Class meeting #3 – Digital audio formats – Monday 9/17


Sterne, p. 1–31; Kittler, p. 1–19 only


Pick a digital format (it does not have to be an audio format) that you are familiar with (not the MP3 or the LP) and, following Sterne and/or Kittler, describe how you think how the technical or material facts about your chosen format can be used as evidence of one or more of the following, more broadly reaching, concerns: specific social practices and habits of media consumption, the aesthetic priorities of artists who make use of your chosen format, any empirical human-centered user research that was used in the development of that format, the fetishization of innovation (conversely, Luddism), or any other topic of your choice.

7 thoughts on “Class meeting #3 – Digital audio formats – Monday 9/17

  1. lnl2110

    A GIF is a bitmap image format that allows 8 bits per second in 256 different colors. Because the color palate is so limited and because the animation is so slow compared to the amount of FPS that the human eye can see, GIFs do not function as a short substitute for film or any “good-quality” animation. Rather, it can serve as a tool to make cultural references to film, or divorce short moments in film, tv, and other video media from its original context without posing to have the realistic features of film that are described in Kittler. Facebook allows GIFs in comments, so that facebook users often use them as responses that stand alone without additional text. GIFs that include the face of a character in movies or a person on tv can contain information about a gesture, a certain facial expression that references a certain emotion. GIPHY is a website that is for sharing and creating GIFs, and because other social media websites allow access to this website’s contents, certain GIFs become more common and popular.

  2. erc2175

    While many image and video formats concern themselves with varying levels of size and quality, one newer sort of image/video hybrid format values compression practically above all else – GIF, a format that more or less completely sheds the politics of compression and loss of quality in favor of adopting a completely new position within discourse about image formats. Of course, GIFs can be used to store information, to a point, and there are some forms of “video” that can be successfully conveyed through GIF (crude looping animations, for example). More often, though, GIFs are probably most often used (at least at this moment in history) to reduce a short video artifact (part of a movie or a TV show, or some other video that is available in a more “robust” full-video form) to a very simple, easily parse-able piece of information. Often accompanied by subtitles, or depicting some kind of emotional reaction, these images could be seen to continue the trend described by Kittler, in that it is almost a kind of ultimate reduction-to-digital from its original “human” form. Often, these GIFs are strikingly low-quality, from repeated compression to various digital formats. Their common usage, too, sort of degrades or reduces (take your pick) the original human performance of the depicted subjects to a single data point, to illustrate some logical or emotional point on the part of the person deploying the image.

  3. ijg2112

    While the future of digital formatting will include scientists finding ways to produce and transport higher-quality media through new formats, it will also include the exploration of compressing media while retaining adequate quality. However, as Sterne mentions, many people including “audiophiles and recording professionals” have no interest in the “proliferation of lower-definition formats” (3 -4).
    The creation of lower-definition audio formats allows music to become accessible. A recently developed lossy audio coding format is Opus. Opus’ lossy codec has algorithms that are better at analyzing what parts of an audio file are necessary or not, so this file format retains adequate audio quality at a lower bit rate ( “Several blind listening test have ranked it higher-quality than any other standard audio format at any given bitrate until transparency is reached, including MP3” (
    The technology behind Opus allows music streaming to become available to a larger audience. Because the bit rate is lower, streaming of Opus files requires less bandwidth (FactMag). People with low network connectivity or cellular data restrictions have the opportunity to stream music. These groups often correspond with low income minority groups in America. Though music is rarely thought of in this convention, high quality audio and audio-streaming is a privilege in our digital world. So, when a widely-used music platform such as SoundCloud implements an audio format like Opus, quality music becomes accessible to even more people across the world.

  4. yh2825

    The gaming industry certainly offers a wide variety in terms of its material and techniques for presenting the game content. It proves a significant point in Sterne’s article, that “aesthetic pleasure, attention, contemplation, immersion, and high definition—these
    terms have no necessary relationship to one another”, and I think different combination of these elements gives varying experience to game players while catering to their different needs, and tells a story of expanding habits of media consumption.

    With the help of high quality computer animation engines like Unity and the continuing improvements in hardware capability (Play Station series, for example), the barrier for producing realistic rendering of scenes is getting much lower than what it was five years before – however, this did not cause a significant improvement in terms of the visual quality of the games. Instead, it simply provided more options to game players – there are hardcore gamers who crave for high quality motion games, but the most popular games like League of Legends does not necessarily need great graphics technology to attract players. What matters to the media of games is the essential content that is behind the rendering techniques. Popular cosplays for game characters often adds their own alterations to the character (color, material) to show uniqueness and their own perception of the character, which give the illustration of the character many possibilities – after all, there is a limited amount of visuals that could be transmitted through the screens, but the character itself is limitless. This goes similar for a lot of other types of media – take Hatsune Miku as an example, there are many different music genres of that could be created with Miku; however, I personally thinks that the essence of Miku as an instrument is the inhuman part of it, that it can produce sounds and singing incapable by human vocals.

  5. clj2142

    The compact disc, created in 1982, quickly became a popular format for digital music. They can hold approximately 80 minutes of audio, and continue to be bought and sold to this day. Audio CDs were created in a time when one had to own a physical copy of a piece of music in order to hear it on demand. Owning an audio CD gave music listeners the agency to listen whenever and wherever they wanted. The necessity of physical copies of music creates a notion that in order to fully experience a piece of music, one must own it. This notion led many listeners to opt for CDs in the age of downloading mp3s, and also contributes to many listeners’ resistance to audio streaming, a new way of listening that requires no physical or digital ownership by the listener. This relationship between ownership and user experience, which began at the birth of recording technology itself, not only reflects the materialism of modern society, but also shows how drastically audio technology has changed since its conception.

  6. spn2120

    On music streaming Tidal’s site, it says “Utilizing the file formats FLAC and ALAC with a bitrate of 1411Kbps, TIDAL HiFi offers uncompressed sound and the ultimate streaming experience for anyone who owns high quality headphones or stereo equipment.”

    Such advancements in the “purity of sound,” through file formats that don’t compress audio, offer an interesting comparison to Sterne’s description of perceptual coding. Instead of moving noise to inaudible places on the spectrum, FLAC (free lossless audio codec) compresses the samples to 50-70%, while retaining all of the original audio (

    Evidently, Tidal’s market is one that can purchase high quality audio equipment, which says something about a consummerist or capitalist mentality to sell progress/advancement through objects. It’s also interesting how the materiality of formats such as FLAC or ALAC opposes or supports Sterne’s argument on mediation. If the content of any other medium is a medium, and if the history of mp3 is one of compression (sterne) it seems that FLAC/ALAC is not regressive, as its medium shares more in common with the original medium. If FLAC/ALAC is an exact reproduction of the original media, what does this say about the process of remediation, or the “vast middle” in the end-to-end logic (Sterne, 16) ?

    Mainstream musicians who stream via Tidal (Kanye West, Jay Z, Beyonce- whose video Lemonade is still only available on Tidal) also says something about the culture of superior listening by those with experienced ears. Listening to their music on Tidal means investing in audio equipment worthy of their music, while also signaling a collaboration between high profile artists and the development of sound technology.

    I was also slightly confused by the companies that own the rights to mp3. Does this mean that they own the process of conversion or compression? I am also wondering if it’s equally as easy to pirate FLAC as it is to pirate mp3.

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