The idea of the model is of central importance in cybernetic thinking. For cyberneticists, to build a model is to abstract the essential characteristics of a system (living or otherwise), which could then be reconstructed in a different material medium. Applied to music, modeling meant that formal relations and processes derived from any field of activity could be mapped on to compositional parameters, whether these ultimately manifested in the form of conventional scores or electroacoustic recordings. The cybernetic concept of modeling elucidates many disparate compositional efforts of the post-WWII period—not only those that explicitly invoke cybernetic principles—and puts them in discourse with the broader intellectual history of the period. For many composers, modeling was the basis of a new kind of musical naturalism grounded not in sound material, but in abstract generative principles—“nature in its manner of operation,” to quote Cage quoting Aquinas.
In this paper, I explore the notion of musical modeling in the context of the cybernetic and compositional thinking of the second half of the twentieth century, with a particular focus on the elaborate theoretical exploration of musical modeling laid out in Francois-Bernard Mâche’s 1983 book Musique, Mythe, Nature, ou, Les Dauphins d’Arion, which the author envisioned as “advancing an aesthetic project on the basis of a harmony with rather than a systematic break from natural data.” I will also consider the critique of cybernetics advanced by scholars such as Jean-Pierre Dupuy, who suggests that the fascination with models, in its most extreme form, underwrites a formalist universalism that obliterates all distinctions between copy and original, the model and the object or process being modeled.