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.


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