Joshua Johnson annotated:
[Cory] Arcangel's new show at Team Gallery, appropriately and ostentatiously [true that] titled "Subtractions, Modifications, Addenda, and Other Recent Contributions to Participatory Culture" samples various elements of popular culture and manipulates their presentation in order to effect an aporia of presentation. [An "aporia" is a rhetorical puzzle, but these are easily solved by a trip to the gallery desk--they will tell you exactly what the work means.]
While this sort of investigation is an old hat by now [true that], Arcangel has revived it by turning his attention to media whose substrata are so deeply integrated into the system of their presentation as to become almost invisible. Consumer culture is broadcast on increasingly complex instruments of distribution, while the very platforms that make their availability omnipresent have themselves multiplied in complexity. Recording instruments, encoding devices, and mixing instruments all require levels of technical ability and knowledge that cannot easily be mastered by the dilettante, in the same way that a Sunday painter could approximate the works of Vermeer. [You're kidding, right?] This difficulty is further compounded by the fact that often those who manipulate these devices are themselves unaware of the basic engineering features that allow them to function; I might upload a video to YouTube, but I know next to nothing about the Flash encoding technology that makes it possible. [Gosh, I thought the genius of YouTube was that you didn't have to know how it worked to use it.]
Untitled (After Lucier), 2006, confronts that specific issue head-on; Arcangel appropriates the strategy of avant-garde composer Alvin Lucier's 1970 piece I am Sitting in a Room, in which Lucier continued to re-record a recording of himself reading "I am sitting in a room..." until the recording became an abstract sonic portrait of the space he was recording in. Untitled (After Lucier) examines the implications of compression, by continuously digitally re-compressing a video of the Beatles' famous Ed Sullivan appearance. As the video compresses it becomes more and more abstract-- a visual representation of the process of compression. Essentially, Arcangel asks us to question how the experience of culture is transformed by the container it is presented in. When a video is uploaded to Youtube it is modified by the technology, and thus takes on the characteristics of the "room" in which the viewer experiences it. [Anyone who looks at YouTube notices the pixelation right off the bat. Also, just because Lucier says the piece is about the "room," you believe him? The end of the piece sounds like a vocoder (listen), very electronic and piercing--surely that is not the "room" but the amplified mechanical errors of recording "room tone." In other words, the point was made in the Lucier piece--Untitled (After Lucier) just brings it into the YouTube era to tell us something we already know about the bad effects of compression.]
related: Jonathan Horowitz / Baby We Were Born to Run (updated again)
Update: Just remembered that Arcangel had done an earlier piece (with RSG) on the theme of compression called TAC, or Total Asshole Compression. To quote coin-operated: "Drag and drop a file into TAC and it will make your file exponentially BIGGER than what it used to be." I dropped a 15k HTML file in there and it compressed (expanded) to 7.2 MB! The project emphasizes the fact that with hard drives and memory getting so cheap and expansive in space, that compression formats might not be needed in the future! Why not just expand instead of trying to make everything so small! Hasn’t the advent of broadband made us realize this yet? Anyways, TAC only runs on MAC OSX currently and I wouldn’t advise dropping a DIVX movie into the compressor or you might end up crashing your machine... wait a minute, I think I just discovered the point of this project." One supposes the sudden rise of YouTube made compression the other way relevant again, but either way the attitude is missed. Like Woody Allen, Arcangel's biggest problem is going to be competing with himself.
It really is the room. If you change the size or shape of the room, it will alter the tones. Degradation due to the recording process is relatively insignificant because the room resonance is reinforced each time and becomes overwhelming.
I'll take your word for it, but I think we have a religious difference of whether it's the room (think echoes in the Taj Mahal or a resonant cavern--a kind of natural resampler--which would be sonorous and beautiful with lovely harmonics) versus the dreadful screech the Lucier recording becomes. The latter is inherently about the recording process as opposed to a "pure" sound experiment. Not necessarily mechanical errors but mechanical interpretation. Is there a Turing test for room vs "room tone"?
Simple test is to try it in two different sized rooms with the same starting sample and equipment. Preferably with all dimensions being different, including the ceiling. The resonant frequencies should shift based on the room's dimensions, and you could probably even calculate roughly what those frequencies are.
I'm not disputing your point about room size. I guess I'm saying that since there is no sealed room with reflective walls from which sound never escapes that would allow you to hear perfect reverberation with your own ears and compare its quality to tape, the Lucier piece is always necessarily about reproduction, as opposed to just "noticing the room." The larger point is this point has been made umpteen times.
I guess my point is that the purpose and concept behind the distortion in the sound in the Lucier piece and the distortion in the video in Cory's piece are pretty different. Although the Xerox version is conceptually much more similar. I still think Cory's is kind of interesting since it's happening entirely in the perfect digital realm, where data is intentionally being throw away and distorted for practical purposes. But I haven't actually seen the video...
Well, thanks, I'm glad you're commenting. I was just talking to someone yesterday who said I had an over-idealistic view of blogs* and that people wouldn't ever take me to task if they disagreed with me or thought I was mistaken about something. He's wrong--I have great comments and commenters.