A Voice From The Past

Alec Wilkinson’s New Yorker article “A Voice From The Past” [subscription required] is a really fascinating and thought-provoking examination of the role of technology in the creation, preservation and restoration of ephemeral objects.

He tells us about the work of Milman Parry and Albert Lord who, “formed the Parry-Lord hypothesis, which proposed that epic poems such as the Iliad and the Odyssey were made up of formulas that involved descriptions and characters and scenes that were assembled for an occasion by poets who were improvising, much as musicians improvise according to a songs’ chord structures and the rules of harmony.”

Wilkinson then goes on to describe listening to long-unlistenable “piano rolls” and in so doing radically revising the “we understand what 19th century music sounded like.”

Wilkinson quotes the physicist Carl Haber from the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory – the central figure of the article – as saying, “Sound, for example, is a phenomenon that changes as a function of time.”

I’m intrigued to think ephemeral art as working in the mediums of space and time, and how evolving the tools we use evolves our ability to manipulate our experience of space and time, and extend the arc of the work of art through time.

One of the notions that I started developing when working with Susie Ibarra and Roberto Rodriguez on Digital Sanctuaries  – a GPS-based site-based sound walk throughout Lower Manhattan – was the notion of digital public art that was persistent, iterative and always-evolving.