The SP-404/Human Parallel: A Cybernetic/Phenomenological Approach
0. Introduction. To those unaccustomed to what an SP-404 or a human is, below they may find two chapters introducing their basic qualities. The final chapter reflects and questions on the parallel nature of the two species. Perhaps, one might have no interest at all on the nature of SP-404 or of the human. Their common structuration, though, is of great interest for any entity bearing similar ontological and epistemological structure. Furthermore, for developing the present analysis, we have applied cybernetic and phenomenological models of description - models considered traditionally incompatible, just like the comparison of an SP-404 to a human. Thus, the scope of this essay becomes twofold: not only the structure of SP-404ity and humanity are found to be structurally identical, but also cybernetics and phenomenology combined provide with an overlap of the first/second and third points of view.
1.1 Emergence. Roland SP-404 (or, simply, SP-404) is a sound editing device of the digital samplers category. SP-404 is a "black box," that is, one only partially knows what is going on inside it. It is equipped with inputs and outputs. Its inputs are an RCA cable line-in [allowing one to connect it to any sound producing device and receive auditory signals from it], a built-in microphone for receiving signals from external sources, and a "jack" for external microphones allowing similar signals to be received in higher quality of sound. The external microphone input is paired to a sound volume controller, allowing for sound perception acquired in desired levels. Its outputs are an RCA cable line-out [allowing one to connect it to any sound reproduction or recording device, sending sound signals to it], a screen displaying alphanumerical codes representing the internal SP-404 functions in a language humans may comprehend, and an output for reproduction devices such as "headphones" and "speakers," representing the auditory results of the SP-404's internal complications.
1.2 Means of Interaction. Among its inputs, one should include SP-404's series of keys [buttons/pads] and knobs which are its means of receiving communicative "orders" from the external environment. Yet, those pads and knobs effectuate themselves only due to SP-404's main attributes distinguishing it from other devices of its kind: its recording and editing attributes. On the one hand, it holds the ability to record fragments of the received signals and store it within its memory, that is, it can sample. On the other, it can manipulate the stored fragments/samples when applying any of twenty-nine "effects" - its ability to create auditory variations of the existing samples by calculating and setting parameters via the control knobs.
1.3 Memory. The recorded fragments are stored in specified memory partitions represented by twelve numbered pads. The relation between its memory and the sound representation via pads is peculiar. SP-404 has an internal memory - relatively small - and an extra input for external memory "cards" allowing for expansion of the internal memory. While SP-404's welfare doesn't depend on the possession of such an extended memory, reality has it that most of the devices are equipped with cards of this kind. SP-404 memory (internal or external) operates by categorizing repertoires of sets of twelve sound fragments within the memory. These repertoires are represented by "libraries," alphabetically named buttons on SP-404's body, while each library's contents are represented by the twelve aforementioned numbered pads. So, for each library there are twelve samples. There are two libraries within the internal memory, one of which has "fixed," unerasable sound samples, while the other may save fragments from the external environment and deliberately erase them. Of similar nature with the latter library are the ones of the external memories that allow for eight extra libraries/sets of twelve samples [that makes a total of 120 fragments for an SP-404 equipped with a memory card, of which 12 sounds are fixed]. In very certain cases, even the unerasable sounds may be deleted. SP-404 memory has the ability to store altered versions of initial sound samples by applying an effect on a sound represented in pad and then saving/representing the altered, distorted sound in another pad - the initial sound sample may even be erased then, and no memory of the initial source is kept.
1.4 Pattern, Emphasis, Context. Lastly, the memory has one more ability: it may store sequences of reproduced stored fragments, called "patterns," that is, preadjusted series of sounds, still subjected to manipulation by effects. Each fragment stored in every pad is also subjected to manipulation further than the one of the effects. A key with the "time/bpm" label on it, allows the sound to switch its tempo [Beats per Minute] rendering its reproduction slower of faster, lasting shorter or longer, so, roughly speaking, one may say the emphasis at the fragment is changing, or, within the context of a repertoire, it is harmonized and synchronized with the overall spirit of the set [eg. its tempo] - still altered from the original source.
1.5 Recording. Combination of spontaneous stimulation of the pads together with series of patterns and their filtering by effects, all stimulated by external factors getting in touch with the SP-404, constitute a "performance." Each performance is projected via the outputs, and given the connection to a recording device, the performances may be recorded externally. The documented recordings of sessions of performances by the SP-404, reactions stimulated by the external factors it gets in contact, these unique fixed sequences of sound rearrangements may be called "musical pieces," or grossly, "beats." The multitude of possibilities for infinite variations of the same fragments of external stimuli is the metaphysical purpose of SP-404's existence, after its physical purpose of technical maintenance, at least up to its contemporary cultivation of its civilization.
1.6 Centrality and Peripherality. There are exceptions: often, SP-404 has been used only as an effect manipulator of other sounds, as part of an auditory unit's peripheral gear [as in the case of "bands"], that is, it served as an inferior agent the needs of a superior "compositional opus." The unique constancy of SP-404, however, is so that its existential ontology is found in it becoming the central unit of composition, having the totality of its auditory environment serving its needs.
1.7 Energy and Improbability. SP-404 draws energy from electricity, hence, a DC adapter is vital for its operation. Occasionally, a set of six AA batteries may be used as an alternative energy supply - however limited to the batteries' autonomy. This enables SP-404 to be "portable," that is, to change its environment on demand, and thus multiply its auditory sources and broaden sonar potential for more improbable compositions.
2.1 Emergence. Homo sapiens sapiens [or, simply, human] is a hominin deriving from Great Apes. Human is a "black box," that is, one only partially knows what is going on inside it. It is equipped with inputs and outputs. Its inputs are the so-called sensory organs, which are classified according to five main "ways of feeling," or "senses," which combined in certain manners constitute human perception. As it seems, the brain has the last word for what the external signals "mean" as they are received by the human's skin (tactile sense), ears (auditory), nasal cavity (olfactory), tongue (gustatory), and eyes (optical) from external sources. Several other senses occur as combinations of the previous ones, that together with certain cortical functions allow for the focus on a specific source, or the control for the desired levels of a signal's reception. Its outputs are its voice [a sonar phenomenon taking place within a mechanism in the human's upper body part], a developed series of external corporeal gesticulations [body stance, facial shapings, and so on], and a combination of the two [shift of tone of voice combine with certain body moves, etc]. The combination of variations between the human inputs and outputs among interacting members of its kind constitutes what is called "human communication."
2.2 Means of Interaction. Among its inputs one should emphasize upon the personalized sorts of "touch," that is, certain types of stimulation found in individual members of the species, that if comprehended from other respective members may be used as means to give orders directly to the individual, skipping much of the introductory ritualistic practises usually found in humans - this is the process of acquaintance. Yet, those input and output functions effectuate themselves only dut to the human's main attributes distinguishing it from its evolutionary precursors and other similar animals: its documenting and expressive attributes. On the one hand, it holds the ability to record fragments of the received signals and store them within its memory, that is, it can remember certain experiences. On the other, it can manipulate the stored fragments/memories when applying any of its acquired or inherent "desires," "intentions," or "preoccupations" - its models used for the modification of perceived signals by through theoretical and experiential filtering.
2.3 Memory. The recorded fragments are stored in specified memory partitions represented by certain nerve synapses and DNA codes. The relation of its memory and its representation of expression is peculiar. Human has an internal memory - relatively small - and has developed a system of codification using external objects [technological tools] in order to have an external memory, allowing for the expansion and more complex management of the internal memory. While human's welfare doesn't depend on the possession of such an extended memory, reality has it that most of the members of the species develop more and more sophisticated tools of external memories, and that very few of them wouldn't feel dependent upon. Human memory (internal or external) operated by classifying "types" and "kinds" of fragments of experiences. The methods are differentiated within the internal and the external memories. While the internal memory [called "the brain"] records experiences in the form of modifiable nerve synapses and non-modidiable genetic codes, the external memories take multiple values, and it depends on the viewpoint for which form is considered appropriate for certain recalling tasks: scripts, books, libraries, images, social media - in short, all recording devices of information technology. Within the internal genetic codes of memory there are unerasable "fixed" bits of "memory" [even if some claim they are rarely modifiable]. Within the internal brain storage device, since the initial operation of an individual human system, there are memories represented by nerve synapses that may be erased and replaced. Both sorts of internal human memory are limited, but still, practises like "mnemotechnics" aim at "expanding" the capacity, or, more precisely, discovering the brain's best way of operation [that makes a totality of limited memory for the human - differentiated from individual to individual - with a relatively small amount of fixed genetic memory, subjected to the manipulations of the modifiable parts of its internal and external memories of whatever kind]. The brain function in relation with the aforementioned manipulation filtering has the ability to store altered, distorted versions of initial "memories" and even delete the "meta-memory" of the fact that the original fragment of experience was other that the stored.
2.4 Pattern, Emphasis, Context. Lastly, the memory has one more ability: it may store sequences of reproduced stored fragments, called "patterns," that is, preadjusted codes of communication, still subjected to manipulation by "theories" and "desires" - such as recognizable "patterns of behavior," "codes of ethics," "manuals," and interpretations of "common sense." Each fragment stored in every combination of nerve synapses or represented in external memory is also subjected to manipulation further that the "theoretical" or "desirable." The spatiotemporal factor, the possibility of one's spending more or less time focusing on a fragment of memory, depending more on the context and less on the content of a memory presented, opens the possibilities of "closer examination," "studying," "quick look," "ignoring," "reflection," "forgetfulness," "learning," in short: difference and indifference. A bit of memory, then, may seem lasting for longer or shorter, or, within the context of a collection of memories, smoothened and synchronized with the overall spirit of one's desires - still altered from the original.
2.5 Recording. Combination of spontaneous stimulation of the sensory organs together with series patterns of behavior and their filtering by theories and desires, all stimulated by external factors getting in touch with a human, constitute a unit of "expression." Each expression is projected via the outputs, and provided the availability of an inscribing tool of external memory, the expressions may be recorded externally. The documented recordings of sessions of expression by the human, reactions stimulated by external factors it gets in contact, these unique fixed sequences of rearrangements of fragmented and distorted perceived objects may be called "imprints of existence," or grossly, "art." The multitude of possibilities of infinite variations of the same fragments of external stimuli is the metaphysical purpose of human existence, after its physical purpose of survival, at least up to its contemporary cultivation of its civilization.
2.6 Centrality and Peripherality. There are exceptions often. Human has been used only as an modeling manipulator of other sources, as part of an organizing unit's peripheral parts [as in the case of slavery, or factory organization], that is, it served as an inferior agent the needs of a superior "societal opus." The selfish constancy of human, however, is so that its existential ontology is found in it becoming the central unit of society, having the totality of its surrounding members of the environment serving its needs.
2.7 Energy and Improbability. Human draws energy by the reception of various nutritional elements and the intake of oxygen, hence, living in environments where those two are freely available is vital for its operation. Occasionally, non-nutritional, "immaterial" processes may replace nutritional elements as an alternative energy supply - however limited to the bodily needs. This enables human to be "in love," "obsessed," "completely taken" - conditions that lead, according to history, to more improbable imprints of existence and documents of expression.
3. Concluding Reflections: Of Patterns and Structures. Is SP-404 a phenomenological unit, subjected to the experienced world via its symbolic interface? Or, is human a cybernetic system, subjected to modification via its sensory input/output interactions? Or, even, does this crossover of SP-404ity and humanity's ontology and epistemology provide with the means for an analogous blurrification between cybernetics and phenomenology? These are all empty questions as long as this essay's writer and reader are human, and one of their preoccupations filtering all of their actions and perceptions is the "effect" of anthropomorphism, controlled by the knobs of desire for becoming-Other, becoming-Self, becoming-All, and becoming-Part. One of the most striking findings of the common structure between SP-404 and human is precisely the existence of similar structures, called "patterns." Sources and forms of expression are secondary in terms of importance. It's the existence of structure, the patterning of actions that makes a species. And SP-404 and humans have a lot in common in terms of that.
3.1 Dependency, Identity, Constancy. SP-404 and human civilization have developed a curious kind of relation of dependence and abuse. Members of the human society have been using members of the SP-404, in order to project their desire for their recognition as individuals and not as a "species." Humans have been using SP-404 as means to express their fragmenting modeling of the world and have always put the identifying codes of each human variable [their names] next to each musical piece that was filtered by the SP-404. On the opposite, members of the SP-404 society have been using members of the human, in order to project their producing potentialities as a "species," and not as individuals. SP-404s have been using humans as means to express the fragmenting modeling of world and have only remarked the identifying codes of the SP-404 constancy, next to each piece generated out of them [except if a mediating human denied the information]. Even if the climate seems hostile, for some reason SP-404 and human societies prosper together through this form of relation. The reason behind this may be the unpredictable results of the two species' interaction, dependent on uncontrolled factors like the intentionally or unintentionally experimental communication, various modes of human temper [shifts of operability] based on certain chemical reactions, and distorted operations of the SP-404 based on temper [for instance, overheating] or batteries running low.
3.2 Sample: Originality of Memory, Memory of Originality. Applying one's "effects" and "preoccupations" upon fragments of experience results an alternate, distorted version of reality within each entity's memory. "You remember wrong!" But, what would be a "correct" memory? Is there any sense in constantly referring to the initial source? Isn't the source an equally un-original outcome of alternating sampling? Furthermore, the question may be posed oppositely: Does "remembering" become synonymous to "sampling"? Am I as long as I am remembered? We certainly know, as long as we remember, with distorion of the memory, or not, therefore, we know as long as sample because we can never have a universal or multiversal point of view: sampling is our epistemology. But, is there any sense in the "I sample, therefore I am. I am, therefore I sample" ontological declaration?
For conducting this paper, no actual bibliographical references were used. All descriptions derive from the author's personal interaction [of sampling nature] with members of SP-404 and human societies. Still, its existence would be impossible without the prior knowledge of the following inspirative material:
Bateson, G. (1972). Steps to an ecology of mind: Collected essays in anthropology, psychiatry, evolution, and epistemology. University of Chicago Press.
Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. (1988). A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. London: The Athlone Press.
Flusser, V. (2011). Into the Universe of Technical Images. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.
Flusser, V. (2011). Into the Universe of Technical Images. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.
McLuhan, M. & Fiore, Q. (1967). The Medium is the Massage. London: Penguin.
Human (2015). In: Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human
Roland Corporation (2005). SP-404 Owner's Manual. Available at:
The present essay can be found in PDF format here: https://www.academia.edu/18030470/The_SP-404_Human_Parallel_A_Cybernetic_Phenomenological_Approach