Saturday, January 3, 2015

hey, citizen-archivist!

interesting article by Jesse Jarnow at Wondering Sound on the future of recorded-music collecting, deploying the the notion of the "citizen archivist" (that's you and me, bub), and heralding a new frontier for collectors with the ephemeral, quickly-lost realm of online and digital music (as streaming increasingly eclipses the ownership of MP3s).

".... The difference between listening to music from the cloud and listening to a music that’s saved on a hard-drive is, in large part, that one cared enough to get the music onto the hard-drive in the first place. It is that assignation of value that makes collecting a distinct activity from clicking. Streaming rates aside, collected music has a different kind of fidelity. For those overwhelmed by the deluge of music, the act of collecting functions as a way to make sense of it. Collections “make public events private,” the scholar Susan Pearce once suggested, “and move history into the personal sphere, giving each person a purchase on what would otherwise be impersonal and bewildering experiences.

"And while physical media is slowly becoming a thing of the past, there still remains plenty to collect. There’s a vast musical world that falls beyond Spotify’s officially licensed purview, and even outside the realm of established retailers like Amazon and iTunes. It may not have the allure of tracking down rare LPs, but it’s a good bet that the Bob Abrahamians and Patrick Lundborgs of the future will be stalking digital music: the Bandcamp albums that appeared for two weeks, Soundcloud mixes zapped by record companies, vanished YouTube covers, ProTools sessions stored on unsupported peripherals, old MySpace pages, out-of-print LPs lost in the Megaupload purge. A few years ago, the songwriter Aaron Freeman — formerly known as Gene Ween — posted a large batch of recordings to his Soundcloud account, including some of his most experimental and personal material in years. Within a few months, he deleted nearly all of them. All of which raises the question, if there’s music you care about and you don’t save it, who will?

Digital is different from analog recordings,” says Butch Lazorchak, a digital archivist in the Library of Congress’s National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program. “It’s a little more ephemeral.” The earliest MySpace accounts and ProTools versions have begun a swift slide into inaccessible obsolescence, and preserving them is far more complicated than, say, maintaining a reel-to-reel. For those who value music made at the turn of this century and beyond, collectors — especially collectors of digital ephemera — are more necessary than ever.

Step up the citizen-archivist, filling the vacuum where institutions fail to reach...

Institutions have always relied on collectors to collect,” says Lazorchak. “But people and organizations have to start collecting these [digital objects] earlier in their lifecycle. In the past, we could wait for a collector to collect over decades, and then acquire those materials, because they were in a format that was still understandable.” To help combat the loss of years of recorded material, the Library is engaged in a variety of outreach programs, advocating for file standardizations, staging events (like this summer’s three-day Digital Preservation 2014 summit and accompanying CURATEcamp “unconference” and maintaining an unofficial blog, the Signal, as a clearinghouse for digital preservation news. Above all, the Library wants to encourage an uprising of what Lazorchak and others call citizen archivists.

The idea of the citizen archivist isn’t new,” says Lazorchak. Citizen archivists are “the first responders of history,” he has written, “arriving early on the scene to gather, capture, describe and preserve ephemeral artifacts of interest and helping to ensure they survive over time to share with the future.” He cites local Washington, D.C., hardcore hero Ian MacKaye and the extensive Dischord vault of master recordings, live tapes, countless demos by other bands and show flyers as a sterling example of the practice.

UbuWeb also figures in the piece a prime example of a non-temporary autonomous zone of amateur (but professional-looking) curation - an assembly of citizen archivists pooling their treasure for the common good. 

"... UbuWeb is defiantly anti-institutional. [Kenneth] Goldsmith bristles at the formal practices of the Library of Congress, and the idea that a “real” archivist must keep scrupulous backups. “There are many levels [of collecting],” he says. “A kid with an mp3 blog is an archivist just as much as these guys are.” 

Back on the subject of immaterial-music reclamation projects, in this piece on the monumentalist box-set boom, I imagined that soon - especially as the physical-music seam (vinyl, cassettes,  the developing world, pre-WW2 78s, etc) gets tapped out, the barrel scraped bare and barren, we will see the curatorially-inclined turning in earnest to the early lo-fi ephemera of  MP3s, podcasts, etc, with citizen archivists scooping up:

" the shitty-sound-quality tracks thronging and teeming through the infosphere as YouTube remixes, pirate radio sets, Soundcloud mixes, phone-to-phone swapped MP3s,  etc -  the ceaseless and promiscuous outflow of urban dance cultures like North of England’s jackin’ house, Los Angeles ratchet rap, and the innumerable ghetto dance sounds of the developing world.....    Expect grime, screw, and crunk salvage to begin in earnest soon. These future antiquarians will hunt down fugitive MP3s and resurrect long-ago dried-up streams. They will annotate their conditions of making, auterise their makers, and assemble their findings into archives that may be physical and exclusively priced,  or immaterial and freely public."  

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