Conference

IMAGEN_E01

TECHNÉ.

Both the technical term and art refer to the same Greek word techne, about which Aristotle writes, “Art is produced when from many notions of experience a single universal judgment is formed with regard to like objects” (Metaphysics 981a, 5).

The Greeks understood techne as not only the physical manufacturing of instruments and apparatuses but to a greater degree, that which belonged to the knowledge and understanding of the causes of the phenomena. Experience would be knowledge of the singular, whereas techne would be that of the universal. Therefore (as Aristotle points out), those who had techne were considered wiser than those who merely had experience of individual occurrences. The latter know the what, whereas the former know the why. The knowledge of the why can be universally taught, which is why techne is more science than experience.

Consequently, music is a type of techne because it demonstrates universal knowledge of the relationships between sounds and the causes of harmony: “Is not he who has the art to know the sounds which mingle and those which do not, musical, and he who does not know unmusical?” (Plato. Sophist 253a, 15b). Techne has a basic value in the development of instrumental music not only because it needs a (technical) manufacturing of instruments but also because the science of music, as flourishing in Pythagoras’s time as it is now among contemporary composers, has to complement an interpretive technique that has existed ever since vocal music merged with instrumental music.

However, in essence, techne can be understood without the existence of technology (the application of techne in making instruments). Thus, in song, techne is not the art of making instruments but rather the knowledge of those rules that universally produce (except by accident) a substantial improvement in the singer’s performance. Even when it comes to instrumental music, however, techne would be that type of anticipation of exclusively human needs (not strictly biological, quite the contrary, which is why techne is not found in animals) that bring the artisan to make the instrument. There aren’t pianists because there are pianos; there are pianos because there are pianists. It is true that (to take just one of the many examples in the history of instrumental music) one technical application, when Terpander increased the number of strings on the lyre, led to a judicial process in Sparta and his exclusion from the Olympic Games. Technical mastery was already considered dangerous five centuries before the coming of Christ.

Since the mid-20th century, electroacoustic music and computer applications have seemingly turned music into an art form very much determined by technology. We often talk about the machines that are used to make music without realizing that the only thing that changes is the implementation of the electronic machine in the former world of mechanical machines. Instrumental music has always been played using machines—a musical instrument is nothing more than a machine. The finest Amati or Stradivari violin is as perfect as you could ever want but a machine nonetheless, and a grand piano is machinery that requires broad and complex technology.

One way or another, music has always been related to techne, something that is emphasized in our current technological era because it affects not only musical production but also musical communication, reproduction, and broadcasting, which have changed fundamentally in the past fifty years.

Techne has affected the making and broadcasting of music in many ways over time, and the two have been evolving into a mutual relationship. The current state of the question is complex and varied, and it is useful to reflect on where we are and where we are going, can go, or want to go.