Thursday, September 14

A Musical Enigma

Here's my latest, an interview from the September/October issue of Seed:

In a recent tribute to mathematician Alan Turing, electronic music duo Matmos uses the sounds produced by an Enigma machine.

How did you get your hands on an Enigma machine?
Drew Daniel:
Robert Osserman [of the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute] is the husband of my dissertation director. He put us in touch with this corporation called Cryptography Research. That place was insane. They had retinal scanners on the walls to go into certain rooms. It's a serious cryptography Valhalla.

And you recorded from the Enigma?
Yeah... There's this mantra, "every noise has a note." It's basically true. Even the Enigma machine is in a particular key. Martin came up with a piano part, and then thought, well, let's make it more enigmatic [M.C. Schmidt laughs] by encrypting his notes.

Why encrypt the piano?
It was about confronting people with the impenetrability of an encrypted signal.

What about Turing fascinates you?
Turing's achievements in math and in computing and in logic seemed particularly juicy as a subject, and for electronic music especially. Instead of asking the question, "Can machines think?" he asked a different question, which was, "Can a machine fool someone [into thinking it's intelligent]?" So he redefined what was going to count as thinking—not doing it as a metaphysician would, but by developing devices that wound up doing things that started to look like thinking.
M.C. Schmidt: Also, politically. Once you're talking about queer politics, his lesson is largely unsung, and dark. Given the current bizarre political climate, I think it's good to remind people of these things. Do you know the story?...

Read more on the Seed Magazine site


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