Skip to content

The Hamiltonian operator. Part 1: The Medium Itself

It was the kind of night when you’d rather be in. Rain splattered heavy and wet against the windows of Chenies Street as I hunched next to the black iron railing, shielding my eyes from the light to identify the house number under a cascade of ivy and precipitation. The puddles in the worn concave surfaces of the steps down to Number 4b splashed under my boot heels as I descended to the windowless door and thumbed the discoloured buzzer. Behind the brick walls, dirty since Old London, I could feel the pent-up silence of vacuum.

The medium had revealed itself earlier that month by a typically Trojan mechanism. I had received a pristine pressing of Arvo by post, and had torn greedily at the packaging to free the cover from its plasboard carapace. The paper sleeve with translucent window was extracted with more ceremony, more of the respect demanded by the Russian doll layers of aural imagination it contained. Then, as I slid out the twelve inch circle of grooved and marbled yellow vinyl, a three-and-a-half inch square of blue mylar thunked to the carpet.

With slight annoyance at the interruption by this uninvited payload, I tossed it aside and quickly became lost in the joy of the dust-speckled recording. But, as the needle got trapped in the locked groove of side B, I was drawn back to the magnetic arrival and it’s tempting inscription.

The equation written in marker on the label of the diskette crystallised in my imagination. In a pique of industry I freed the ancient breeze-block drive from the loft and weighed its heft in both hands, examining the ports. Having fashioned a cable to attempt a connection, I was surprised when the power light blinked on and even more so at the successful interface with my device. I slid the blue wafer through the jaws of the aged receiver, which at the final moment was snatched from my fingers, the drive obliging by revealing its eject button. The forgotten but familiar grind of the mechanical data storage device spun into being, the sliver of magnetic substrate being flung around it’s metal spindle many times each second.

Dynamic, yes. But when I entered I found it more like a tomb, the medium reluctant to divulge its secrets. Digital necromancy, bulletin board hacks, hours fumbling in once-clandestine dark web resources. Nothing got me any closer to the contents of the diskette – it appeared blank. By now the snake was coiled around my brainstem and refused to let me rest. In the weeks which followed, my thinking was engulfed by unjust moral nightmares which raged in my isolated psyche. Eventually rising from this quagmire and letting the remnants of turgid thought fall from my overcoat, I surfaced into a realisation – it wasn’t the content of the medium that mattered, but the medium itself.