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Object Lessons is a series of short, beautifully designed books about the hidden lives of ordinary things.
The story of the compact disc is also the story of the end of physical media. It is the story of how the quest for perfection laid the grounds for the death of a great industry. For in the passage from analogue media, like records and tapes, to digital formats, like CDs, something changed in the nature of media and in the relationship we have with music. Music became code, a sequence of 1s and 0s, a flow of pure information. The material structure of the medium itself was always supposed to disappear. But the physical has proved to possess an uncanny knack for returning.
Today the CD is a zombie medium, still popular amongst certain avant-garde record labels and Japanese consumers. Against all the odds, the spectre endures.
Object Lessons is published in partnership with an essay series in the The Atlantic.
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What Reviewers Are Saying
This thoughtful, elegantly written little book pays homage to that least loved of music formats, the compact disc. Filled with engaging anecdotes and philosophical observations, the book offers a concise cultural history of audio recording, describing the vicissitudes of the music industry and the dissolution of sonic objects into codes and clouds. * Christoph Cox, Professor of Philosophy, Hampshire College, USA, and author of Sonic Flux: Sound, Art, and Metaphysics (2018) * Robert Barry rekindles our wonder for the technology that 'put a laser in your living room.' Futuristic and confounding, the CD converted light into sound, philosophers into audio critics, and audio critics into philosophers. But this book is more than the story of a format whose perfection laid the groundwork for its own demise--it's also an intercultural history of light, the quest for technological perfection, and the art of critiquing that quest through glitches, skips, and stutters. * Mack Hagood, Robert H. and Nancy J. Blayney Associate Professor of Comparative Media Studies, Miami University of Ohio, USA, and author of Hush: Media and Sonic Self-Control (2019) *