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A ghoulish “Tom’s Diner” emerges from lost MP3 compression data

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Whether or not you can actually hear the difference between a high-quality MP3 file and a lossless version of the same song is the subject of much audiophile debate. But there’s no question that no matter how good an MP3 might sound, the compression process leaves some audio data behind. Ryan Maguire’s Ghost In The MP3 project examines that abandoned information. Maguire recently released his first track in the series, the anagramatically titled “moDernisT.” It’s a technological echo of Suzanne Vega’s a capella “Tom’s Diner”—a track that was used in listening tests when the MP3 format was being developed.

A doctoral student in computer-aided composition, Maguire extrudes the somewhat unpredictable, algorithmically generated compression data from the track to create his own works, a practice he sees in the tradition of “tape music” and other musique concrete forms, according to his website.


The accompanying video here is fittingly made from Vega’s music video for “Tom’s Diner,” rebuilt out of the data lost between the uncompressed video and a compressed MP4 file, adding another layer of reclaimed data to the project. Maguire says he intends to continue the project with more compositions based on the original MP3 listening tests before he branches out.


“The songs used in developing the MP3 codec are notable for what they are not,” Maguire writes. “They are not music from other cultures, not hip-hop or dance music, nothing with prominent low frequencies, nothing particularly noisy, no outright aggressive sounds, nothing lo-fi. … Composing with these sounds and injecting them back into contemporary listening spaces is one possible act of resistance, one available mode of cultural critique.”

[via Laughing Squid]