ghost in the mp3

What are the sounds lost during mp3 compression?


How do we selectively cut out certain peoples, histories, and musics from our increasingly digitized lives? What is the residue left behind from what Rebecca Lemov describes as our “fantasies of digital totality”?


Based on a perceptual model of human hearing, these sounds also expose our own sensory limitations.

$†@® was composed from the material deleted during MP3 compression of the song “Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman, one of the original listening test tracks used during the creation of the MP3. Similarly, the video is the frame-by-frame and pixel-by-pixel difference between MP4 compressed and uncompressed versions of the original music video. Thus, both audio and video are “ghosts” of their respective compression codecs. These are traces left out of our digital lives.

To learn more about how this project was created, you can browse my article from the Proceedings of the International Computer Music Conference and listen to the accompanying sound examples.


I also have an article forthcoming in the Journal of the Society for the Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States about the motivations behind this work. In the meantime, you can download moDernisT and $†@® here, or visit the original page for this project, ghost in the mp3.

Most of the media here was put together using the free programming language Python and cobbling together functions from various free, open-source libraries. You can browse my GitHub page (username: magwhyr) to check out some of the code and feel free to create a fork from any of it to develop your own projects. I currently teach at the University of Virginia and privately in the Charlottesville area. Contact me if you have questions or want to collaborate!