Category Archives: softvideo

Sovereign Temporality (not)

Lives in a Korsakow film proffer themselves as a profound proposition in relation to cinema. Cinema and video are technical media, which is to say that they consist of a technological apparatus for the indifferent recording of what falls within view. They are indifferent because they do not care. A camera does not speed or slow in anticipation of what is there, nor complain because the view is too dark or light. This indifference is most deeply marked in its rhythmic consistency — ‘metronomic’ does not come close — established and then enshrined through the standardisation protocols of international convention.

Technical media occupies time the way a twentieth century army invades territory. This is no guerilla activity, minor tactic or smooth flow but industrial, rigid and fixed. Thirty seconds on that video camera is thirty seconds on this one, and every other one. This is why cinema is, in the first instance, a temporal rather than spatial media. And why, barring technological misadventure, a twenty eight minute film will be a twenty eight minute film all the time and everywhere, on every screen. Technical media’s temporal indifference is also preserved after these moments of capture and repeated in the industrial segmentation of our day by the radio and television broadcast, and the constancy of the record, CD, projector, cassette, and DVD player.

Cinema becomes then principally a temporal rather than a spatial medium. Obvious but always forgotten (for instance the edit is an intervention – the only possible – in time, its use to create a spatiality or to maintain continuity of space is secondary and at best parasitical to time) as this temporal writing and rewriting gets reduced to being merely narrative’s handmaiden. As if. Time though, no matter how quickly one cuts, or what to, is inexorable.

Korsakow offers an alternative temporality to this constancy (a constancy that can regarded as a joy or a prison) through an attribute which constrains how often its individual clips can be played. These are simply known as lives. If a clip is selected by a user while a Korsakow film plays this counts as a life, and once the set number of lives has been reached that clip will never appear again. This means Korsakow films shrink as they are viewed, they consume themselves (much like Gibson’s famous collaboration Agrippa) in the very moments and activities of their being watched. A performative combustibility. This inverts cinema’s existing relation with time as in Korsakow a film’s temporality is no longer sovereign.

A Poetic Approach to Documentary

Freshly minted PhD Bettina Franham’s thesis is now available from the University of Technology, Sydney’s library. This is a major contribution, read it, and an enormous congratulations to Bettina for some exemplary scholarship.

A Poetic Approach to Documentary: Discomfort of Form, Rhetorical Strategies and Aesthetic Experience

Working in the borderlands between art and document, a poetic approach to documentary disrupts commonsense understandings of what documentary can be. However, it is frequently viewed as marginal to the main body of documentary practice for its foregrounding of aesthetic choices around form and materiality.

Pushing to the extremes of what is recognisable as documentary, a poetic approach to documentary highlights the rhetorical impact of aesthetic choices within the broader field of practice. Experiential ways of knowing are emphasised so that the work is conceived of as an experience in itself rather than a replication of reality.

Moving beyond realist representations of evidence, a poetic approach can make use of techniques of defamiliarisation as a strategy to renew perception and enable a reimagining of preconceived connections. In diverging from established pathways unexpected combinations can occur, allowing complex and changeful conceptions to emerge.

Utilising a methodology of practice based research to produce a 28 minute single channel documentary and the close examination of pertinent creative works, this thesis argues that a critically engaged poetic approach to documentary can work to encourage thoughtful contemplation as part of an ongoing conversation in the process of knowing.

(UTS ePress)

Korsakow and Dense Nodes

In network media I discussed small world networks, dense nodes, and so on. A korsakow film is exactly this sort of structure. Below is something I wrote in 2011, reposting here as it should help people to understand Korsakow films as an architecture and structure that you do things with, and an architecture and structure that is, in its very DNA, the same as the networks we are working on. It’s sort of a mise-en-abyme moment really.

A significant idea that has a lot of relevance for things like the internet, hypertext, and social media (which are all forms of distributed networks) is the idea of a ‘small world network’. This is related to the famous experiment by Stanley Milgram about there being a maximum of ‘six degrees of separation’ between any two people, anywhere in the world. A small world network assumes lots of a small number of connections between individuals (nodes, clips in a k-film, links on the web, people you know), but with a few individuals who have a lot of connections. In relation to social networks these links are not about how close you are to others (whether geographically or personally) just that you know them. The existence of only a small number of people who know a lot of other people (who have a lot of connections) makes it much easier to get from one group to another, from one individual to another. The key features here are that these connections (how many people you know) is not equally distributed – I know 100, you know 200 – and that to get from one individual to another you do not need to know all the connections, all you need to know is somebody that you think will be closer than you are.

So, what does this have to do with k-films? Quite a lot, since keywords create (in k-film land) small world networks. Clusters or clouds of clips that all know about each other since they have common keywords. Now, imagine a work which has several such clouds. This is like a party where there are four, no let’s make it five, distinct groups of people who know each other. Now, to find someone in my group who knows someone in another group (in other words someone who could easily sit in one or more of the groups) is quite easy and this is how the two groups can be connected. The person I know in that group over there can introduce me to everyone else in their group – I just need one point of connection to be able to join them, it doesn’t matter that I only know one person.

Hence in my k-film with my clouds all I need to do is make sure I have one clip (node, SNU, pick your term) that has lots of connections to the other clouds. To keep my now rather dodgy analogy going, the person who knows someone in three, four or even five of the groups at my party. This node might have no limit to lives (it will keep appearing) and also have plenty of keywords so itn is a point of connection to all the other clouds and nodes.

In practice I might have most clips with limited lives. As I view the work I am caught in a cloud, but as I view material and clips ‘die’ this special node (what I’m currently calling a dense node) will appear. If I select this then because it has links to all the other clouds I can now get access to these other clouds. In this way I’m able to make sure that all the parts of my k-film can be connected. That’s one half of the problem. The other half is to figure out how to film or make this content in such a way that it makes sense, visually and contextuallly, so that it works as this dense node or hinge between these other parts. This depends very much on what these other clouds are about.

Need an example? I might have material that I have grouped (made as clouds) around night and day. I might then have to fllm something at dusk or sunset and use that as something that connects night and day and make this clip my connector. I might have inside and outside, light and dark, blue and red, and so on. In each case once I recognise what the terms of my structure are I can identify something that falls between them, and this is the one that I can use to join these two clusters or clouds together.

A 2010 K-Film Explaining How to Make your K-Films

I’ve made a k-film that is very linear. Well, not linear, you can listen and view the clips in any order you like, but it is not so much a k-film as using Korsakow to collect some screen casts together where I go over some things to think about in relation to making your k-film projects. This was made using Korsakow 5.0.4, and I’ve included a playhead in the interface which shows you where in the clip you are. The advantage of this is that it immediately tells you how long a clip is, since if the playhead progresses very slowly then you know it is a long clip (and vice versa).

So, the k-film. It is commentary on some of the things to think about in your final projects. I made it as a k-film because it was just much faster to talk about this stuff and record it than trying to write it all out. YMMV. Click the pic go there.


Korsakow and Hypertext

Found this from a static site from 2010 or 2011. This is about Korsakow as hypertext, not the linear singular link node notion of hypertext that everyone who writes about interactive documentary thinks hypertext is, but the sort of hypertext that hypertext theorists and writers use everyday (for example with tools such as Storyspace or Tinderbox).

Korsakow is software. It lets you make and publish multilinear video (and sound) works online. That is pretty much all you use it for and all it does.

Some questions: why do we use it? What might be learnt from using it? What can we make or do with it?

How to Think Korsakow

The Korsakow System is software that lets you make hypertexts. Unlike traditional hypertext the content nodes here are now video or audio, but all the principles, rules of making and reading are pretty much the same as for hypertext (or I guess more accurately hypermedia).

The simplest way I think of understanding the Korsakow System is that it is a system for making what I think of as hypertext movies. It lets you make links between nodes like you do in HTML, except the links are not written out as HREFs but use keywords. Each clip in your project These keywords can also be attached to time.

This means that you should think of a keyword as being the same as a link, so a video clip while you are making a movie can have links out to other video clips in your k-film. This means any clip can have as many links to other clips as you like (there is even a random option where it will insert any clip for you, think of this as a random link to all the other nodes/clips in your project). Similarly there are links in to each clip from other clips, and you define these as well.

Figure One: Standard Links Using HTTP and HTML (HREF attribute).

For example, as Figure One illustrates, the sorts of links commonly understood to constitute hypertext are those written in HTML, and so are anchored on a source page (for instance in text or an image) and when selected have a single destination which is to a legitimate URL. Hypertext however, has always had much more sophisticated notions of linking than this, including the assumption that you could link from the entire object (in the case of Figure One, this would be the entire page), and that any link may have a single anchor, or source, but multiple destinations.

In such a system (see Figure Two) a link may come from an entire node, or from any part within that node (and a node may contain text, image, video, and so on) and may have multiple destinations. In many traditional hypertext systems this is realised through a link with some sort of dialog or directory window opening when a multiheaded links is selected to let the reader choose which of the destinations they would like to arrive at. Alternatively, such systems may also institute rules so that the system, rather than the user, determines the destination from those available (Storyspace is an example of such a system). Such rules usually rely on state information (that is the system records what you have been doing, and so knows what nodes you have in your history, which word you just selected to follow a link, and the like) and so make links available on the basis of reading history (what you have, or have not visited) and text strings (what bit of text you have selected.

However, technicalities aside, what is of importance here is the difference this sort of hypertext has to plain vanilla HTML with HREFs. In the latter links are singluar with a nominated and visible source (the link anchor) and a single destination (a URL). This means links can be thought of (and mapped) as complex, recursive tree structures, but the connections are all fixed and visible, whether they are followed or not – this web page has n links with n1 destinations. In Figure Two though we don’t have such tree like structures (I should stress that ‘tree’ really is a misleading analogy, since a web link can link to any other URL and there is no necessary hierarchy required, which the tree analogy suggests, but I do want to provide a strong sense of the way in which these sorts of links are ‘flat’ compared to more complex hypertext structures, are easily discoverable (ie you can just see them) and so describe and create a fixed topography whether they are followed by a reader or not. This is, after all, how a spider like Google can index webpages as it follows links, it is premised on them being explicitly declared, described and able to be followed). I like to think of them as clouds, or as fuzzy links.

Figure Two: Multiheaded Links in a Hypertext.

Clouds and Fuzzy Links

These are quite informal terms, but that’s OK. They are fuzzy because in Figure Two the link that has four possible destinations does not need to be made up of four different links (as would be the case in HTML) but can be a single link which has a condition or rule attached to it where that rule is satisfied (in this example) by four destinations. This lack of specificity, where a link does not absolutely go from here to there, is what makes it fuzzy. It might go to N1, but it might also go to any of N2, N3, and N4. As a consequence of this the structure is not fixed as in HTML but is cloudy, there is a soft constellation of potential destinations, and they are potential not because it is a web page with ten links and the reader may decide on any of the ten (or none) but because the destination is actuated by the system in response to the user as a feedback system.

Now, let’s return this to Korsakow. Korsakow uses the model described in Figure Two. The link is not a link in the technical hypertext sense (though it is, after all a hypertext system such as Storyspace is, like Korsakow, a database application with a particular sort of presentation layer for authoring and reading) but a keyword which enables a search. This search will, in the simplest scenario, match all other nodes that contain this keyword and so make them available for selection – in the first instance by the system and in the second by the user. In a k-film the set of possible destinations to a key word is constrained by a) the number of nodes containing that key word, b) the number of lives each node has (which limits the number of times it can be played, which in turn limits how often it can appear as a result of a search), and c) how many thumbnails have been allocated to present the outcome of the search.

For example, in Figure Two we have four nodes that have links, so as a k-film that would be four nodes that contain the same key word that we are searching for (keeping in mind that this could include the same node that is the source of the search). However, in defining the parameters for the first node in this series it is possible to limit how many results to return for this search, so while there may be four that meet the condition only two (for example) may be displayed. Similarly the designer of the k-film is able to determine how many thumbnail panes to present in the project, and this can also affect how many nodes within this ‘cloud’ may actually appear to the user. For instance, a k-film may only have three thumbnail panes, so if there are four nodes that match the search criteria, one will not be displayed. Finally, it should be obvious that as more material is added to a k-film project the set of nodes that matches a search may change as more nodes with the same key word are included.

So, we have links that are fuzzy because they are rule defined, and what meets the conditions of these rules varies due to a variety of author defined constraints. A problem remains though, as an artefact of our visualisation, which suggests a linear passage through the material (from left to right, and implicitly from beginning to an end). This is, in fact, not the case.

Figure Three: A Sketch of the Structure of A Completed K-Film

Figure Three provides a concpetual link structure for a simple k-film. The coloured lines are different key word links between each of the nodes. The point of this third figure is to begin to suggest the complexity that can be built through only a few nodes (SNUs, lexias) and keywords, and that the structures (the sequences) are recursive, circular, and ‘ill formed’ in that they are not explicit like in HTML but lie there, as a virtual set of possibilities.

Korsakow, Field Notes

These are notes from my teaching in 2011, and are the various strategies and things I’ve learned through using Korsakow that make using the program simpler, or at least easier. They are a mix of tech and conceptual things. Am dusting them off for the new subject and realised worth reprising here.

  1. Dense nodes. One way to make connections between clouds in your k-film is to use dense (dense in the sense of thickly linked with keywords) nodes that work like ‘hubs’ that join or connect different clouds together. I’ve written about this in more detail nearby.
  2. Export as you go (the quick way). Korsakow now lets you do a low res export, or the usual export to web. A tip. Ignore low res export because if you choose to do this it exports everything, every time. You are much better off setting your compressing settings to the lowest quality, doing an export for the web, and then as you add more media do the web export. That way you get the dialog box that asks you if you want to redo everything or any the new additions. Choose new stuff and things export much much faster. This is also how you can easily test interface changes, and make minor changes to keywords and so on. These changes don’t require video to be added or recompressed, so are exported very very quickly and you can then look at the work to see what differences your changes have made.
  3. NAME YOUR PROJECT. Yes, that is yelling. Why have no title for your project? Why publish it as ‘untitled’. It is your work, give it a name. Also the title of a work can do.
  4. Transcoding. Transcoding is what Korsakow does when you export a project. It takes the media you have added to the project and recodes (recompresses and changes the file format) to FLV using what you have selected under File – Project Settings – Export. This takes ages, literally if you have a lot of video it can take hours. So be prepared for this.
  5. Export a project but nothing appears. If you load up a project with video, but have not added any keywords in or out (‘snuified’) the clips, then when you export your project to the web and go to play it there will be nothing visible. Your video will be transcoded, but nothing appears because it needs clips with rules (keywords) attached to build anything.
  6. Compression settings for export (File – Project Settings – Export). H.264 medium currently provides the best compression options (file size versus quality). If you want to be low rez (compression artefacts, etc) then use the low resolution H.264 project settings.
  7. Thumbnail videos. Don’t use the video you add to provide thumbnails. They are large files and it is very (very) inefficient to use these as thumbnails – people will be downloading something the size of an elephant when it should be a mouse. This matters because we all pay for bandwidth, so please don’t expect people to have to pay for elephants to buy a mouse. If you want video thumbnails then compress your video a second time to the size of your thumbnails.
  8. Start simple. Complex structure is created by the repeated application of simple rules. Use this when thinking about keywords. Don’t use 20, use 4, build, export, test. Then think about what changes you might need.
  9. Korsakow is only for authoring. This means you make content – video, still images, audio, outside of Korsakow using whatever software takes your fancy. What you bring into Korsakow is your media already to go. You don’t make video edits in Korsakow (well, in my terms you make edits possible via the keyword link structure, but that’s a different kettle of fish entirely to editing a movie in the usual sense of the word). So all the media your bring into your project should already be the right size for your project, the right compression, and in the format and data rate that you want. You NEVER bring in something bigger and then make it smaller within Korsakow (for instance a video that is 1280 x 720 that you then present as 640 x 360). This slows things down since heaps more is being downloaded to be played than necessary, and is, well, the digital equivalent of picking your nose at the dinner table (seriously, that is how uncool it is).
  10. Use this as part of an iterative process. This means do not think you can plan your Korsakow project on paper, or somewhere else, and then you will just import your media and link according to your plan. You can try to work like this, but that is a bit like thinking you can write music by writing each instrument and not listening to them all together, and not actually playing music while you’re writing music. Or it is like writing something in Word, then exporting it as HTML, and then telling yourself that you are writing hypertext. No. You need to work within the medium to be working in that medium. And you need to work in that medium to learn how to work in that medium. You don’t learn how to play a piano by reading about it, watching others, watching a DVD, or writing out instructions on paper. You have to play. So it is with Korsakow. But there is more to it than just having to use it to learn it. There is a logic to the tool which you can only use if you work in the tool. So the way to make a project is to add some media, add keywords, export, and play the work. How’s it going? What happens? Does it do things you didn’t expect? Good things or bad things? This is really much easier to do when the project is small, when you can try things out easily, and then as you develop an understanding of the shape,patterns, and behaviour of your project you can add more media, and keywords, and then export and evaluate the work. This is what I mean by an iterative process. You add some stuff, you evaluate, you make changes. It is built up through small steps, small increments. This might be unusual for mamy of you. In TV you are taught to script, storyboard, and then use that as your plan. In essay writing you prepare an essay plan and use that to build from. Here it is much much more organic. Personally I’d describe it as more like writing a song. Add a line, sing it, fiddle with it a bit more, back to the music. You sort of have an idea of what it is about, or where it comes from, but there is no strict plan or map.
  11. Do low res exports. Part of this iterative process is to add, keyword, add SNU ratings and so on, and then export to test and see what is going on. (Again, think of this exporting and viewing as what you would do in radio or TV, you do an edit, then you look at the shots, or listen to your piece, with your new edit. You don’t just keep editing to the end then check that the edits are OK, same process for making a k-film.) So, exporting can be slow since the Korsakow engine will take your video and audio, and then transcode and recompress it. This is slow work. So for work in progress when you export go into File – Project Settings – Export and choose FLV Low. This will export much more quickly, and yes it will be low quality but this is drafting. The final export or for publication of work in progress you will change the Export settings to a higher quality and re-export. But remember, if you have a lot of material this will take a lot of time. (And this is also why you must always have your original media, if you have moved it, deleted it, renamed it, then there is no way for Korsakow to export and render a better quality version because it can’t find the source media.)
  12. Complexity comes from the iteration of a simple structure (or rule). You build complex structures (patterns) in a k-film not by using a lot of keywords but by defining and applying a simple set of rules, consistently.
  13. What happens if the source videos are different dimensions? A mess. In a word, well two. The software is designed to support video that, more or less, is at the same dimensions. Being smaller might not be a problem, it might just be presented larger, or you can put a background behind it to make it fill the frame. I suspect (but haven’t tested) that the default behaviour will be to fill the video screen you have defined. So if it is a different aspect ratio (which is a much bigger problem than a different resolution) then it will be stretched, or squashed to fix. Work arounds would probably be to use Compressor to crop the video to get it to the right aspect ratio and/or dimensions.
  14. Read the error messages. Yes, Korsakow is low budget software so you can’t export the sort of design, support and so on you get for either very large open source projects (WordPress for example) or commercial software. However, pay attention to error messages you get, while cryptic they usually point to what is going on. For example if you get an error message about a file type being not supported or corrupt it will tell you which file. Remove the file from your project. If the export now completes there is something wrong with the file. There are a lot of examples like, this, so read the error as it does give good clues as to what might be going on.
  15. Thumbnails can be video or jpegs. Video thumbnails are very cool, because when you mouse into them they play. But this seriously increases the bandwidth demands of your project. If you are going to use video thumbnails then it is essential that they are recompressed to a suitable size and data rate. This means they get recompressed to the size of the thumbnail. You NEVER compress video to, say, 320 x 240 if it is going to be displayed at 160 x 120. Why? Because the larger video requires four times as data as the smaller. It is about bandwidth which becomes about how much data has to arrive at your viewer’s computer before they can do anything. The more you can minimise this (the less data that has to arrive) the better off you are.