BIT is an ever-evolving digital ensemble, made entirely by, for, and about the World Wide Web.
The music of BIT is as eclectic as its membership, with over one hundred collaborators spanning six continents. The first time many of the musicians meet is on record: a digital exchange of melodies, ideas, and personalities.
Founded in 2013 by Kirk Pearson, BIT's music has been featured on NPR, BBC Radio, in campaigns for HP, Instagram, and Sundance Film Festival, as well as hundreds of films, installations, and radio broadcasts.
lenna was a test image (2017)
In 1973, a team of computer engineers changed the meaning of reality. This team, led by USC professor Alexander Sawchuk, was on commission to create an image codec—a type of computer program that can take a high-quality photo and strip away the details humans don’t tend to notice. One evening, the team tried to test their program on a color image of a human face. The photograph they arbitrarily chose was from that month’s edition of Playboy: the face of model Lenna Söderberg. While their code was able to compress standard test images without any visible issues, it utterly failed with Lenna—her face repeatedly came out discolored and pixilated. For the next several months, the team fine-tuned the code until her likeness was perfected. This experiment opened the floodgates for a slew of inventions you have no doubt heard of: the JPEG, the GIF, and the PDF, just to name a few.
To this day, that same photograph is the de facto standard for image compression. Virtually every digital photo you search, download, or share has, in some sense, been algorithmically created with Lenna in mind. Although we cannot notice it, Lenna’s face has ever so slightly changed the way we picture the world.
At the core of every digital file sits a platonic original—the idea of an aspirational human form that we base our technology around. From the MP3, fine-tuned to the voice of Suzanne Vega; or post-WWII television, molded to the image of the “indian head test pattern,” our standards for calibration tell a subliminal story about the societies that produced them. While we pay a lot of attention to the technologies we create, we tend to ignore the standards these technologies are configured to. Your camera has been engineered with a racial bias for lighter skin tones, much like our phone calls have been tuned to compress the sibilance and cadence of a northeast American accent. As the decision to use Lenna’s image was arbitrary, she in no way represents the average user of the technology she helped calibrate. That’s where the problem arises.
This EP is a series of compositions about the objects we test our technology with—a collection of think-pieces on our relationship to calibration mechanisms. In a media-crazed America, we hope these songs serve as a reminder of the much deeper biases that are embedded not in the content we consume, but the very form that the content takes. We sincerely hope you have as much fun listening to this album as we had making it.
The Curious Appearance of Agloe, NY (2015)
Agloe is a census-designated town in upstate New York. It’s just up the road from Roscoe. You’ll see signs for it on the highway, but you can't really visit it. That’s because only kind of exists.
Agloe is an example of a copyright trap-- a fake location invented by a map company to snare copycat mapmakers. If an enemy company were to plagiarize a map and copy an illegitimate city, the original company has a near certainty in winning ensuing legal cases. Every map has several of these: from small “trap streets” in large towns to nonexistent geological features. (Google Earth has gone as far as to create an entire fake chain of islands in the South Pacific.)
In 1937, the General Drafting Company created a rote copyright trap, the town of Agloe, New York. The trap worked like a charm— in 1962, Rand McNally proudly included Agloe on their American Road Atlas. However, our story takes an awfully strange turn here, for Rand McNally had an awfully good defense: the town of Agloe appeared on state census data.
After a bit of research, General Drafting found that in the early 1950s, a solo driver made his way through the town of Agloe, visible on his backseat atlas. Finding nothing but seemingly unclaimed land, he built a general store. Within a month, a family moved in just down the road. Over the next half a century, Agloe would continue to grow, eventually to include a gas station, a church, a park, a fishing lodge, a municipal building, and several houses. People were moving into a town that didn’t technically exist.
Told through composition, field recordings, animation, and historic audio samples, “The Curious Appearance of Agloe, NY” is a project about the oddities of copyright law. It’s a short meditation on hometown identity, kitsch Americana, and the bizarrely political implications of cartography. We sincerely hope you have as much fun listening to this project as we had making it.
Jeckyll Electric Effect (2014)
In 1971, the USSR financed their most expensive experiment to date: the Kola Superdeep Borehole. The purpose of the Kola Project was to dig to Earth’s mantle purely to see the consequences. By the time the government was forced to end funding, the team had dug thirteen kilometers creating the deepest hole anywhere on Earth-- even deeper than the Marianas Trench. The chasm was abandoned, and still sits in northeastern Russia today.
Like the Kola Borehole, unfinished projects leave quite a bit to the imagination. Incomplete icons are pathways that lead us to alternate histories. For us, this EP was a bit of an exercise in composing a suite of surrogate realities. Each icon we wrote about (be that a building, invention, expedition, composition, or experiment) was selected for its historical relevance to the 20th century. The album is not a lesson in history but a meditation on what small differences could have drastically changed the course of our future. Both the germination and death of these icons have become richly symbolic, and remind us of the starry-eyed aspirations, passion, and shortcomings of recent history.
A Man Disappeared Once (2014)
Louis Le Prince was a French inventor who, in 1888, recorded the first ever continuous motion picture. The film wasn't much, a few seconds of footage filmed in the town square of Leeds, but gifted Le Prince the title of "the mechanical king" back home. On the evening of September 16, 1890, Le Prince boarded the express train to Paris in route to patent his invention. As the train stopped the following morning, both the man and his luggage had vanished from his sealed compartment.
As far as the legal records go, Le Prince was never seen again. Some insist he was murdered by an ex-lover. An even more persistent theory is that Thomas Edison orchestrated his kidnapping, so he could take credit for the motion picture (which he did). His son insisted that Le Prince, a bit of a recluse, had spoken of a “perfect suicide,” where an individual could dematerialize and become public mystery. As society forgot his name, Le Prince would live on and keep slowly gifting his inventions to the public.
This was, of course, far before the advent of the World Wide Web; an invention beyond the wildest dreams of even Louis Le Prince. In the early 2000s, as private collectors started uploading vast photo archives, a few history fanatics started noticing strange appearances of an all-too familiar face. He not only appears in a police photo of a drowned man, but as a spectator of a lecture delivered by Albert Einstein, as a man performing microbial tests in a New York laboratory and as a traveling salesman in southeast India. The photos were not only taken after his death, but up to seventy years following. If one believes the man in question is indeed Le Prince, history would suggest he lived at least two hundred years; perhaps even longer.
I don’t intend to prompt further conspiracy about the story, but rather used the urban legend as a backdrop for a larger narrative. Le Prince, the “mechanical king,” is a case study for what happens when people go missing. We may not have his personal belongings, but we still have his films, his invention and his image. Le Prince created a virtual system of immortality.
This theme of disappearance is nothing new to the musical medium. This is an EP about lost places, people and time: a narrative story of the place that lost things go. Each piece in this album tells a fragment of an larger narrative-- puzzle pieces of an incomplete story, if you will. Thus, the tracks may be listened to in any order you desire.