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Kohl, Philipp (2020): Scales of sustain and decay: making music in deep time. In: Popular Music, Vol. 39, No. 1, PII S0261143019000588: pp. 108-120

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Abstract

This article explores the relationship between the human time of music making and the temporal layers that pervade the natural resources of musical instruments. It therefore offers case studies on two of popular music's most common instruments, the electric guitar and the synthesiser, and their symbolic and material temporalities: guitar players' quest for 'infinite sustain' from Santana to today's effects manufacturers and the 'psychogeophysical' approach by artist and theorist Martin Howse, who developed a synthesiser module using radioactive material in order to determine musical events by nuclear decay. While language uses metaphors of sustain and decay as figurative ways to express both musical and planetary dimensions, practices of music offer alternative ecologies of relating the seemingly unrelatable scales of deep time and musical time. If in the Anthropocene humankind becomes aware of its role as a geophysical force, thinking about making music in the Anthropocene requires an awareness for the temporalities involved in the materials at hand. Besides an ecological perspective, the article looks at various media (magazines, ads, and manuals) and thus positions economical mechanisms of the musical instrument manufacturing market as a small-scale experimental setting for larger-scale industrial processes.

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