Research Output
Questioning the Digital Revolution: Continuity and Change in the Design and Use of Music Technologies
  The use of digital technologies since the 1980s have changed the way in which music is stored, distributed, and consumed. The use of digital technologies has also reshaped the processes of musical production. This paper, though, challenges the view that a digital revolution is currently replacing analogue ways of doing things. Instead of accepting arguments found in academic and non-academic writing about a transition from analogue to digital or the entering of a digital age, this paper employs empirical evidence to present a more dispassionate approach to the study of digital technologies. Using the sampler as a case study and focusing on co-existence and continuity as well as change, I will show how digital synthesizer/sampling technologies were designed and used in ways that were consistent with older discourses, narratives, and practices. Hip-hop producers began sampling the sounds of pre-existing vinyl recordings and digital sampling devices were used alongside analogue technologies such as turntables and magnetic tape. Despite being introduced and marketed as revolutionary instruments that offered users greater creative freedom, the design and use of digital synthesizer/sampling technologies were part of a longer historical process involving accidents, mistakes, and contingencies rather than a linear path of scientific progress.

  • Type:

    Conference Paper (unpublished)

  • Date:

    26 June 2017

  • Publication Status:


  • Library of Congress:

    M1 Music

  • Dewey Decimal Classification:

    780 Music

  • Funders:

    Edinburgh Napier Funded


Harkins, P. (2017, June). Questioning the Digital Revolution: Continuity and Change in the Design and Use of Music Technologies. Paper presented at 19th Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music, Kassel, Germany



Anthropocene; digital; music; sampling; sociology; synthesizers; technology

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