Interface Music Definition Essay

MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) is a protocol designed for recording and playing back music on digital synthesizers that is supported by many makes of personal computer sound cards. Originally intended to control one keyboard from another, it was quickly adopted for the personal computer. Rather than representing musical sound directly, it transmits information about how music is produced. The command set includes note-ons, note-offs, key velocity, pitch bend and other methods of controlling a synthesizer. The sound waves produced are those already stored in a wavetable in the receiving instrument or sound card.

Since a MIDI file only represents player information, it is far more concise than formats that the sound directly. An advantage is very small file size. A disadvantage is the lack of specific sound control.

With a program that provides this interface, you can create music using a standard keyboard or other input device. You or others can then play your MIDI-conforming creation with the same or another program and a sound card as a music synthesizer. The MIDI program may come with a graphical user interface that looks like a sound studio control room. Many sound cards come as a package with MIDI software (for example, Media Vision's Pro Audio Studio 16).

The MIDI protocol uses eight-bit serial transmission with one start bit and one stop bit, has a 31.25 Kbs data rate, and is asynchronous. Connection is made through a five-pin DIN plug, of which three pins are used.

(This article is reworked from a talk originally given at &NOW 2013 in Boulder, CO.)

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“To imagine a language is to imagine a way of life.”
– Wittgenstein

This is intended to be a straightforward piece about how exploring the interface, or specifically, video games, can help us explore new possibilities within the realm of experimental literature. So first I want to start with a few assumptions / definitions.

The internet, and its associate technologies, is unique in that the closer we feel to the technology, that is, the better interfaces become at making us feel like we understand the technology, at making us feel like the technology is more intuitive, natural, adaptive — the less we actually know about the mechanisms that power the interfaces we encounter every day. The closer we think we are, the further we are, in reality, from the core of the technology that drives these interactions.

You’re not a cyborg, you say? Sure. I’m not a cyborg either.

In a parallel world, literature, via language, also works in a textual interaction with a reader, and, distinguishing here between narrative and narrativization, provides a sense of closure while providing a particular presentation of reality, a reality we enter via the text. I’m not going to delve into a history of narrative theory. Let’s assume we all know enough about literary theory, narrative theory, and even film theory. But where we have an opportunity for another intersection point, another interface, another space for potential, is video games. When I say video games, I mean all video games, including the Nintendo games you played as a child, console and PC games, and even Angry Birds on your phone, and also relevant are tabletop RPGs like D&D. For today, I assume that everyone in this room has played a game at least once their life. I also assume that we are nowhere near any kind of final theory or language of games. This: we are still working out together.

“The Memex wouldn’t see the world as a librarian does, as an endless series of items to be filed away on the proper shelf. It would see the world the way a poet does: a world teeming with associations, minglings, continuities. And the trails would keep that radiant universe bound together.”
– Steven Johnson on Vannevar Bush

A definition: The interface is that fusion of art and technology that attests to the importance of multidisciplinary knowledge and collaboration, that strange zone between medium and message.  An interface basically refers to the software that shapes the interaction between user and computer. The interface serves as a kind of translator, mediating between the two parties, making one sensible to the other.

When Doug Engelbart introduced the mouse pointer, and thus the principle of direct manipulation, the user’s virtual doppelganger was born. Instead of typing in obscure commands, the user could simply point at something and expand its contents, or drag it across the screen. Instead of telling the computer to execute a particular task — “open this file” for example – users appeared to do it themselves. There was a strangely paradoxical quality to direct manipulation: in reality, the graphic interface had added another layer separating the user from his or her information. But the tactile immediacy of the illusion made it seem as though the information was now closer at hand, rather than farther away.

“If patterns of ones and zeros were “like” patterns of human lives and deaths, if everything about an individual could be represented in a computer record by a long string of ones and zeroes, then what kind of creature would be represented by a long string of lives and deaths? It would have to be up one level at least–an angel, a minor god, something in a UFO. It would take eight human lives and deaths just to form one character in this being’s name–its complete dossier might take up a considerable piece of the history of the world…”
– Thomas Pynchon, Vineland

In talking about narrative potential in video games and experimental literature, I want to also distinguish between story and narrative, using in particular a definition by David Antin. What Antin claims, is that a story, or an organized sequence of events, can yield several different narratives from several different subject positions — but a narrative requires a sense of something at stake for somebody in some particular subject position, which is what characterizes the stake. It is this sense of stake that should be taken as the center of narrative. To articulate the meaning of this sense of stake, Antin redefines narrative away from story. He defines narrative: the representation of the confrontation of a desiring subject with the threat or promise — or threat and promise — of transformation.

What Antin is saying is that subjects are continually confronted by the promise and threat of change. But no promise comes without the threat of fulfillment.

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