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. You can also find me on Mastodon.

Notes toward a history of interleaving

Elsewhere, I have described how interleaving in the CD system makes those marks corresponding to events which are contiguous in the real (i.e. the sound originating in the studio) discontiguous in the symbolic (i.e. the alternating pits and lands as they are demodulated by the CD player’s laser).1 The inverse process, de-interleaving, is applied during decoding and has the effect of making defects which are contiguous in the real (i.e. on the surface of the disc) discontiguous in the symbolic (i.

Notes on AI and musical knowledge

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 decline and fall of The Voyager Company’s CDLink platform: Confronting digital ruin in the Web history of late twentieth-century digital audio media

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.

The test-disc cultures of the audio compact disc (CD) format

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.

[On fugues and functionalism]

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.

Subverting algorithmic policies of sonic control in Nicolas Collins’s Broken Light (1992)

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 discs…

Exploring time-coded comments on YouTube music videos: The past, present, and future of an emerging source for digital musicology

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 musicologists.

Reanimating the CDLink platform: A challenge for the preservation of mid-1990s Web-based interactive media and net.art

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.

Uses, reuses and abuses of the compact disc at 40 — IRC New Foundations 2020

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.