MP3: Making Something from Nothing


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Presentation around MP3 as a cultural Artifact. ARIN 6912 21/4/09

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MP3: Making Something from Nothing

  1. 1. How to Make Something out of Nothing “The MP3 as a cultural artifact” Jonathan Sterne, McGill University, Canada
  2. 2. There is a general view that the MP3 has replaced the CD as a music format Apple have sold nearly 60 million iPods worldwide since their launch in November 2001, and the billionth worldwide legal music download was recorded way back in February 2006.
  3. 3. ew The n ...Then what exactly is an MP3?
  4. 4. new The MP3 stands for MPEG layer 3, it is the third layer of the original Standard created in 1991 by the Motion Picture Experts Group
  5. 5. new The The dream of the MPEG was to create the possibility, that once standardized, “data could be moved with ease and grace across many different kinds of systems and over great distances frequently and with little effort.” –Sterne
  6. 6. new The ible pat Com Portable ous Exchange nym Ano
  7. 7. Portable + Exchange tible ous + + pa nym Com Ano = Perfect for illegal filesharing! “The technology itself is perfectly and lovingly shaped for the very purposes to which it is not supposed to be put. The MP3 is perfectly designed for illegal filesharing” – Sterne
  8. 8. new The In simple terms, MP3 reduces “the amount of digital information required to store music. It does this by encoding the data more efficiently and lopping off bits that your ears won’t really miss. This process is called compression. . . It reduces sound quality only a little – you can just about tell the difference on a good stereo, but probably not when you’re out and about, listening through headphones.” – Which Guide to MP3 players 2005, p. 2
  9. 9. So other than a great bit of code that makes filesharing simple, what is an MP3? An MP3 still is actually NOTHING
  10. 10. Or an MP3 is a kind of CONTAINER for tasty sound recordings
  11. 11. So if the MP3 is: A Container + Collected PORTABLE + Exchanged OWNED EXCHANG + Owned E D STOLEN LLECTED + Stolen( just ask Piratebay) CO ESIRED D + Portable = A THING!
  12. 12. So without any type of physicality or tangibility An MP3 has been ascribed the status of a “thing” and is now SOMETHING!
  13. 13. What? No value.. BUT...wierdly, but I am a thing! the MP3 whilst now a “thing” has no real value.
  14. 14. MP3 is generally not paid for so has no real EXCHANGE VALUE MP3 is copied as it is exchanged, so has no real USE VALUE MP3 exists outside the normal channels of the value economy
  15. 15. Does the MP3 herald the liberation of recorded music from economics therefore enabling free and easy and large scale exchange? Or is the MP3 a descendant of something that once lived in a money economy paid for by Record companies, that need to be paid for by the listener?
  16. 16. Either way, MP3’s are desired, collected, stockpiled and used. MP3 = VIRTUAL CULTURAL OBJECT
  17. 17. Walter Benjamin believes: The book collector can immerse himself in memories and narratives made through the physical properties of the book So Mr Benjamin, Is the notion of a “collection” still relevant in an age of digital artefacts?
  18. 18. Culture, for a society, a group, or a person, is a continual process of sustaining an identity through the coherence gained by a con- sistent aesthetic point of view, a moral conception of self, and a style of life which exhibits those conceptions in the objects that adorn one’s home and oneself and in the taste which expresses these points of view. – Bell 1996, (p. 36)
  19. 19. new The How do you think MP3 based collections maintain some form of biographical aesthetic or materiality to which the individual is intimately connected?
  20. 20. new The The general feeling online is that the shutdown of filesharing sites such as Piratebay and more innocent ventures like Muxtape are no surprise, but the cry has gone out for “future Solutions to hurry up and arrive” What could some of these future solution be?
  21. 21. Bibliography and Further reading Rodman, Gilbert B. and Vanderdonckt, Cheyanne(2006)’MUSIC FOR NOTHING OR, I WANT MY MP3’, Cultural Studies,20:2,245 — 261 Beer, David(2008)’THE ICONIC INTERFACE AND THE VENEER OF SIMPLICITY:MP3 players and the reconfiguration of music col- lecting and reproduction practices in the digital age’. Information, Communication & Society,11:1,71 — 88 Bell, D. (1996) The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, Twentieth Anniversary edn, Basic Books, New York. Benjamin, W. (1999) Illuminations, Pimlico, London. the alternative to Muxtape, which was shut down mid 2008. “Pirate Bay defendant: we can’t and won’t pay” Accessed 18/04/09 Which Guide to MP3 players. (2005) Available in print or PDF format from