Lo-fi Recordings and the Reproduction of Affect, 1988-1996


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




In the early 1990s, developments in digital audio reproduction transformed the tastes and expectations of musicians and listeners. It was newly believed that musical performances could be perfectly replicated and preserved. In resistance, enthusiasts of low-fidelity, or lo-fi, sound valorized the noise, sincerity, and amateurism of poor recordings. However, the codification of lo-fi as a genre did not undermine the idea of fidelity altogether, but rather marked a shift of concern toward affective fidelity, a listener’s adherence to their own preferences and principles. This dissertation historicizes this shift by examining the processes by which recordings capture and transform affective states, whereby artists and critics use lo-fi audio to communicate and critique cynicism, ambivalence, and outrage. Four chapters address the “raw” and “slick” as aesthetic categories, gendered constructions of audio quality, symbolic registers of lo-fi mediation, and the commodification of lo-fi materials.