The musical cyborg is the hybrid life form between the musicking human and smart algorithms that inhabits streaming services of music. The neologism derives from Donna Haraway’s cyborg but instead of accounting for technological elements built into the human body the musical cyborg is a hybrid between software code in the shape of algorithms and the human autonomic nervous system which regulates emotions, moods, heartbeats, breathing, and body temperature.
Music streaming services offers a plethora of available music. The amount of musical content is no longer at stake; rather it is the selection of that content aligned with a constant need to find “new” music within the plethora. Therefore, by necessity music needs to be tailored for us in one way or the other. Music streaming companies such as Spotify has since its launch into the Internet focused on these particular issues making social suggestions from peers, the ability “to follow” peers within the Spotify community, recommended playlists etc. as different entrances toward selection and suggestions of music. As a Spotify user it is possible to select or ignore recommendations with a simple screen touch. So far the user have been active on a rather high cognitive level in making decisions like this. However this is about to change.
Quite recently Spotify launched its ‘running app’ an application on the smart phone that can detect the tempo of running and use that input to tweak the tempo of a certain piece of music, which in turn is used by the runner to enforce the running. The whole arrangement shows a looped activity where it is rather difficult to identify and isolate a prompt to the course of events. We know from earlier research within musicology and adjacent research areas that humans uses music for all sorts of purposes for diverse activities like leisure, focus or even therapy. If we add to that the emerging development of Internet of Things (IoT) which conveniently emerges in our everyday life and embraces us like the tempo detectors in our smart phones, the pulse meters on our wrists, smart fabrics detecting body temperature, smart car seats reading pressure points of our backs, screens reading our facial expressions and so on, we are facing a new dawn where the physical input to the digital systems are almost automatic even though the input stems from the human herself.
Whilst studying Spotify as a case example of a music streaming service and combining this with a screening of the inventions of ICT I have come to this conclusion that music can serve as a role model for how the cyborg can bring us closer to humanity than ever before. The modern negotiation represented by Marx, Adorno, and Benjamin where man shall differ himself from he machine. The mission of the humanities, which where music belongs to, have been to offer an alternative to a technological reproduction, affording emancipation and refinement for the human being. I suggest a different reading of contemporary technology in the realm of digitalisation. The originating digital cyborg can actually offer a deepened understanding of what it means to be human and discover our human potential, not in contrast to the machine but on the contrary on behalf of being cyborg in an intertwined relationship between humans and non-humans (i.e. the machine). The musical cyborg is not the end of the modern project where humans cease into the belonging to the machine, instead the cyborg constitute a new beginning post the modern. As it need the human input in order to operate and act. This is an act of Action – the beginning of something new – a musical advent – to quote Hannah Arendt’s biblical words “for unto us a child is born” – I suggest that that child is to be a Musical Cyborg.
Music Focused Interdisciplinary Research & Analysis Center (Mirac), Stockholm, Sweden, November 16-17, 2016