Cybernetic Maracatu

The slightly inaudible lyrics/text reads:

So this is a tentative cybernetic description of the information you are currently hearing. Cybernetics is a way of describing contained systems with self- regulating mechanisms. And that’s what we have here. Please note this description is in no way complete.

One of the key things that defines a cybernetic system is a closed signalling loop. There are currently several such loops at work. Tempo is one, the overall goal is to maintain a consistent pleasing tempo where all musicians relate closely together. Please note this is not the same as playing at a fixed tempo. If one or more musician gradually changes the tempo they are playing at the others will hear him and adjust accordingly. If he changes the tempo suddenly it will be assumed to be a mistake, the others will continue playing at the original tempo if they can and the person who has made the mistake will start playing again at the original tempo.

Another closed loop is harmony, there are certain sound frequencies or “notes” that the musicians have agreed to play beforehand. By sticking to these notes we ensure that the music generated remains pleasing harmonically. I believe the key here is D minor.

For our final example of a closed loop I am going to talk about volume.  Generally if one person starts to play louder then the others will follow suit. Or maybe not depending on their aesthetic choices. I would argue that when there are innumerable ways of reacting to the feedback with no “right” response we’re into realms of art and humanity rather than cybernetics.

Another key point about cybernetics is how it does not significantly differentiate between humans and the machines within the system. Thus, when describing the system currently at work we give as much weight to the instruments, electrical cables, amplifiers, microphones, plug sockets, lighting, recording devices etc. as we do the musicians.

(END BUILD UP) I guess the main thing I want you to take away is that although this music is seemingly very human, it is played by people and improvised to a certain extent, there are still many aspects where there are limited responses and thus we could potentially describe this cybernetically. These aspects include the harmonic key, the rhythmic structure of the drums, the acoustic properties of the instruments , etc. All these tiny closed loops are working towards the ultimate goal of the satisfying rock out at the end of the song. This is due about now.”

If you want to hear what a proper maracatu sounds like.

So much like digital cultures this recording is messy and emergent. The product of multiple authorship. It showcases songwriting as a social practice (or would do if I hadn’t recorded it so quietly) as there is discussion at the end of “was this good enough? Is that what you wanted?”. Generally each instrument’s part is created by the player with reference to other people’s parts and filtered through group consensus (“I like what  you’re doing there, but can you try it with this…”, etc.).

This music is enabled by digital technology. I would not have found out how to play my approximation of maracatu without youtube, the practice could not have been documented and shared without cheap MP3 recorders and sound cloud. This kind of usage of digital technology stands in contrast to the more restrictive possibilities of the “band in a box” guitar pedal I posted about previously here.

What I take from that is that it is impossible to make sweeping characterisations of “technology”. Using digital technology does not automatically lead to inferior “unnatural” music. You just need to pick your tools carefully so that the design values embedded in the tool are more freeing than constricting.

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