20.596 the differences that make a difference

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Fri, 27 Apr 2007 06:27:17 +0100

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 20, No. 596.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Thu, 26 Apr 2007 17:28:21 +0100
         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
         Subject: the differences that make a difference

In his much admired little book on jazz improvisation, Ways of the
Hand: A Rewritten Account (2001), the social anthropologist David
Sudnow describes the stages of his learning, commenting at one point
on the difference recording technologies have made. Recording, he
notes, "gives improvised melodies a radically new status they didn't
formerly have, as they can now be learned at a level of detail that a
one-time hearing can't achieve" (19). On one level, all that a
recording does -- or all that one wants it to do -- is faithfully to
reproduce sounds. Audio engineering has given us better and better
machines for accomplishing that quite simple end. But what was
evident from the time when record players were first available to
eager learners of jazz was that learning could happen in an entirely
new way -- not, in a sense, because anything new was happening but
because something that happened only once could be indefinitely
repeated, and so bring a new depth of experience into reach.

We often seem to need examples to answer the big SO WHAT? question,
especially when it takes the form of an observation that what has
been accomplished is actually quite simple conceptually. This seems
to me a good example. It shows techno-science on one trajectory, the
practice of applying it on another, related though going in different
directions. It shows that even at a very primitive stage of the
technology a difference had been made that subsequent technical
improvements would affect only a little. It shows that one can grasp
essentials without having to wait for the next release.



Dr Willard McCarty | Reader in Humanities Computing | Centre for
Computing in the Humanities | King's College London |
Received on Fri Apr 27 2007 - 01:50:00 EDT

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