess my point is that finding new creative ways to use software is just kinda what computer art is. Every piece of decent computer art I can think of that makes use of existing software falls into there. How can you make interesting computer art and NOT push the limits of what software was intended to do? (maybe there's a good answer to this...)

Which is why I think of "abuse" as a more destructive subcategory, where something is completely repurposed, destroyed, or rendered unusable for it's original purpose. another good example is Peter Luining's "formulas" Photoshop plugins http://formulas.ctrlaltdel.org/

Maybe I'm just desensitized to software abuse. ;o)
- paul (guest) 3-09-2005 1:23 am

I would say 99.9% of computer use to do creative work is exactly as the programmers intended, and many people consider the result art without imagining abusing their tools. Think all those hundreds of MIDI versions of pop songs, all completely obedient to the "rules." Is it "bad"? Well, yeah, most of it, but it succeeds on its own terms. This work, I don't think involves abuse on any level. They call it digital abstraction, and I actually kind of like it. It's so involved and intricate, even though it doesn't seem to be straying outside the bounds of the programming. All that raytracing stuff is another example. Also some cool things there--but it's not about abuse.

- tom moody 3-09-2005 2:44 am

I still think there is a problem with the word 'abuse' not being defined. I detect a moral element in the discussion. To me abuse does not need to have moral baggage. I'm guessing the word comes from Latin and simply means 'away from use' or 'away from original (original being implied) use'. Sure abuse of living beings is wrong but abuse of machines? What's wrong with abusing machines or software for that matter. I do think that you can find settings in softsynths that could be considered abuse. If that were not the case then why are updates necessary to fix these occurances. I love getting really badly made VST plug-ins from amatuer programmers who try to imitate something they love and then fail. Often these plugins are hidden gems with some truly original uses. Perhaps all this discussion is also a good time to resume that discussion on why a modernist approach to making music is a problematic (see earlier post).
- jenghizkhan 3-09-2005 4:23 am

That earlier post was about "art in an age of abusive copyright enforcement," speaking of abuse, and that's one reason I'm thinking more about using equipment the "right" way--and I guess I would add using licensed materials--since who wants to get sued by conservative money grubbers like the Turtles or Sean Landers or whoever. The thing to be careful about with "making it new" (as opposed to endless recycling through samples and quotation) is that's also corporate rhetoric--the endless cycle of faux-progress where today's high-tech new and improved becomes tomorrow's landfill material. Much of the po-Mo critique of the cult of the new (as fascist, corporatist, "hyperreal," spectacular) still has validity and ought to be kept in mind. That said, it's an adventure making unheard-of sounds with equipment that's still very much in development as long as you do it consciously and don't drink the Koolaid.

- tom moody 3-09-2005 4:48 am

Very true. On the other hand to completely dismiss that anything can be new seems to be equally fascist and cultist and part of the baudrillard mania that consumes the art world. Not that you were saying that.
- jenghizkhan 3-09-2005 6:20 am

well anyway, I really want to abuse vocaloid.

- paul (guest) 3-09-2005 9:54 am

Good find, but that's one I would present straight up. It would be hard to improve on this for sheer oddness.

- tom moody 3-09-2005 10:17 am

Another lovely, non-abusive use of the digital medium: an abstract 3-D animation set to John Coltrane's "Giant Steps" by Michal Levy (takes about a minute to load on cable, longer on dialup; hat tip to Steve)
- tom moody 3-09-2005 9:47 pm

yeah, y'r right about there being some good stuff that's straight up.

I think I just kinda live in a world of software "abuse", and that's the kind of work I like the best and focus on. Almost everything I saw at Readme last year that made use of existing software was borderline or blatant abuse.

and that animation is great!
- paul (guest) 3-09-2005 10:28 pm

My name is Michael,
I've got a nickel,
I 've got a nickel shiny and new
I'm gonna buy me all kinds of candy,
that's what I'm gonna do

- dave 3-02-2006 4:15 pm

Yes, indeed. Sorry to strip your context. Don't know why this post is the sp4m magnet du jour.
- tom moody 3-02-2006 6:28 pm

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