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2010_11_12sound

Digital Silence

At CFI’s 10-years jubilee sound artist Morten Riis presented a digital artwork specially made for the occasion.

The piece Digital Silence is an attempt to excavate and expose the hidden digital artefacts that surround the modern reality of sharing music in various digital formats and compressions on the Internet.

The piece Digital Silence tries to break with the notion that the digital medium, compared with its analogue counterparts, is the perfect transparent medium for distributing and listening to music. Digital is a medium that allegedly has no sound of its own, but acts as a perfect pellucid mediator of a musical content. But the digital reality that takes place on the countless file-sharing sites such as Pirate Bay and isoHunt indicate that the perfect medium maybe isn’t that perfect and transparent at all. The bit-torrent practice points towards a different more untidy reality that reveals the artefacts and waste of the digital medium itself by framing the multitude of various encoding and compression algorithms that all contribute to and defines modern digital music consumption and distribution.

In Digital Silence a technique has been developed that draws attention to the sound of the digital medium itself by a simple subtraction method. This method builds on the following technique: Take a sound file and make a copy of it. Then take two identical sound files and place them in an audio editor (Audacity – free download from audacity.sourceforge.net) on two different tracks, ensuring that they have the exact same starting point and volume settings. Then invert one of them (phase invert) and play the two files together, this produces absolute silence if the two audio files were completely identical. Using the same method but instead of copying audio files, use two versions of the same track downloaded from a bit-torrent site. The song is the same, it is the same artist, same production, same mastering, and same release, but often the various versions of the same track is found in different digital encoding and compression algorithms. Now take two versions of the same track and subject them to the above mentioned method of subtracting one audio file from another. The output is now the difference between the two files, a difference that best can be described as the sound of the digital compression itself, or a sort of digital waste that still carries some reference to the “original” song, but in a degenerated digital version that could be described as digital leftovers.

When applying this method to various downloaded tracks it is interesting to observe the difference between the various bit-rates and compression algorithms, thus the digital leftovers between FLAC files and MP3 files sounds different that two MP3 in say respectively 128 Kbit/s and 320 Kbit/s. This opens up for a new way of observing and conceptualising the use of digital audio, a method that look behind the initial surface of the digital medium, and instead examines the leftovers of technology.

Here is an example of the digital sound difference between two versions of the same LadyGaGa track ‘Just Dance’ extracted with the software made by Morten Riis:

 

Lady Gaga – just dance – Difference by Morten Riis