The idea of the model is of central importance in cybernetic thinking. For cyberneticists, to create a model is to abstract the essential characteristics of a system (living or otherwise) in order to then reconstruct this system—or a functional replica thereof—in a different material medium. In particular, modeling posited that processes in the natural world—such as, most famously, thermodynamic entropy or biological homeostasis—could be applied to the human-built world for purposes of better understanding and controlling it. The underlying analogy between nature and artifice forms the ontological foundation of a unified, nondualist conception of reality that I call cybernetic naturalism.
In this paper, I argue that the concept of modeling clarifies many disparate compositional efforts of the post-1945 period—and not only those that explicitly invoke cybernetic principles. This contradicts the dominant formalist aesthetics of musical modernism, according to which compositions embody nothing but “musical ideas” free of rhetorical purposes or traces of the experiential world. But to say a piece of music contains or expresses ideas is, after all, to invoke a model—one all the more powerful for being generally unrecognized as such. Formalism, while claiming to abolish mimesis, merely obscures it and confines it to the realm of human inwardness.
Another, more ambitious approach to musical modeling advanced on the assumption that formal relations and processes derived from any field of activity could be mapped on to compositional parameters. For many composers, modeling became the basis of a new kind of musical naturalism grounded in generative principles of not necessarily human provenance. Promising to bridge techne and nature, humanity and the world at large, musical modeling thus converges with cybernetics and feeds into the recently emerging fascination with the posthuman and the nonhuman.