Tag Archives: Personal Archives

Sound of Summer

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The best archivist I ever knew was also a coder and my best friend. Her name was Chloe Weil.

Recently, Chloe committed suicide. It is a tragedy for many reasons. She was stunning. She wowed people with her creativity. In everything Chloe did, she left a piece of herself in it. This made her work feel authentic, thoughtful and personal. Her work let others into her world. On her blog Chloe wrote 101-word journal entries, guided us through her artistic process and shared some really cool web projects. Chloe has left behind an online archive that is almost as rich and profound as the girl we loved being around. This post and my next will show off two of Chloe’s web based projects that expanded my ideas about sharing personal archives online.

I have been meaning to write about Chloe’s work on Library Manifesto for a while. I haven’t until now because she was too great a writer. No one could explain her work better than she did. Her posts were always humorous, conversational and succinct. She explained highly technical web projects in accessible ways and used her personal life to make web jargon more relatable.

"Above, I explain computers to a room full of guys." - Chloe Weil

“Above, I explain computers to a room full of guys.” – Chloe Weil

Chloe loved music. She was sometimes a human version of Shazam – she could tell you the name of a band or artist playing overhead at a bar. Chloe knew more obscure bands than anyone else I knew in High School and anytime after. Her love of music and web development came to a head in 2012 with Sound of Summer. Sound of Summer came from Chloe’s urge to catalog the emotions of her life through sound. Put simply, Sound of Summer is a personal music archive that lists Chloe’s most played songs in her iTunes library, every summer, starting from 2001.

Chloe tracked all of her music intake. In High School she began using iTunes data fields in ways they weren’t intended; tagging and organizing songs by when she listened to them most. Chloe wrote, “To organize music based on artist or album or even year released is extrinsic; the music has always been about me.” While others would balk at sharing such personal details of their life, Chloe embraced it.

I encourage you to look at the site. You’ll be immediately drawn to a stack of coral colored columns, each representing a year between 2001 and 2013. Select a column for a year, say 2012, and you are taken to that year’s songs, 74 for 2012. You might look for songs you listened to that year too. If you click on a song a music player pops up displaying an animated beating heart while playing back a snippet of the song. The beating heart reminds me of Chloe’s playful details. The project introduced me to some amazing music I had never heard before from bands like The Stranglers and The Go-Betweens. I learn about a new band every time I go back to her site.

“Do you remember in High Fidelity when Rob is organizing his record collection autobiographically? That’s the closest analog to this model. Each of my season-year playlists has the emotions and experiences of that three-month moment encoded into every song it contains. I’ve inadvertently managed to create a detailed narrative of my life just from the way I ended up organizing my mp3s. If want to feel how I felt my freshman year of college, I just filter my library for 2003FALL and I get all the tracks I listened to then, all the emotions I’d experienced, and the general mood of that period in my life. Say I want to re-experience my first year in Portland, although I don’t know why I would want to live through that again. I filter my library to 2009 and get 2009SPR, 2009SUM, 2009FALL, and 2009WIN. Say I only want to experience every summer of the past ten years. I filter my library by SUM and I’m having those rich emotional experiences again.”

I’ve listened to Chloe’s most played songs over the last 13 summers. I will never know what it felt like to be her but when I listen I get through to another layer of her identity. It helps me understand her a little bit better each time. Chloe made something emotional, scientific and vice versa.

Here’s Chloe’s conclusion from her technical write up. I’ve included it because I find it inspirational.

“There were entire weekends spent typing the same commands in the terminal, entire evenings spent refreshing the browser without accomplishing anything. But all it takes is one right thing to move forward, whether it’s modifying one line of code, or approaching your problem from a different point of view.”

Photo: Chloe and me at a summer music concert. Taken by Ruchi.
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Note to Self: Preserve Personal Triumphs

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Seeing a friend read an essay this spring made me think about personal archives in a new way. I had traveled to a gallery in an old industrial zone of Brooklyn to support my friend Megan, who writes about contemporary art and her life. When Megan got up, she said she wrote the essay she would be reading two years ago. Revisiting the piece the night before, it didn’t seem quite right. She decided to rewrite all the questions as declarative statements. I imagined her questions had been answered over time. Or, made way for different, newer questions. The edits seemed like signs of growth. Being in the audience that night as the writers and artists shared their completed works, I felt I was witnessing a small milestone.

The reading reminded me of one of my own milestones, a night the summer after my college graduation. I studied photography for two years as an undergrad, first black and white and then color. I had the idea to organize my first photography exhibition of my own work. My friend Dave kindly let me decorate his apartment on St. Mark’s Place with my work, and hold the exhibit there.

Matt and I lined Dave’s apartment with my photographs and some yellow tube lights. We blew up pink balloons and bought a box of cheap Trader Joe’s wine. My friends started to arrive, one by one, despite the sweltering heat. The photographs I selected were taken on day trips, date nights, or were just observations from my early twenties. The show was a milestone in itself of my growth as an artist and marked the end of my college life. It was also an excuse to celebrate the friends and supporters I had collected along the way.

When I decided to share the photographs on Library Manifesto, I found that I had done a disservice to my own archives. Many of the photographs taken the night of the show are missing! I’ve moved and purged multiple times since college and I’m afraid they might be gone forever. This is a public note to myself, and anyone reading, to remember to document personal milestones and triumphs with the same attention and thought we often give our failures. Jot them down, share with friends. Have pride in your successes (big and small) and preserve your personal history.

Here are a few photos of that night and some that were hanging on the walls:

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The First Date Archive

Library Manifesto

Lots of young lovers keep mementos: movie stubs, tickets from amusement park rides, mixtapes or mix CDs, even receipts. I have collected them all and then some. In the case of my boyfriend, Matt, I am lucky to have something more unique; photographs documenting our first date.

For that momentous date in 2007, I proposed a walk around Brighton Beach, a boardwalk east of Coney Island in Brooklyn, to find something photogenic to capture for my black-and-white photography class. But Matt became my main focus and the scenery faded. Looking at the photos now, I find them romantic. You might be able to sense how shy I was, from the shots of Matt’s feet and the back of his head. I usually keep the photos stashed away but I recently scanned a few. I hope you like them!

Library Manifesto

Library Manifesto

Library Manifesto

 

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The Joy (and dread) of Keeping Diaries

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Like many young girls, I started keeping diaries as soon as I could form sentences. At age 15 I decided anything I had ever written previously in a diary was much too embarrassing to exist and tore them up. While all of my diaries since have been equally embarrassing, I’m glad the same destructive impulse hasn’t come over me. There is so much humor in our younger selves. In hindsight, the problems that felt unbearable – “does so and so like me?” –  are endearing and a little insignificant. It makes me sad too, to look back on myself when I was feeling self-conscious, was too attached to certain boys, and made enemies of girls in school.

My birthday is on Saturday and now that I’m getting older I am happy to have these keepsakes. I can look through pages from an old diary and be right back in those places, remembering the sights, sounds and smells as they were.

I hope you will get some enjoyment out of reading these excerpts of my personal “archive” of diaries. I wish I could share the most embarrassing entries with you, but there is part of me that wants to keep those secrets and be a loyal friend to my former self. Besides, these snippets are cringeworthy enough for me.

On friendship:

Diary List

On boredom:

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On teacher crushes:

Diary Entry

On office jobs:

Diary Entry

And random doodles:

Diary Drawing

P.S. Back in 2012, Flavorwire posted these images of the journals and notebooks of famous actors, authors and artists. Check out Marilyn Monroe’s penmanship and David Foster Wallace’s use of smiley face stickers.

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