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Paperback | $27.00 Trade | £18.95 | ISBN: 9780262581431| 6 x 9 in | August 1995

Digital Mantras

The Languages of Abstract and Virtual Worlds


Computer technology is making possible new worlds of expression that are already being explored by a growing subculture of artists, musicians, virtual reality enthusiasts, and cyberpunks. In Digital Mantras, Steven Holtzman synthesizes ideas from a number of different disciplines to arrive at a new philosophy of creativity for the digital age.

Blending ideas from music, computing, art, and philosophy, with biographical and historical anecdotes and a thread of mysticism, Holtzman gives us new ways to think about the integration of computers into the creative process. He shows how computers will change the way we create, and reveals the exciting potential for entirely new forms of expression. Running throughout the book are episodes from Holtzman's own sometimes mystical journey in search of the personal aesthetic he presents.

Holtzman explores the presence and use of structure in fields as diverse as the development of ancient human languages, the philosophy of the Buddhist monk Nagarjuna and the linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, the music of Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern, the paintings of Wassily Kandinsky, and the pioneering grammars of Panini and Noam Chomsky. He then turns to the use of computers for building abstract and virtual worlds in language, music, and art as well as virtual reality, and surveys the work of AI pioneer Terry Winograd, composers Gottfried Michael Koenig and Iannis Xenakis, and artist Harold Cohen. Holtzman concludes by discussing the aesthetic implications of these new worlds. He introduces the concept of digital expression, along with examples that hint at its far-reaching possibilities.


“Digital Mantras will be the kind of book people enjoy reading (or even more, giving as a gift) because it is so chock full of little stories, facts, and explanations that make the reader feel broadly educated.”
Terry Winograd, Professor of Computer Science, Stanford University

“I found Hotzman’s ideas not only challenging but highly palatable. The book as a whole is quite worthy of the concerted effort that the reader must make to follow Holtzman’s incredibly comprehensive arguments. I was pleased for the opportunity and learned a lot in the process. I see how its appeal will be universal, bringing in many who never realized how much their craft is built upon an artistic, mystical tradition.”
Robert Jacobson, PhD, President of Worldesign Inc.

Digital Mantras is must-read material for any aspiring ‘renaissance person’ in the digital age. It belongs between Fritjof Capra’s Tao of Physics and O.B. Hardison’s Disappearing Through the Skylight as a work of truly encyclopedic scale relating the world of modern arts an technology to our intellectual and spiritual heritage. Dr. Steven Holtzman is a master storyteller and thinker. He manages to draw together topics ranging from the history of Hindi linguistics, to 20th century visual aesthetics, to computer music, into a coherent synthesis of ‘what it’s all about.’ I consider this book invaluable for anyone—both technologists and artists—concerned with the ramifications of 20th century philosophical, aesthetical, social, and artistic developments.”
Steven Travis Pope, Editor, Computer Musical Journal; Research Associate, Center for New Music and Audio Technologies, University of California, Berkeley