Player-Piano rolls (kinda) like MP3s and Internet downloads

I’m reading this collection of essays called Memory Bytes: History, Technology, and Digital Culture (Lauren Rabinovitz and Abraham Geil, Editors, Duke UP, 2004) right now because it kind of has to do with the book project I’ve been working off and on now for a while. The emphasis here is more on “media” as in visual and audio and less on writing and pedagogy, but still really interesting and useful for my research nonetheless. This morning, I’ve been reading this essay by Lisa Gitelman called “Media, Materiality, and the Measure of the Digital; or, the Case of Sheet Music and the Problem of Piano Rolls.” I don’t want to simplify her point because, like most things that have to do with copyright, it ain’t simple. But I thought I’d offer two slightly out of context quotes:

… “new media” resemble each other to varying degress in their newness, whether they happen to have been new a long time ago or new today. So the phonograph records and piano rolls of 1900 or 1910 compare to the downloaded MP3 files only in the most banal regard because they are all musical forms for private consumption.

If the popularity of self-playing pianos help to challenge the material meanings of printed music at the beginning of the twentieth century, one need hardly be surprised that the popularity of Internet downloads is helping to challenge the material meanings of compact disc at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

Like I said, Gitelman problematizes this comparison in this article, but you get the idea.

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