Publication 2931

Dunbar-Hester C. (2001) Listening to cybernetics: Music, machines, and nervous systems, 1950–1980. Science Technology Human Values 35(1): 113–139. Fulltext at
Scholars have explored the influence of the field of cybernetics on scientific thought and disciplines. However, from the inception of the field, “cyberneticians” had explicitly envisioned applications reaching beyond the purview of scientific disciplines; cybernetics was remarkable for its portability and potential application in a wide variety of contexts. This article explores connections between cybernetics and experimental music from 1950–1980, which was a period of experimentation with electronic techniques in recording, composition, and sound production and manipulation. Examples include musicians, engineers, instrument builders, composers, and scientists in collaboration with musicians who invoked cybernetic themes in their work. These uses of cybernetics were more diverse than accounts of cybernetics within the sciences suggest, presenting a major difficulty in addressing cybernetics as a homogeneous or monolithic discourse. In particular, cybernetic discourse in music often exhibited themes of openness and indeterminacy, rather than the “command and control” of the “closed world. "


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