Monthly Archives: November 2016

MP3: The Meaning of Format by Johnathan Sterne

Johnathan Sterne writes about the history of the MP3. He discusses the telephone theory, a theory in which the auditory nerve is seen as “…a kind of electrical telephone line to the brain.” An altogether interesting theory that later resulted in attaching electrodes to the brain or partial brain of cats. The discoveries made during this cat experiment “…marked an important moment in the history of psychoacoustic research…”

I found Sterne’s “domestication of noise” part rather interesting. Instead of eliminating noise, either make it useful or irrelevant. First of all how do you come up with domesticating noise? To me this is such an odd concept you domesticate animals or food but noise? And domestication recontextualizes the other 2 majors changes of computers as sound media and overcoming subjectivity of listening. The rise of perceptual coding as the norm has to do with advancements in technology and understanding of the human ear.

In chapter 6 Sterne notes the change from music on a physical media to a digital media. The effects of piracy, unauthorized file sharing, on digital media. On one hand you have individuals that believe piracy is a dangerous thing, while on the other hand piracy is a driving economic factor for other industries. Piracy may harm the music industry but it creates more money for electronics, broadband, and other types of intellectual property. Digital file sharing seems to be no worse than people burning CD’s and mix tapes, it is harmful in some aspects and profitable in others.

This book was a difficult read for me. I understand he was trying to give us the history of MP3’s and the importance of compression in popular music and the standards in industry are practiced and how technology changes these things change to but ooooof.


Music and Psychoacoustics

There are limits to digital music production on software. There are 2 kinds of files audio files and recorded sound. MIDI files :music, instrument, digital, interface. MIDI notes from an electrical keyboard can be converted to sound like another instrument because the digital information can be remapped.

Psychoacoustics are sounds the brain does not process this originates at Bell labs with a cat experiment. Auditory masking is the effect on frequency has on another in which the a frequency gets cancelled out. Removing this unheard frequency allows for compression.

Technology offers a wider range. You can store many MP3’s in a relatively small space. This allows for a more diverse collection but at the same time the compression of the music makes it all the same level and cheapens the experience. New technology allows for music to become an asocial experience. You can also repeat the same song over and over again allowing for the same experience which would one would not have been able to do before. MP3’s do not not to be categorized there is more ambiguity, with a record collection there was more of a need to categorize and organize your collection. This organization allows for control do you organize by genre or alphabetically? In MP3’s there is no need  it is almost as if you are losing control over your collection. As Carr said technology leads to the breaking down of the personal and public self, if you can’t categorize your music that is a breakdown of control in a way.

Who owns me? And Copyrights.

Locke’s thoughts on ownership of land were if you mixed your labor with the land you would own it. His theory however was deeply flawed, he uses this theory to moralize overtaking of Indian land. The flaw in his theory though is if you work the land you own it, the Indians may have moved around as the need arose and made minimal impact on the land in which they lived but technically they worked the land. The Indian’s picked berries and plants and hunted off of the land.

Corporations are fictitious people, given a status, right of speech, and protection, is immortal and can sell itself. Around the time of the corporation, ideas become own-able things. To own an idea it must be able to transform into a physical thing. Ideas are intellectual property.  Patents are inventions in which the patent holder has exclusive ownership. Trademarks such as logos, phrases, and commercial entities. These are all things that can be copyrighted and owned. A person who creates an original work can own it for a certain period of time, currently as of 1998 it is a lifetime plus 70 years and for corporations it is 95 years from the date published or 120 from creation. With some things it is hard to validly copyright as was the case with “Happy Birthday” the copyright was found to be invalid.

You can not copyright chord progressions because millions of songs share the same chord patterns, this makes sense there are probably only so many combinations that can sound good together. Copyright law does not allow for copyright of drumbeats. You may not sample music without paying a licensing fee because it can be copyrighted. During the 70’s-80’s sampling became an inexpensive way for street artists to create new sounds with already made music. I personally think if you create a new piece of music from an old piece and they sound differently it should not break copyright because you created something new. Claude Shannon predicted this decontextualizing of music, if you remove the meaning of the previous song you can create a new one with the information.

Copyright is the opposite of information wanting to be free. Who gets to decide what should be free or not. Especially because we have learned in this class that information can be improved upon when allowed to be free but then again at what point do we give credit to the original creator. I think there is a fine balance not that I know what that is but…


Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert first published the “Encyclopedie” in 1751, during the Enlightenment. It was not the first compiled book of knowledge but it was a meant to be a comprehensive encyclopedia that categorized knowledge in a scholarly way. It consisted of 71,000 article written by members of the respective field being written about, it was a collaborative effort. Between 1751 and 1772 there were revisions and additions made. Diderot wanted to make sure this knowledge was put down for the future benefit of others. Why was this so important? How would one decide what is important enough to go into a comprehensive encyclopedia? After all it must be published to be of use to anyone.

By the 20th century the most popular encyclopedia was the “Encyclopedia Britannica”. It signaled a commitment to education and it was an indicator of social status. They were heavy, cumbersome and expensive. The encyclopedia was hard to update and some of the information was subjective, racist ideas and imperial thoughts. It was authoritative knowledge, nut again who decides what constitutes authoritative knowledge? Who should maintain this knowledge?

With the advent of the internet more people are able to have access to more information, The more that information and ideas are seen the better they can be improved upon. Richard Stallman, a software freedom activist, created a free operating system in the 1980’s for people to use. However they had to follow the 4 freedoms of software: free to run any program for any purpose, free to study and change program if need be, freedom to redistribute to thy neighbor, and the freedom to redistribute your modified copies to others. These were modeled after Roosevelt’s four freedoms. Stallman believed that if you enclosed information you restrict its dissemination. If you restrict the dissemination there will not be as many people looking and using the software trying to improve and create and better product. With GNU and Linux  people that want to use the software improve and the software continues to get better and better. Crowd sourcing requires no central authority and people can improve because they are internally motivated not because they have to or are getting paid.

While encyclopedia’s may have been the foremost place to find authoritative knowledge, they have been by far surpassed by the amount of information of the World Wide Web. The WWW can provide more than just one side of subjective knowledge allowing people to make better decisions. Sometimes this backfires however, because of the amount of misinformation of the internet.