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Opening the “Red Book”: The Digital Audio CD Format

Monday, 10 February 2020, 10 – 11am

Opening the “Red Book”: The Digital Audio CD Format

A discussion led by Dr Eamonn Bell (Music) as part of the School of Creative Arts Research Forum.

A once-ubiquitous digital audio format, the digital audio compact disc (CD) today slips steadily into obscurity as hope wanes for a nostalgic revival in the manner of the vinyl LP or the cassette tape. When the laser pickup inside a CD player encounters the imperfections on the surface of a badly damaged disc, we often hear the characteristic sonic trace of the format's failure: the CD skip. Despite being deemed deficient with regard to their designated commercial uses, broken media can tell us just as much about their material and social construction as they can when in their “normal”, undamaged states. I take this keening sound of the CD “coping with the loss of digital data” (Kelly, 2003) as the departure point for a critical history of the medium.

By the early 2000s, this distinctive CD skipping sound had come to pervade “glitch music”, an experimental style of electronica that rehabilitates the undesirable artefacts of digital audio technology as basic musical material. In this talk, I examine the relationship between the sounds of CDs failing, glitch music, and twentieth-century art that explores the failure of technical media more broadly. I relate features of the CD that resist its neat assimilation into a longer history of experiments with the materials of new media. Inspired by recent media-archaeological work, I argue instead for the relevance of highly particular and media-specific analyses of each recorded CD skip in their socio-technical context. In the ultimate post-physical media landscape, these sounds may be the only vestige of the mechanisms that animated this transformative digital music format.

Eamonn Bell is a Government of Ireland Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Department of Music, Trinity College Dublin. His current research project explores how the once-ubiquitous digital audio Compact Disc (CD) format was designed, subverted, reproduced and domesticated for musical ends, and is funded by the Irish Research Council. His research engages the history of technology as it relates to musical production, consumption, and criticism in the twentieth century.

Campus LocationTrinity Long Room Hub Arts and Humanities Research Centre
Accessibility: Yes
Room: Neill Lecture Theatre
Event Type: Arts and Culture, Lectures and Seminars
Type of Event: One-time event
Audience: Undergrad, Postgrad, Faculty & Staff
Cost: Free
Contact Name: Dr Ruth Barton

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