Alexandre Camus and Dominique Vinck

Download Full EssayUnfolding Digital Materiality

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This chapter proposes a conceptual framework to understand digital materiality. Referring to Information Infrastructure Studies and authors dealing with the issue of materiality, we focus on the construction of fluidity, which is generally presented as an intrinsic characteristic of the digital. A close ethnographic study looks at a digitization project, which aims to preserve and promote the Montreux Jazz Festival archive. Following the work of engineers and researchers in charge of the destiny of this piece of heritage, we account for how they struggle to shape musical-digital objects and make them fluid in order to irrigate a network of technological artifacts assuring the promotion of the archive. The chapter shows how the transformation of the material stages the shaping of autonomous elements such as songs extracted from concerts recordings. We demonstrate that during digitization, the material of the recordings deploys through mediators and associations that have to be set up. The resulting material infrastructure does not exhaust the “thing” coming to life (digital pieces of music) through an interactional dynamic. The transformations of the material largely overflow the material infrastructure. This process stages negotiations and compromises with the material. Neither digital materiality nor its fluidity is given but results of processes the chapter shows how to document.