Anders Liljedalh, University of Copenhagen
This will be fragmental. But I guess that stuff can be fragmental, too. It can break into fragments. Is there a difference between artifacts and texts? Differentiating between texts and artifacts reduce complex assemblages to all-to-pretty fragments. The type of meaning I map onto stuff does not really differ from the type of meaning I give to what is often branded texts. Texts are stuff as well—they are fonts, 1s and 0s, paper-thickness, signals, props on a set, the ink of the tattoo on a performer’s body, years of dance-training to get to this moment, the drops of blood the costumer lost while sewing the costume, and they are the steel in the miner’s pickaxe used to extract the gold that is in the soundcard I use to listen to music videos.
As Tia DeNora successfully argued in Music in Everyday Life, people attach memories and emotions to musical texts just as they do to stuff. My stuff is as much the chair I used to sit on as a child in my parents’ apartment as it is the video for Air’s “Sexy Boy” or the scratches that would render my Blood on the Dance Floor CD difficult to listen to without a great deal of manual fast-forwarding and discman-shaking. In the latter example, does stuff infringe on the text? It directs my agency by making me interact with the discman in order to get the song working again. But it also just alters the text. It is now a new text. Or, perhaps a remix. Stuff altered the text, just like stuff was used to create its first iteration, but it did not erase the text.
My sister and I would watch MTV religiously after we got home from school, and I wonder which aspects of such a transaction counts as ‘stuff’. In the history of music videos, the TV – and later the computer, the tablet, and the mobile phone – are surely important co-contributors of music video aesthetics. One needs only to glance at a so-called vertical video to experience the formal and aesthetic consequences of playback devices. There is a sort of feedback-effect between ‘texts’ (i.e. music videos) and ‘stuff’ (playback devices) which annihilate the demarcations between those categories: The popularity of music videos generated a demand for TVs with better speakers and colors, and the TVs, as noted, framed the existence of music videos. The music videos are filled with stuff. Playback devices are, as Roland Barthes taught us, also texts; they are also myths.
I wonder about online stuff, too. Is all data, all 1s and 0s the same stuff? What about the ads for stuff that play before I can watch the music video I wanted to experience? Or those annoying tiles that are superimposed on the frame towards the end of a video. You know the ones. On YouTube. I hate that stuff. And what about aspect ratios? I have mentioned vertical videos, but super-wide videos have also become more frequent (Zara Larsson’s “Ruin My Life” comes to mind). Is that part of the stuff or the text? I don’t understand how I am supposed to make a meaningful distinction.
airofficial. “AIR – Sexy Boy (Official Video)”. YouTube video. Posted 28 April, 2016. Accessed 26 May 2020. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wouKI_myXxk
Barthes, Roland. Mythologies, translated by Jonathan Cape. New York: Hill and Wang, 1972.
DeNora, Tia. Music in Everyday Life. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
Michael Jackson. Blood On The Dance Floor: HIStory in the MIX. Epic. 1997.
Zara Larsson. “Zara Larsson – Ruin My Life”. YouTube video. Posted 23 October, 2018. Accessed 26 May 2020. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3OTjFqWcDQY