[Humanist] 28.361 lossy vs the dream of lossless

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Mon Sep 29 07:14:56 CEST 2014

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 28, No. 361.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Sun, 28 Sep 2014 10:57:14 +0100
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: lossy digitization vs the dream of lossless

For reasons of my own having to do with many CDs and new means of 
hearing the music recorded on them, I went (of course) online to 
discover which format might be best -- mp3, flac, aiff, wav, m4a and so 
on. It was a question in the first instance of getting software and 
hardware to work together; the equipment I have wouldn't recognize the 
format I started out with (aiff). Anyhow I came across a very helpful 
essay by one Mitchco, who seems to be not only clever and persistent but 
also well equipped with all the right kit and technical knowledge.

Once I had determined what to do from his series of tests, I found his 
concluding reflections on the problems of (music) digitization telling:

> What is most important to me is the erosion of original performances
> where the original master is gone and we don't have an unaltered
> waveform of a "new" master. All those analog tapes are eventually
> going to fall apart. I hope we have unaltered waveform copies. I
> understand that famous paintings undergo restorations. But even then,
> the restorers are trying to restore the painting to its original
> condition.
> That does not seem to be happening in the music remastering world.
> Those works of art are being altered, some so bad that it does not
> even resemble what the artist had in mind. The bands dynamics,
> nuances, soundstage, tone, have all been altered to the point of
> ruin.

As someone who is personally benefiting from the unloading of books by 
libraries, I assume at least in some cases because of the easy 
assumption that 'everything's going to be online real soon now' or 
similar, I am often reminded to worry. There is an ethical dimension to 
our practices. Are we paying attention? Isn't the problem our tendency 
to think in terms of replacement rather than augmentation?

For Mitchco's essay see 


Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/), Professor, Department of Digital
Humanities, King's College London, and Digital Humanities Research
Group, University of Western Sydney

More information about the Humanist mailing list