Hacking Mindsets: Conceptual Approaches to Transmission Art, Improvisation, Circuitbending, and Gaming Technology

Presented at HOPE Number Nine (2012), July 14, 2012, noon (60 minutes)

In Richard Stallman’s “On Hacking” from 2000, he addresses the stigma attached to the notion of “hacker,” while clarifying the act of hacking as a creative mindset that encourages playful/clever exploration of established cultural forms, from eating utensils to practical jokes, as opposed to methods for security breach. Beyond the more obvious examples of hacking, Stallman applies this mindset to two specific music compositions: “Ma Fin Est Mon Commencement” by 14th century French composer Guillaume de Machaut and “4’33” by 20th century American avant-garde composer John Cage. The former is a palindromic music composition important to the development of polyphonic music and the latter is a composition written without musical notes. By referring to these two innovations as hacks more then music compositions, Stallman makes a cultural connection between hackers and artists - that hacking is innately creative. This presentation/demonstration will examine the notion of hacking and its connections to composer John Cage, music improvisation, and re-purposed instrumentation including radios and transmitters as instruments, circuitbent instruments, and the DIY aspect of software and hardware instruments in the demo and chip music scenes.


  • Tamara Yadao
    Tamara Yadao is a sound artist, musician, and experimental composer who employs loose structures in improvisation to investigate meaning in conceptual methods of sound-making. In 2009, at Diapason Gallery, she presented a lecture on “the glitch” called “Post-Digital Music: The Expansion of Artifacts in Microsound and the Aesthetics of Failure in Improvisation.” Current explorations include radio transmission as a performance tool, electroacoustic composition in virtual space, 8-bit sound (under the moniker Corset Lore), and the spoken word. She has experimented with sculptural forms of sound-making in her work. She currently co-curates the word/text/music performance series, TXT FST.
  • Joshua Kopstein
    Joshua Kopstein is a computer culture journalist and electronic musician. Currently a reporter for The Verge, his progressive writings (“Dear Congress, It’s No Longer OK to Not Know How the Internet Works”) advocate DIY culture and open source technology as a vehicle for radical sociopolitical reform. Since 2008, he has explored and exploited the unique musical capabilities of antiquated video game consoles, combining primitive computer sequencing with tape loops and improvised electronics. As Zen Albatross, he has performed in cities across the United States, as well as at New York City’s annual chip music event, Blip Festival.
  • Nicole Carroll
    Nicole Carroll is a classically trained electroacoustic composer, who also works with video and handmade electronic instruments. Through her music and video works, Nicole seeks to build relationships with audiences though multidisciplinary art experiences. She utilizes circuitbent toys and hacked hardware in performance to provide a visual element to the electroacoustic performance process. Her compositional focus is exploring sonic and artistic possibilities, while presenting material in a manner that is accessible to her audiences. She freelances as a sound designer for theater in Brooklyn, and builds custom midi controllers and hacked instruments for electronic musicians and digital media artists.


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