The Sound of Malfunction
- Winner, Trade Illustrated Category, 2010 AAUP Book, Jacket, and Journal Show
400 pp., 7 x 7 in, 20 b&w illus.
- Published: July 31, 2009
- Publisher: The MIT Press
How the deliberate cracking and breaking of playback media has produced experimental music and sound by artists and musicians ranging from Nam June Paik and Christian Marclay to Yasunao Tone and Oval.
From the mid-twentieth century into the twenty-first, artists and musicians manipulated, cracked, and broke audio media technologies to produce novel sounds and performances. Artists and musicians, including John Cage, Nam June Paik, Yasunao Tone, and Oval, pulled apart both playback devices (phonographs and compact disc players) and the recorded media (vinyl records and compact discs) to create an extended sound palette. In Cracked Media, Caleb Kelly explores how the deliberate utilization of the normally undesirable (a crack, a break) has become the site of productive creation. Cracked media, Kelly writes, slides across disciplines, through music, sound, and noise. Cracked media encompasses everything from Cage's silences and indeterminacies, to Paik's often humorous tape works, to the cold and clean sounds of digital glitch in the work of Tone and Oval. Kelly offers a detailed historical account of these practices, arguing that they can be read as precursors to contemporary new media.
Kelly looks at the nature of recording technology and the music industry in relation to the crack and the break, and discusses the various manifestations of noise, concluding that neither theories of recording nor theories of noise offer an adequate framework for understanding cracked media. Connecting the historical avant-garde to modern-day turntablism, and predigital destructive techniques to the digital ticks, pops, and clicks of the glitch, Kelly proposes new media theorizations of cracked media that focus on materiality and the everyday.
Caleb Kelly's Cracked Media is a welcome addition to the growing body of critical writing on the role of sound in the history of modern and postmodern art. It convincingly extends Douglas Kahn's monumental Noise Water Meat by focusing on a powerful strain of contemporary sonic art: the creative misuse of audio playback technologies.
Christoph Cox, co-editor of Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music
For those of us who witnessed and accompanied the advent of the laptop music scene in the late 1990's, this book situates the movement within broader contexts of sound exploration in the 20th century. While theories of the everyday have been applied to music listening, they have not been used to discuss music creation. Kelly shows how the mechanisms of consumer music culture led to new directions in artistic creation. What we see is how the creative act in the age of mechanical reproduction becomes a music of cracked reproduction, and ultimately an art of manual mechanical deconstruction.
Atau Tanaka, Artist, Director of Culture Lab Newcastle
Finally, a deep, scholarly accounting of the aesthetics of failure. Props to Caleb Kelly for laying bare the various histories of 'malfunction' as a compositional device. This book should be required reading for anyone working in electronic music today
Kim Cascone, Composer and Writer
Fans of both the scratch and the stutter, and those of us trying to make a connection between the two, will find this to be an excellent refresher courseor the gentle introduction they've been looking for. An invaluable reference on the origins of sampling in music and audio art, this book connects the dots and names names. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Jon Nelson, Escape Mechanism, and www.some-assembly-required.net