File Under Popular (personal note-taking)

Am re-reading passages from File Under Popular, 1985, a self-published book of music theory by the ex-Henry Cow drummer and RIO (rock in opposition) figurehead Chris Cutler. From a great essay on Sun Ra (heavily redacted for brevity but with an attempt to preserve the typographical quirks), pages 76-77:

Ra recognizes from the start that electronic instruments are not merely acoustic instruments writ large; they are new instruments with their own inherent qualities and implications... The core of these "hidden" intrinsic properties lies in the realm of sound--sound which must be liberated. It will be discovered not by pen, through the score of the "composer," but in the ear & the testing imagination of the player... Only then can that creative conflict between instrument and player be engendered & pursued. What is "normal" is for musicians to imitate - the old licks & old players - to "master" the old vocabulary... In such cases...the instrument is in fact dominating the player. The layout of the instrument & the cultural history of its use has made deep grooves which the fingers follow--it has made habitual synapse-paths in the player's brain. By rehearsing and strengthening those grooves and paths, the player may believe that he or she is becoming the instrument's master... In fact, this player is tightening the bonds of his or her own slavery. [bold is underscored in the original]

Liberation rhetoric aside, the concept of "the ear and the testing imagination of the player" deserves more of a place in musical discussion. It's said of painting that the only way to be a painter is to paint and look at paintings; that could also be the case for electronic musicians and electronic music, not because a practice needs to be mastered but because the field is so vast and wide open, with new hardware and software appearing daily.