Day 112: Texture

Issue No. 9 of the 10,000 Days Newsletter is about to roll off the presses. The pixel presses. If you'd like to subscribe, and I hope you do, just look to the top of this page and follow the simple instructions. The new one comes out tomorrow morning.

This was the essay from Issue No. 8, some musing on texture.


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I recently listened to a BBC radio documentary on P.J. Harvey's process in writing and composing her music. She noted at one point that for initial recording she likes working with an old four-track cassette deck. Digital production comes at a later stage, as it must, but she wants to start with the analog sound. Among her reasons is her fondness for how tape hiss adds texture to the recording.

For the last few years, audiophiles have been buying so much vinyl it has become worthwhile to reopen mothballed record-pressing plants. The inherent scratchy pops and clicks produced by the stylus tracking the grooves? Desired over the icy gloss of CDs. Texture.

Digital photographers have the option of applying filters, with Photoshop or On1 or Nik or smartphone apps, that add film grain to the image. Many of these filters are intended to mimic specific film stock. What photographers are after is the added texture and dimensionality that grain imparts to a film image. We want to counteract the way digital images, especially pictures that have been over-sharpened and exhibit an unnatural flatness and razor edges.

Cartoonish flatness without texture is the hallmark of digiscene. (Starting with politics and public discourse, but that's for another day.) Digital photographs, especially when viewed on a screen. Digital cinema. The audio quality of CDs and sound files and streamed music. Ebooks and online magazines and newspapers, lacking the texture of ink on paper. Compare email to analog correspondence; no textured stationery, no envelope thickened by a letter, no misaligned stamp, no unevenness in the flow of ink.

Friendship has been flattened to friending on Facebook (you know you're headed for trouble when a noun gets verbed), reduced to flat little thumbs-up graphics and emojis. Reader response to stories is gauged not in actual human interaction but in clicks and likes and dashed-off comments and 50-word "reviews." Short fiction, journalism, informative lists, reports, interviews, documentary work, travelogue, humor, all flattened into interchangeable "content." Bang it out, plug it in, sent it out, next.

There's a new territory appearing on modern maps: The Digital Flats. Please give it four stars on iTunes, that really helps.