test discs

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.