Research Output
Becoming a User? Science & Technology Studies (STS) and the Design/Use of Digital Synthesizer/Sampling Instruments
  This provocation will give an overview of a research project about the historical and contemporary uses of digital synthesizer/sampling instruments. One of the problems I faced when developing a theoretical and conceptual framework was that the field of organology and the academic study of musical instruments appears to stop as the era of electricity begins. It is largely dominated by the classification and study of musical instruments as historical artefacts. Eliot Bates has suggested that ‘instrument museums are mausoleums, places for the display of the musically dead, with organologists acting as morticians, preparing dead instrument bodies for preservation and display’ (2012, p. 365). I turned instead to the field of Science and Technology Studies (STS) and focused on the ‘user-technology nexus’: a shift towards the contexts of use and ‘the co-construction’ or ‘mutual shaping’ of technologies and their users. One of the objects of my study was the Fairlight CMI, a digital synthesizer/sampling instrument that was used in ways unimagined by its designers. While I came face-to-face with a Fairlight CMI during an exhibition at the Science Museum, I did not have the opportunity to use one. My argument will be that STS’s focus on the users of technologies provides us with a theoretical framework for enabling researchers and visitors to instrument museums to become users themselves.

  • Type:


  • Date:

    28 June 2018

  • Publication Status:


  • Library of Congress:

    M1 Music

  • Dewey Decimal Classification:

    784 Instruments & instrumental ensembles

  • Funders:

    Edinburgh Napier Funded


Harkins, P. (2018, June). Becoming a User? Science & Technology Studies (STS) and the Design/Use of Digital Synthesizer/Sampling Instruments. Presented at Workshop on Objects of Electronic Sound & Music in Museums



Musical instruments, music technology.

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