Miscellaneous Observations

By James Staub for Boston Compass (#128)

October 19, 2020


What cannot be done at all may not only be possible but may be commonly taken completely for granted very soon.

What has no conceivable imaginable purpose may be the solution to problems that may not yet need solving.

The probability that something which is considered a waste of time now will eventually prove itself to have been time well spent increases with the length of time over which knowledge of it survives.

What has become obsolete may have qualities, properties, characteristics, and unfulfilled potential which will later be considered prophetic (e.g. "musique concrete" being virtually reborn with the advent of low cost real time digital audio samplers).

Those who adopt a new technology which they did not themselves create tend to expect it to solve problems inherent in whatever older more established technologies they were accustomed to using. The new is usually seen through the filter of the old, and may be invisible through that filter.

People rarely adopt new technology to confront truly fundamental problems, but often do so to solve problems and overcome frustrations resulting from superficial characteristics of existing technologies the value of which remain unquestioned. (Computer-based musical tools are not commonly acquired to model how humans can better express themselves in sound. They are often acquired to facilitate such tasks as making revision of printed instrumental parts or synchronization with film easier.)

The furthest evolved design which survives transition to the commercial marketplace will generally encompass only a lowest common denominator subset of the model's original functionality. (Prototypes are often the most comprehensive and general instances of new inventions.)

Initially, invention and exploration tend to be done privately, out of basic joy and fascination, and for the use of an individual or small group. Only later are the reactions and involvement of others of concern.

The desire for public approval can be as inhibiting to technological or scientific creativity as to creative art.

Approval-seeking behavior aimed at the general public is considered inappropriate in creative individuals (artists, inventors, scientists) but is seen as positive or even essential in commercial enterprises.


Excerpt from electronic music composer Laurie Spiegel’s 1995 essay:

That was Then <=> This is Now

written at the request of the Editor for the special "20th Anniversary Issue: The State of the Art", with accompanying CD containing three pieces created at Bell Labs 1974-77.


This column is curated by James Staub.

IG: @jamesastaub

Twitter: @mmuddywires


Check out all the art and columns of October's Boston Compass at www.issuu.com/bostoncccompass