The first time I recall hearing a musical reference to computers or anything else digital was many years ago while listening to the Moody Blues. A high school girlfriend pulled out an album–On the Threshold of a Dream–and plopped it onto her portable record player. In the Beginning, the first track, opens with some trippy high-frequency electronic tones. Spoken lyrics follow that represent–as best I can tell–a person’s struggle for self-understanding. One bit always stuck in my mind, spoken by “Establishment:”
Of course you are my bright little star,
Pretty files of your forefather’s fruit
and now to suit our
You’re magnetic ink.
Considering the song was recorded in 1969, that’s a prescient view of keeping and accessing digital information. While the lyrics are dystopian, the song acknowledges the powerful utility of collecting and keeping information over time. And, mind you, this was in the days when only “the establishment” has access to computers.
Given all advances in information technology over the last 40 years, I wondered if digital preservation-related themes have appeared in subsequent popular music. A few quick web searches led to some curious discoveries. Most of the music is pretty obscure, even that by well-known artists. Neil Young’s 1982 album Trans, for example featured distinctly non-best of songs such as Computer Age and Computer Cowboy. In Sample and Hold, Young sang about comparing old data to new data:
I need a unit to sample and hold
but not the angry one
A new design, a new design
There is plenty of angst in the recent musical canon about the potential for data to dehumanize. The 1981 Hüsker Dü album Land Speed Record includes the song Data Control, which declares:
They know everything about you
Keeping secrets is too hard
Your life is all recorded for you
In holes punched in computer cards
Now, by 1981 most current data was on magnetic tape, so we can assume (sure–why not?) the band saw the value in keeping the older punch card data accessible.
There are a number of bands, albums and songs that evoke topics related to digital preservation. Consider the 2011 album Harvesting Metadata from KaiBorg (which includes tracks with the names Postural Schema and Resumption Tokens) and the song Repository 2 by Christopher Lennertz from the Saint Sinner movie soundtrack. Band names include Digital Decay, Digital Damage and even Digital Mess.
The life cycle concept is fairly well established in the world of digital stewardship, and I was intrigued to learn the band Sieges Even (“German progressive metal”) christened a 1988 album Life Cycle. A song with the same name includes lyrics–expressed in a most excited manner–that also can be considered a prescient view of the information professional’s world in the early 21st century:
Life cycles – almost everywhere!
Life cycles – permanent progress!
Life cycles – a higher contrivance.
If anyone can point to more popular music with some digital preservation connection, tenuous or otherwise, please leave a comment.