Tag Archives: softvideo

New Documentary 02

Over on the new documentary email list we are trying to begin arguing, pulling about, speculating with, and wondering about the essays in a recent special issue of Studies in Documentary Film. The essay we’ve begun with (and the rate we’re going we’ll have the issue discussed by about 2016) is:

Aston, Judith, and Sandra Gaudenzi. “Interactive Documentary: Setting the Field.” Studies in Documentary Film 6, no. 2 (June 1, 2012): 125–139. doi:10.1386/sdf.6.2.125_1.

Here’s part of the conversation.

gmail, as a good example of how material practices affect immaterial ones, has pretty much killed list culture by the way it hides quoted email by default. For the young people here, there was one a very very strong etiquette on academic email lists that you quoted only those parts of the email you were replying to, and you put your response after those parts you responded to. Weaving your writing as paragraphs between someone else’s paragraphs. Helped with clarification, keeping on topic, and getting insanely long email threads. Insanely long threads is what we get every now now courtesy of gmail, but gmail auto-hides it from us so we don’t have to bother with the etiquette and we just reply and add our bit to the top of the thread.

Which is an introduction to say that I’m weaving my comments below Jeni’s, and I’ve included Jeni’s so you know what I’m talking about.

On 24 September 2013 at 4:49:17 am, Jeni Thornley (email redacted) wrote:
2. There are some assumptions-statements in the article (and the preamble) that I ‘react’ to – that I think may need teasing out; perhaps because I am also a documentary filmmaker who tends to work in the analytical, discursive essay mode; but also I think it’s because ‘reader-participant’ ‘interactivity’ does also reside in previous pre-digital documentary modes, especially in the reflexive, poetic and performative modes

The rest of this passage from Jeni is something I’d also like to tackle, but another time, I think Jeni’s picked out a couple elf really good key points in the essay that really can be prised apart some more. But I’m starting from this bit.

I like that here they are insisting on this difference. A lot of the work that I read, and a common misunderstanding that it has (and with students) is the idea that because we all interpret differently, or that there are always multiple interpretations of a given work available, that that is the same thing as what new media theory is talking about when they say that works are different each time you view them.

Two important things. The claim in new media theory is not that we interpret differently. But that each time we view the work the work itself is different. The second is that new media theory is gilding the lilly if and when it thinks only digital media does this (which is also Jeni’s point).

The first one. We can all read a particular edition of a novel, or that version of this film, and every time we read it, for each and all of us, on page 42 it will always contain those words and sentences, and at 32 minutes 46 seconds that particular 4 minute sequence will always be there. What we take these to mean, that varies. It varies when we see it a second, third, fourth time. It varies depending on who we are, and what frames of reference we bring to the work. But what is not negotiable is the facticity of the thing we are interpreting and discussing. In my reading and your reading what happens on page 42 is the same, as is what happens at 32 minutes and 46 seconds. Interpretation is negotiated, not the facticity of the thing. When we use a media form that changes with and through each viewing then what I find on page 42, and what you find on page 42, are no longer the same thing. What happens for me at 32 minutes and 46 seconds (for instance) in this particular Korsakow film will be quite different to what happens for you at 32 minutes and 46 seconds in this particular Korsakow film. Different words, different shots, different sequences.

In this case we are longer just interpreting differently, we are looking at different parts of different things. And this is a difference that makes a difference, if only because I don’t have to do anything to let my work be interpreted differently beyond sharing it. But to make a work that changes, in itself, each time it is viewed and even during the course of its viewing/reading, that requires some different ways to think about how to compose such works. Not necessarily radical ways (anyone who has improvised a conversation – i.e. all of us) as we all are quite adept at building communicative patterns that involve different sorts of feedback loops, but radical enough to change the transactions that now happen between an artefact its parts, and its audience.

A question that arises out of this, for digital documentary, is to list all the sorts of feedback loops (as this is about cybernetic systems), social, technical, narratological, and so on, that could be used or might matter (that’d be an interesting list).

It is though a category mistake to think this is only a digital form. Espen Aarseth makes this pretty clear in his Cybertext book, as there’s a long history of procedural constrained art (OULIPO, Fluxus for instance) which produces texts that change each time you read them, and even the quixotic project Phil Hoffman’s showed at the DNA symposium in Montréal in 2011 achieves such change. (Lay out I think it was 6 film cans, with paintings on them, crowd arranges them in preferred visual order, he then cuts the contents of each can end to end and projects the resulting work.)

A consequence of this, and one that seems trivial, or at least risks getting trampled over (because in literate culture we tend to privilege thinking about something to doing something) is that the sort interactivity being described that matters is where we have to do some thing in relation to the work for this to happen. This thing is a mechanical action, which is why it is often pushed to one side and made merely mechanical in relation to ‘real’ interactivity which is somehow what this action does. Nah, the action is what matters. It is a material event that really has to happen, somewhere in the feedback system, that materially affects the work. This is why it isn’t about interpretation but action. (And why Aarseth makes such a strong distinction between trivial and nontrivial acts, these acts are defined by how physical they are but by the degree of effect they have on the work, so nontrivial acts are so because they have serious consequences for the work itself.)

That’s me teasing this out, thanks for what you’ve written Jeni, I think it really helps to go to some of the key understandings in this are and can help make where we start from firmer (or softer?).

Interactive Documentary and Digital Poetics version 0.4

In Australia the peak research funding body is the Australian Research Council (the ARC). Getting ARC money is a big deal. Highly competitive and as they always tell you, the money runs out well before the good projects. For most academics this is the royal road in Australia to fame and fortune.

A simple indication of how competitive they are is that for the dedicated early career researcher funds (DECRA) my university wants preliminary drafts of key parts of the application this week, though they do not get submitted until April of 2014. This is so we can spend four months workshopping them, with numerous internal and external experts being used to examine, critique, pick at, prod, and so on all the applications.

So, I’m having a go. Below is the preliminary draft of the project proposal. I foolishly thought that if were interested in funding beginning in 2015 then I could spend my summer thinking about what I’d like to work on, then write it up. It was quite a shock to find I had about 10 days to get this draft, a relevant CV, and my Research Opportunity and Performance Evidence (ROPE) document together.

My immediate anxieties about this are that rather than describe what I will do it often begins to try to do what it should describe. I’ve found it a challenge to write a proposal, rather than ‘begin’ the research. The second is that it sounds like two projects, one using what I’m characterising as materialist media studies, the other Deleuze’s cinema philosophy. I want to bring them together, I think this is useful, but, well, part of me isn’t really convinced that it matters.

The bits in italic are thinking out loud bits. They’re not in what has gone through. As ever, let me know what works and what doesn’t. We’ve been told to be clear, but parts of this are, as is my style, too fucking dense. (I’ve probably breached some employee contractual IP agreement sharing this, no idea, but it’s ARC, public money, public gets to see it.)

The Problem

This proposal describes research that desires to bring together materialist media studies with Deleuze’s cinema theory to provide a new framework to consider interactivity, narrative, and the computational within interactive documentary. This will allow for a consideration of interactive documentary that looks less to documentary and narrative traditions than toward recent scholarship that recognises the material agency of digital technologies in communicative systems. (At the moment interactive documentary, from the point of view of an ontology and epistemology of digital media, risks being a coloniser of the digital as it coerces the unruly severity of procedural digital logic into the cultural protocols and history of documentary film.)

There has been a recent dramatic rise in the production and subsequent theorisation of online, interactive documentary. These productions have been aided by new internet services and protocols in combination with developments in digital hardware and software. The combination of new internet services, hardware, and software has seen the diminution of production and distribution costs for documentary, with an increase in the capabilities and affordances of video online through new developments in protocols and infrastructure such as bandwidth.

In this environment a range of experimental online documentary practices and forms are emerging, each of which casts a different light upon makers, audiences, and the sorts of artefacts that constitute ‘documentary’. In the wake of this ‘new documentary’ a range of scholarly approaches are emerging. The most significant recent theoretical work is situated within documentary studies and builds upon existing documentary traditions to contextualise these new forms and practices.

Documentary has always had a close affinity to new technologies of production and distribution. However, the dramatic change in documentary making and form that networked media affords is a paradigm shift and new theoretical approaches are needed. These new approaches will help us understand these changes and can inform further research and the development of new documentary forms and systems.

One alternative theoretical approach to digital documentary proposed in this project is available through interactive literature and hypertext, and into more recent materialist media studies. This research has addressed key concerns that networked practices and technologies introduce to makers, audiences, narrative, and artefacts in themselves. This provides a ready vocabulary from which to investigate interactive documentary, building upon the definitional work already begun by Nash and others (Nash 2012, O’Flynn 2012, Aston and Gaudenzi 2012, Hight 2008), to engage with the questions that arise specifically from the point of view of a digital and network poetics, rather than documentary cinema. (Indeed, as my own earlier research argues, hypertext is easily considered a post–cinematic, rather than a literary, form with an isomorphic relation between the cinematic edit and the hypertextual link (Miles 1999).)

Digital documentary is well aware of changes to practice and form. It is less sure of the ways in which the materiality of the digital and the network disrupts what documentary is, and its possible future form and terms.

Why hypertext?

Hypertext research is deeply immersed in the materiality of the digital, and the procedural and programmatic qualities of the computer. It emerged within an interdisciplinary mix of computer scientists and literary humanists at a time when there were enormous constraints on computational processing and storage and when digital media and the internet were not ubiquitous. This research recognised that the computer was not a device to do what was already done more efficiently (faster, cheaper, with cut and paste nonlinear editing, universal distribution, and so on), but was the means to imagine a practice and form of media (in the case of hypertext literary and scribal media) differently.

Thinking about media forms differently allowed hypertext to be a liberatory and disruptive technology in relation to print. The strongest evidence of the liberation of print by hypertext is in the rise of the World Wide Web (which is indebted to early hypertext research and development) and the inversion of print’s authority predicated on an economy of scarcity. Similarly it has been disruptive in how it has changed the roles and authority of writer and reader, textual form and structure, and the erosion of the privilege of ‘fixed’ and ‘finished’ works.

Interactive documentary is at the cusp of its own moment of liberation and disruption as the rise of software, systems, and the internet offers unprecedented access to the tools of documentary making and distribution, while a new ecology of ‘apps’ and platforms offers a rethinking of documentary’s auteurist history of authored, ‘closed’ and finished artefacts.

(Much recent work and commentary can be seen as primarily a reactive engagement with the imperiousness of the network, and aside from a small number of significant experimental systems and projects, has done largely nothing in relation to rethinking digital documentary in terms of the particular materiality of the digital, networks, and the computer’s procedural and programmatic operations remains untheorised and poorly understood – this is not the same thing as ‘database narrative’ or ‘database aesthetics’.)

Deleuze

A second theoretical approach in this project is to theorise digital documentary through Deleuze’s cinema philosophy. This is an innovative appropriation of Deleuze as the basic terms of Deleuze’s movement and time images will be shown to be synonymous with interactive documentary. The movement image’s large form of the perception, affect, and action image becomes interactive documentary’s model of notice, decide, do (Miles, 2013). An interactive documentary presents some smaller part of itself via an interface, this needs to be noticed by a user who then enacts a decision, usually through the motor action of clicking a mouse or swiping a screen. Notice, decide, do; perception, affect, action. This is the sensory motor schema described by Deleuze that is now distributed between a procedural system, a screen, and people.

This is a bold theoretical connection that offers a radically different understanding of interactivity than that which generally informs new media theory. It produces a framework for defining interactivity that has affiliations to cinema studies, arising as it does from Deleuze’s materialist cinema philosophy, and more importantly it arises from the materiality of digital media rather than the anthropomorphic filiation to documentary cinema that we risk relying upon. If, as Deleuze suggests, cinema thinks itself, then in concert with materialist media studies we have a way to investigate the specificity of interactive documentary from ‘within’, rather than assuming that digital documentary is already something engaged with representation and argument and that the digital offers only the substrate to enable or support this.

What I’m going to do.

By introducing theoretical concepts from hypertext, materialist media studies and Deleuze I will develop a robust theoretical base to build insights and arguments about digital documentary. This theoretical approach will emphasise the primacy of the digital as a qualitatively different mode of material and creative engagement when creating work than the avatars of more traditional documentary that we often rely upon in digital environments. This theoretical engagement will argue for a poetics of digital documentary that situates itself in the specificity of small screens, networks, and malleable and relational media. It will do so via materialist media studies and Deleuze’s materialist cinema philosophy.

Such a poetics helps us to understand the necessary shift in the authority and autonomy of makers in digital regimes — the move from an auteur centred culture of I/we make, you watch/consume — towards ‘writerly’ making, co–creation, participatory forms, and novel emerging distributed nonfiction platforms. This poetics begins from recognising that the screen is personal, ‘owned’ by its user (not the content creator), attention is scarce and distributed, and that network media is made up of structural (thematic, encyclopaedic, poetic) coalitions of small parts loosely and variably joined. Networked media is highly granular, and porous to the network, other media, and people.

This porous granularity makes digital documentary a ‘relational media’ (Dovey and Rose), and this relationality provides a way to investigate and define new social platforms (for instance the nonfiction story aggregation service that is Cowbird) as documentary. This has theoretical implications for documentary study as it significantly broadens what documentary becomes, while also providing avenues for the development of new platforms and services that let digital documentary spread from its auterist and ‘mastery’ based traditions.

Documentary studies largely follows cinema theory’s tripartite interest in audiences, texts, and institutions. While the nomenclature may vary, these approaches, as Parrika argues, reply upon varieties of interpretation to understand what media is.

Material Media Studies

The material specificity of media, evident in Parikka’s media archeology (with it’s influences from Kittler and Ernst), Bogost and Montfort’s platform studies, Fuller’s media ecologies, and Manovich’s software studies, provide a media framework by which to refashion earlier hypertext theory, in the light of video’s technicity.

It is significant that this current research, like hypertext thirty years before, is undertaken by people who understand code. Those who code recognise and experience its materiality and the network as a fundamental constraint to the possible. Media is no longer understood as a ‘surface’ to be recorded upon or interpreted, or a technology directed towards narrative, but involves continuous mutation because the computer is a machine that allows for the continuous transformation of content and form, even after ‘publication’. Code is fundamental to this.

Code is a highly constrained creative practice where the ambiguity of what is sought must be rendered into the absolute clarity of machine logic, a logic where ‘maybe’, ‘perhaps’, ‘like’, and even ’similar’ cannot occur. For these researchers the constrained, material and procedural nature of hardware, software, code, system, and platform is a given and produces an understanding of media practice and form that is unlike that of other media.

Conclusion

This project intends to bring a hypertextual materialist media studies perspective to digital documentary via Deleuze’s cinematic sensory motor schema. This is to address the specificity of digital documentary as hardware, software, electronics, infrastructure and code. It intends to create critical work that offers an alternative approach to conceptualising digital documentary that places it outside of the reductionism of database, interactivity and narrative and to develop a digital poetics that offers novel understandings of digital documentary and new ways in which to conceive of how we might make digital documentary in the future.

References

Aston, Judith, and sandra Gaudenzi. “Interactive Documentary: Setting the Field.” Studies in Documentary Film 6, no. 2 (June 1, 2012): 125–139. doi:10.1386/sdf.6.2.125_1.

Bogost, Ian. Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing. Minneapolis: University Press of Minnesota, 2012.

Bogost, Ian. Unit Operations: An Approach to Videogame Criticism. First Edition. The MIT Press, 2006.

Fuller, Matthew. Media Ecologies: Materialist Engeries in Art and Technoculture. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2005.

Gaver, William W., Andrew Boucher, Sarah Pennington, and Brendan Walker. “Cultural Probes and the Value of Uncertainty.” Interactions 11, no. 5 (September 2004): 53–56. doi:10.1145/1015530.1015555.

Hight, Craig. “The Field of Digital Documentary: A Challenge to Documentary Theorists.” Studies in Documentary Film 2, no. 1 (January 2008): 3–7. doi:10.1386/sdf.2.1.3_2.

Kittler, Friedrich A, and Anthony Enns. Optical media: Berlin lectures 1999. Cambridge, UK; Malden, MA: Polity, 2010.

Kittler, Friedrich A, Geoffrey Winthrop-Young, and Michael Wutz. Grammophon, Film, Typewriter. Stanford: Stanford university press, 1999.

Miles, Adrian. “Cinematic Paradigms for Hypertext.” Continuum: Journal of Media and Cultural Studies 13, no. 2 July (1999): 217–226.

Miles, Adrian. “Click, Think, Link: Interval and Affective Narrative.” In Database | Narrative | Archive: Seven Interactive Essays on Digital Nonlinear Storytelling, edited by Matt Soar and Monika Gagnon, 2013. http://dnaanthology.com/anvc/dna/Click-Think-Link-Interval-and-Affective-Narrative.

Montfort, Nick, Bogost, Ian. Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System (Platform Studies Series) by Montfort, Nick, Bogost, Ian (2009). MIT Press, n.d.

Nash, K. “Modes of Interactivity: Analysing the Webdoc.” Media, Culture & Society 34, no. 2 (April 19, 2012): 195–210. doi:10.1177/0163443711430758.

O’Flynn, Siobhan. “Documentary’s Metamorphic Form: Webdoc, Interactive, Transmedia, Participatory and beyond.” Studies in Documentary Film 6, no. 2 (June 1, 2012): 141–157. doi:10.1386/sdf.6.2.141_1.

Parikka, Jussi. “New Materialism as Media Theory: Medianatures and Dirty Matter.” Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies 9, no. 1 (2012): 95–100. doi:10.1080/14791420.2011.626252.

Parikka, Jussi. “Operative Media Archaeology: Wolfgang Ernst’s Materialist Media Diagrammatics.” Theory, Culture & Society 28, no. 5 (September 1, 2011): 52–74. doi:10.1177/0263276411411496.

About 7am: The First Quarter – Compressed

As part of the larger About 7am video work (the first 3 months iteration was mentioned here and a preliminary speculative statement for a forthcoming symposium here) I have taken all the first three months of Vine clips, butt edited them using QuickTime Pro 7 (because the X versions of QuickTime Pro make this easy to do but you have no control over export settings – #fail Apple – so I stick with the older version), and then reduced the duration of the final video to three minutes. So it is an abbreviated, single channel bit of video as a way to rework the media of the larger project. This work is being screened as part of Max Schleser’s MINA International Mobile Innovation Screenings. So, as part of the education-research-audit-apparatus we can now document such creative outcomes, via a two page form and research statement, to have them disciplined (in a thoroughly Foucauldian way). It’s useful, and symptomatic, at the same time. Below is my research statement. I even stuck it on Vimeo.

About 7am: The First Quarter from adrianmiles on Vimeo.

Research Background

About 7am: The First Quarter is an experimental video work that creatively interrogates the new materialism described by Ian Bogost through the use of Wolfgang Ernst’s media archeology. It continues a tradition of experimental video work that utilises list making rather than narrative as a structural concern (best exemplified by Bettina Frankham’s recent PhD research at UTS).

Research Significance

It is a video project where the same shot has been taken from the same location, at more or less the same time, every day for three months, creating what I describe as a video ontograph. This simple repetition of recording is to surrender the media anthropocentrism of filming the dawn to the indifferent procedural ‘sampling’ that is the hallmark of technical recording media. By making myself, my body, my morning, subject to a regulated sampling temporality I am inverting the assumed hierarchy between me as film maker and my video camera as mere device that samples the world visually and sonically at strictly regulated rates (30 frames and 44,100 times per second, respectively). In this project I subject myself to a sampling regime, rather than the other way round. The film has been selected as part of the Mobile Innovation Network Aotearoa Screenings (Wellington, Auckland, Melbourne)

Research Contribution

The research problem investigated through this work is to produce a conceptual creative work that makes concrete Bogost’s ontographic methodology, while also critically reflecting upon the role of technical media as sampling engines. The work is non–narrative non–fiction that continues my recent research into serial, personal forms of videographic experience and documentation. This research, through such creative artefacts, interrogates contemporary documentary, as well as applying recent media theory to online video. It is both an original method and form in relation to documentary and creative non–fiction.

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.

How Hard is it?

Korskaow interest Group number four was a pretty rich affair the other Monday evening. Ed Armstrong showed his three related Korsakow films Placing the Bend (exploring the concept of placemaking through an examination of Melbourne’s The Bend Of Islands environmental community). Nice work. Paul Ritchard showed a work in progress which is a never ending road movie (literally) of footage filmed out the front window of the four wheel drive from a big camping trip into South Australia’s Flinder’s Ranges. I reckon this needs a commentary sound track, more clips, and thumbnails not videos for the interface, and it will be a really interesting, personal, piece of work. Frederico Passi had made a Korsakow sketch using photographs to begin to think about how to work in Korsakow, and Jess Fernandes, another honours student, showed her confessional diary fragments that are being presented via Korsakow. I had planned to show an early version of a Koraskow based video sonnet, but ran into some Mavericks Flash sandbox technical difficulties. So that’s for another time.

So, another one in a month, where we’ll see some more work. An interesting question asked was “how long does it take to learn to use Korsakow?” Several, over confidently I thought, answered only about half an hour. Technically it is easy to learn. But the real question is not how long does it take to learn the software, but how long does it take to understand what it asks (of you, documentary, of narrative, of itself). That answer is, I reckon, probably two films. Ideally with critique from the point of view of a multilinear, poetic, associative, granular, emergent, videoécriture. Not from the point of view of heritage documentary, film making, or I want to tell this story like this and it really has to be like this.

[Update: I forgot Hannah's draft project, remixing parts of Marker's Sans Soleil using Korsakow. This is part of her PhD research, and to begin with was about Marker's use a directed noticing, to help frame a methodology for a particular sort of essay film. The general sentiment was that the sequences needed to be broken up more, and that perhaps Hannah needed to provide her own commentary, even more list like (I've asked her to read Bogost's Alien Phenomenology to help with this, both orthography and carpentry are useful steps here).]

KiG 03 Après

Small turn out last night, me, Ed Armstrong (making a Korsakow film about place for honours), Paul Ritchard (making some Korsakow ‘probes’ around place as part of a larger documentary project about the Snowy River), and Hannah Brasier, who’s just started a PhD with me around interactive essay films, who showed one of her honours Korsakow projects, Noticing. Was a really good discussion about structuring works, the emergence of patterns and rhythms, and what we are all currently working on. Looking forward to the next one, should be some really interesting work in progress to look at.

KiG 03

Korsakow Interest Group, RMIT city campus, next Monday (September 30), 5:30pm to around 7, in 9.2.6. Share, critique, engage, plan, read. Get in touch if you’re in Melbourne and interested in coming along. Interested in online video nonfiction, with I guess some strong leaning towards interactivity/multilinearity.