I have been invited to give a 60 second lecture about noise and audio restoration at my alma mater, The New School, where I earned a M.A. in Media Studies. Oh yes, that's 60 seconds. Fortunately, my background as a radio announcer serves me well in this situation. I used to be able to hit those 30 and 60 second marks so perfectly when on the air at WGBH. Here is a sneak preview of my lecture, all 187 words of it (which, to be fair, is the highly condensed version of a talk I gave at this year's Experience Music Project Pop Conference:
But Can You Dance To It?: Technological and Aesthetic (In)Correctness in Ata Kak's Obaa Sima
All recording technologies impart noise that locates them in time and space: tape hiss, vinyl pops, the variability of linear media. That sonic fingerprint is important; it gives context and dimension, but it can overpower the message. It can also change the message entirely.
Ghanaian highlife singer Ata Kak’s cassette Obaa Sima was a flop when released in ‘93. When it hit the crate diggers’ blogs in the early 2000s, it began a slow burn to cult popularity. But the cassettes were accidentally manufactured at two very different speeds - “normal,” and sped-up, “Chipmunk-y.”
I determined the “correct” speed scientifically, using technological tools. But the incorrect, “Chipmunk-y” version had already enraptured the fans.
This journey of Obaa Sima - from Ata’s makeshift recording studio to the blogs and dance floors to a proper reissue in both speeds - reminds us that even after recordings are put to tape, they are rarely immalleable documents.
Though technically wrong, the sped up version is, aesthetically, simply more danceable.