July 13, 2024


Art Is Experience

Truth Issues – Manipulating Digital Data

Truth Issues – Manipulating Digital Data

What are some ways digitized output can be manipulated to fool people?

The enormous capacities of today’s storage devices have given photographers, graphics professionals, and others a new tool the ability to manipulate images at the pixel level, For example, photographers can easily do morphing to transform one image into another, using image-altering software such as Adobe Photoshop. In morphing, a film or video image is displayed on a computer screen and altered pixel by pixel, or dot by dot. As a result, the image metamorphoses into something else a pair of lips morphs into the front of a Toyota, for example, or an owl into a baby. The ability to manipulate digitized output images and sounds has brought a wonderful new tool to art. However, it has created some big new problems in the area of credibility, especially for journalism. How can we know that what we’re seeing or hearing is the truth? Consider the following.

Manipulation of Sound Could I tell whether or not sound has been manipulated?

In 2004, country music artist Anita Cochran released some new vocals, including a duet, “(I Wanna Hear) & Cheating’ Song,” with Conway Twitty who had died a decade before the song was written. The producers pulled snippets of Twitty’s voice from his recording sessions, put them on a computer hard drive in digital form, and used software known as Pro Tools to patch the pieces together. Ten years earlier Frank Sinatra’s 1994 album Duets paired him through technological tricks with singers like Barbra Streisand, Liza Minnclli, and Bono of U2. Sinatra recorded solos live in a recording studio. His singing partners, while listening to his taped performance on earphones, dubbed in their own voices. These second voices were recorded not only at different times but often, through distortion-free phone lines, from different places. The illusion in the final, recording is that the two singers are standing shoulder to shoulder.

Newspaper columnist William Safire called Duets “a series of artistic frauds.” Said Safire, “The question raised is this: When a performer’s voice and image can not only be edited, echoed, refined, spliced, corrected, and enhanced, but can be transported and combined with others not physically present, what is performance?,.. Enough of additives, plasticity, virtual venality, give me organic entertainment.” Some listeners feel that the technology changes the character of a performance for the better. Others, how-ever, think the practice of assembling bits and pieces in a studio drains the music of its essential flow and unity.

Whatever the problems of misrepresentation in art, however, they pale beside those in journalism. What if, for example, a radio station were to edit a stream of digitized sound so as to misrepresent what actually happened?