Last summer I presented a paper called “MP3 as Contentious Message: When Infinite Repetition Fuses with the Acoustic Sphere” as part of a symposium on repetition, series, and narrative for young people. Yes, I scratched my head about how my paper fit in with narrative, too. However, I was thankful to be invited to participate, and it prompted me to put together some thoughts I had been mulling over for the past four years or so since my thesis on MP3 blogs. And now the hope is that it will be published as part of an essay collection, which is why I’ve been working for a couple of months on the second revision.
My argument uses Marshall McLuhan’s theories about typographic/mechanical media and aural/electronic media to explore the problem of monetary value for MP3s (and other lossy compression audio files for that matter). I contend that the possibility of infinite, exact repetition of MP3s is a hyperextension of the mechanical medium, which McLuhan associates with industrial, linear logic and with abstraction. At the same time, the MP3 is an aural/electronic medium that functions in a non-linear, simultaneous way. This hybridization makes it an object of the postindustrial, postmodern moment of late capitalism, where the increase of immaterial, affective labour challenges a system based on private property. To attempt to assign monetary value to the MP3 often means fetishization of analogue technology and its materials, the replacement of material commodities with access and social experience, and the insertion of human agency, including fans and artists, as content of the medium. In the case of material fetishization, MP3s can precipitate further repetition in the form of parody and nostalgia in their analogue, material counterparts. I specifically look at the examples of Pledge Music, Corporate Records, and Spotify. Along the way, there are references to Walter Benjamin, Jean Baudrillard, Jacques Attali, Frederic Jameson, Jonathan Sterne, Mark Poster, Marcus Boon, Michael Hardt, and Antonio Negri. The essay also features of Montreal, Radiohead, Gang of Four, The Indelicates, Nine Inch Nails, Imogen Heap, Einstürzende Neubauten, Momus, Amanda Palmer, and perhaps the most eccentric rockstar of them all, McLuhan himself.
What better way to take a step back from all of this theory and repetition fatigue than to make a mix about repetition?