4- Democratizing Touch: Xenakis’s UPIC and Assistive Pretext - Victoria Simon, Pitzer College
Iannis Xenakis’s UPIC (1977) was a musical composition interface that let a person draw in sound waves using a stylus directly onto an electromagnetic drawing table connected to a computer. The UPIC is a case study of a music touchscreen invested in the political aspirations of “democratizing” music-making and making musical production practices inclusive to the entire population through a “simple” and “direct” form of interactivity. I argue that the system was anything but natural, immediate, aesthetically neutral, intuitive, or democratizing. Drawing on disability theory (Ellcessor 2016; Hamraie 2016; Siebers 2008), I argue that this argument of the universalizing function of drawing is fraught as it normalizes an “ideology of ability” (Siebers 2008, 81). Furthermore in workshops designed to show how the UPIC revolutionized the means of accessing musical ability, blindness was mobilized as the ultimate symbol of the system's capacity for universal design.The workshops exemplify what Mara Mills describes as “assistive pretext,” a recurring scenario wherein engineers mobilize people with disabilities as justification for research funding or as a “test market” for design.