OK COMPUTER: Mobility, Software and the Laptop Musician

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

In this article I address some images, categories and open-ended trajectories of the laptop in music production. The aim is to explore the laptop's increasing presence in the sites of music, from cyberspace to live venues, as well as the relationship between music and mobile computerized space. Implicit in the article is the claim that the laptop is a neglected device, but that close attention to its position in cultural networks and everyday settings is one way of examining some possible ways into the complex entanglements and layerings of mobile space. The first part of the article explores the laptop as the archetypal nomadic machine of the digital age, inserted into mobile networks, hubs and flows. The laptop mediates mobility and by doing so not only serves macro-processes of social and economic change, but also opens up creative possibilities for the musician beyond the studio and the home. The second part of the article examines the role of software in activating the laptop's capabilities. The growth of music software and Virtual Studio Technology in the early 2000s, it will be argued, represents a major transformation in music production. A case study is made of a single application, Ableton Live, to show that new forms of music software encourage norms of creativity and play that take it beyond emulations of hardware studios. A residual distrust of the laptop's automative capabilities, however, reprises an anxiety in the history of popular music around questions of creativity and musicianship. The final part explores this anxiety and argues that the laptop is a place-holder for conflicting meanings about what belongs in music: productivity and creation, reality and virtuality, play and work, the cybernetic and the organic. It thereby reveals socio-technical imbroglios in action, where digitized music and software code meet the material properties of technologies and the practices of users in complex, networked societies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)912-932
Number of pages21
JournalInformation, Communication and Society
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2008

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • laptops
  • music
  • digital
  • mobility
  • software
  • technology


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