The Department of Information & Library Science (ILS) presents:
Playing the Past: Frontiers of Historical Time Based Media - an ILS Research Talk by Patrick Feaster
Abstract: Time-based media offer an important and uniquely vivid window on the past, and the overarching goal of his research is to make our cultivation of them more effective and better informed. As an audio archaeologist, he has been working to develop a history of sound media comparable to the “history of the book,” and many of his studies involve materials which archivists and scholars would readily recognize as legacy sound recordings, such as wax phonograph cylinders and 78 rpm discs. Despite the current boom in sound studies, the field still lacks a solid conceptual toolkit for reading old sound recordings in the sense that people routinely read old films, and in an effort to fill the gap he has been experimenting with novel approaches to contextualizing phonograms and extracting worthwhile information from them, whether through listening, physical examination, signal processing, or other means. For example, he finds that seemingly trivial matters of structure and wording can provide rare insight into how people of the late nineteenth century came to terms with time-shifting, telepresence, and the tension between authenticity and illusion in technologically mediated interactions. Another facet of his work centers on playing or “educing” historical data as audio and video in cases where it wasn’t created with that purpose in mind. He first embarked down this path ten years ago as lead researcher for the team responsible for playing back the world’s oldest recordings of the human voice: waveforms of speech and song traced on paper for visual analysis in the decades before Edison’s 1877 invention of the phonograph. That experience encouraged him to imagine an alternative history of time-based media defined not in terms of recording for playback, but in terms of data structures with a time dimension, regardless of how or why these came into being. By identifying and “playing” arguable specimens of audio and video dating back hundreds of years, he aims to challenge entrenched assumptions about the origins and nature of time-based media and to provoke fruitful debates about them. Meanwhile, he has also begun exploring the use of video to display unwieldy historical data sets that document change over time, especially through a technique he calls “time-based image averaging” which makes it possible to time-lapse decades of gradual development-say, the evolution of the smile in yearbook portraits-into smooth and seamless moving pictures.
Bio: Patrick Feaster received his doctorate in Folklore and Ethnomusicology in 2007 from Indiana University Bloomington, where he is currently Media Preservation Specialist for the Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative. A three-time Grammy nominee, co-founder of the First Sounds Initiative, and past president of the Association for Recorded Sound Collections, he has been actively involved in locating, making audible, and contextualizing many of the world’s oldest sound recordings. In addition to his book Pictures of Sound, his publications include various commercial album notes and articles in journals such as Film History, the Journal of Popular Music Studies, and Velvet Light Trap.