Robert Barry – Compact Disc


Bloomsbury Academic, ISBN-13: 978-1501348518, English, 160 pages, 2020, USA

Succeeding the unsuccessful ‘laser disc’, the Compact Disc was the first truly digital medium, but also the last physical medium for music, or, as the author puts it, “music’s last physical shell”. In this unique historic role, and as a format that is still manufactured and sold, the CD incorporates the history of digital standards, while it also forecasts an important transition to networked media. This trajectory and its main events are brilliantly traced by Robert Barry in this small but fact-packed book. The narrative intertwines various branches of technical research. It focuses on Philips and its products, beginning with a fascinating history of light domestication from electricity through to the first domestic laser housed inside every CD player. The essential process of audio recording and reproduction, and the switch from analogue to digital with a different scale and quality are narrated through experiments with the CD as a medium, embracing the many possibilities of its physicality. Visions by Thomas Edison, Markus Popp, Jean Baudrillard, John Cage, Nam June Paik, Yusanao Tone, Afrikan Bambaataa, and many others, are scattered over an engaging text. This is a testimony to a crucial period of time and to a crucial medium, one that has witnessed a dramatic transition from music as material product to music as service.