AIC’s 40th Annual Meeting, Electronic Media Session, Thursday May 10, 2012, Toward an ontology of audio preservation, Sarah Norris

The final talk of the morning session was a fascinating lecture by Sarah Norris. Sarah described herself as a musician and librarian and how she has been exploring the theoretical ideas about the preservation of original or reproduction materials through the preservation of audio materials.

The preservation of audio materials has a number of difficulties, audio recordings are made on unstable media which leads to format obsolesce, requiring reformatting, which separates the content from the carrier. This is a unique part of the conservation of electronic media that is not practiced by conservators in other disciplines.

Walter Benjamin (1936) famously discussed reproduction and the idea of aura in art – the uniqueness that lends a work of art authority.  There are differences between an original and a fake and an original and a copy in that the copy has integrity, there is also an authenticity of multiples which is often dependent upon production history.  In The Languages of Art, by Nelson Goodman (1968) Allographic authenticity was defined as musical score where the authenticity depends upon conformity to established notation or performance of the piece. Because a painting does not have an established notation system it can be forged, the idea being that the authenticity would be forged, where the authenticity could be realized in the performance of the musical score.

Autographic authenticity preservation could involve a novel or an intaglio print that are concerned with the preservation of the object as well as the preservation of the content.  Allographic preservation would be concerned with the recorded content only.

Sarah Norris covered general Eastern and Western preservation values, using an example of a Shinto shrine and the preservation of meaning instead of the preservation of the original materials.

Modern art and audio recordings may force an acceptance of change to preserve the material substance of the work, the artist and the conservator could be considered as co-creators, working with an audio technician attempting to establish playback settings for a synthesizer recording.

A few examples of Platonic vs. Aristotelian ideas were presented, for example:

Plato – believes matter and form can be separated – this approach is used in general collections that are digitized.

Aristotle – believes form and matter cannot be separated – this approach is used in special collections.

The paper concluded that allographic, Eastern, Platonic items can be duplicated.  Autographic, Western, Aristotelian items cannot be authentically duplicated.