Vogging v. Blogging.

Mike Slone has made some excellent comments come criticisms about vogging at mikeslong.org. Perhaps the most trenchant criticism Mike makes is:

I won’t go into all the details now about what I don’t agree with, but one of the things that makes blogging “blogging” is that it is easy to do and something that the majority of people already online can learn to do with very few technical barriers.

Absolutely! I think given the status of blogging in early 2004 it is very easy to overlook some important points about blogging, which directly influences what I think vogging ought to be, or at least how it ought to be.

Prior to the rise of blogger, and shortly afterwards the various other blog orientated systems, it was extremely difficult for any average author, even with substantial HTML skills, to write a blog. This is because blog authoring tools are Content Management Systems (CMS’s) that all rely on backend database processing, templates, cgi scripting and the like. They do this so that it is trivial for the majority of wannabe bloggers to: write an entry; collect, bookmark and annotate any other url; archive permanently with a valid url all entries; automatically link to these entries from other pages; include images in their work; link to other blogs; collate or check links to your own blog; to provide metadata in the form of categories; and so on. In other words blogging tools are quite specific CMS environments that facilitate all this and make the technical side of reasonably complex site management trivial. (It helps that much of the information architecture issues that always accrue to CMS projects have been largely solved via the generic conventions that blogs rapidly developed over the last 3 years.)

The same ought to be the case with vogs. So yes, at the moment to make a vog requires quite a bit of technical expertise, but only because the tools for vogging are not yet available. The architecture is available – for example QuickTime has a full set of Java APIs available so it is technically feasible to author a video blogging tool that, for instance, would let you: upload video; nominate a poster frame; make a poster movie to embed from that frame; allow you to specify standard options like volume, controller visible, looping. It would also be technically possible to then write a tool that also let this video become interactive (Ezedia for example have a simple drag and drop QuickTime program, this isn’t much good for vogging, but my point is that you could make a program specifically for vogging, the technical architecture is already there, it’s just that no one’s done it yet), so that it might link to other videos (other vogs), it might quote other vogs, or it could be as simple as letting you click at a certain point to then load another vog, in the same way that a blog consists of multiple and dense links and it is common to move between several while reading.

Blogging, inspite of photo and audioblogs, is primarily a text based activity. The advantage of this is that most of us, and certainly pretty much everyone interested in blogging, is text literate. We know how to write and we can learn how to write in this environment. Combined with simple web based interfaces (forms and buttons) it is possible to write and publish online – the technical threshold has been rendered trivial. As a consequence blogging has been able to evolve as a rich and broad genre rapidly because it appropriates existing and deeply understood literacies. This is not the case with vogging. Outside of those who actively make film or video, the majority of people don’t ‘narrate’ with time based images on a regular basis, but just as in writing the conventions are straightforward and easily learnt. Now, blogs worked because we are all print literate and had had several years of being immersed in HTML, CSS, hypertext or web design, and so on. Our print and web literacies gave us the skills needed to work out the what, how, and why of blogging and to develop the idea of networked literacy and writing. This is not the case with vogs. Most simply, blogs are networked writing, which is not writing published on the network, similarly vogs are networked video, which is not video published on the network. The difference is that the tools exist for the former, and not the latter. With the rise of video editing to the desktop video literacies will develop, people will put them online, just as we all wrote homepages six years ago. The next step, as blogs show, is something else again. Make the tools, and people will come.

The vog project then is about this. A series of sketches to explore the things that networked video can do beyond embedding an image and synchronised soundtrack on a web page. It is a video literacy in the same way that I’d argue blogs are a networked text literacy.

Brugge Paraplie (1, 2 and 3)

This vog was shot in Brugge on one of the wettest days in Belgium in January (they got something like quarter or half of the year’s rain in one day). The video footage is a two minute single take on one of the main streets, people walking past with their umbrellas and rain coats. As you mouse into the movie images are randomly selected from a collection of 25. 13 of these are intertitles, and 12 are photographs that I took during the journey on the train.

The vog is a series of three, Brugge Paraplie, Brugge Paraplie Two, and Brugge Paraplie Three.

To see all the video footage, with no ‘interruptions’ from the intertitles or photographs, you need to play the movie but not to touch it with your mouse. A sort of zero degree of interactivity. Any attempt to interact with the movie has an effect, of course, and provides access to the content of the work, but I like the consequence that as soon as you touch the movie the work qualitatively changes in a manner which means you cannot recover ‘just’ the video.

The three versions are identical in their structure (remembering of course though since all the images are randomised there is no ideal identicality available, their ideniticalness is that they have been scripted in the same manner), except that version one has two highly compressed versions, version two one highly compressed and one high quality versions of the video tracks, and the third has two high quality versions of the video tracks.

There are three not only for the ‘aesthetic’ possibilities of using different compressions of the source material, but because the seriality of the work I believe is significant. They all play the same way, so their repetition is much like advertising on television, but also something about their differences and similarities, the insistence of the iteration, is important.

DorkBot Vog

I’ve made two Dorkbot vogs, from identical material. These were shot at the dorkbot event in Gent that I participated in. The first, Dorkbot, is similar in structure to Brugge in the Rain where video from my Canon Ixus is layered with still images from the night, as well as intertitles. I’ve compressed the intertitles (they’re jpegs) dramatically so there are artefacts visible where the black is an off grey and so not presenting as transparent. I like the grunge so have let it be.

As with the other holiday vogs this is low tech, dirty and quick. It combines low rez video, stills and intertitles to describe an evening at a new media event. Was a good gig.

The second vog, DorkBot for Jan, has identical content to Dorkbot but the jpegs (photos from the night and the intertitles) are now randomised. They are produced by the user by a simple mouse enter event, but whereas Dorkbot serially orders all of the jpegs I wanted to create some more disordered structure in the work. This is not randomising parading as complexity but has a stronger narrative intent. As I was writing the intertitles a specific narrative direction developed. However in scripting them I found that more interest was produced by altering the order of presentation of the intertitles. Randomising this moved this up a notch. I had also thought of doing something simple with the sound volume of the work, or of adding a second soundtrack and let the work slip between volume levels or the two soundtracks, but some of my recent work has just got too top heavy so I’m keeping some discipline. I have enough problems reconciling myself to 320 x 240 pixels!

It works because the intertitles are written in the way that I’ve learnt from writing in environments like Storyspace for so many years (must be nearly 10 years now). In these sorts of sophisticated hypertextual environments content spaces tend to be autonomous, or nearly so, so that their content generally (as a broad rule of thumb) ought to be reasonably coherent no matter where the reader may have arrived from. This means they tend to be written in a style that encourages textual and hermeneutic adequacy or sufficiency. (This also has the effect of allowing a much greater level of connection between parts, what you might think of as link density, because the more ‘abstract’ the node, that is the more self contained it is, the easier it is to join to other parts.)

A thought experiment I regularly do with my students is similar to this, where they must produce three nodes that can be joined in any order. Just foregrounds what multilinearity actually means, and distances ‘interactivity’ from ‘multilinearity’.

Brugge in the Rain

The Brugge in the Rain vog is part of the holiday series and consists of some video shot from my Canon Ixus, still images from the same camera, and transparent intertitles. The intertitles, which I’ve borrowed from Tim Hall (and silent cinema) provide a bit of narrative context, while the still images and video is a bricoleur like apparatus for the tourist-flaneur. A surfeit of surface in place of place.

Originally I had designed the vog so that mousing into the video pane would slow the playback rate of the video exponetially, in the same way as Paris Snow and Albi Train Light. However, I rescripted the work and made it much simpler by only providing a mouse in event which loads either a jpeg from Brugge, or a transparent jpeg with an intertitle.
The variable playback speed was irrelevant to the intent of the work, and also I prefer effects derived from mousing over or through, rather than clicks, in the vogs. This work is in some sort of counter point to Brugge Paraplie (yet to be made) which will have a two minute continuous shot from one of the main streets with cars, busses, people and their umbrellas in what was ubiquitous rain. In Brugge Rain I am more interested in combining the easy to day to day digital image in a vog holiday album more than anything else (voguenir?).

Atomium Vog

The Atomium is a wonderful building come installation that was built for the 1958 World Expo in Brussels. Inside it has deteriorated, leaking in the rain, and generally feeling run down and distinctly dishevelled. A renovation program is underway. The thing is just eccentric, gloriously optimistic, and kitsch in a 1950s sci-fi way that currently makes very fine sense for the first decade of a new millenium. Yep, I loved it.

The Atomium vog is all shot on my Canon Ixus, a 2.1 megapixel domestic camera. I’ve started to use it to shoot some low rez video. Partly because it is easier to carry around than my video camera. Partly because I like the larger aesthetic of using one small domestic level device to capture content for use in the vogs. Partly because I like the discipline that it imposes since I shoot on this more like a still camera, rather than the longer takes I gravitate towards on the video camera.

This vog is pretty straightforward. A short loop of the Atomium itself. If you mouse into the video panes then the playback rate declines, in the same way as the two previous vogs (Paris Snow and Albi Train). Clicking in any of the video panes causes the playback rate to be restored to normal speed, but it also loads a graphic over the top of the playing video pane. These graphics are still images that I shot at the Atomium, and intertitles. I was interested in trying to work out a simple vog structure that would sort of let me build holiday vogs on the fly. Of course I haven’t had any network access to publish them, and they still take a bit of time to build, but the idea is to combine video with the still images and with intertitles in a sort of collage/mollage (montage + collage) environment. More in this style will be here soon….

Albi Ville (train light)

Another vog that slows down as you mouse into it. This is light on the side of the train as we travelled from Toulouse to Albi. There’s a 13th Century cathedral there, all brick and lace masquerading as stone. Light and darkness, I prefer the light.

Dorkbot and Vogging

These are the notes I’m using for the presentation come voyage through vogging that I’m doing this evening at Dorkbot.

Vogging is video blogging. There has been a recent rise of interest in video blogging but the majority of these new video blogs think that interactive video means embedding some video on a web page. Vogging is not embedded video.

The Vogma manifesto.

Simple technicalities: Shoot, capture, cut, slice and dice, author, publish. Domestic technologies, a guerilla and noisy aesthetic and practice.

The nuts and bolts: how I slice and dice in Cleaner. How I script in LiveStage Pro.

Key points:

  • QuickTime is track based and so you can work in QuickTime as a collage environment, much like Flash.
  • A QuickTime ‘movie’ has two architectures.
    • There is the serial, temporal architecture
    • Then there is the simultaneous (almost spatial) architecture of simultaneous tracks.
    • (I think of this as simultaneity and so about time and interactivity, not about space.)
  • It is a distributed practice
  • It is political
  • It is networked
  • It is treating video as a medium to write in, in much the same way that people use CPS and Max to ‘write’ audio

Examples

Paris Snow, update.

The Paris Snow vog, only lasted a few hours. I’ve changed it to a much higher (6MB) version. Still not happy with the compressing, but I’ve just moved to using MPEG4 as the standard and so am still tweaking. In this particular vog because the snow is so soft I needed a lot more resolution so that you could notice that the movie was actually slowing down. After the next vog I think the next few that I do like this might be a sort of flash pan work. Possibly even shot on my now long in the tooth Canon Ixus.

Snow Falling

When Anna and I woke on New Years Day in Paris out the window it was snowing. I am making one vog about the view of the street, but this is another one with content that I filmed from the back window of our apartment. Static camera, just the snow falling. Would have been better if the buildings were darker since I wanted to see the snow as it feel. Paris Snow is the result.

Technically this vog is very simple. Mousing into the video is counted and is used to calculate the speed of the video. In this case for each mouse entry the video plays slower and slower. It gets down to a very very slow speed very quickly (in my testing I had the movie playing at .027 frames a second) and so I added a mouse click action where clicking on the video restores the playback rate to normal speed.

What I am interested in making are a series of observational vogs, so pretty much single long takes, that document something simple (and timebased) in the world. My preference (there’s another one about to be done) appears to be something about light and simple movement in time.

Theoretically or I guess aesthetically I like the idea of these works. They’re Xenovogs, where the mouse entries into the video window progressively slow down the video so that, like Xeno’s paradoxes, the more you act on the movie, the slower the movie becomes, and so the longer the end of the movie will be deferred. In the spirit of Xeno the idea would be that the playback rate of the video would become infinitely subdivided, doesn’t happen in practice though. Alternatively these are my Bergsonvogs, since as they slow dramatically you can try to see the point at which one frame moves to another, but of course you can’t. The player seems to count how long it has to wait, then displays the next frame, then counts and displays and so on. Video, even this sort of digital video (which still uses frames as an architectural principal), can’t play a third of a frame at a time.

Paintings are not Images

Still in a bit of a whirl after my truncated (planes wait for no person, unless you happen to own one) visit to the Pompidou. Down below there was some nice interactive works, though I didn’t really have time to spend working through a lot of the standalone workstation based pieces – though of those the Flash based work by John Madea and colleagues was outstanding. On level 4 there was plenty of fine modern work, a lot of which I wasn’t very familiar with since. On the 5th floor, the modernists of the 20th Century. Now that was something. A small room of Chagal’s, exquisite Klee’s, a retrospective of Sonia and Robert Delauny, and some of the major Matisse’s.

What I was left with was how erroneous it is to think of these paintings as images. That’s what comes from looking at reproductions all the time. They’re pictures but not images. The difference is that these paintings are ripe with texture and surface, a carnality of paint that belies the picture plane and makes them sensuous and seductive. Their surfaces evince a pleasure in paint as a flow and a material substance that is only apparent with the object itself. This isn’t what I’d consider the aura of the work, at least in Benjamin’s sense (though it’s a long time since I read that essay), but just a physicality of painting as a verb rather than the noun-ness of ‘image’. To paint, versus, to image. This texturality of these pictures is what makes them work as pictures.

I’m left wondering what constitutes texture in digital work. At the moment I think it is to do with interactivity, this is the texture of the work. This is what I liked about Madea’s work because it was just dragging or mousing over and through the work that made things happen. None of that Pavlovian click nonsense. Good digital work ought to have seductive surfaces that gives way to textures of interaction. These textures are grounded in touch, touch which is to caress more than it is to push or prod. (Though they have their place too.) How you interact determines or constitutes this material texturality of the digital work (yes, I think digital works ought to have texture). This is their corporeality and their carnality. The mistake is to treat the content as the locus of this, rather than the interaction, the what rather than the how.