Essays | Fiction


The Past-Future Design Loop
Nostalgia is an important element in future scenarios, as well as the use of anachronisms, as a way to assess how people really feel about progressive linear growth in technology. [more...]

Contoids, Vocoids and Rhoticity
The pronunciation of the "r" consonant (rhoticity) has an interesting history. It has a metageographical component and is perhaps tribal in some respects. [more...]

Beyond Music
A common misconception about future music is that it's an electronic phenomenon, when really it might be more of an extension of human consciousness and for some people, a way of transcendence or spirituality. [more...]

Music and Design Archetypes
Instrument design can be understood using the common metaphor of evolution, where organisms evolve as they adapt to the environment. Music is the quintessential meme, now adapting to a more technologically-dense environment.[more...]

Rhythmic Dissonance/Incongruence
Congruence was once a factor in art and music, where each individual element was as perfect as the whole, and any deviation seemed off-kilter. That turned out not to be a factor with regard to cubism; ultimately it did have congruence. The world was ready for that different vision. [more...]

Between Thought and Action
Ornette Coleman was one of the few musicians to approach music with a new syntax, intimating that music is essentially a shadow of language (or language as a vestige of music), and played within the cracks of that ambiguity. [more...]

Ubiquity has destroyed the power of photography to create unique experiences. It couldn't possibly have replaced painting, as there can be an infinite number of copies. [more...]

Music and Design Archetypes
Instrument design can be understood using the common metaphor of evolution, where organisms evolve as they adapt to the environment. Music is the quintessential meme, now adapting to a more technologically-dense environment. [more...]

Isn't That Spatial?
The ear evolved to detect spatial cues. Sounds are perceived by the ear in order to locate them. If you tap your right hand on the table, then the left, you know where the sound is coming from. This is distinctly different from a recording of those two sounds played directly into the ear canal. [more...]

Perception Play
3D and many other technologies attempted to change the messages inherent in media, but it hasn't always been effective. [more...]

Art Universals
Some of the human universals that come into play for art-making: [more...]

Desire Paths
One thing nice about freshly fallen snow is that people start to make paths where none exist below it. First footsteps naturally conjure spiritual aspects. This is where metaphors can become empowering, either for spiritual enlightenment or as inspiration for creative pursuits. [more...]

Digital Feel
One thing pixels don't have is real texture. This is more of a possibility with haptic technologies and the brain doesn't know the difference. But there is a difference between digital texture and feeling and seeing it at the same time. [more...]

One of the characteristics of creative artistic thinking is to make non-linear connections that are less obvious, and when they are, spin them in such a way to make them novel. [more...]

Every Night Is a Remix
The idea that everything comes from everything isn't always interesting. Photo mosaics of the Mona Lisa or other related or ironic sources was interesting at one point but is now a cliche. It is still a clever device but doesn't have much generative depth. [more...]

Representational Versus Abstract in Music
A useful strategy in making or composing new work is to leave all the things out that you've done before, including all the theories that you've learned, as well as instrumental technique. [more...]

Leaving the Music Out
A useful strategy in making or composing new work is to leave all the things out that you've done before, including all the theories that you've learned, as well as instrumental technique. [more...]

Strategic Omissions
The question to ask is if you do leave something out, is the void filled with a good replacement? [more...]

Musical Fabrics
Work from metaphors; The mind likes them. [more...]

Balalaika Lessons
Musical instruments are a totally separate department of design (luthiery) that is more connected with carpentry and woodworking; and concerned with craftsmanship, not of industrial design. [more...]

How Everything Learns
In 1995 Stewart Brand wrote a book and TV series titled How Buildings Learn, about the evolution of the built environment. Everything has some type of evolution in terms of how it is transformed or replaced over time. [more...]

EDM (a relatively recent relabeling of an old form) is a genre borne of the electronic instrument interface, with buttons, pads and presets, which steered musicians in that direction, and away from learning traditional instruments. [more...]

Taylor Swift and the fall of the wall (what's in a date?)
So perhaps it is interesting that a young pop star releases a record with "1989" as the title. It is the year of her birth, but obviously makes other inferences. [more...]

On Frank Zappa (What's In A Title?)
Revisionist views of history aren't only for politics. Frank Zappa won't necessarily be understood as he was during his lifetime. [more...]

Future Jazz
Jazz has had many futures, each one of them a starting point for the next. Ornette Coleman was/is the future, Sun Ra was/is the future. Jazz has futurism built-in. On the first manned mission to Mars, jazz will be played. [more...]

The Eonothem of Sound
An eonothem is the accumulated rock layers in an eon. It's a good metaphor to use in music. [more...]

On Process
For the artist, the process of making a finished work is often mired in decision making, and the reconciling of it with the core ideas. [more...]

Cameraless Photography
Your eyes always take the best pictures. A snapshot can get close to what is seen with the eyes, but a more intense photographic image takes a long time to create, or become more relevant over time, as in documentary photography. [more...]

Music For/In Places
The sound of a city hasn't changed that much since the industrial era. Most of what we hear in urban environments are primarily the sounds of machinery and traffic, the sound of tires on pavement and the squeaking of brakes. In long time scales, the 1920s was about 10 minutes ago, so we can't expect marked differences. [more...]

Musical logic and syntax: The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid
Displacement has been used in music for centuries as a way of playing with underlying logic and syntax. [more...]

Evolution of the Chord Change
Folk musicians get a lifetime of songs with a handful of chords. Jazz musicians can take those same chords and extrapolate them and flip them vertically. [more...]

Music 2050
If you Google “Music 2050″ you will find various predictions, all of which seem very similar to today’s music. If these current predictions are accurate, the music of the future will sound incredibly retro. [more...]

Disappearing Barlines
Like some African drumming, it's not about music that you listen to--it is a way to tell a story, and beats are the backstory. [more...]

When Metaphors Break Down
For the musician just learning harmony, any metaphors are useful, as they can be visualized in the mind by associating an object with the information, a mnemonic device. [more...]

Creative Fluency
To speak of the fluency of writing is to consider its musicality. Music is a fluid phenomenon in a vessel of time. [more...]

The Rite of Spring Through a 21st Century Lens
The Rite is purported to be a Big Bang moment for the genesis of Heavy Metal. [more...]

Mondrian Still Rocks
Little did Mondrian know the ramifications of his work. The residue of 1920s geometric idealism may have indirectly changed the course of pop music through musicians influenced by Mondrian or his contemporaries.

Metaphors We Create By
Sometimes metaphorical associations are obvious and natural, and can suggest interesting ways of approaching a task. In other instances the connections are more distant, or even bizarre, which demonstrates the limits of metaphor use overall. Metaphors can be flimsy things, but can also be a powerful bond between initial idea and final product.

What Music Can Teach About Information Design
Music notation can also teach us so much about usability, information architecture and design standards. One bar of music can transmit so much information clearly and efficiently: key, meter, tempo and dynamics are supplied at the upper left as the main navigational 'menu'.

Visual Feedback Loops
Many artists work from indeterminate concepts, as opposed to a fixed plan (like mechanical or architectural drawings), so the thinking about the work as it is being made is constantly changing, all the way up until the work is finished, at which point the artist realizes, "That's what I was thinking and doing." Understanding the process usually comes in hindsight, and only matures after many years or decades. Sometimes making another version of it helps you to understand it better, or to fully put it to rest. [more...]

On Cover Art
Cover art for books and music was always a 'push' phenomenon: You didn't have to request it--it was standard equipment. Now one wonders where it might be located. [more...]

Why musicians are joined at the hip with technology
Computers have become essential appliances in our lives that are ubiquitous in the background, but the first sparks of an idea in which a computer is involved are essentially creative and artistic in purpose. The Silver Scale was more of a rough prototype (an étude, as it were) than a finished piece, but was a demonstration of the fun things we could do with hardware and software. [more...]

Emily 2.0: Possible applications for AI in music
When I first heard Emily play this I thought it was interesting, and when I reverse-engineered it, I understood the set of rules that made it. [more...]

Information and Exformation in Music
Exformation is a term coined by author Tor Nørretranders in his 1998 book 'The User Illusion', and defined as explicitly discarded information. It is all the extraneous details that are removed to achieve an elegant result--one in which is easy to understand and use. It is everything cut to the chase. [more...]


For the past month the city has been preparing for the total solar eclipse. Throngs of people are heading to the coast for the event, with the total eclipse occurring mid-afternoon. It is an almost perfectly clear day with just a few puffy clouds. The light is already dimming, with maximum in another hour. [more...]

Back in 2013 at the Swarm Lab, the brain surface implant was being developed. In its early stages it was to be used by paralyzed patients to control various devices simply by thinking about them. Like many new technologies, people found other uses for them. [more...]

Qamar, a young Egyptian student is at the Library of Alexandria doing research for a paper on immortality through the ages. A 100 year-old Rolling Stone article suddenly appears in his display, coincidently titled "Immortality Through the Ages (And Aging Gracefully)". The article was the subject of a talk given in the United States in 2150 at the Gilberto Foundation in Las Vegas on boundaries, thresholds and rites of passage in immortality, by transhumanist celebrities Ramona A. Stone and Ai Grace (Neone), who were immortals but died before they were 200. [more...]

G# is evil!
When Peter arrived for his first piano lesson, he noticed that one of the black keys was painted red. This intrigued him and made the keyboard less intimidating. [more...]