reading sound

Whilst of course not a simple march of succession, the shift from vinyl to compact disc and now to MP3 represents a kind of arc to an increasing impenetrability of the musical format, as music’s physical form becomes less and less clear through the recording device:

  • CD obscures the particularity of the grooves for an unreadable surface sheen, that is nevertheless read by laser in a spiralling movement. We cannot see it but we can still hold it. (with burnt cds you get the unique phenomenon where one can ‘gauge’ the amount of data or length of recording via how much of the original surface has been burnt a slightly darker colour)
  • MP3 quite stubbornly hides the process of its encoding/decoding within the player (be it mobile or computer terminal), there is nothing to penetrate or read or look at beyond the file, which of course can be constituted as a sequence of code, but only at great effort and still completely indecipherable.

What does this mean culturally? For music?

What about the sense in which this impetus to obfuscating stands in inverse relation to the quality (conceived of as 'fidelity') of the recording? Is it true, as Adorno argues, that the better a technology gets at reproduction the less 'real' the music sounds? This is attached to notions of authenticity and aura, which themselves are fraught with the danger of privileging the original artifact, something that cannot possibly be done in terms of sound recording (this is a positive thing, in my view).

Just some thoughts...

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