Will we be a post-history generation?

Something that (I think) Brian Eno said quite a few years ago, about the impermanence of digital audio (that much new music was being recorded, mixed, mastered, and delivered on digital media which has a relatively short life – a master tape with a few bits corrupted here and there becomes unreadable. Compared to analogue tape which may pick up dropouts, but the tape can still be listened to many years after its recording*), was echoed in a program last night touching on photography (BBC4’s ‘Thoroughly modern: The snapshot camera’).

A remark was made that previous generations of photographers made real physical artefacts when taking pictures – the negative film strip – versus the digital images which ‘we’ are so fond of.

We can still view the images that were taken a hundred or more years ago: take a bit of chemistry (photo-sensitive paper, developer etc.), add some light, and there you have it – a reproduction of a picture which would have been seen in Edwardian times.

Compare that with the current reliance on digital image capture, where ‘images’ exist merely as a pattern of bits on a disk – there’s an awful lot of technology required to view the image – and when it’s gone with your next hard disk crash (backup? what backup?), all you have left is the printout from your inkjet printer, with it’s non-permanent inks which will gradually fade away…

Of course, digital isn’t all bad – those files can be duplicated ad infinitum, uploaded to web-based services, burnt to CDs, DVDs etc. (but even then, CDs and DVDs will eventually become unreadable due to degradation of the media itself – cf. Brian Eno’s remark about the potential loss of digital audio masters).

Digital images are also, in the general case, stored in a lossy form – features which we cannot see on a 6×4 print, suddenly become solid blocks of colour (‘compression artifacts’) when viewed at 12×16…

The only hope for digital creations is to duplicate, duplicate, duplicate… A new storage standard? Use it! Backup all of you data from those Zip disks onto CD… CDs onto DVDs… DVDs onto HD-DVD (or should I use Blu-ray?)… from HD-DVD to ???

Is this any worse than ‘analogue’ media? Negative strips etc.? I don’t know – Negatives are in themselves precious artefacts, and may of course be lost or destroyed as well… but when they survive, the data is still intact (even if only a fragment of an image survives, it can still be printed; if an analogue tape is noisy or has dropouts, or if a vinyl record has clicks and pops, it can still be listened to…).

Still, both have uses, both have their own strengths (and weaknesses). Me? I’m currently using film a lot…

* of course analogue tape is not immune to problems either – in the 1970s Ampex changed the formulation of the most popular master tape in the world – with the result that tapes became unplayable… but recoverable nonetheless – See this AIR article
Another approach to the problem of degraded tapes was to use contemporary vinyl records as the master source…

A Project!

Got a message from Martin last night, wondering about resurrecting the project we were supposed to do last year at the Tate (Martin got chickenpox, so we were unable to do it). Feeling quite excited by the prospect of doing something creative with someone again… Since Martin went to Berlin, things have been a little quiet here in York, nowadays there seem to be too many other things to do.

Kurt Vonnegut… RIP

Just a short note to acknowledge the passing of the author Kurt Vonnegut. I first read a KV novel back in around 1987 I suppose – having just got the Dave Howard Singers’ Yon Yonson 12″ which referenced Slaughterhouse-5… I went down to my local library and tried to get the book, but all they had was Deadeye Dick and Breakfast of Champions, which I duly read and was hooked…

I guess he’s an author who can polarise opinion – you either love or hate him. My wife can’t bear to read his books.

So it goes.

Thank you Kurt.

“I guess he’s up in heaven now”