Of Epistemic Tools: musical instruments as cognitive extensions

Thor Magnusson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper explores the differences in the design and performance of acoustic and new digital musical instruments, arguing that with the latter there is an increased encapsulation of musical theory. The point of departure is the phenomenology of musical instruments, which leads to the exploration of designed artefacts as extensions of human cognition – as scaffolding onto which we offload parts of our cognitive processes. The paper succinctly emphasises the pronounced epistemic dimension of digital instruments when compared to acoustic instruments. Through the analysis of material epistemologies it is possible to describe the digital instrument as an epistemic tool: a designed tool with such a high degree of symbolic pertinence that it becomes a system of knowledge and thinking in its own terms. In conclusion, the paper rounds up the phenomenological and epistemological arguments, and points at issues in the design of digital musical instruments that are germane due to their strong aesthetic implications for musical culture.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)168-176
Number of pages9
JournalOrganised Sound
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jun 2009

Bibliographical note

© 2009 Cambridge University Press


  • Design of new interfaces for musical expression
  • Semiotic and Epistemic dimensions of digital tools


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