At the heart of all creative interactions is a sense of creative agency—the opportunities and responsibilities for decisions and actions during creative activities. Cybernetic co-creation, where creative control is shared with technologies, challenges our understanding of agency—both human and non-human. My studies have especially look at expert musicians and how they manage these collaborations.
As computing systems have become more powerful in recent years, real time interaction with ‘intelligent’ computational processes has emerged as a basis for innovative creative practices. Examples of these practices include interactive digital media installations, generative art works, live coding performances, virtual theatre, interactive cinema, and adaptive processes in computer games. In these types of activities, computational systems have assumed a significant level of agency, or autonomy, provoking questions about shared authorship and originality, about aspects of musicianship with interactive technologies, and about the future of musical genres where these practices are employed. These issues are redefining our relationship with technology and fomenting new debates about human capabilities, values and the meaning of productive activities.
Cybernetic interactions—those between people and technologies—have been recognised, periodically, as having the potential to influence musical developments. Recent theoretical advances in understanding the relationship between embodied cognition and music technologies lay the groundwork for the next stage of these developments. This project extends that work by examining how these ideas are manifest in creative practices, and by using those insights to elaborate notions of musical agency to better incorporate co-creation with generative media.
I propose that making creative works in partnership with automated media constitutes its own form of artistic practice. It is particularly necessary to explore the creative partnerships between human and machine because of the opportunities for stimulating cultural development that this creative relationship presents. It is also important to appreciate how this interactive practice builds on a long history of technological usage.
Agency can be defined as the ability to produce an effect. This definition is often constrained further to the production of an intended effect. Human beings have always been accepted as having agency, especially through their ability to act intentionally to satisfy needs and desires. Ascribing non-human agency, however, requires intellectual care. In the case of automated media, such as algorithmic music software, there might be more to agency than ‘reflected glory’ from human agency. This is the case not only because of the generative capability of computer systems, but also because agency need not be simply ‘present’ or ‘absent’. Instead, there can be degrees of agency, and a non-human agent might have limited, or partial, agency. Some could argue that agency is only awarded by the transferred intentionality of its designer/programmer; an alternate hypothesis I am exploring is that algorithmic agency may be independent of intentionality.
The ideas expressed here are expanded in some of my published articles, including:
- Brown, A.R., 2016. Understanding Musical Practices as Agency Networks, in: Proceedings of the International Conference on Computational Creativity. Presented at the ICCC, Association of Computational Creativity, Paris.
Brown, A.R., 2016. Making Musical Mates: A story of digital craftsmanship, in: Proceedings of DIS 2016 – Fuse. Presented at the Designing Interactive Systems, ACM, Brisbane, Australia.