Compact disc

Robert Barry – Compact Disc

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

Following the failure of the “laser disc”, the compact disc was the first truly digital medium, but also the last physical medium of music, or, as the author puts it, “the last physical shell of music” . In this unique historic role, and as a format that is still manufactured and sold, the CD incorporates the history of digital standards, while predicting a significant transition to networked media. This trajectory and its main events are brilliantly retraced by Robert Barry in this little book rich in facts. The story mixes various branches of technical research. It focuses on Philips and its products, starting with a fascinating history of the domestication of light, from electricity to the first home laser housed in every CD player. The essential process of recording and reproducing audio, and the transition from analog to digital with different scale and quality are told through experiences with the CD as a medium, embracing the many possibilities of its physicality. Visions of Thomas Edison, Markus Popp, Jean Baudrillard, John Cage, Nam June Paik, Yusanao Tone, Afrikan Bambaataa, and many more are scattered in an engaging text. It is the testimony of a crucial period and a crucial medium, which witnessed a dramatic transition from music as a material product to music as a service.