Network Music and Digital Utopianism: The rise and fall of the Res Rocket Surfer project, 1994–2003

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Computer network music is frequently championed on the grounds that it offers opportunities for experimental forms of social organization rooted in ‘radical democratic’ principles. Some of the commentary on the genre mirrors the discourses surrounding digital utopianism, where communitarian-like qualities of bottom-up self-governance and leaderless organization are taken to be a natural product of information technologies themselves, rather than something that takes effort and cooperation to bring about. This chapter analyses a group of computer musicians, studio producers, software programmers and dotcom entrepreneurs who created the first commercial system for geographically-distributed music production on the public Internet: the Res Rocket Surfer project. Although Res Rocket appeared to distil the mix of Bohemian and countercultural associations that would come to define digital utopianism, the ideals they represented would come into conflict with the realities of a newly commercialised web, as money was flowing into companies but little flowed back out to investors. Drawing on original document-based and Web-based archival research, alongside extensive interviews with Res Rocket’s founders and employees, this chapter examines the challenge of ‘musically-enacting democracy’ during a time of great technological and economic upheaval.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationFinding Democracy in Music
EditorsRobert Adlington, Esteban Buch
Place of PublicationLondon
Number of pages163
ISBN (Electronic)97803674486938
Publication statusPublished - 2 Nov 2020


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