Jitter: Clocking as Audible Media

Owen Marshall


Clocks function as media objects in at least two ways. First, they create shared senses of temporality. Second, they facilitate technologically mediated auditory communication. When clocks fall out of sync with one another, the result is a type of noise that signal-processing engineers call jitter. Jitter is, in turn, managed through practices known as clocking. Drawing on technical engineering literature and an ethnography of Los Angeles-based recording professionals, I articulate a broader sociotechnical definition of jitter and clocking, which I use to analyze three sites of temporal negotiation in the recording process: (1) the organization of clock signals in the analog-to-digital conversion process; (2) the production of the studio as a heterochrony or “other time,” distinct from the world outside the studio; and (3) the reconciliation of human and nonhuman temporalities, exemplified in the interaction between a drummer and a drum machine. I further consider jitter’s conceptual affordances for media studies generally.


sound, time, temporality, clocks, signal processing, audio engineering, recording, science and technology studies

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