“A Musical Suite Composed by an Electronic Brain: Reexamining the Illiac Suite and the Legacy of Lejaren A. Hiller Jr.
In 1956, Lejaren A. Hiller, Jr., and Leonard Isaacson debuted the Illiac Suite, the first score composed with a computer. Its reception anticipated Hiller’s embattled career as an experimental composer. Though the Suite is an influential work of modern electronic music, Hiller’s accomplishment in computational experimentation is above all an impressive feat of postwar conceptual performance art. A reexamination of theoretical and methodological processes resulting in the Illiac Suite reveals a conceptual and performative emphasis reflecting larger trends in the experimental visual arts of the 1950s and 1960s, illuminating his eventual collaborations with John Cage and establishing his legacy in digital art practices.
Leonardo Music Journal | Volume 28 | December 2018
The Chapter “Dirty your Media: Artists’ Experiments in Bio-Sovereignty” is now published in The Aesthetics of Necropolitics, a volume edited by Natasha Lushetich. It is part of the series Experiments/On the Political, published by Rowman and Littlefield International.
“Even before the Edward Snowden leaks, many artists and activists working in the abstraction, encryption, destruction, and obfuscation of data recognized the profound connections between surveillance, privacy, and autonomy. The exploitation of personal data is an exceptionally invasive form of necropower, in which psychopolitical methods subjugate bodies and minds through algorithmic methods that transform all aspects of identity into emotional capital. The artists and activists recognizing the pervasive and malicious methods used in gathering our personal information practice data resistance by dirtying their media: subverting, disrupting, camouflaging, and destroying data to evade or expose the algorithms involved in datamining. The aesthetic of these radical forms of digital bio-sovereignty–—many arising from the collaborative spaces of alternative economic networks—–trace a path from the low-fi and lossy to the bent and broken, obfuscating, glitching, jamming, and annihilating data in a new kind of radical social practice.”
“Zen and the Art of Software Performance: John Cage and Lejaren A. Hiller Jr.’s HPSCHD (1967-1969)” examines John Cage and Lejaren A. Hiller Jr.’s computer-assisted music event HPSCHD, constituting a crucial moment in the history of software in artistic practice. Engaging both Cage’s interest in indeterminacy as well as Hiller’s creative application of information theory in composition, the two collaborators programmed an event juxtaposing the mechanical simplicity of the harpsichord with the complex capabilities of a supercomputer to investigate procedural and ontological notions of chance operations. This ambitious multi-media performance was composed of seven solo pieces for harpsichord derived from processed works by Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann, Gottschalk, Busoni, Schoenberg, Cage, and Hiller, 52 microtonal, computer-generated magnetic tapes, and over 8,000 slides and 40 films.