The Global Music Vault, saving music for 10000 years

15 July 2022

Quartz glass data storage platter, Global Music Vault

Image courtesy of the Global Music Vault.

Much like the Svalbard Global Seed Vault which is intended to preserve plant seed specimens in the event of happenings such as natural disasters, wars, sabotage, or disease, the Global Music Vault, an initiative being supported by Microsoft, will safeguard and preserve the sonic arts for up to ten thousand years.

With the abundance of music in a variety of formats, vinyl, digital optical disc data storage (i.e. compact disc), and digital audio for instance, why is there a need take such a step in the first place? The thing is, none of these storage formats last all that long:

By Microsoft’s estimation, hard drives protect data for five years before they can go bad. Tape lasts about a decade, while CDs and DVDs can make it as long as 15 years before their contents are at risk of becoming illegible. While we seem to live in an age of progress — the iPhone can store thousands of songs in your pocket and stream countless more from the cloud — even in the best of cases, those songs will deteriorate millennia earlier than hieroglyphics carved into stone by the ancient Egyptians.

To conserve the music stored in the music vault — which incidentally will be located not far from the Global Seed Vault on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen — compositions may be etched into quartz glass, using technology developed by Microsoft to store data as 3D patterns in a glass platter:

Microsoft begins with quartz glass, a high-quality glass that features a symmetrical molecular structure, which makes it far more resilient to high temperature and pressure than the glass in your home’s windows (and, like all glass, it’s immune to the electromagnetic scrambling of nuclear weapons). Then, using a femtosecond laser — a laser that can fire for one quadrillionth of a second — Microsoft etches information as 3D patterns into the glass. Once this data is stored, another laser reads the quartz, as machine learning algorithms translate the pattern back into music, movies, or any other digital information.