Theses Doctoral

Building and Becoming: DIY Music Technology in New York and Berlin

Flood, Lauren Elizabeth

This dissertation addresses the convergence of ethics, labor, aesthetics, cultural citizenship, and the circulation of knowledge among experimental electronic instrument builders in New York City and Berlin. This loosely connected group of musician-inventors engages in what I call “DIY music technology” due to their shared do-it-yourself ethos and their use of emerging and repurposed technologies, which allow for new understandings of musical invention. My ethnography follows a constellation of self-described hackers, “makers,” sound and noise artists, circuit benders, avant-garde/experimental musicians, and underground rock bands through these two cities, exploring how they push the limits of what “music” and “instruments” can encompass, while forming local, transnational, and virtual networks based on shared interests in electronics tinkering and independent sound production. This fieldwork is supplemented with inquiries into the construction of “DIY” as a category of invention, labor, and citizenship, through which I trace the term’s creative and commercial tensions from the emergence of hobbyism as a form of productive leisure to the prevailing discourse of punk rock to its adoption by the recent Maker Movement.
I argue that the cultivation of the self as a “productive” cultural citizen—which I liken to a state of “permanent prototyping”—is central to my interlocutors’ activities, through which sound, self, and instrument are continually remade. I build upon the idea of “technoaesthetics” (Masco 2006) to connect the inner workings of musical machines with the personal transformations of DIY music technologists as inventors fuse their aural imaginaries with industrial, biological, environmental, and sometimes even magical imagery. Integral to these personal transformations is a challenge to corporate approaches to musical instrument making and selling, though this stance is often strained when commercial success is achieved. Synthesizing interdisciplinary perspectives from ethno/musicology, anthropology, and science and technology studies, I demonstrate that DIY music technologists forge a distinctive sense of self and citizenship that critiques, yet remains a cornerstone of, artistic production and experience in a post-digital “Maker Age.”


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Ochoa, Ana M.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
February 4, 2016