Patina / Nude Media

Analogue media is marked by time: cassette tapes warp and stretch, the sleeves of my vinyl albums curl and fade; the albums themselves accrue their individual patina of noise from each unique history of replay and handling. Once ripped to digital, the noise floor is frozen as it was at that point, forever.

I don’t mourn the steady degredation of quality, but the absence of patina. Patina matters. Through the concept of yugen, patina is central to a whole thread of Japanese aesthetics.

To achieve the end of yugen, art had sometimes been stripped of its color and glitter lest these externals distract; a bowl of highly polished silver reflects more than it suggests, but one of oxidized silver has the mysterious beauty of stillness, as Seami realized when he used for stillness the simile of snow piling in a silver bowl.

[reference: see above link]

We were talking about this a couple of weeks ago, and Katherine pointed me at an interview with Kenneth Goldsmith which used the phrase nude media:

What I mean by this is that once, say, an MP3 file is downloaded from the context of a site such as UbuWeb, it’s free or naked, stripped bare of the normative external signifiers that tend to give as much meaning to an artwork as the contents of the artwork itself. Completely detached from shopping impulses, unadorned with neither branding nor scholarly liner notes, emanating from no authoritative source, the consumer of these objects is left with only the wine, not the bottles. Thrown into open peer-to-peer distribution systems, nude media files often lose even their historical significance and molt into free-floating sound works, travelling in circles that they would not normally reach if clad in their conventional clothing. This applies to all web-based media, be it sound, image or text.

He is making a point more about context and metacontext rather than time- and handling-borne patina, but he’s thinking in a similar space, and I like the expression nude media enough to co-opt it for media which doesn’t show the marks of age.

This has been in mind recently, as I’ve been changing the way I access my music. For years, I’ve been storing my CDs in CaseLogic cases: more space-efficient than keeping them in their jewel cases, easier for travelling, and I don’t really care about the packaging anyway — it’s the music which matters, and if I need track listings etc., I can always get them from freeDB. I’ve been happy having semi-decontextualised music for years, but the CD itself is still an object with a certain patina. Over the last few months, however, I’ve been working my way through my CDs and vinyl, ripping everything to MP3, so I can carry it all with me when I’m not at home. Suddenly my music feels very very nude indeed, removed from its last vestiage of physicality and context. I’ve actually been finding it very hard to listen to raw MP3s — instead I’ve been doing mixes and only listening to those, they have accumulated some patina I think from the process of putting them together, and from my having spent time on them — they feel warm and musical in a way that 20Gb+ of pure MP3 with instant random access simply fails to…

1 comment

  1. Your thoughts on music media in some of these posts have really intrigued me, very perceptive.

    Anyway, I’ve been thinking about this patina thing, and a quick question: how can you mourn the loss of patina when in another post you demanded rights to ‘platonic content’? Platonic content is basically a recording without any form of patina whatsoever. If such a wish were granted, ceaselessly upgrading of content onto new media or in greater fidelity/bandwidth would destroy the possibility of any one particular recording gaining a history, wouldn’t it?

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