what we can do with a virtual archive / Is this sonic collage?

So our class has been thinking about issues of archiving in the digital realm, what it means to collect and deposit ethnographic data virtually: who has access? who can interact? Does the virtual realm make for the possibility of a more dialogic ethnography – built on open commentary? We read Johannes Fabian’s Ethnography as Commentary which theorizes the potential promise of a virtual archive as a space to make ethnography more of a collaborative, communal enterprise. While Fabian’s ideas are solid, there’s a lapse between the potential of this archive & what Fabian’s archive manifested as – (basically) transcribed interviews/conversations supplemented with a self-reflexive commentary. (So, helpful yes as a model in making ethnographic process/practice more transparent but not really a radical step for imagining a more dialogic ethnographic practice… but his toes do scratch the surface)

The examples below from Kutiman’s Thru-You project are far more visceral illustrations of a virtual archive’s potential to be dialogic. These “sonic texts” are made from everyday video responses. They are performative. They have an active, visceral, kinetic presence. The sonicscapes exemplify not only Kutiman’s individual creativity at a careful sampling-sewing (how did he mix this stuff down?), but also bring attention to the multitude of authors he draws from (check how he “cites” them by videolink in his sidebar notes) and to the digital community’s responses back to his work, debating its merits as art or as a product of poaching because of its use of sampling. Fascinating stuff…

So, check this pastiche cut-n-mix from various youtube clips to see how a digital depository can be reconfigured as creative material:

Kutiman explains how he did it:

Here’s some discussion of what Kutiman’s work means in light of contemporary issues of copyright, entitlement, appropriation of online material, etc: “Kutiman, Big Media, and the Future of Creative Entrepreneurship”

And: “Kutiman Killed the Video Star”

Here’s a video response from one of the “authors” whose video material was clipped and used in Kutiman’s sonic-collages…We might think of this as an example of commentary within the realm of YouTube. Check the comments…

One Response to “what we can do with a virtual archive / Is this sonic collage?”

  1. Meida Teresa McNeal says:

    Dear Johannes,

    Not at all intended. Your work is indeed vibrant, vital and continues to be a wonderful reference point for new projects I’m developing on the possibilities of virtual ethnography.

    Trying to consider and apply an ethnographic theory/practice that exists more as a collective enterprise of knowledge production (and one in which the ethnographer/researcher must be more transparent and available to commentary and critique from the communities s/he works with) as well as one that plays well with ways of knowing based in embodiment and expressive performance.

    Perhaps I’ll post some of that work in progress soon, especially if I know your eyes might be taking a glance!

    Thanks for commenting.


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