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With wikis, our students become instrument builders.

Harry Partch's "Cloud Chamber Bowls"


Instrument-builder Harry Partch opens his chapter on basic monophonic concepts with a section titled "The Inner Ear: Music's Middle Man" in a way that speaks to the intrinsic connectivity of tone. "A tone, in music, is not a hermit, divorced from the society of its fellows. It is always a relation to another tone, heard or implied. In other words, it is a musical interval, the relation between two tones. This relation is mutable, to be sure, but it never ceases to exist....because the tiny bony snail inside the human head, with its tiny longitudinal partition, with some twenty-three thousand fibers stretching across it, and with at least twelve times twenty-three thousand tiny hair cilia to pick up the smallest displacement of the air and send that sensation via nerve conduits to the brain, makes it a relation. The acuity of this organ of hearing is relatively much greater than that of the human organ of vision, for with those musical intervals which the earhears with maximal perception it performs lightning-like computations; it can determine almost immediately, exactly or approximately, the relationship in vibrations per second, or cycles, of two tones sounded simultaneously; it can say instantly whether the two tones are in correct ration (in tune) or not in the correct ratio (out of tune)" (Genesis of a Music 86).



"Lighting-like computation" here signifies the protos chronoi, or smallest interval, of information-rendering allocation of attention. Immediate, embodied, and gestural perceptual templates afforded by music and dance, according to Merlin Donald, operate on principles of rhythm (Donald 2001). Donald argues that rhythm is the most compressed (immediate, "lightning like" transmission of togetherness) of all perceptual templates, and that something like the sample-mix-render bundle of gestures gave rise to the "first hybrid mind," which is another way of denoting the commons. Donald's insights into communication and rhythm, from the perspective of a listener/browser/reader/writer navigating new and connected media, suggests that a cybernetic arsis/thesis, which according to Greek rhythmic theory can create the conditions for rhythm.


For Donald, this "kinematic imagination" is the "most basic form of intermediate-term governance," which " in humans...extended its reach from perception into the domain of action, but crucially, it is the same control system. Working memory attention, and explicit recall are combined into a review routine that can evaluate the success of a selfinitiated action in context, and modify it accordingly. In this extended sequence the focus of attention is not the reward or punishment that follows an act, or its social consequences, but the form of the act itself (emphasis added). (Donald, p. 272).


Donald's outline calls to mind the rhythmic theories of Aristoxenus when he continues, and adds that: The most compelling example of this ability is our unique sensitivity to rhythm ... rhythms can be played out on any muscle system, in any combination ... a rhythm is a perceptual template that expresses temporal relations; it can originate in a sound, feeling, or something seen, it can be played our vocally, manually, or with the whole body. (p. 272) Furthermore, these rhythms are irreducible, they "cannot be reduced to discrete or digital elements. This is a fuzzy skill, where the Gestalt, or overall pattern, dictates the shape of the action and a metophoric principle rules" (Donald). Emphasis: pattern, Whole. Thomas Mathieson's (1999) reading of Aristoxenus' theory of rhythm in his Apollo's Lyre likewise asserts that Aristoxenus sought to emphasize the importantce of the composition of the feet of any given arsis and thesis over the scrutiny of the measure of any protoi chronoi (p. 338). Again, we see how the shared consciousness that Fisher (1969) reminds us of (“knowing with”) is closer to the bhuta theory of elements as articulated by Danielou, whereas the “digital elements” of reductive thought experiments, taken too far, extinguish the rhetorical force of the sample, which Derrida traces in the Timaeus and the Phaedrus. A similar tendency, as we will see later, haunts our assumptions about the communicative and informational efficacy of repetition (and our distinctions between “noise” and “music") to this day.


Boolean freesound on/off widgets, Brian Rotman's serial/parallel alternations on the current of attention, concise mantras ("in the beginning was the wyrd, and the wyrd was wiki," "the wiki is the medium is the message"), folksonomic tagging, and any other simple repeatable programs for regulating information flux help writers render resonance out of these initial (noisy) conditions. These logics promote the experimental mapping of our rhetorical choices in digital ecologies. Wiki is a way of playing this game; collective, networked writing. Wiki, a visual and spatial analogue of sonic rhythm, is an instrument for tuning in on complexity, for weaving scattered threads of wyrds together, and for collectively composing in non-linear ecologies of information. "Mashing up" freesound, wiki, and del.icio.us help us, as composers, performers, and listeners in common, reconfigure our "personal" computers into instruments of regulation and rhythm for writing together.


These experiments with digital rhetorics embolden a proposal: to build practical and ethical space for allowing these computers, which are already “distributed” if by this we were simply acknowledging that they saturate the field of higher education, to operate in a more distributed and networked manner in their use. DEFINE DISTRIBUTED NETWORK, HERE. Networked by the information they share, computers are not simply different nodes that can connect to “each other,” they constantly write the potential for n-dimensional and differential connections of information across the whole field, or network. This section will concern itself with particular transformations in the production of writing, namely how “writing” increasingly describes practices that are distributed, networked, collaborative, and worked out in relation to technologies in ways that are available to many, but at the same time, are not yet practiced, theorized, and developed into educational tools and content for writing programs administered by universities. In particular, it narrates a few ways student writers in wikis have turned their "desktops" into instruments for collective ideation and performance in writing.


"12. The Immortal One was known to the Greeks as Dionysos; to the Jews as Elijah; to the Christians as Jesus. He moves on when each human host dies, and thus is never killed or caught" (Valis 230).


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