This paper describes how sound engineers in Jamaica fine-tune the huge and powerful dancehall sound systems to achieve their best auditory performance. This provides an example of how cybernetic systems combine musical and technological processes. The phonographic apparatus of the set utilizes three basic material electromagnetic processes: (1) power; (2) control (Bateson 1987) and (3) transduction (Simondon 1992). The sound System engineers fine-tune with a technique of compensation, described in terms of two corporeal sensorimotor practices: (1) the kinetic motor process of manipulating the value of particular components, or substituting one for another and (2) the haptic sensory process of monitoring the auditory output of the set. Further, the engineers are engaged in (3) evaluating or skilled listening (Sterne 2003) for the particular sonic qualities such as “balance,” “weight” and “attack” that the fine-tuning aims to achieve. Engineers learn to evaluate, select and combine sounds in the sociocultural milieu of an apprenticeship – as elements of a communication system (Wilden 1972).
An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 18th International Conference on Systems Research, Informatics & Cybernetics. 7 to 12th August, 2006, Baden-Baden, Germany.