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Terre Thaemlitz - Digital Culture vs Online Culture

Terre Thaemlitz - Digital Culture vs Online Culture

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Published by: Audiodelica Px on Mar 06, 2012
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02/21/2013

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Collateral Damage
Don’t confuse online culture with digital culture, argües
TerreThaemlitz 
, whose latest project pushes the MP3 format to itsabsolute limits
Where do I begin after James Kirby’s contribution to this column {TheWire 335} said so much of what I imagined discussing? In particular,the pressure to endlessly generate free online content and themindless consumer practices arising from the ability to quickly amassvast collections of media detached from relevant contexts of production and reception. Indeed, today’s widely embraced model of the ‘internet as context’ is a sign of new heights of refinement inselling the Western humanist model of a ‘shared human experience’to a diversely destitute world - albeit only at the expense of denyingevery material circumstance facilitating one’s entry into cyberspace,ranging from the realities of our crap little rooms in which we sit withour personal computers to the massive social and ecologicaldestruction caused by server facilities and power plants cheaply builtin underdeveloped countries by IT firms like Microsoft, Google and Yahoo!.Because online culture and digital culture are often considered to beone and the same, let me distinguish between the two. Even backwhen the internet was solely for government and educational use, Ialready considered myself a producer of digital media. I have alwaysbeen completely reliant upon electronic equipment, both in thegeneration of sounds and in their recording. When manufacturinganalogue formats like vinyl, even in the era before personal CDwriters (let alone CD writers capable of writing audio discs with nogaps or silence between tracks) or Zip drives (the USB stick of the1990s), the master recordings were always delivered in digital formaton DAT tape, per those analogue faetones’ own requirements. Goingback even further, my record collection of youth was filled with vinylrecords of digital music by groups like Devo, Telex, YMO, Krisma,Kraftwerk, Depeche Mode, Jobs For America -perhaps all easilyavailable in Europe, but quite difficult to track down in America’s ruralMidwest. In this respect, I can say that the majority of my life’sexperience with digital culture did not involve online culture. I realisethat times change, and the world is now filling up with young adultswho never went without the internet, but my point is that digital audioculture does not need the internet to exist. Certainly without theinternet it would be something else today, but that is very differentfrom saying it requires the internet.So how did we come to feel the terms digital culture and onlineculture are interchangeable?If we momentarily put the corporate conspiracies aside, and simply
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look at electronic music’s historical connections to ostracised andfringe communities (from faggot nerds to ghetto B-boys to dorkygirls), I can’t help but wonder how much of contemporary digitalmedia’s ideological focus on ‘networking’ is an out-of-controlextension of our own naive desires for an elusive sense of ‘community’ and belonging? After all, nerds were at ground zerowhen the internet came into being (Bill Gates’s refusal to get anormal haircut is a homage to this fact), and cultivated the onlineindustries into what they are today. So isn’t it possible that onereason online culture is so fixated on issues of visibility and thepotential for anyone to connect with everyone is because that hasbeen the dark fantasy of so many technically savvy outsiders? Withregard to non-pop oriented electronic audio producers, at what pointand through what practices do we cease to remember that what wedo is not about mass appeal, and in that sense may not be wellserved by mass systems of distribution? Isn’t it true that most of theinconsequential genres we move within emerged as reactions againstmass appeal, and in that sense are knowingly inconsequential tomainstream consumers? The tangential electronic audio producerwho forgets this is not unlike the bourgeois-seduced LGBT PrideParaderwho fantasises about owning a house, getting married andhaving children (and indeed, many electronic audio producers are oneand the same).In recent years I have been focusing on ‘offline digital culture’, ¡nresistance to online culture as a repackaging of the American Dreamfiltered through adolescent traumas, as well as a personal mistrust of online distributors emerging from years of unauthorised online salesof my albums by the giants of the industry - ¡Tunes, Juno Download,eMusic, etc -which has left me unwilling to enter into businessarrangements with those same companies (a whole other trauma).For example, 2009’s Dead Stock Archive: Complete Collected Workswas an 8GB MP3 collection only available on DVD-R. And myupcoming album Soulnessiess contains a roughly 30 hour piano solofilling a single maximum length 320kB/s MP3 file of 4GB (per FAT32file size restrictions). I think of Soulnessiess as the world’s first full-length MP3 álbum, seeing as the concept of what constitutes analbum has always been defined by the playback duration of an era’sdominant media format (vinyl = 18 minutes per side; CD = 74minutes, then 81 minutes, etc). And because these days enough isnever enough, that file is combined with additional hours of newaudio, video and texts to fill a 16GB microSD HD card. The sheer bulkof these projects is what makes them both physically dependent upondigital media formats, and completely unacceptable for onlinedistribution. I also just discovered I cannot register the composition’spublishing with BMI online because it exceeds their system’s 23 hourlimitation on song duration.I'm not suggesting that everyone should be making 30 hour albums. Itis certainly an asinine response to an online audio industry that
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