I have bitched about the digital world just as much or more than any old guy. You want to believe that the LP sounds better than the CD. You know it sounds better than the MP3. The digital domain is so impersonal and there is a vast wasteland of zeroes and ones. Too much content, and the word content itself makes you feel like a person who once had an insatiable appetite until that all-night buffet in Vegas finally did them in.
What about the warm sound of the cassette? The fact that a real person went to the trouble of making a real work of art with great images and interesting sounds and that there is personal touch in mailing it to you, you know, like a real human being? All that is wonderful. I eat it up because now I have my appetite back and that Vegas buffet is suddenly a distant memory.
But then I remember “Pic Trans.” The artist 6e. The “album” (if it was ever part of something as normal as that) titled, “log(b);.” It doesn’t get less personal than that. Track information that looks like the detritus of a partial file left on a wiped hard drive and buried at the bottom of a hill of office refuse in a dump. Is it a title, or is it some kind of data transfer error? Who knows? Somewhere someone does.
And that’s what gets you.
OK. Really what got you was that after you saw and clicked that hyperlinked sound file on MySpace all those years ago the thing you heard sounded like a groove made by sweet, floating vapors, undulating to the micro-fluctuations of temperature and moisture in an otherworldly
jungle. The vapors forming what looked like the vague, swollen outline of a massive prehistoric lizard, lumbering along to the slow, churning rhythm of daemonic percussion. You swear you saw its shadow. The grass surely flickered as its ghostly leg fell rushing through the pregnant air to meld with the pillowy top layer of the jungle floor.
What sort of person made “Pic Trans”? Where did this person live? What kind of gear did they use? Do such sounds even come from objects as mundane as gear? You Google it. You find nothing. You Google it many times, and Bing it, and whatever other search engine you can find, year after year, because someone somewhere must have made this sound. Or did they? Was this not the digital dream of a lonely mainframe computer in an isolated warehouse owned by the Russian mob that makes grooves that put Massive Attack to shame when its not being used to hack elections and crash the power grids of entire countries? (Don’t blame the mainframe. There is something sublime in a machine that wields so much power in any hands.)
All trace is gone. Except that file on your computer. The one you downloaded all those years ago. And now it is your personal secret. You belong to a cult of one. No one else—to your knowledge—has this file. If you were to ask your friends what they know about it, you would get blank stares at best and maybe even that suspicious sideways glance of someone who is wondering what the hell you could be thinking. So you keep it to yourself, and like that one time you were almost convinced there must be a god because you knew an insignificant future event, like “the professor is going to call on me today,” for absolute certain and it turned out to be right as rain, you treasure it with a private wonder that surpasses your ability to communicate with words or gestures.
If you said anything, you would just sound like an idiot or a madman anyways. You may say that this could have been a cassette without a label under the passenger’s seat in your friend’s junker car that he gave to you when you asked him what it was. “I dunno,” he muttered absent-mindedly. Then half-roused by the question in delayed reaction, “Take it home and listen to it. I have no idea what it is and I don’t really need that clutter.”
But it’s not. Not really like that. Because maybe you would take it back to your friend’s car and he would tell you with the lightning strike of instantaneous recognition, “Oh yeah! I remember now. I picked up this hitchhiker on the road to Jacksonville and she had this tape a guy named
Dylan gave her at a show in Gainesville.” And then the mystery would be gone, and your cult of one would evaporate, smacked by the harsh light of actual knowledge.
You see, there is something about the mystery. Something about that mathematical title. Something about the fact that *that* sound had been merged (Deliberately? Randomly?) with such inscrutable track information, and the fact that MySpace is now dead and no one ever provided the slightest clue where this thing came from, even when MySpace was a thing.
That, my readers, is sacred. And nothing short of Kurzweil’s Singularity is going to take that away from me. And, no, I will not link the file for you. It’s not online. How can I post someone else’s file to the internet? You want a Russian mafia hacker mainframe gunning for me? Forget it.
is an electronic sound artist