Grooves to Bits: The Energetic Materialities of Sound Archives (Samir Bhowmik)

Migrating sound to digital formats involve both media infrastructure and energy consumption.

Studies conducted at the Phonogram Archives of the Ethnological Museum Berlin and the Lautarchive of the Humboldt University-Berlin show that digitization of analog to digital sound files requires energy-intensive infrastructures and has an energy footprint. As sound inscribed in shellac records or wax cylinders migrate to spinning aluminum platters in hard drives stored in remote data centers, it also results in increased embodied energy of media infrastructure. By tracing the digitization and migration of analog recordings to digital sound, this article investigates the media infrastructure and energy needed to digitize, operate and provide access to historic sound recordings. What are the various materialities of sound digitization and how it affects the mediation of digital cultural memory? How do changes in spin speed, fabrication, access and storage capacities shape the preservation and dissemination of sound heritage? How can thinking in terms of energy and infrastructure affect the way digitization is conducted and digital sound archives are built?

Samir Bhowmik’s recent work includes the art project Memory Machines, which has been performed at the Helsinki Public Library Oodi by the 00100 Ensemble. This work combined dance, theatre and circus with a guided tour that moved through the concealed infrastructural sites and operations of the library building. (For Memory Machines, see


Aalto Heldig DH Pizza seminar, Wednesday 6 February at 12.00 (Aalto CS, B121)