Marvels of the Ages Calling Forth Lost Spirits of Information

link to video documentation of Truck opening, 2015 (care of Robyn Moody)

Collaboration with Robyn Moody

Under the guise of Victorian-age spiritualism, two player-pianos attempt to navigate compendiums of human knowledge – Wikipedia and Diderot’s Encyclopedia. The spectacle explores systems of composition while comparing mechanical and digital translation.

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When Basile Bouchon invented a system of perforated paper for automating a weaving loom in 1725, he could little have imagined this system of storing data would still be in use almost 300 years later. Modified to cards rather than a scroll for the Jacquard Loom of 1801, Charles Babbage’s proposed Analytical Engine of 1837 used this system, and Herman Hollerith (founder of IBM) further developed it for census collection and data storage in 1881. Punched paper scrolls were used in player pianos from 1875, welcoming a spectral pianist into the home until the phonograph put a stop to that in the 1930s for all but a few dedicated eccentrics. For computing, punch cards remained in use until the 1970s when it was replaced by magnetic tape; though not to be forgotten, punched paper data collection found itself central in the 2000 hanging chadcontroversy of the US presidential election.

That a system of information storage and device control could have been so sucessfully used for so long – its overwhelming influence on the digital age undeniable – now finds itself largely forgotten is testament to our short and selective memory. In 1937, IBM was making 10 million punch cards per day. Today, it’s so much recycling – teeming with latent information, now unreadable, and what remains destined for the bin. Given the rapidly accelerating disappearance and reconfiguring of staggeringly ingenious data storage technologies: Floppy disks, the Zip Disc, Jaz drives, magnetic tape, videotape, Minidiscs, HD-DVD (with more soon to follow), and our blasé response to their loss, it is suprising that we are willing to trust so much information to our current systems.

And of course there are those millions of piano scrolls, their songs mouldering away, and those brilliantly conceived pianos, awaiting data for ghostly pianists to translate into music.

produced from 2014-15

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