Posts Tagged ‘affective-assemblages’

Cutting Floor Two

The notion of the affect image as slow interval, as the indeterminate that falls between noticing and action, offers a radical critique of interactive documentary poetics, and a compelling alternative methodology. It lets us see that interactive documentary may be less about ‘access’ (social engagement and reach, sociocultural critique), or even novel technocultural forms (it is about all of these things, but this has always been documentary’s charter) but about interrupting, suspending, and slowing the ideas, events, and problems they address. This is largely not the case in contemporary interactive documentary where much of the work being discussed and identified as interactive documentary is caught in a first wave of a digital delirium where the ability to combine, link, and then present media in multilinear and nonsequential ways becomes a parade and celebration of technical spectacle. (It is a reprise of Gunning’s ‘cinema of attractions’ applied to new media.)

In the current context of work that is available and being discussed theoretically, interactivity is diluted and under theorised to the extent where recent academic work can provide a definition of interactive documentary that, at base, says little more than that interactive documentary is documentary that is interactive – leaving the key term mute.

The celebration of technical spectacle is perhaps more complicated, as the rapid rise of new protocols including HTML5 and CSS3 combined with the development of JavaScript libraries such as popcorn.js and video.js, and Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to existing and new platforms, sees a slew of experimental work being undertaken. The best of this work offers, provokes, and asks questions of form, narrative, style and documentary, yet many seem to confuse technical adroitness and a digital spectacle that bewitches and beguiles — I suspect because many critical theorists have little experience of code and digital building.

In a nutshell much interactive work confuses a literal and direct action with interactivity, or becomes explicitly or implicitly concerned with the technical language of coding as special effect (for instance witness the excitement and rapid adoption of the curtain.js library as a sort of cinematic web special effect for long form web nonfiction).

Cutting Floor One

Dumped from a current chapter:

As a centre or zone of indetermination the affect image is then where things may happen, but this interval is extended, in some cases interminably in the cinema, where in its extreme form that which does happen is never sufficient to the situation. This is the real regime of the affect image for affect is not merely this realm of possible decision but is much more specifically for Deleuze (following Bergson) the remainder that is not expended, spent, disseminated via action. (Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest offers a beautiful example of its famous final shot where the death of the priest is off camera, narrated to us, where narrative action is absolutely evacuated from the visible image.) This is because the sensory motor schema that underwrites this model is premised upon an economy of forces or flows where something is perceived, a decision is made, and an action occurs. In the regular course of events this action is understood to be adequate to the perception where the action responds adequately to the perception. There is no remainder, the stimulus is spent by the stimulation. In affect, however, the action does not meet the demand of the perception, and this remainder then creates and produces what we take to be affect. I desire that person, I court, seduce, wonder, dream, touch, make love, build a family with them.

Affect is a qualitative, not a quantitative, field, which is why the list can continue, will never be done, and each act can never be enough.

Slide Four

An extract from the talk on Ambience, Affect, Autodocumentary I’m contributing to Monday’s interactive documentary symposium.


In relation to interactive media I think Deleuze’s cinema philosophy is the most elegant account of interactivity available. In its simplest model we can understand that in an interactive documentary there is an interface that requires a user to make a decision. This decision must be realised via a motor action. I notice, decide, and do — perception, affect, and action.
Affect is far and away the most interesting part of this for interactive documentary for two reasons.

The first is that the sensory motor schema offers a productive way to think about contemporary media platforms as sites and practices of affect that document, record, list, and notice, and in this documenting, recording, listing and noticing enlarge, slow down, otherwise interrupt, what could be misjudged as the mere instantaneous action and reaction of Twitter, Instagram or Vine. A sort of digital avatar of Tom Gunning’s “cinema of attraction”.

Secondly, by defining interactivity in interactive documentary as based upon affect and as a zone of indetermination we have a framework that situates interactive documentary differently in relation to narrative. For affect is the suspension of closure and even narrative coherence so beloved of Aristotlean conceptions of what a story is. Indeed, I’d go so far as to argue that the reliance upon narrative in interactive documentary is one of the principal ways in which the uncertainty of affect, this interval and indeterminancy, is colonised and accounted for by older paradigms of documentary theory. (I think once critical work writing about specific works catches up to practice we will find quite quickly that the theoretical anxiety about the need for narrative will be seen as vacuous.) In other words once we conceptualise interactivity in general as a sensory motor schema then the user is the locus of affect as where this indeterminacy is realised. There is nothing in this idea that requires narrative as its answer, to the extent that what we might recognise as classical narrative evacuates affect into simple cause and effect rhythms.

Ambience, Affect, Autodocumentary (slides and notes)

Here are my talking notes, slides as image gallery below.

[Slide 2]
My brief presentation today comes from earlier research in interactive video, combined with recent work in affect and interactive documentary. Today I am going to look at a variety of new online services and then use these to speculate about new forms of nonfiction.

In a nutshell I am using Deleuze’s concept of the movement image to provide a theory of interactivity, and this theory of interactivity allows me to think of affect as a particular site and quality of interaction within interactive media.

To be very schematic, Deleuze sees the cinema of the movement image as made up of perception, action, and affect images. Perception images are those shots (and even films) that emphasise noticing, for instance someone watching something. The action image is the shot, sequence or film that emphasises a reaction to what has been seen. The affect image is what falls between perception and action images. It is characterised by Deleuze as an interval between perception and action, and is defined by indeterminacy because the automatic relay between perception and action is interrupted or expanded, allowing the opportunity for decision and so other, non automatic, actions to occur.

This tripartite schema is a material economy of action, decision and reaction, where generally the action that arises as a consequence of the perception image is, more or less, an adequate answer or response to it. Yet importantly affect, and by implication the affect image, falls outside of this economy for affect is understood to be a remainder or excess that is not spent through action.

[Slide 3]
I think this is the most elegant account of interactivity available. In the simplest model there is an interface that requires and facilitates a user to make a decision. I notice, decide, and do — perception, affect, and action. Furthermore, affect becomes the most important term in interaction because this is where experience design and consideration are located, and if nothing else I’m interested in making and theorising interactive work that allows the consideration of ideas and the world.

Such a model of affect and interactivity, within this sensory motor schema, offers a productive way to think about contemporary media platforms in networked environments as sites and practices that document, record, list, and notice, and in so doing enlarge, slow down and otherwise interrupt the everyday. That is, they are affective systems.

[Slide 4]
Which brings me to today.
I have a phone in my pocket. In my phone there is a HD camera, GPS, accelerometer, micro computer, bluetooth, wifi, and 4G. My phone makes it trivial to informally make, distribute, view, and curate media through the documentation of my everyday life practices, in situ.

[Slide 5]
Each have a very similar affordance of being small chunks existing within a web of services that have public APIs so that they can be addressed and reused by other services and people. Each is then very porous to the network and each in their own way has made their technological constraints an aesthetic plus.

[Slide 6]
These services allow for personal profiles to be created, however the most notable profile that each enables are the informally curated series of artefacts that each app lets us create — our Twitter, Instagram and Vine streams. These self declared ‘indirect’ descriptions are the media trails we leave as a consequence of our everyday practice, and unlike professional media their specificity as particular types of media is secondary to this primary role of documenting the everyday, as it happens. I am not a photographer who then Instagrams, but a person who happens to take a photograph.

[Slide 7]
However, these apps still revolve around media as a single artefact. By this I mean that Twitter is principally for individual tweets, Instagram photographs, and Vine single brief video clips. While these are easily woven into other places using the services available they remain single media objects. These objects may be a mix of highlights and the mundane, but they are an everyday media vernacular that is marked, absolutely, by our intent. I first choose to write, photograph, video, and to this extent these (and all similar services) have an affinity to previous media where they are deliberate artefacts (our moral panic about their apparent triviality notwithstanding).

[Slide 8]
However, there is now the rise of new services that are best thought of as ambient media machines. They are an always on media making that creates a new type of everyday media trail that, like previous apps, makes itself available for its own sorts of reweaving.

One example is Moves. The screenshots here are a record of a recent Saturday of mine. They show an approximate guess of how many steps I’ve taken, plot my movements, including types of transport and location, and even allow for the editing of these. Moves defines itself as an “Activity Diary”, and it is this diary aspect that I am, at the moment, intrigued by.

Now I do not here have time to go into the diary as an observational, confessional, personal narrative form. However, as life writing diaries are a variety of nonfiction and a significant contributor to the essay form in writing,sound, and cinema.

[Slide 9-10]
Moves, by itself, doesn’t do much. However, when combined with journaling apps, such as the one here, Momento, things change. Momento automatically talks to a variety of services and auto curates these all by itself. In my case Momento automatically collects my Moves, Instagram, blog, and Flickr content. This is a burgeoning area for apps that leverages the affordances of the device while also making explicit the extent to which our media trails are secondary effects of lived experience. Momento is a mix of life journaling and diary and partly falls within the lifestyle practice of what is known as the ‘quantified self’. My curiosity here is not in the Californian mobile fitness–lifestyle as self actualisation aesthetic but in Momento’s automaticity of affect. This translation of what I do, casually, almost indifferently, and its capture for reuse.

[Slide 11-12-13 ]
We also now have things such as Jawbone UP, FitBit, and the extraordinarily named and described Mother.
Each of these have dedicated hardware and an app that collects ambient information that is aggregated and visualised. While some of these are personal (e.g. Jawbone UP) things such as Mother loosen this by extending the orbit of the individual to other people and things.

[Slide 14-15]
Finally, we find Narrative Clip, a wearable camera that continually photographs your day as you go about doing it. It describes itself as a “photographic memory” with two days of battery life and storage for up to 4000 images.
Aside from all the problems this raises about privacy and the social what I’m wanting to think about further is the role these sorts of emerging services and devices can, and will, play in emerging forms of audiovisual nonfiction, and more specifically thinking past this current generation to what they may inaugurate or foretell of what is to come.

[Slide 16–17]
These are speculative ideas to think about this intersection of gadgetry with audiovisual nonfiction. What could happen if Narrative Clip has an API that lets other apps and services talk to it? So its pictures get tied to my self reporting via Instagram, Flickr, Vine, Twitter and FaceBook? What sort of personal documentary making would this allow? And then what if this ’thing’ could also then exchange content and information with other’s stories, things, objects, and events?

[Slide 18]
I’ll conclude with some informal propositions.
My first is that these might be theorised, following Donna Haraway, as cyborg documentaries.
The second is that with the example of autoethnography and ethnographic film these are clearly ‘auto documentaries’.
Third, all of these services are aggregators of affect, and fourth, I hope for the development of new, different, platforms and services that find a middle path between a digital narcissism and the critical project of documentary more broadly.

Ambience, Affect and Autodocumentary

This is the abstract for a paper I’m giving next week as part of an interactive documentary panel at ASPERA:

In my pocket I have a phone. In my phone I have a camera, GPS, and a micro computer. While we have witnessed a rise in mobile media platforms and services — in the realm of video most notably Vine, for text Twitter, and photography Instagram — each of these services still creates media as single artefacts via a mode of intentional making. However, we now have a generation of applications and services that reconceptualise the smart phone as a media instrument, producing an always on ambient environment of indifferent indirect capture and recording. These apps and network aware applications (Mother), represent a post–digital movement away from the screen as the site of a particular mode of making and consumption, towards what I’m wanting to characterise as ambient autodocumentary. They work by aggregating and curating our individual media trails, in real time, shifting the role of media documentation from one that privileges a media practice (I photograph, write, film) to one that facilitates the production of media artefacts in the wake of my lived, post digital, experience. This is media as a particular type of distributed event where the specificity of practice is secondary to the programmatic curation of my media trail.

In this paper I intend to explore the implications of these apps and services in relation to new concepts of agency and materialist digital practice. In their use the individual increasingly becomes a relay or signal within networks of other materials, things, and flows and, while their mode of address is to the self, the self becomes, in turn, a moment of affective indetermination.

These services and apps (for example the iOS apps Reporter, Heyday, Momento and 1SE, and the ‘web art’ project We Feel Fine) have implications for nonfiction practice, in particular interactive documentary, including the emergence of new documentary forms that are a making ‘smart’ of the everyday. They also pose interesting and problematic questions for professional media practice in the context of tertiary media education and what ‘screen production’ might become.

Christopher Walken dance compilation

10/40/70: Constraint as Liberation in the Era of Digital Film Theory: Nicholas Rombes: 9781782791409: Books

Nick Rombes new book is out, using a simple constrained model – where you look at a frame 10, 40, and 70 minutes into a film – to think about film writing and criticism. This is deeply appealing as a conceit and a concept. It lets the film be a provocation to thought where, let’s face it, so much academic writing on film domesticates the film to fit the writing. There is a ludic risk here that grants an OULIPEAN indifference to the procedure that allows for a deep commitment to thinking and writing about film as an event, rather than a reporting upon. 10/40/70: Constraint as Liberation in the Era of Digital Film Theory: Nicholas Rombes: 9781782791409: Books.

Affective Knowing and Documentary

Sonnet Film

Am in the middle of making a sonnet film, using Korsakow. Still got a way to go, and after letting it sit for a few weeks and coming back to it am rethinking the interface quite dramatically. The form is probably what is known as a modern sonnet, as I am not using iambic pentameter or any other rhyme scheme, but I do want to use the 3 stanza’s of 4 lines and a 4th stanza of 2 lines. I had thought to use a different interface for each stanza (which I may still do), but in the first sketch (which is what the stills below are from) I think the variation between each interface is way too much. It places all the emphasis on the work on these leaps, rather than the more more specific and smaller (molecular, minor) variation that is central to the work.

Gallery – Virtual Archives, Draft 2