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Format Friction

Format Friction

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Author: Gavin Williams


Published on 5th June 2024 by The University of Chicago Press (University of Chicago Press) in the United States as part of the 'New Material Histories of Music' series.

Paperback / softback | 208 pages, 14 halftones, 2 tables
229mm x 152mm | 454g

The first book to consider the shellac disc as a global format.

With the rise of the gramophone around 1900, the shellac disc traveled the world and eventually became the dominant sound format in the first half of the twentieth century. Format Friction brings together a set of local encounters with the shellac disc, beginning with its preconditions in South Asian knowledge and labor, to offer a global portrait of this format.

Spun at seventy-eight revolutions per minute, the shellac disc rapidly became an industrial standard even while the gramophone itself remained a novelty. The very basis of this early sound reproduction technology was friction, an elemental materiality of sound shaped through cultural practice. Using friction as a lens, Gavin Williams illuminates the environments plundered, the materials seized, and the ears entangled in the making of a sound format. Bringing together material, political, and music history, Format Friction decenters the story of a beloved medium, and so explores new ways of understanding listening in technological culture more broadly.

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