Teleological Machines

A teleological machine contains functions to purposely work towards a defined end goal. It also provides corrective negative feedback to the user in order to maintain the overall objective (Bigelow, Rosenblueth, & Weiner, 1943). As asignified ruptures multiply through the expansion of digital interaction, so also may teleological mechanisms to maintain users within particular spaces of experience. Cage states “What we can’t do ourselves will be done by machines and the electrical instruments we will invent” (2011, p.87). In such a statement, the normative role of the artist appears. If the role is normative, a space will be constructed or maintained for the desired experience. The Expanded Instrument System (EIS) (Deep Listening Institute, n.d.) uses technology to create a very particular sense of space and is illustrative of this:


EIS acts as a “time machine” where players provide the present moment of sounding that technology will feedback in the future either by replica or modification. The feedback becomes part of the present. Thus the player is performing in the past, present and future simultaneously. Furthermore sounds of the past, present and future are spatialized through a multi-channel array of speakers so that space is expanded in a similar manner with time. (n.d. p.1).


Nyman (1999) discusses at points Cage’s work in terms of decentralisation, unimpededness and interpenetration. The particular spaces he examines occur in works that are process led, where the outcomes are largely unknown. Taking Nyman’s assessment of Cage’s work as normative, there may be an irony perhaps to using teleological constructions to engender unknown outcomes, or maybe not. It all depends on what the philosophical starting points are. Normative behaviour is necessarily circular in essence.

…The more technology may feedback to the self, the more the self may create a conception of itself as both subject and object in its environment. As constructed acoustic spaces become more numerous outside of Hyde’s (2008) spaces of trickery (galleries) and feedback systems become more commonplace, ideas around spatial constructions will also become more expansive. To return to the example contained within the field of psychoacoustics, Wishart (1996) discusses the social and physical dimensions of hearing, we have ears facing a particular way while we also turn to hear people speak. Collins (2010) details a disparity between hearing in controlled environments whereas humans have evolved to more easily establish movement of sound at ground level. These mechanisms operate in subjective dimensions. Psychoacoustic studies however, tend to objectify the head. Blauert (2001) assesses various studies and discusses how the head will be immobilised within them. In terms of acoustic space, a head is an object in that space. The idea of feedback becomes reversed with the premise of questioning the head’s role in relation to sound. Subject and also object.


Teleological Machines is extracted fromĀ Sound, Spatialisation and a Sense of Being. Rina Sagoo, 2013. MA Dissertation.

  • Bigelow, J., Rosenblueth, A., and Weiner, N., 1943. Behaviour, Purpose and Teleology, Philosophy of Science. 10 S pp.18-24.
  • Blauert, J., 2001. Spatial Hearing: The Psychoacoustics of Human Sound Localization. Rev. Ed. Translated from German by Allen, J.S. Cambridge; London: MIT Press.
  • Cage, J., 2011. Silence: Lectures and Writings. 9th Ed. London: Marion Boyars.
  • Collins, N., 2010. Introduction to Computer Music. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons.
  • Deep Listening Institute, n.d. Expanded Instrument System [documentation]. Available at: <http://deeplistening.org/site/content/expandedmusicalinstruments> [Accessed 6 July 2017].
  • Hyde, L., 2008. Trickster Makes this World; Mischief, Magic and Art. Edinburgh: Canongate.
  • Nyman, N., 1999. Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond. 2nd Ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Wishart, T., 1996. On Sonic Art. Amsterdam: Harvard Academic.

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I work with interaction, machine listening, video and performance, exploring themes of presence and being.

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