[-empyre-] Archiving New Media Art: Ephemerality and/or Sustainability

Ricardo Dal Farra rdalfarr at alcor.concordia.ca
Wed Sep 22 08:16:13 EST 2010

Hello colleagues,

I was visiting an exhibition about Genghis Khan a 
few hours ago and while walking around, suddenly 
I thought about the 700-800 years of what I was 
seeing there and our problematics in preserving 
most of our recently created art. Being this 
weekend enjoying an international arts biennial 
in California, I was also seriously considering 
(as most of us probably often do): what do we 
need to preserve? and who am I to decide what to 
preserve or not from the others? But no doubt I 
think today that many of the works I know about 
should not be of concern if we cannot preserve 
them for the future. Of course, it would be 
useful to "keep everything" to understand a 
certain culture at a certain time, but it is 
simply not possible. The other factor that came 
into my mind during this weekend, being 
surrounded by many eco-oriented works, is the 
balance between past, present and future, 
considering that our present exists because of 
the past we had but it is also the way to build 
our own individual as well as collective future. 
Many of this environmentally oriented works (most 
of them involving some kind of digital 
technology) are purposely ephemeral in their 
nature, creating a controversial situation for 
those of us interested in preserving, or at 
least, documenting them.

I have been working in the documentation, 
preservation and dissemination of electroacoustic 
music created by Latin American composers for a 
long time. You could see some results published 
online at UNESCO's Digi-Arts web portal in 2003: 
and then at The Daniel Langlois Foundation for 
Art, Science and Technology web site: 
published mostly in 2005.

The electroacoustic music of many (Latin 
American) composers was not only extremely 
difficult to find around but was also walking 
though a vanishing path (until recently). My 
concerns were both, the music itself and the work 
of many creators that didn't receive enough 
attention at the time they were developing their 
pieces. We can easily remember European or 
American composers working with new technologies 
but many of us do not know about the richness of 
the electroacoustic music scene created by Latin 
American composers, many of them pioneering works 
in the region and many others working with much 
more resources in Europe (France, the UK, 
Germany, Spain, etc) or North America (the US and 
Canada). Why we don't know about them? Not only 
the innovative and creative aspects of the music 
being composed during the past decades by Latin 
American composers but also technological 
developments for the arts were almost lost in 
time (I am thinking here about Fernando von 
Reichenbach from Buenos Aires, Juan Blanco from 
Cuba, and Raúl Pavón from Mexico, among others: 
Of course, there are sociological and political 
reasons for that.

We cannot preserve everything, and there are 
works (many of them) that the artists created 
just for one single event, and they do not want 
them to be preserved. Then, there are ethical 
questions about it, and even others so 
simple/complex as when composers born in a Latin 
American country do not consider themselves as 
the product of the culture and education of that 
region; and there are many technical issues that 
I have been facing in doing my projects too: 
analog vs digital sources and their pros and 
cons, multi-track works, mixed pieces for fixed 
media (i.e tape or CD) and live acoustic musical 
instruments or voices, or compositions involving 
live electronics with or without other new media 
technologies involved.

If you want to know more about the Latin American 
Electroacoustic Music Collection, please visit:
- 231 works fully available to the public on the 
- full list of compositions (1723) being 
preserved at The Daniel Langlois Foundation 
(available only for researchers and for 
educational purposes): 
- full list of composers (390) whose works are 
being preserved: 
- excerpts from interviews (in Spanish) from 
about 15 hours of material: 

Many thanks to Timothy Murray and Renate Ferro 
for inviting me to participate on this list 
allowing me to share with you all some thoughts 
and experiences about my work in archiving new 

I hope we will have a rich exchange.
Ricardo Dal Farra

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