The PDF as Sound Object

The PDF may yet prove to be the fax of the Internet: an under-performing technology that persists because of some peculiar set of ill-defined yet tenacious niches that it fills.

Which isn’t to say the PDF doesn’t have artistic promise. Like the fax, it may even be ripe for experimentation. Back in the early 1990s various artists, including Art Reseaux and Gilbertto Prado, created endless fax loops, modern scrolls enabled by the technology.

Recently the trio of Duncan Whitley, James Wyness, and Katherine Hunt collaborated on a PDF titled 58 Processions: Listening through Holy Week (PDF — caveat: it’s almost 100 megabytes) that seeks to take advantage of the format’s little-promoted audio capabilities. The document is a map with sound files encoded in it. Released this year, it collates material from a 2008 Whitley-Wyness sound-art exhibit in the crypt at St Pancras Church in London. The duo projected in the crypt sounds they had collected in Seville during holy week — liturgy and passing bands, crowd noise and other field recordings. In the solemn space of St Pancras, they didn’t attempt to transport the experience so much as create a new experience, that of disembodied sound in a sympathetic environment.

The PDF collects simple maps that delineate the source points of the audio, as well as frame the audio with explanatory text. Unfortunately, true to the PDF’s iffy nature, the audio didn’t all function on either of the Windows machines nor on the Macintosh that I attempted to play/read it on. Still, it’s a fascinating prospect — and what exactly is the proper verb when a PDF serves as a multimedia platform?

More on the release at More on the original exhibit at

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