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The Flow of Power
Vitality, life, and desire in electronic music
by Sara Diamond
Flow is energy, liquid, movement, music, waveforms, capital, concepts, information, networks, and life forces. Flow characterizes many systems; the term itself captures our desires.
Flow circulates through theory and practice in the philosophy of interactive design and human/computer interaction. The platonic relationship between a subject and the interface is imagined as seamless, flowing through the mechanisms of the computer. Interaction connects two systems - technological and human. Of course, the circuitry and movements of the human body are hardly equivalent to those of computers or networks. Yet we link our rhythms, our bodily movements, our breath, and our voices to the technologies we work with (laptops, iPAQs, mobile phones, car electronics... the list goes on).
Chilean biologist/cybernetician Humberto Maturana [www.inteco.cl/biology]
reminds us that living systems are open to the flow of matter and energy. Perhaps
it is in the flow of digital music that the human becomes most integrated with
forms of technology, where the movement between the perceptual, cognitive, and
motor is amplified, where information and sound waves, signified and signifier,
join forces. It is in music that cultures flow together, become liquid and saturated
with each other's rhythms and sounds. In live performance, remember the musician
and her Apple laptop as one integrated stream, the player barely looking at
the audience, and the audience seeing the player and the player's technology
as a continuous interface.
Flow is vitality, life, and desire according to Gilles Deleuze [http://mythosandlogos.com/Deleuze.html]. Flows follow on the feet of fragmentation as microstructures of new identities and economies emerge within the twin tensions of global hegemony and disintegration that characterize late capitalism. Scott Lash [http://virtualsociety.sbs.ox.ac.uk/people/lash.htm] speaks for open systems, for imminence, reflexivity, for the flow of bio power against command and control.
Flow allows utopian thought. Psychologist Mihalyi Cziksentmihalyi [www.butler-bowdon.com/flow] describes human creativity at its peak as a flow between attention, concentration, and peacefulness. Passive and active processes are fully integrated - being in the "zone", in a state of ecstasy, encountering rapture. All of these descriptions are accelerated through the pleasures of music. (See Cziksentmihalyi's 1990 book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.)
I sit in a concert hall in Dakar in early May. We are celebrating the Sixth International Biennale of African Contemporary Art, otherwise known as Dak'Art 2004. [www.dakart.org/sommaire_en.php3] The exhibition interpolates imagery and sounds from many Africas into a series of exhibitions. The music begins: the molecules of Senegalese hip hop, pop, prayer music, the Senagalese national orchestra melding jazz with traditional music, the fragrant sounds of Youssou N'dour. [www.youssou.com] Musicians have made their Senegalese violins electric, wired their harps with MIDI and Max, and electrified their drums...everyone is moved and moving. This is the flow across cultures, within bodies, which is the gift of music.
Sara Diamond is Editor-in-Chief of HorizonZero.