This is my place on the web. Eventually, you’ll find below all manner of publications, blog posts, microblog posts, and essays. Some of this content was previously hosted on my academic website at Columbia and on a Jekyll blog that was hosted on GitHub Pages.
These notes were developed in April 2022, in dialogue with Nikita Braguinski
“Artificial intelligence” (AI) is the catchphrase for a variety of automatic techniques for the manipulation of computational representations. It encompasses algorithms that process, create, organise, and otherwise recompose recorded culture: texts, images, sounds.
Whether AI refers to a coherent set of techniques is immaterial, since that term has passed into popular culture (and policymaking) as a sign with many referents.
The US-based Voyager Company realised the creative and commercial
potential of optical media formats—Laserdiscs and mixed-mode CD-ROMs—for
early-1990s interactive multimedia. In this paper, I briefly chart the
technological history of Voyager’s CDLink platform, provide a flyover
view of this archive, and describe the value of recovering these
early-Web digital music experiences. These pages pose technical
challenges to preservation, access, and analysis. CDLink, like all
obsolete and oft-forgotten platforms, provides an object lesson that the
apparent abundance of the digital record today is always mediated by the
retrieval techniques of tomorrow.
Notes on a section of Adorno’s long essay on “Radio Physiognomics”
from his time at Princeton.
When the digital audio CD format was launched in 1982, it introduced
a new paradigm for sound reproduction to the consumer market. Instead of
tracing recorded sound with a quasi-indexical groove like its
phonographic forebear, the microscopic pits and lands on the CD’s
plastic surface represent sound as symbols. As the interpretation of
symbols is largely conventional, precisely how these pits and lands
corresponded to audio was determined by a small group of engineers who
had worked to define the CD standard in the years leading up to its
release. In this short talk, I discussed test CDs: discs that were used
to put the audio CD format on trial both before and after its
standardization by its creators, Philips and Sony.
Around 1960, Walter Reitman of the Complex Information Processing
group at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon
University) made tape recordings with his co-investigator Marta Sánchez
‘thinking aloud’, as an unnamed experimetnal subject composed a fugue at
the piano keyboard. Reitman used protocol analysis to mine the 150-page
transcript of this recording, seeking design inspiration for a new
computer model of ‘human information-processing’—Argus—which was
intended to complement the then-recent work of his colleagues Herbert
Simon and Allen Newell on the General Problem Solver. I relate and
contextualise this unusual historical case, which shows how Western art
music composition was used in the experimental systems of early 1960s AI
research as a proxy for so-called ‘ill-defined problems’ and as an
apodeictic demonstration of supposed algorithmic creativity. With the
release of the Google ‘Bach doodle’ in March 2019, little appears to
have changed in how high culture is mobilised in the rhetoric that
surrounds AI systems.
In this talk, I focus on the second movement of Nicolas Collins
Broken Light, a piece for modified Discman and string quartet
composed in 1991 and revised in 1992. Sound art historian Caleb Kelly
has already overviewed Collins’s musical experiments with CD media in
his 2009 survey of sound art and composition that featured “cracked”
technical media: both destroyed vinyl records and damaged compact
The potential for the systematic analysis of YouTube comments has
been recognised by many researchers in fields including music
information retrieval (MIR), sociology, and musical ethnography (Yadati
et al. 2014; Thelwall 2018; Born and Haworth 2017). Notably, since 2008
YouTube has automatically detects timecodes in user-generated comments,
converting them to “deep” links that skip playback directly to the
moment in the video cited (Vliegendhart et al. 2015). Presenting the
history, use, and future prospects of these time-coded comments (TCCs)
on YouTube, I assess their value as a novel primary source for digital
The Voyager Company realised the creative and commercial potential of
mixed-mode CD-ROMs as the platform par excellence for
interactive multimedia. The company’s CDLink platform enabled and
inspired commercial ventures and amateur productions alike, such as Sony
Music’s short lived ConnecteD experiment, a small but dedicated
community of fan-sites that published time-synced lyric pages alongside
hyperlinked commentaries for popular records, and even experimental
sonic net.art in Mark Kolmar’s Chaotic Entertainment (1996).
Owing to the mostly obsolete hardware and software dependencies of the
CDLink platform and the challenges posted by the fading born-digital
traces of the mid-1990s Web, CDLink-dependent artifacts create
difficulties for preservation and access. I summarise the
above-mentioned developments that culminated in CDLink and describe the
challenges of preserving Kolmar’s artwork and making it available for
future audiences, as well as those of the larger so-called “extended CD”
ecosystem, which flourished during this decade.
I’m delighted to announce that I have been awarded an Irish Research Council (IRC) New Foundations grant for the project “Uses, reuses and abuses of the compact disc at 40: an obsolete format and/or a new opportunity for critical digital media literacy?”. This year, the New Foundations programme supported projects that aim to “to bring science (including social science) and art/design/humanities together to work on new ways of communicating scientific concepts and/or complex societal challenges for a lay audience,” and I’m pleased to say that this project was funded under this STEAM strand.
This is a response to a prompt over at the TAXIS blog, where we read the first chapter of the classic Geoffrey C. Bowker and Susan Leigh Star, Sorting Things Out: Classification and Its Consequences, (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2000).
Media in their broken states can tell us as much about their social construction as they can in their putatively “normal” modes of operation, so I’ve taken an interest in how the designers and manufacturers of CD players and CD media have managed defects in their engineering work.