Tuesday, 18 September 2012

music week: turning to the horoscope and looking for the funnies

Digital audio pioneers at the University of Erlangen and the laboratories of the Frauenhofer Institute helped early on to make music (and later video files with standardized formats like AVC) more manageable by figuring out how to compress inherently huge files by diluting the depth of the data without sacrificing the sound. A raw music file, a bit of time and vibrations digitized, would still be a huge thing and impossible to work with on most platforms—even given how personal computing has advanced, and sadly not predicting this kind of progress in storage capacity and the ever increasing detail of photography, I ruined few good pictures from the beginning of the decade, convinced I needed to apply a lossy space-saving routine to them if I ever hoped to keep them all.

 Engineers had one favourite test track, familiar and catchy so programmers would instantly hear how a changed parameter affected the recording—which was the 1984 release of Tom’s Diner (which in reality is Tom’s Restaurant on the corner of Broadway and 112th Street in Manhattan and portrayed in fiction as the diner in the television series Seinfeld) by Suzanne Vega. The same talent that produced the mp3 file format is also currently overseeing piecing together a monumental puzzle, which will have ramifications on how any archive or collection of sibylline leaves are organized in the future. From the partition into the East and West until the reunification of Germany, the German Democratic Republic’s secret police, Ministerium für Staatssicherheit, also the Stasis) swelled to a network of over a quarter of a million operatives and informants keeping watch over all citizens and amassing some fifty million pages of dossiers. As the dissolution of the DDR became imminent, there was a rush to dispose of these files—which was more volume than any mechanical shredder could handle, so many people in the office resorted to rending them by hand. These torn pages were relatively easy to recover, but this low-hanging fruit only accounted for a fraction (about two-hundredths of the total documentations) that could be reassembled by hand by a team of specialists over the past twenty years. Frauenhofer Institution is now aiding the reconstruction efforts by cataloguing each scrap of paper and the text on it (even the ones that made it through the shredder), producing a virtual jigsaw, mosaic that may eventually fall into place... When I'm feeling someone watching me and so I raise my head. There's a woman on the outside, looking inside—does she see me?