The Digital Aesthetic: Songs of Experience
Posted Jun 1, 2004

All told, I've dealt with five editors, maybe more, in the last eight weeks. That's confusing for me: more often than not—in fact, let's just say always—something gets pulled from what I originally wrote. What gets pulled, though, depends on what editor I'm working with. For example, a mention of punk-rock provocateur G.G. Allin was initially struck from the book I just finished writing with Bob Starrett, the EMedia contributing editor we all know and love. But then the book landed in the lap of another editor, I snuck G.G. Allin back in, and now it's going to print, G.G. reference intact. [Editor's note: Now there's a seam worth seeing—among five editors a-fussing, who missed it, who indulgently let it slide, who reluctantly looked the other way, who approved it with a saboteurial "Right on," and who was too clueless to take offense?]

Stephen Nathans, editor of EMedia, is involved in that book as well (family affair that it was), in the capacity of technical editor. Like all editors I've encountered, Steve's been known to whittle and hone [Editor's note: I'm doing it right now], and I'm in the bizarre position of having forgotten what will and what will not get past Steve in this particular venue. Things he would not have expurgated during the writing of the book (it's called Burn Baby, Burn! Recording Audio CDs from Any Source, by the way—should be on shelves July-ish, courtesy of our friends at Peachpit Press), he must expurgate here. Yet more peculiar, some things he wouldn't let go here, he'd let go in a news item or review [Editor's note: Just trying to keep up with an industry infested with double talk and double standards—DVD±R, double/dual-layer, Blu-ray/HD-DVD, etc.].

Of course, this is how it should be: he knows you (the reader) and the magazine far better than I do [Editor's note: Darn-tootin'!], and therefore can help me address you properly, and work within the protocol that's proven pleasing over the years. Steve, here, in this forum, is my representative, something like an attorney addressing a judge. Don't get me wrong: I get to bend, twist, even swear from time to time. I'm never compromised here, but there are some constraints, and, naturally, some things I can't say, not because they'll incur anger or offense, but rather because they just plain old don't belong.

Go with the editor, that's what I've learned—the old saw about the pro se fool for a client holds true for this writer as well. The truth of the matter is, it's not even really Steve removing one pair of handcuffs and replacing them with another: it's EMedia Column Steve—not Burn, Baby, Burn Steve, or Nero Burning ROM review Steve—editing this piece [Think of me as the old Batman villain, Two-Face]. Books do this, columns do that, reviews do this, and so on. Somebody else made this structure; my essential job is to fill that structure with concordant material. Aesthetics, digital or otherwise, are often elusive, amorphous, and shape-shifting things. [Trying to steer Josh back column-ward, I wrote that.]

One tiny suggestion Steve made during the course of writing the book created an entire chapter, wholly different from the one I intended to write. Coincidentally, it happens to be a chapter on honing a compilation audio CD for aesthetic purposes. Certainly, we've all thought about standards—not to mention standard deviations [Another family affair]—quite often. But somewhere along the line, I fell into the habit of thinking of standards—and, in the same vein, the essay, the exposition, and the epic—as restraints, the glass to be filled with whatever concoction you happen to brew, judged by history if it doesn't vanish altogether.

It came to me as I lay looking at the ceiling, listening to Dead Can Dance's Into the Labyrinth: that CD is an organic unity, each song carefully placed and each transition built with an ear to holism. This approach is aesthetically antithetical [another editorial intrusion] to the "this track ends, two seconds of nothing, this track starts and ends, two seconds of nothing" I run off for friends (for testing on their home equipment, of course). Whether it was the fact that I received a lot of latitude from Peachpit, or the fact that I was discovering audio CD mastering all over again, the Red Book became, in a sense, a treatise on infinity.

It's easy to forget, when you've been working with a well-defined format for awhile, that craftsmanship remains a perpetual possibility for everyone, despite the strictures of lead-in, tunes, lead-out. We can't all count ourselves Dead Can Dance mixmasters. I certainly don't count myself as one, but that area—the editorial area—opened itself up to me again. When was the last time you put a crossfade on a compilation? Trimmed the fades to taste? Or sweetened the mids? Myself, I'd forgotten all about that stuff, and furthermore, the sheer joy of messing around with compilations. Perhaps it's something we lost on the journey from mix tape to CD, something more costly than the dreaded film-to-digital freeze-out: the thrilling, informative imperative to listen as you go [Me again].

A little fright springs up here [here it comes]: What else have I forgotten, and what is it I'm not seeing during my time with the machines, or anything else for that matter? What mirth have I accidentally deprived myself of? Whether or not we like it, life is a lead-in, tunes, and a lead-out. We live in that cage, especially since we don't have much control over the tunes we get. What we do get, though, is the editorial process—the knack that whatever benevolent force in the Universe bestowed on us for reflection, intellection, and, above all, conversation with all the other mixmasters we may happen across before we hit that big chunk of nothing at the end.