Editorial

Words by Knut Aufermann

The word ‘feedback’ was not coined in connection with music or sound. In general it is the description for processes that sustain themselves by feeding a system’s output back to its input, thus creating a loop. These loops are not perfect, they can contain an evolving element, which explains their relevance in living systems. There are feedback processes that, for example, control the duplication of DNA when a stem cell multiplies. The DNA produces enzymes which in turn facilitate the duplication of the DNA. The two resulting cells do not necessarily have to be exact copies, one might become a liver cell and the other a cell of the ear lobe. I find it difficult to describe this developmental character of feedback with words.

Sound on the contrary seems to be the perfect medium to display feedback processes. With the invention of electronic amplification for musical instruments there suddenly was a simple way of producing audible feedback. Just take a microphone, stick it in front of a speaker and rum up the volume. Physicists have given this phenomenon of a sudden amplification of certain frequencies a name: Resonance. This issue is dedicated entirely to musicians, artists and practitioners who utilise this machine facilitated feedback in their work.

The CD that accompanies the magazine is a unique collection of music, containing examples of what happens when artists play their chosen feedback systems. Toshimaru Nakamura, Barry G. Nichols & Peter Hodgkinson, Phil Durrant. David lee Myers, David Tudor, Matt Rogalsky and myself use loops between electronic effect units, exploring their internal architecture. Alvin Lucier and Nicholas Collins investigate the acoustic properties of spaces filled with speakers and microphones. Pentos ‘Fray’ Bentos mixes basic electronics with electromagnetic feedback between tape heads and speaker magnets. Michael Prime makes the reactions of plants to their environment audible. All of these complex systems are capable of feedback processes (circulation of information) that develop a certain amount of autonomy which subsequently diminishes the control function of the artist. To me this is the fascination of working with feedback: giving up control can allow interesting things to occur.

Unfortunately such experimentation with circular processes are not popular with educational institutions. Scientists neglect non-linear mathematics, economists still believe in constant growth, doctors feed hyperactive children with Ritalin and sound engineers can go and buy ‘feedback destroyers’.

Circular processes and their implications (for instance, the abundance of hierarchical structures) have nevertheless become highly visible in those areas where linear theories have reached the point of inadequacy. Music is one of these areas.

But there is no need for a ‘feedback school’, any dogmatic approach to dissect feedback phenomena seems doomed. Instead there should be an open playground for the interaction with sounds, acoustically, electronically, electro-magnetically or by any other means to allow new forms of feedback to develop.

I hope this magazine conveys the curiosity and conviction of all contributors for their way of making music.