The other "doomsday vault": the bunker where Microsoft will store all the music in quartz crystals

Project Silica

We live in a world where there are several risks that compromise the stability of our civilization. We generally speak of catastrophic natural events, such as the Yellowstone supervolcano, man-made events, such as a possible “nuclear winter”, or space events, such as the fall of a meteorite similar to the one that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs.

Faced with this scenario, we have been preparing for some time to deal with its possible devastating consequences. There are those who have created guides on how to survive an atomic bomb, those who bet on saving themselves inside luxury bunkers, and general projects such as the “Doomsday Vault” that seeks to preserve seeds.

The truth is that, in addition to the necessary seeds, it would not be a bad idea to save something of our culture for future generations. In this sense, Global Music Vault has emerged, an initiative that aims to preserve some of the most important pieces of music of all time for 1,000 years.

Storing music in quartz crystals

Currently, much of our musical heritage is stored on digital media that can be exposed to some of the risks mentioned above. Either due to the lack of robustness of the hardware or the difficulties to connect to the internet. So, what alternatives do we have to preserve them in the face of a devastating scenario?

Over time we have learned that long-term data storage on media such as DVD’s is a bad idea. At the other extreme we have the gold discs, like the ones carried by the Voyager probes, but it does not seem to be a good alternative either, although, speaking of space, there are those who have thought of putting servers on the Moon.

The solution, according to Microsoft, which is one of the partners in this new project, is in store music tracks on quartz wafers. These, as explained on an official website, they can withstand extreme conditions such as flooding and high temperatures without compromising data integrity. In addition, they do not deteriorate easily over time, which makes them a very reliable support.

In this way, Global Music Vault will be based on Microsoft’s Project Silica, a technology designed to store long-term data in quartz through the use of femtosecond lasers, an advanced technology that allows creating nanoscale engravings. Polarized light through glass is used to read the data.

Project Silica is a fairly recent project. It was born in 2016 as a new cold storage system for data that rarely needs to be accessed. That is to say, in this case, we will not consult the music recorded on this support frequently, but we will do it again after hundreds of years.

Those from Redmond have been testing this technology for all these years and have come to the conclusion that we are dealing with a system whose main characteristics are longevity and stability. One of the most recent tests, in agreement with Warner Bros., involved storing the original ‘Superman’ movie on glass measuring 7.5cm x 7.5cm x 2mm and containing 75.6GB of data. .

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For now, Project Silica will preserve a wide variety of musical expressions from around the world with Global Music Vault. The vault will be located on the island of Spitsbergen in the Svalbard archipelago, Norway, i.e. in the same area as the seed vault. It is a place demilitarized by 42 nations, considered as “one of the safest places on earth“, although it has suffered some mishaps, such as an unexpected flood.

Those responsible for the project indicate that from next year they will begin to add music. The first round will include the work of British artist Beatie Wolfe, songs from Sweden’s Polar Music Prize, New Zealand’s Alexander Turnbull Music Library and the International Library of African Music. If all goes well, this little piece of our culture should be preserved for hundreds and hundreds of years.

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Written by Editor TLN

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