Momus has written a good piece for Wired in which he discusses the implications of rapid media format changes for the preservation of the past. Drawing on Derrida and others, Momus argues that the act of archiving the past is a form of “destroying to preserve”. In our selectivity, we suppress as much of the past as we preserve. Thus the decision to transfer works originally recorded on vinyl into an RSS enclosure is a political act, not unlike Winston Smith’s selective rewriting of The Times in the film 1984.
Archiving the past is a political act, indeed. And thus the work of found sound mixtape bloggers (who rifle through thrift stores for discarded home recorded cassettes, and then share the spoils) is something of a reaffirmation of the proletariat, or the art of the everyday.
But something of the plasticity and usability of contemporary media formats is troublesome for history. Almost anyone can do it, and in the absence of expertise or knowledge leadership, what are we to believe? Aside from the benefits of wikis in giving more people a voice (even though they can get trolled and shouted down by those with megaphones), are there dangers in this?
Here‘s an example of a hoax committed using contemporary media formats. Funerary violin never existed, but through a careful mimicry of the crackle and hum of old wax cylinders (not too difficult with common digital audio recording plugins) and a bit of somewhat careless writing (and failed attempts to write the subject into wikipedia), this hoaxster has fabricated a five hundred year history of the practice that fools a lot of the people some of the time, and has positioned himself as its transmitter for this generation.
Why do I suspect there’s a problem here? If we consider the hoax an example of “destroying to preserve”, or a political act, then what does it preserve, or what political ends (other than satire, which is never an end in itself) does a hoax like this aim to achieve? Maybe I’m missing the joke here?