Author(s): Robert Barry
Object Lessons is a series of short, beautifully designed books about the hidden lives of ordinary things.
The story of the compact disc is also the story of the end of physical media. It is the story of how the quest for perfection laid the grounds for the death of a great industry. For in the passage from analogue media, like records and tapes, to digital media, like CDs, something changed in the nature of media and in the relationship we have with music. Music became code, a sequence of 1s and 0s. A flow of pure information. The material structure of the medium itself was always supposed to disappear. But the physical has proved to possess an uncanny knack for returning.
The CD was killed in the 1990s - first by emphasizing its physical nature, later by removing it altogether. But today the CD persists - a zombie medium, still popular amongst certain avantgarde record labels and Japanese consumers. Against all the odds, the spectre endures.
Object Lessons is published in partnership with an essay series in the The Atlantic.