Hey, it’s me again! Because we both accidently wrote posts about the same reading, Kate and I broke down the second half of the readings for this week to blog about before class on Wednesday. Sorry again for the confusion! This blog post is about Sterne’s Format Theory chapter in his book about the history of the MP3.
Before reading this chapter, I had only really thought about MP3 audio files in terms of technology like the ipod (RIP). However, Sterne sees the MP3 as the “point of entry into the interconnected histories of sound and communication in the twentieth century” (2). In the chapter, Sterne emphasized the historical roots of the MP3, especially the strides made during in researching auditory perceptions during the devlopment of the telephone. I thought this was interesting because I tend to think of the MP3 has a relatively new technology, but Sterne shows readers that telephony and the “peculiar characteristics of its infrastructure are central to the sound of most audio technologies over the past 130-odd years,” (3) that can be seen in the MP3 audio format.
Sterne states that the history of the MP3 belongs to a general history of compression (5) . As people and institutions have developed new media new technologies, they have also sought out waysto make this new media more efficient. I learned that MP3s discard the parts of the audio signal that are unlikely to be audible to us and reorganize redundant data in the recording to make the file smaller, meaning it takes up less storage space. The fact that MP3 audio files can do this, demonstrate that the MP3 “carries within it practical and philosophical understandings of what it means to communicate, what it means to listen or speak, how the mind’s ear works, and what it means to make music (2).” MP3 files are not just files on a computer, they reflect entire histories of sonic practices that can be traced back to over a hundred years ago. Considering the importance of MP3 audio files within the practice of oral history, it is important to understand the history that makes MP3 files possible.
Questions to consider:
1. Sterne calls the MP3 the world’s preeminent audio format in this moment, until it is eclipsed by something better and more efficient. Is there any current audio formats that you think can rival the MP3?
2. Sterne states that we should be more confortable talking about the changes in format, similar to how we discuss the history of visual art or printing, what might be the benefits of this? Challenges?