‘Data Melancholy’ and Radiohead

I loved reading this post on Radiohead’s video for ‘House of Cards’ (see it on Youtube).

The dominant narrative of data visualisation at the moment is informed by the networked optimism of web 2.0, where the social sphere, and increasingly the world as a whole, is unproblematically digitised; where more is more and truth, beauty, and commercial success all are immanent in the teeming datacloud.

House of Cards, by contrast, is a manifestation of data melancholy. Data here is low res, with a sketchy looseness of detail that evokes the gaps, the un-sampled points. This data is also abject or corrupt, the scanner intentionally jammed with reflective material, a bit like the metallic chaff used to confuse missile guidance systems. These glitches are familiar devices in electronic music and video, including Kid A-era Radiohead. However here the errors are very much in the data; they have migrated out of the music, which is human, organic and more or less intact here. This disjunction between failed data and the emotional, human domain is what characterises the data melancholy.

I also love this thought from commentor Greg J. Smith:

All of this said, data melancholy is indeed the name of the game here. I guess that title is an appropriate substitute for what used to be called folk music.

Sure, that sounds like it’s way off base – but it’s a provocative thought.


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