The new issue of Cabinet arrived today [free with my new iPad case!], and it includes a fascinating article by Susan Schuppli about the 18 1/2-minutes of erased audiotape at the center of the Watergate scandal. Apparently, the National Archives has sealed the original tape reel, known as Tape 342, with the erased segment, and evaluates advances in forensic analysis capabilities, “waiting for that moment when the kiss of technological progress will reawaken it.”
The last formal scientific panel to review the matter was in 2001; its tests were unsuccessful. Schuppli obtained a copy of Tape 342–technically, a copy of a copy–from the Archives, and performed various chemical and microscopic imaging of it. Because, well:
In conceptually rousing Tape 342 from its archival slumber, I hope to emphasize that erasure was not a process that removed information to produce an absence. In fact, an analogue tape recorder can only ever re-record over an existing track and thus Nixon’s, or his secretary Rose Mary Woods’s, purported act of tampering was a supplementary act of recording–an additive rather than a subtractive process.
This recognition of erasure as a generative event, not a destructive one, reminds me of Leo Steinberg, quoting Tom Hess, on de Kooning’s use of erasure, and Rauschenberg’s erasure of de Kooning:
De Kooning was the one who belabored his drawings with an eraser. Bob was proposing a sort of collaboration, offering–without having to draw like the master–to supply the finishing touch (read coup de grace)
Which reminded me that at a CAA panel last winter, SFMOMA’s Chad Coerver, who talked about creating the museum’s digital archive of its Rauschenberg holdings, mentioned that conservators using electronic imaging had been able to discover de Kooning’s original drawing. And that they’d been discussing with curators whether to make the image public. Which, holy smokes, I’m glad SFMOMA doesn’t have Tape 342.