For roughly 160 years since Richard Wagner published his Artwork of the Future, Western audio culture has been forced to take sides on the issue of music and its relation to the other arts: should music be just one element in a fully-integrated artistic program, or should ‘absolute music’ unfettered by lyrics (let alone other sensory effects) run the show? … the ‘total artwork vs. absolute music’ debate has only accelerated in recent years, in which multi-functional and compact (yet visually bland) tools like laptops and digital samplers have muscled in on the territory previously commanded by ensembles of ‘mono-functional,’ yet visually arresting, acoustic instruments. Following Wagner’s suggestion for architecture to be built with music performance in mind, all the plastic arts have been mobilized to enhance the concert stage. More recently, electronic instruments or control interfaces have also been designed to that end, rather than just working as efficient sound generators.
Read on as this article describes the JazzMutant Lemur, a multitouch and modular controller that musicians can use to to design or download customized GUIs that match the color schemes and ‘mood’ of any given performance program; and Toshio Awai’s Tenori-On, which can communicate to audiences using synesthetic ‘translations’ of light signals into audio data — both of which seem designed to deal with the perceived problems of acousmatic music.