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Hardcover | $26.95 Trade | £22.95 | ISBN: 9780262013147 | 400 pp. | 6.75 x 6.75 in | 20 b&w illus.| July 2009

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Cracked Media

The Sound of Malfunction


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.

About the Author

Caleb Kelly is a lecturer at the Sydney College of the Arts, the University of Sydney, Australia.


"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 helpfully extends Douglas Kahn's monumental Noise, Water, Meat: A History of Sound in the Arts by focusing on a powerful strain of contemporary sonic art: the creative mis-use of audio playback technologies. As Kelly ably theorizes it, the 'crack' is a productive break that articulates past and future, archaeology and innovation, analog and digital. Hence, this book combines an exhaustive survey and taxonomy of recent experiments with turntables and CD technology (Oval, Christian Marclay, Yasunao Tone, etc.) with a detailed genealogy of these practices that traces them back to earlier moments of sonic experimentation (Futurism, Fluxus, John Cage, etc.). Informed, but not overloaded, by theoretical accounts of phonography and digital media, Kelly helpfully sorts out what is at issue in cracked sound and places this at the center of contemporary debates about art and technology."
Christoph Cox, Professor of Philosophy, Hampshire College, co-editor of Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music

"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

"For those of us who witnessed and accompanied the advent of the laptop music scene in the late 1990s, 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

"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


Winner, Trade Illustrated Category, 2010 AAUP Book, Jacket, and Journal Show.