I’ve been making music with electronics since I was about 12. It’s something I can’t not do. My previous album came out in 2005, and although I never stopped making music in the interim, I didn’t dedicate as much time toward my own music as I felt was necessary to come up with results that I was happy with sharing, other than a few tracks here and there that I was happy with. Much of my musical efforts over the past 15 years or so have been toward mastering other people’s music (see discography here). I decided it was time to come back out of hibernation and put together a (small) collection of tracks that I could be happy with presenting as an album; this is the result: Consciousness and other tricks of the light

I know that I am conscious. You know that you are conscious. This knowledge is itself consciousness. I know that you are conscious (and vice versa) because you and I know that we are the same sort of thing, and because we observe behaviors in each other that are consistent with our own experience of consciousness. And thus, (most of us) conclude by induction that others are conscious, as we are.

Now consider a cat. A cat exhibits complex behaviors, and most people agree that cats are conscious (at least, for a few hours a day). The jury is still out on ants, though. Plankton? Probably not, except on SpongeBob.

But now let’s consider artificial intelligence. You and I can say “well we know Siri/Cortana/Bixby/Alexa aren’t conscious”;  we know how they work. Are they not conscious because we know how they work, or are they not conscious because their behaviors are insufficiently complex and we can explain them away? Science fiction abounds with robots and artificial intelligences with varying degrees of consciousness and recognition/acceptance of their consciousness (and their free will and their rights). (Maybe you can tell that my favorite literary genre is SciFi and my favorite writers are Asimov, Banks and Clarke?)

What about the in-between areas, where (when?) we have robots which (a) we know and can explain how they work and how they make decisions, and yet (b) exhibit behavior that’s complex enough that we can’t explain all of the factors that went into a given course of action? (We already have enough trouble auditing/debugging convolutional neural networks.) I would say that if a system exhibits behavior that we can’t tell whether is conscious or not, then it is morally imperative that we treat it as though it is conscious, and recognize its rights accordingly. If we turn that back around, can we prove that we are conscious?

My position is that it doesn’t matter. Consciousness is a red herring; it is a property that we can’t define, and can only implicitly/indirectly observe. It is an illusion; a trick of the light.

I’m attracted to mythology and folklore in general, not exclusively Egyptian. I think it’s actually part of my fascination with consciousness, as the archetypes that are explored in myth tend to be similar across cultures and may have origins that predate the emergence of humans. As a teenager, I was completely captivated by The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes, and although I understand that current science rejects some of his ideas, I found them fascinating and inspiring.

I was born in Cleveland and grew up in Northwest Indiana. I went to college in Illinois, and then came to Pittsburgh for grad school. I liked it here, so I stayed. I currently live in the Strip District right outside of “dahntahn” Pittsburgh. I have a reasonably short commute, which has gotten even shorter over the last six weeks. (I lived in the north suburbs and had a long commute for 10 years, which influenced my decision to go work on autonomous vehicles from 2015-2019, though I’m now back out of that industry.)

I think my interest in drones is explicitly linked to growing up in the Midwest where you can look off into the distance on a hazy summer day and just get lost in thought for hours on end. Some of the drones I make are explicit attempts to capture aspects of “The Hum.”

As a kid, I was very interested in listening to the LPs we had at the house, which included Switched-On Bach and Rumours and The White Album, along with some rock classics like ZZ Top Tres Hombres and Tejas. In school I was in all (ALL) of the bands and really loved a lot of the band and orchestral pieces we played, by people like Percy Grainger and Paul Hindemith. I was also a big fan of Claude Debussy, and Holst’s The Planets was huge for me as well. As a trumpet player, I was (am) pretty enamored of Live at Jimmy’s by Maynard Ferguson.

I went to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, so the Foellinger Great Hall at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts is pretty high on that list. It’s a gorgeous venue, which I got to know as an audience member and as a member of the University recording staff. I’ve seen hundreds of concerts in that hall, including the Chicago Symphony.

Another highlight was performing The Pines of Rome in a brass ensemble consisting of hundreds of high school and college students at Butler University in Indianapolis. I still get chills for that piece of music.

On the other end of the spectrum, there used to be a little cafe in Urbana called The Nature’s Table which was about 400 square feet with maybe five tables, that used to be jam-packed for live jazz combo music (many featuring university faculty) several nights a week until 3am or so.

I think music is particularly interesting because it is temporal. You can read at whatever speed you want. You can look at sculpture or paintings at your own pace. You can watch movies (or video of theatre) at a different speed and still get the gist. Music (including opera) is experienced at a specific speed which is part of the experience.