[iDC] Shelf Life and the turbulence site

Helen Thorington newradio at turbulence.org
Thu Nov 15 21:59:53 UTC 2007

Shelf life. I sigh just hearing the words. Turbulence did well in  
maintaining early work – for awhile. From ’96 to ’05, we “lost” only  
a few of our works – The first was a work called “Not Walls” which  
made use of Apple's QuickDraw 3D and a 3dmf plug-in like Whurlplug to  
create 3-D constructions. Quick Draw 3 D and the plug-in are no  
longer available. And if you do happen to have them (I do), they will  
not work with newer browsers or on newer operating systems. “Not  
Walls” was made for Netscape Navigator 3.0.

One of my very favorite works, “Radio Stare” (’97) became inactive  
soon thereafter.  “Radio Stare” was designed to receive and play a  
MIDI file and a RealAudio stream at the same time, along with a Flash  
animation. When the piece was created this was possible. New  
generations of the various media players  handle only the one media  
type they are intended to play and ignore others. The main culprit  
here was RealPlayer which grabbed the computers' audio card to play  
its stream, and locked out other players from playing MIDI. Without  
all three streams/loops running, “Radio Stare” is not the piece the  
artist intended.

But it has been recently that the truth of survival has come home.  
Turbulence has a new server. And of course we’ve upgraded … MySQL,  
Tomcat, and so on, all new versions.

Transitioning the older work has been hell, with only a few of the  
artists so far agreeing to update their work. And yet the price of  
leaving it on the old server is costly. A recent air-conditioning  
failure at our host site set the fan in our old server working at  
unaccustomed intensity. It died and with it went our media disk. You  
can no longer hear the RealAudio files on Turbulence, which means our  
multi-location performances (as well as an archive of New American  
Radio works) are no longer available online… unless I can find the  
original recordings and transfer them to another format. Real no  
longer offers a 15 stream server for free as they did in '96.  What  
they do offer (with the exception of a 5-stream server) is much too  

As an exhibition (as well as a commissioning) site, we have run into  
other problems as well. Chief among them: the absence of funding for  
equipment or administration. If you’re trying to maintain a site with  
many works on it and are not “institution-affiliated”, the outlook is  
not good.

I wish I had better news to give on the subject of shelf-life.

PS. Some organizations have the resources to think about preservation  
(here’s an excellent review of the New Media and Social Memory  
symposium and associated project meetings at the Berkeley Art Museum/ 
Pacific Film Archive--sponsored by the NEA-funded Archiving the Avant- 
Garde project, part of the Variable Media Network—by Matt  
Kirschenbaum: ( http://turbulence.org/blog/2007/02/02/shall-these- 
bits-live/); for us, it would mean no longer commissioning work  
because we can’t manage to do both. We’ve opted for the latter.
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