A New Hi to the High

There’s an interesting article in Vague Terrain about low-bit audio: A New High in Low: Adventures in Low Bitrate Audio. It’s a pretty good read, because it mentions 20kbpsDex and the City and Floppyswop which I released music on several years ago. :) Just have a few comments to make quickly before I go for some food.

It starts by talking about zombie media, and how benders salvage electronics that other people throw away, even if it usually still works. So anti-consumerism is the starting point. The article writes about low bit-rate music as a new approach that comes with a visual aesthetics that the author describes as infantile (hi Kodek and Overthruster!), but also fills an important function for poorer parts of the world. “More interestingly, though, is that no clever scripting, hacking, bending, or esoteric software was required to kickstart this audio micro-revolution: the ability to encode an MP3 at sub-‘CD quality’ bitrates is a feature built into the iTunes application”.

Hmmmm! It’s grounded in critical theory to describe lo-bit as a subversion, and art perspectives to say that presets can be used creatively. Or something like that. The standard way, you know? That’s all fine, but I think there are better ways to talk about this, which perhaps is less alien to the practioners themselves.

Not all music are recordings. MP3/OGG is just one option. For example, on my release at Floppyswop I used mod-files. Sounds better than a lo-bit recordings and it’s smaller in filesize. Non-recorded music is truly tricky for contemporary culture to deal with and it’s a shame that this article doesn’t discuss it. Well, I guess it wasn’t the point. Nevertheless, denouncing chipmusic as videogame remixes and emulations, is a bit perverse.

Lo-bit doesn’t have to be about authenticity. One charm with low bitrate is that it leaves things to the imagination. Low resolution gives more room for the listeners’ own interpretations. Some kind of brutalist hauntology. The articles says that authenticty is a mandatory selling point for culture consumers (which might be true), but it seems more refreshing to say: who knows or cares if it’s authentic or not?

Neither low bitrate recordings or chipmusic are re-animations of zombie media. People have done it for ages — it’s the things around it that has changed. And it’s not about unintended uses. Remember when it became possible to stream audio in the 1990’s? Real audio! It was quite useful, and it still is. Why wouldn’t it be? Because technology has changed? If yes, then you=technodeterminist and that’s not frexxy.

4 Responses to “A New Hi to the High”

  1. peter swimm Says:

    Another perspective on lowbit recording is comparing old blues 78s with modern studio reworkings. I much rather listen to lowbit sounds in low resolution, then hear another psg drenched in reverb and super sidechain compressed wankfest. Its a more natural medium with all my cultural baggage.

  2. chunter Says:

    Low bitrates and module formats and all are just a means to an end, getting the sound you want from the tools that are available to you.

    Making music for street cred may seem cool, but there is more to be gained in creating something that you enjoy yourself. By ensuring there are few barriers to access your work, and a low cost for content creation, you can share your work and hope people around the world will enjoy it; if they don’t, it’s not such a big loss.

    At least the article doesn’t refer to “Mario at a rave” or “a punk band on a broken tape recorder.” Or does it? There are political and infrastructural reasons to make lo-fi music, but I don’t think those reasons are what dominates it.

    • chipflip Says:

      For some it’s a means to an end, for others it’s not. For them it’s an important part of the process — a symbiosis between tool and user where the end results is less important than the process.

      I don’t really know the reasons to making lo-bit music, but of course it’s tempting to frame it in arty/political terms. Perhaps someone should interview the people and ask them?



    its always moar fun to do cheapmusic not to tweak trendy NI VST : D and run out of RAM haha………..

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