Transmission in Motion


4 May 2022
15:00 - 17:00
Microsoft Teams

“Radical Translation? Machines, Logocentrism and Music as (Already) Writing” – Claire McGinn (UU)


This seminar will address the theme of translation through the lens of musical notation and programming, particularly in relation to mechanical and automated instruments. During the session we will explore the prevalent notion that musical inscriptions are a lossy storage format that necessarily lack some key ingredients of ‘the’ music that is supposedly being, in this form, merely represented, indicated, or poorly imitated.

The question of where ‘the’ music or ‘the’ work is actually located (and what it actually is) has been the subject of debate – but the idea that sheet music or programmed music such as MIDI or paper piano rolls do not constitute this ‘real’ or complete music, only a set of instructions or a crude imitation, is still a truism regularly encountered.

Claire McGinn (Utrecht University) will talk about how music is ‘translated’ for mechanical/automatic instruments in a technical sense, and discuss themes in the reception of some automated musics. She will connect these themes to Derrida’s challenges to the notion of an original inner state that precedes exteriorisation and writing; to Bernard Stiegler’s ambivalent theories of technics and culture; and finally, loosely, to some performance experiments conducted in 2020-21 using hand-cranked music boxes.



Claire McGinn is a Marie Skłodowska-Curie postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Media and Culture at UU, working with Professor Maaike Bleeker and Dr Floris Schuiling, and also works as a curator at Museum Speelklok. Her doctoral research at the University of York, UK, focused on export strategies and relationships with modernism in contemporary classical music from the Baltic States.



Suggested short readings


Suggested listenings


How to join the meeting

  • If you are a student or employee at Utrecht University, you can join this meeting by becoming a member of the Transmission in Motion Seminar Team via this linkor by using the following code: sp1rybs
    The meeting is scheduled in the general channel.
    You can also join this meeting directly: Click here to join the meeting
  • If you are outside of Utrecht University, please send an email to and you will receive an invitation to join the Team!

This seminar is part of the Transmission in Motion seminar (2021-2022): “Practices of Translation”