Junto Project 0285: Live Barcoding [repost]

Someone suggested that Suss Müsik repost our contributions to the weekly Disquiet Junto projects, because they enjoy reading the explanations of the tracks. While you’re reading the original post, make sure you check out the other contributors’ works as well.

The first barcode was a graphical extension of Morse code. That’s how Norman Joseph Woodland arrived at his barcode prototype in the 1940’s while living in his father’s beachfront apartment. One imagines Woodland drawing with a wooden stick in the soft Florida sands, extending a series of dots and dashes into the cryptic patterns we all recognize today.

Morse code is commonly thought to be a mechanism of distress. Everyone knows the code signifying “SOS,” for example. The lyrics of “Dot Dash,” a song by punk legends Wire, appear to reference a more neutral approach to crisis. The narrator’s indifference to an upcoming automobile accident is oddly casual, almost clinically observant: “Progressive acceleration / Skidding, but the expression / Remains pan.”

It’s interesting how, decades after Woodland revolutionized the transactional landscape, our emotional response to barcodes is one of lax familiarity. We get bored with innovation when we’re constantly exposed to it. Using a self-checkout scanner at the local grocer has all the excitement of waiting for a traffic light to change. We simply go through the motions: beep, navel oranges, two for a dollar. Beep, bag of crisps for one seventy-nine. Whatever.

For this piece, Suss Müsik created a nine-part sequence based on three barcodes. Each “hit” was played using pieces of wood and overlapped according to variances in line thickness. As the rotation became more dense, a bit of reverb and panning was used to separate the layers and compress the more piercing frequencies.

Noting that one of the barcodes resembled an elongated set of piano keys, Suss Müsik identified individual notes and arrived at a somewhat accidental chord sequence that deadens the senses after two measures. Perhaps that’s what Wire was getting at with “Dot Dash” and the lesson of Woodland’s invention: random discoveries and events are unavoidably circumstantial, and the emotional responses they elicit can be surprisingly mundane.

The piece is titled Philco, named after the company who purchased Woodland’s patent in 1962 after IBM declined to pay his asking price.

Postscript: the wood percussion by itself is actually quite interesting, if a bit dry. If there is interest among Junto participants in hearing this part as an isolated track, let Suss Müsik know via comment and we’ll post it.

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