Microsoft to Store World’s Music Collection on Quartz Wafers

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(Photo: Daniel Kivle)
Everyone knows that if the apocalypse ever arrives, we will need to keep certain items safe for future generations. We’ve already taken care of our collections of plant species with the Global Seed Vault, aka the Doomsday Vault. That currently holds 1,145,693 backup copies of the world’s seed varieties. They will soon be joined by a new vault, which will attempt to backup the world’s music collection. It’ll be called the Global Music Vault, and it will join the seed collection in Svalbard, Norway.

In order to accomplish this behemoth storage-related task, the organization running the effort has tapped Microsoft as a partner. Together they are embarking on a trial to achieve resilient long-term archival storage. They will be using Microsoft’s Project Silica, and working on a proof of concept to see if it will work for music storage. It uses wafers of quartz as the storage medium. The group’s press release notes that while tape is still the preferred way to archive data, it’s not as resilient as silica. Not only is silica inert, but it can withstand almost any type of environmental punishment. Referring to the concept of a glass platter, the PR notes, “It can be baked, boiled, scoured, flooded, subjected to EMP and in other ways attempted to be tampered with, without degradation of the data written in the glass.” The mountain in Norway where it’s located is also considered the safest location on earth due to a mixture of geological and geopolitical stability.

This rendering shows what the global music vault will look like when it begins accepting its first mixtapes, sometime in 2023. (Image: Global Music Vault)

Each quartz wafer (top) will be the size of a drink coaster, at 75 x 75mm and 2mm thick. Each plate will be able to store 100GB of data. Data is added to the wafers via a laser that creates “three-dimensional nanoscale gratings and deformations.” To retrieve the data, a polarized light is used to shine through the glass. From there a machine learning algorithm can decode it. The group says the proof of concept should allow data to be preserved for “many thousands of years.” Project Silica has been in the works for several years now. Back in 2019 Microsoft successfully encoded and decoded the original Superman movie on behalf of Warner Brothers. Glass as a storage medium has also been touted recently by a project involving a 5D disk that could hold data for over 13 billion years.

The first music to be added to the vault will be a “variety of musical expressions from all around the world.” It will include UK artist Beatie Wolfe, songs from Polar Music Prize from Sweden, Alexander Turnbull Library from New Zealand, and the International Library of African Music. Though this isn’t a huge data dump, the group envisions it will eventually add tens of petabytes a year. The first contribution to the vault is expected in 2023. More information can be found on the organization’s website.

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