Lori Emerson has interviewed Wolfgang Ernst for the Library of Congress blog. It is a great conversation that also addresses the differences between digital preservation and Ernst’s Media Archaeological approach. The latter is, as mentioned on this blog as well, placed and spatialised in the Media Archaeological Fundus (Fundus= bottom, ground), part of his Media Studies Institute. (This idea worked even better at the original Sophienstrasse 22 address of the Institute, because it was located deep in the concrete bunker type basement).
Ernst emphasises the connection between teaching media theory and practicing material “hermeneutics”: to have access to technological devices, opening them up, reverse engineering. Operationality is at the centre of this view concerning media studies. A dysfunctional television is just a design object: media starts when it can operate signals. Ernst’s approach draws from a Heideggerian pun (of sorts) of the objects of the Fundus as Epistemological Spielzeug (ref. to Heidegger’s Zeug), “epistemological toys” for pedagogical purposes.
Ernst responds to one of Lori Emerson’s questions:
“The bias of MAF based teaching is to train students to resist the nostalgic or even melancholic impulse which is normally associated with so-called “dead media”, and to discover the retro-futuristic element instead. The electric telegraph, e. g., operates with discrete signal transmission: a code which after an age of AM media (such as radio) returned in unexpected ways. Whereas digital data transmission is much too fast to be perceivable directly to human senses, the classic telegraph “dots and dashes,” when connected to an acoustic mechanism, may serve as a way of slowing down and sonifying the nature of coded signal transmission.”
Such a focus on spatialities of media studies emphasises more points concerning the current interest in thinking about “theory as practice”: the various techniques, institutions and spatialities in which cultural/media theory takes place. For instance the Fundus is a sort of a ground(ing) as well as underbelly of media theory, in how the technical and tactile engagment with technologies enables a connection to text and theory. Ernst is very reluctant to call this “Digital Humanities”: it’s media studies!
Read the full interview here.
We had in Berlin just last week our joint book launch with Ernst: his Digital Memory and the Archive alongside my What is Media Archaeology? It was great to be launching the theory books in the midst of yet another great bunch of transmediale exhibitions of media archaeological resonance: the Octo Pneumatic Media System (a Rohrpost in action), the Evil Media Distribution Centre, Refunct Media vol. 5, and more.
Transmediale starts today with its puzzling, great theme Back When Pluto Was a Planet (BWPWAP). Except conceptual, temporal and spatial shifts and displacings of various sorts. This is the first year our Winchester School of Art also is collaborating with transmediale, and as part of that we are hosting a panel on military technologies, space and Cold War.
In addition, I am sharing a book launch with Wolfgang Ernst: It is the book I edited of his writings alongside my own What is Media Archaeology? Join us for that on Friday, 1st of February.
And as a Kittlerian cherry on top, on Saturday evening I am participating in the performance Sources, Synths, Circuits that focuses on the reconstruction of the late Prof Kittler’s synthetizer. We discuss that from the perspective of not only Kittler, music, technology but also archives.
Good news for the start of 2013: the volume of Wolfgang Ernst writings Digital Memory and the Archive is out! The book is soon available in bookstores. The collection that I edited is the first to introduce this very important German media theorist whose style of media archaeology is highly exciting and provocative. Ernst is one of the significant names in the German media studies landscape, and represents one of the directions where theory is going in the post-Friedrich Kittler world.
Ernst’s interest in media archaeology is very material, and insists on the agency of the machine. His theories are interested in material epistemologies and the operationality of old media devices. Media devices govern our ways of seeing and hearing, but also our modes of knowledge. Hence, Ernst’s media theory is a way to understand the change in our archival logic in software culture. But it’s not only about the digital and not only about archives. Indeed, his writings on the sonic and in general media arts are important insights into a meticulous material media theory that represents a unique way to understand the persistence of history and time. Ernst writes his theory through mediatic paths: from television to internet cultures, media arts to archival institutions, Hertzian discoveries to sound.
The collection has a longer introduction by me, as well as the section introductions that I wrote. Ernst was kind enough to write his own preface to this English edition of his writings where he pitches the idea of cross-Atlantic influences and meditation on what is happening in media studies at the moment. An inspiring read. Or in Wendy Chun’s words, quoting her endorsement:
“Digital Memory and the Archive offers the most compelling and insightful account published to date of how and why objects matter. Moving beyond textual analysis, its careful, theoretically rigorous engagement with the relic—the physicality of the archive—promises to change the direction of the digital humanities. Thanks to this book, we will all now be addressing the microtemporality of archives and the mechanics of remaining. Finally, a definitive collection in English of one of the most brilliant and influential media archaeologists.”
Below you will find the short blurb from the publisher University of Minnesota Press website as well as the table of contents.
In the popular imagination, archives are remote, largely obsolete institutions: either antiquated, inevitably dusty libraries or sinister repositories of personal secrets maintained by police states. Yet the archive is now a ubiquitous feature of digital life. Rather than being deleted, e-mails and other computer files are archived. Media software and cloud storage allow for the instantaneous cataloging and preservation of data, from music, photographs, and videos to personal information gathered by social media sites.
In this digital landscape, the archival-oriented media theories of Wolfgang Ernst are particularly relevant. Digital Memory and the Archive, the first English-language collection of the German media theorist’s work, brings together essays that present Ernst’s controversial materialist approach to media theory and history. His insights are central to the emerging field of media archaeology, which uncovers the role of specific technologies and mechanisms, rather than content, in shaping contemporary culture and society.
Ernst’s interrelated ideas on the archive, machine time and microtemporality, and the new regimes of memory offer a new perspective on both current digital culture and the infrastructure of media historical knowledge. For Ernst, different forms of media systems—from library catalogs to sound recordings—have influenced the content and understanding of the archive and other institutions of memory. At the same time, digital archiving has become a contested site that is highly resistant to curation, thus complicating the creation and preservation of cultural memory and history.
Contents of Wolfgang Ernst, Digital Memory and the Archive
Archival Media Theory: An Introduction to Wolfgang Ernst’s Media Archaeology , by Jussi Parikka
Media Archaeology as a Trans-Atlantic Bridge, Wolfgang Ernst
Part I. The Media Archaeological Method
1. Let There Be Irony: Cultural History and Media Archaeology in Parallel Lines
2. Media Archaeography: Method and Machine versus History and Narrative of Media
Part II. From Temporality to the Multimedial Archive
3. Underway to the Dual System: Classical Archives and Digital Memory
4. Archives in Transition: Dynamic Media Memories
5. Between Real Time and Memory on Demand: Reflections on Television
6. Discontinuities: Does the Archive Become Metaphorical in Multi-Media Space?
Part III. Microtemporal Media
7. Telling versus Counting: A Media-Archaeological Point of View
8. Distory: 100 Years of Electron Tubes, Media-Archaeologically Interpreted vis-à-vis 100 Years of Radio
9. Towards a Media Archaeology of Sonic Articulations
10. Experimenting Media‐Temporality: Pythagoras, Hertz, Turing
Appendix. Archive Rumblings: An Interview with Wolfgang Ernst , by Geert Lovink
Winchester School of Art, and our research centre in Global Futures is happy to announce a new partnership with the transmediale-organisation and festival in Berlin! This coming year’s theme is Back When Pluto Was a Planet (BWPWAP) and we are besides participating with a panel and a range of other talks also already thinking ahead to the future years with the great folks of tm. They have a great track record of working with universities, including Aarhus and now Leuphana. I could not be more excited about this link to Berlin – tm has been one of those festivals/conferences that get my mind actually working. And it’s socially such a good spot to catch up with lots of people. One of the most exciting things happening in our field of critical arts/media/practice/theory at the moment. And Berlin is great.
Below the more official press release.
WSA to collaborate with a leading European festival for art and digital culture
The Winchester School of Art (WSA) has formed a new partnership with the organisers of one of Europe’s most significant festivals for art and digital culture.
The WSA, part of the University of Southampton, will engage academics and students in a wide range of activities with transmediale, the world-renowned festival and year-round project based in Berlin.
From Winchester, the key activities will be co-ordinated through the WSA’s Centre for Global Futures in Art Design & Media which shares a number of areas of mutual interest with transmediale across the fields of media arts, cultural theory and politics, aesthetics and digital culture.
Future activities linking the WSA and transmediale related to these shared interests shared research projects, joint workshops, curatorial developments related to transmediale and its all-year platform “reSource transmedial culture,” various educational platforms and events, and WSA’s participation in the planning activities and events leading towards transmediale festivals and the reSource activities.
Academics and students are already making plans to participate in transmediale from February 2013. WSA and transmediale are also keen to involve students as an active part of the partnership and establish a long-term link that represents the Winchester scholars’ interest in digital culture, media and critical contemporary arts. It also consolidates important high-level links the School has with Europe.
“We’re very excited by the prospects and benefits that working with transmediale will bring to the Winchester School of Art,” said Professor Ryan Bishop, Co-Director of the Winchester Centre for Global Futures in Art Design & Media. “The activities supported by transmediale offer an important interface between academic research, the arts and the general public which creates a perfect fit with the ethos and activities of our own Centre. In return, the WSA is perfectly positioned to facilitate additional collaborative links across partner institutions, providing a dynamic network of researchers working on related and complementary concerns which we believe will benefit everyone involved in organising and participating in transmediale each year.”
The artistic director of transmediale, Kristoffer Gansing reinforced this perspective by saying that “For transmediale, the collaboration with WSA and the Centre for Global Futures represents a great opportunity to develop new activities within a burgeoning international research setting. “ Stressing the transdisciplinary nature of the festival, “the combination of art and research is central to our critical approach to media art and digital culture” Gansing continued, adding that he is “hoping for new creative approaches to joint presentations of artistic and academic research between the two institutions.”
Each year, transmediale presents new positions in the fields of art, culture and technology to an audience of more than 20,000 visitors who experience an extensive range of exhibitions, conferences, screenings, performances and publications. transmediale’s broad cultural appeal and high artistic quality is recognised by the German federal government which supports the festival through its programme for beacons of contemporary culture.
Critically concerned with art and design practices of making, thinking and representation, the WSA engages in education and enterprise, exploring the contribution of media, materials and technologies to the improvement of human societies globally. In addition to producing world class research and engaging in educational possibilities, the WSA’s Centre for Global Futures hosts a wide array of issue-based activities that centre around globally relevant topics such as the environment, society, politics, art and demographics. By involving high profile academics, artists, curators and filmmakers, the Centre is creating a platform for the local and regional communities to engage in these areas.
It was one year ago that Friedrich A. Kittler died. The German newspapers reacted, and slowly, The Guardian too, with a couple of writings and a podcast. I think that was it, for the English-speaking mainstream press. Besides some short notes on my blog, I wrote this short piece for The Guardian.
Academic discussions concerning his work have increased even more: such also include fantastic pieces like the memoir by Geoffrey Winthrop-Young of the Kittler-before-Kittler (i.e. the early 1980s one) ‘”Well What Socks is Pynchon Wearing Today?” A Freiburg Scrapbook in Memory of Friedrich Kittler’ in Cultural Politics Volume 8, Issue 3, and a forthcoming ZKM conference Of Gods and Scripts around the Mediterranean.
Of last year’s obituaries, some are circulating again online. Here is for instance FAZ: Jede Liebe war eine auf den ersten Blick.
Indeed, Kittler got the human (well, actually “spirit”, “the mind”, Geist – Geisteswissenschaften) out of humanities, and inserted the machine. Suddenly, inside the human(ities) we found all kinds of hardware. Typewriters, gramophones, circuit boards, computer chips, probably even a bit of internet cable in there somewhere.
However, don’t inscribe “media philosopher” on his grave stone.
And no, he did not call himself a media archaeologist either.
This is another interview, and audio recording now available, that I did in Berlin in 2011. It is my chat with Martin Howse, of microresearch, and the project(s) together with Jonathan Kemp and Ryan Jordan: decrystallisation, recrystallisation and the later Crystal Worlds in Berlin and London. We talk of what the crystal project means, ideas related to art methods, and ending up with evil media.
Apologies for a bit lousy quality of the sound in my recording.
I interviewed Paul DeMarinis in July 2011 in Berlin about his media archaeological art practices and methodology.
It was originally in the context of the Creative Technologies Review podcasts we did with Julio D’Escrivan, but the archives of those podcasts are not available so I wanted to share this interview (audio, mp3) for those interested.
I am honoured to join the Advisory Board of the Media Archaeology Lab (University of Colorado in Boulder). Lori Emerson, the director, has been working hard on this project that I have been following for a while now. It brings its own pedagogical and research mission as part of the discourse of media labs. Go back, slow down, but in order to do something exciting, it seems to be shouting to the digital calculating power boasting jazzy institutions which are a university senior management’s wet dream. Indeed, it is pitched as “is a place for cross-disciplinary experimental research and teaching using the tools, the software and platforms, from the past.”
As a parallel, I want to point to the Media Archaeological Fundus in Berlin, at the Institute of Media Studies, as one significant, already existing example. With a slightly different pitch, it also uses “media archaeology” as the nodal term through which to articulate its research and pedagogical mission. For it’s director, Wolfgang Ernst, this ties to the idea of “epistemic toys” — toys however only in the German meaning of “Spielzeug”, with a nod towards Heideggerian Zeug. What is significant for the objects in the Berlin Fundus is their epistemological value — media objects as epistemological objects that open up specific knowledges that are irreducible to their cultural techniques, as the introductory text to the Fundus states.
As part of the Colorado/Boulder Media Archaeology Lab, their motto “the past must be lived so that the present can be seen” actually corresponds to some of the ideas about processuality of the Berlin Fundus. I argue that one has to take this motto literally. The past (media technologies) must be experienced in operation, in process, so as to understand their epistemological value, so to speak. That way, to refer back to Ernst, they are able to smuggle a bit of the past as living present — an undercutting theme in media archaeology more widely, as Vivian Sobchak argued in the collection Media Archaeology. This is why we need these kinds of labs, as a form of critical education – and engineering – of past media technologies to understand the current electronic culture.
As part of MAL advisory board, I am in great company; other advisory board members include Matthew Kirschenbaum, Lisa Gitelman and Garnet Hertz, among other great folks. Wonderful initiative!
(Images and logo from the MAL lab and their website)
After the humans had left, what stayed were the ruins of buildings. Time had passed for the place to reach this silence; the graffiti filled walls, beer cans, glass from broken bottles stayed after as such monuments. There was something else too, in the air. A radio signal lost, a ghost signal. It is completely silent for human ears. Only the buildings echo, concrete walls.
The listening post, a Cold War relic. It had that Soviet science fiction quality about it, even if it exactly tried to listen to signals of communist origin. The ferris wheel in nearby Zehlendorf acted as an amplifier of its signals.
If Cold War started in Potsdam, then it primarily took place in non-places — like on this hill. Itself a monument, built from the rubble from the bombings during the 1940s War. And yet, non-place is hardly the term when you look at the concrete and now weirdly past-utopian looking listening domes. They stand out. You can imagine this as a setting for a Thomas Pynchon novel.
But it is a non-place because probably nothing much happened. Signal traffic, capture, listening. Procedures of monitoring, reporting, and then it starts again. Signals don’t occupy a place anyway, just a time and a pattern of regularity. And yet this place is one of those iconic, media theoretically significant places: Bletchley Park, Peenemünde, etc.
It starts to make sense when you think of it as a network of such posts. ECHELON – characterised by a European Parliament report much later:”If U.K.U.S.A states operate listening stations in the relevant regions of the earth, in principle they can intercept all telephone, fax and data traffic transmitted via such satellites.” There are no borders to national security.
It feels natural to imagine this place without any humans, just like mathematical communication theory works best without them. Only the ghostly shouts and echoes that ensue. Ping, echo request.
Friedrich Kittler’s tape recorder – but I have to admit, it’s not his last tape in the machine. I was just too tempted to make the reference to the Beckett play.
Image from the Media Archaeological Fundus, Humboldt University Institute for Media Studies.