Ghost in the MP3

What are the sounds lost during mp3 compression?


How does society selectively cut out certain peoples, histories, and musics from our increasingly digitized lives? What is the residue left behind?


Based on a perceptual model of human hearing, the sounds deleted during MP3 compression can tell us about the forgotten and disrespected elements of our own time.


They expose the limits of perception and force us to consider the limitations of our own listening abilities and the differences in perceptual abilities between individuals.

“$†@®” 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.

This project takes the MP3 format as a point of departure from which to imagine the future of humanistic media formats and listening technologies. I am currently prototyping a flexible physical music format adapting ideas from algorithmic composition and information design to the final stages of record production and distribution, with the goal of creating a dynamic media format for creative artists. My dissertation considers how smart materials, ubiquitous computing, digital humanities, and critical and comparative studies can make future media technologies more flexible and equitable. To learn more about the origins of this work, read “The Ghost in the MP3”, published in the Proceedings of the International Computer Music Conference and Sound and Music Computing and listen to the accompanying sound examples on Soundcloud.


You can also read the article “Invisible Sights, Inaudible Sounds” (forthcoming) in the Journal of the Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States regarding the artistic 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. As an educator, I am committed to the use of open access technologies wherever possible to give students the opportunity to learn regardless of economic circumstances. 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 Composition and Computer Technologies at the University of Virginia.

more information about the creation of moDernisT