Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Media, Art, and Text

First Advisor

David Golumbia


Generative music creates indeterminate systems from which music can emerge. It provides a particularly instructive field for problems of ontology, semiotics, aesthetics, and ethics addressed in poststructuralist literary theory. I outline how repetition is the ultimate basis of musical intelligibility and of memory in general. The extension of these abstractions beyond tonal music to sound in general is afforded by the concrete iterability of audio recording media. Generative systems delineate a music that is repeatable in principle and in certain qualities, though not in specific forms; a music that produces emergent complexities from novel combinations, retaining the potential to surprise. I study how noise is prevailingly presented as complementary to intention, and how music that complicates intention entails discourses of noise and purity. I compare competing narratives for the role of noise in the development of Western music under classical, avant-garde, and experimental traditions. Music functions across these narratives as a proxy for negotiation of individual and collective values, how order is imposed. Expression affirms the metaphysics of presence by averring the socially unmediated interiority of the subject. Experimentalists are skeptical toward expression, yet frequently insist on the asemiotic self-sufficiency of music. Generative musicians extend this animism, imputing living intelligence behind sounds. I further examine discourses surrounding creation and interpretation in the arts and human sciences, in particular how listening is a manner of composition. Poiesthesis is a play of materials as well as signs, facilitated by recording in a recombinant practice distinct from the encodings of notation and the approximate repetitions of aural tradition. Generative music deals in entities that are neither composition nor instrument, and yet both. The music market and the aesthetic field alike struggle to control the valuation of desubstantiated texts of generative systems, producing a kind of agoraphobia. As play is decentered from authorial intent, so must critical evaluation be. I critique the pervasive yet tacit Western notion that human technoculture plays out on a continuum from Africa to robotics, ciphers for bodily essence and intellectual autism. This cultural projection turns out to resonate throughout the history of Western music’s regard of self and other.


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Is Part Of

VCU University Archives

Is Part Of

VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission

May 2014