Digital Beasts and How to Preserve Them

Hi and hello! My name is Alice Rogers, and I am a fledgling ethnomusicologist at University of Maryland, currently pursuing a doctorate. I also am a project archivist with the Special Collections in Performing Arts at the Clarice. I wear many hats: I’m a researcher, a student, a musician, an audio engineer, a teacher, a historian, and an ethnographer, and all of these roles have had me interacting with digital art and new media at one level or another.

While my dissertation will primarily focus on R&B/soul/funk in Washington D.C. in the 1960s, I am interested in how new media formats have shaped/changed listening communities (e.g., finding a new record used to require going to a store, now you can find just about anything on Spotify, YouTube, or Amazon).

Another somewhat less academic interest of mine is watching/making/engaging with live-streamed gaming and musical performances on Twitch.tv. Some artists have archives of sorts, where you can listen to past streams, or music available for download through bandcamp. Reading through Re-Collection in particular had me thinking back to this format, and how it is preserved. This is perhaps because Reinhart and Ippolito begin with a segment on social history (as an ethnomusicologist, I very much appreciated this).

I liked to think of the “formal social memory” as what twitch automatically keeps, these videos that, most significantly, do not include the chat that occurs during the performance (unless the performer themselves is displaying a feed on-screen). For a live-stream, this seems like a rather big oversight. However, on Twitter and YouTube, many fans or even the streamers themselves will reproduce segments of the stream with heightened graphics or added musical elements to highlight how that moment felt. These sorts of creations act more as informal social memory, I think.

Particularly with technology such as this though, the artists recognize that what they make is ephemeral, and the temporal nature of their work is what makes it different from a video on YouTube or a recording on Spotify. Reinhart notes that this is something that a number of artists working with new media have considered in their process in his chapter on variability. I wonder if many of the reinterpretations of streams made by fans are not preserving the spirit of the stream more than a more conventional reproduction of the event; I have a feeling that Reinhart might feel that way, although perhaps it would be best to have both available (as he says, the “mother” rather than the “master”).

I’m interested to see what standards begin to develop as time goes on for preserving art on Twitch, particularly as the music and creative “games” are more recent additions to their site. In the Smithsonian Interview Project reading, many of the people spoke to a certain need for some standards, but also to the need to meet works on their own times, and also for artists to break rules. This sentiment is echoed in Re-Collection, and I think it’s an interesting balance to consider.

5 Replies to “Digital Beasts and How to Preserve Them”

  1. Interesting thoughts on Twitch. Do you happen to know why Twitch doesn’t store the chat logs? I’m not very well-versed in this, so I am curious to learn more. Also, it seems that the users have created a tool that preserves the chat (www.rechat.org), but I suppose it only works for people streaming from their computer? I imagine that video game consoles do not allow you to incorporate tools like this.

    1. I’m not entirely sure why the chat logs aren’t stored, but I think it’s, in part, due to the fact that the streamer has entire control over what they put on the screen, and when Twitch stores their content, they only store what the streamer put on the screen. Now, a few streamers (not sure for whose benefit) *do* put the chat up, but that’s not consistent.

      I didn’t know about rechat; what a great tool! No, this would work, I think, for any type of streaming. I’m assuming this means that Twitch IS storing the data from the chat, but they just are not displaying it. This seems a bit odd to me, but it’s definitely better than not storing the data at all!

      The only thing here is that it only lasts one week… great if you need to get caught up on a streamer’s activity, not so great if you want to watch a favorite past performance.

  2. Great to meet you Alice!

    Given your ethnomuscology background I think there is a good chance that you will be interested in some of the things we get into in the week on digital folklore and vernacular. I think a lot of that connects directly with some of the points you’ve raised about the aspects of something like Twitch that are functionally ephemeral. (At some point, I think I also have us reading this blog post that explores what it would mean to preserve something like Twitch plays Pokemon Great to meet you Alice! http://www.playthepast.org/?p=4529 )

    1. That blog post brings up such a great point that is particularly relevant for the Twitch Plays Pokemon stream; the number of creations and elements outside of the stream itself are important to understanding TPP’s cultural significance. I actually participated in the original run (and it’s how I came to be familiar with twitch), and it’s interesting to see the videos of the stream now, because they lack the culture-building kind of comments (ones in which people commented on the activity and started using/reusing certain tropes and language, such as “Praise Lord Helix”). Without these, it just seems like an odd, messy way of playing a game.

      I think it applies more widely too; streamers often build groups of followers who are familiar with their favorite characters, catchphrases, online friends, and habits that create digital communities with their own unique cultures. I think the next question, when it comes to documenting these, is what purpose such documentation has. For something like Twitch Plays Pokemon, there’s a certain amount of historical importance (within certain histories), but for other, smaller streams, I think that’s still a question I will have to ponder.

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