Shannon Mattern on “5000 Years of Urban Media”

Still image of rooftop pirate radio transmitters in London, from Palladium Boots Presents: Uneven Terrain, Exploration #6. / Red Sands offshore forts in the Thames Estuary, 2008, formerly occupied by pirate radio stations throughout the 1960s. Photograph by diamond geezer / CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0
In this special podcast Q&A Mack Hagood interviews Shannon Mattern on her new book, Code and Clay, Data and Dirt, focusing on her discussion of sound.

Mack Hagood’s conversation with Shannon Mattern on her most recent book Code and Clay, Data and Dirt: Five Thousand Years of Urban Media is the first audio interview to appear on Mediapolis. It is also a preview of the podcast Phantom Power: Sounds about Sound, which Hagood will co-host with poet and media artist cris cheek in 2018. This episode was written, edited and musically scored by Hagood. Special thanks to Orfeas Skutelis at the New School for his production assistance. [Disclosure: Mattern serves on the Mediapolis advisory board]

Media archeology is a field that attempts to understand new and emerging media by examining old and often dead media technologies. Shannon Mattern takes inspiration from the field but notes that most of its “digging in the past” is metaphorical. “What if we took media archeology literally,” she writes, “and borrowed a few tricks from archeologists of the stones-and-bones variety?” Her book Code and Clay, Data and Dirt, released in November 2017 by University of Minnesota Press, pushes us in that direction.

Each chapter moves us farther back in time in an examination of old urban media infrastructures, starting with the sonic technologies of the telegraph and radio, then moving to the urban emplacement of the printing press, followed by an examination of the earliest surfaces for writing—clay and stone—and finally, perhaps the oldest medium of them all, the human voice. Each of these media reorganized the city around itself and each of them is still with us today, as past and future media co-mingle in the present. –Mack Hagood,


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