Listing entries tagged with multimedia
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flight paths 2.0 03.05.2008, 1:10 AM
Back in December we announced the launch of Flight Paths, a "networked novel" that is currently being written by Kate Pullinger and Chris Joseph with feedback and contributions from readers. At that point, the Web presence for the project was a simple CommentPress blog where readers could post stories, images, multimedia and links, and weigh in on the drafting of terms and conditions for participation. Since then, Kate and Chris have been working on setting up a more flexible curatorial environment, and just this week they unveiled a lovely new Flight Paths site made in Netvibes.
Netvibes is a web-based application (still in beta) that allows you to build personalized start pages composed of widgets and modules which funnel in content from various data sources around the net (think My Yahoo! or iGoogle but with much more ability to customize). This is a great tool to try out for a project that is being composed partly out of threads and media fragments from around the Web. The blog is still embedded as a central element, and is still the primary place for reader-collaborators to contribute, but there are now several new galleries where reader-submitted works can be featured and explored. It's a great new platform and an inventive solution to one of CommentPress's present problems: that it's good at gathering content but not terribly good at presenting it. Take a look, and please participate if you feel inspired.
ny times publishes first video letter to the editor 09.15.2007, 12:02 AM
The Times has published its first video "letter to the editor," a 10-minute mini-documentary by Charles Ferguson on the decision by L. Paul Bremer and other US officials to disband the Iraqi army shortly after the US occupation began. The video is posted as a rebuttal to a recent op-ed by Bremer that tried to redistribute some of the blame for that catastrophic blunder that arguably gave birth to the Sunni insurgency.
This is no doubt a milestone for the paper, although calling it a letter to the editor is slightly disingenuous. Ferguson isn't just your average concerned reader, he's a highly respected filmmaker and author who has made a full length doc about Iraq, "No End in Sight," from which much of this video's material is taken.
Moreover, at ten minutes, and meticulously edited and produced, filled with interviews with top military brass and gov't officials, the clip is more on par (at the very least) with a full op-ed. The main opinion page even features it as such - ?under op-ed contributors - ?rather than placing it down among the letters. Will we eventually see actual ad hoc video letters to the editor from "readers" at large? That could be interesting.
Nomenclature aside, though, this is a fantastic broadening of the Times' editorial output. Once again, they prove themselves to be one of the more innovative digital publishers around.
ideal ulysses, part two 08.01.2007, 8:38 AM
it occured to me as i read the comments to yesterday's post that i left out a key element in the equation -? the ovearching vision that determines what gets included in the ideal Ulysses and how. ideally this vision will be a creative amalgam of the perspective of the great teacher, the enquiring reader and the canny editor/producer.
this trinity may seem obvious but i think the question of how to balance the power between the three is something we don't really know much about. to put differently, if in the print world the hierarchy of AUTHOR/reader has been fiercely protected by those whom it favors, the promise of the networked book to upset these relations is just that, a promise. that will be the case until we come up with new schema powerful enough to be the foundation of a real transformation* (see footnote at bottom of the post)
i think perhaps an interesting next step would be to sit in on classes with some of the great teachers of Ulysses -? the ones who make the book come alive for their students. i'd like to see what characteristics are common to all and which different. then we could think about how to take the essence of this experience into an ideal version. note, that even if the answer in the end is that for teachers to work their magic they need to be live, in front of an audience, then the question for me becomes, how do we get that into a networked book?
So please if you took a great course in Ulysses or know of anyone who did, comment here or send me a note at email@example.com.
* footnote -? many years ago a group of us were trying to imagine the encyclopedia of the future. we saw it in part as the ultimate teacher/tutor who knew everything about everything, who waited in the background till called, and who then was able to engage you at your level on any question you put forth. this view, while valid, placed 100% of the value on learner-initiated activities. it seems in retrospect as if foolishly we completely discounted the ability of the teacher/mentor/knowledgeable companion to raise interesting questions which could start the learner off in unexpected but perfectly wonderful directions.
ideal ulysses, part one 07.31.2007, 3:52 PM
ok. i'll admit it. i haven't read Ulysses yet. sadly, there are a lot of important books in that category, but i have a particular excuse for this one. Ulysses is daunting for me. for starters, it's pretty much been at or in contention for the top spot in the canonstakes for as long as i can remember, but more importantly, I'm very sure that if i just go at the text by itself i'll feel helpless, knowing that i'm only grasping a small, and possibly even least interesting, bit of the whole. so i'm waiting for my dream edition, the highlights of which include:
• a beautifully rendered text, perhaps even with help and guidance of a master typographer.
• a low-footprint interface that the reader can dismiss at will, leaving only the text on the page with all buttons etc. hidden from view. since the book will have copious annotations, it's important that the reader can hide and reveal whichever graphic indicators indicate the presence of annotation.
• a complete audio version. ideally this might be a recording done with the best actors specifically for this edition, but it could also be assembled from readings done over the years. in any case key passages should be represented by multiple readings. and of course the text and readings should be tied to each other, allowing you to read and listen at the same time.
• a thorough word and phrase glossary with a snappy and intuitive mechanism for getting to it directly from the text.
• the explanation of references -? literary, linguistical, historical, personal, social, political. ideally each of these categories would be represented in some unique way, so that readers can turn specific layers on or off at will. these annotations will be comprised of text, audio, and/or video.
• close readings of key passages by experts from multiple interesting viewpoints.
• for these last two, i'm sure i want there to be a mechanism for people to question and challenge the original authors and each other. the genius of the wikipedia for me is that by revealing the back and forth of an article as it evolves, it brings us closer to the truth -? or at least improves our understanding of the complexity of the factors underlying the subect at hand. so, we'll need a good way, which i imagine will involve some form of benevolent moderation, of enabling a conversation to emerge in the myriad margins of the work. enabling comments that refer to multiple points in the expanded text is crucial to get beyond the constraints of current commenting schemes which tend to restrict you to paragraph, page or whole.
thoughts -? objections, agreements, additions, subtractions?
the alternate universe algorithm 05.07.2007, 8:52 AM
"What if you could travel to parallel worlds: the same year, the same earth, only different dimensions...?"
That's the opening line to one of my favorite science fiction shows in the 90s called "Sliders." The premise of the show was simple: a group of lost travelers traverse through different dimensions where history has played itself out differently, and need to navigate through unfamiliar cultural norms, values and beliefs. What if the United States lost the American Revolutionary War? Penicillin was never discovered? or gender roles reversed?
An aspect of the show that I found interesting was in how our protagonists quickly adapted to subtly different worlds and developed a method for exploration: after their initial reconnaissance, they'd reconvene in a hotel room (when it existed) and assess their - often dire - situation.
The way they "browsed" these alternate worlds stuck with me when reading Mary's recent posts on new forms of fiction on the web:
Web reading tends towards entropy. You go looking for statistics on the Bornean rainforest and find yourself reading the blog of someone who collects orang utan coffee mugs. Anyone doing sustained research on the Web needs a well-developed ability to navigate countless digressions, and derive coherence from the sea of chatter.
Browsing takes us to unexpected places, but what about the starting point? Browsing does not begin arbitrarily. It usually begins in a trusted location, like a homepage or series of pages that you can easily refer back to or branch out from. But ARGs (Alternate Reality Games), like World Without Oil, which Ben wrote about recently, require you to go some obscure corner of the internet and engage with it as if it was trusted source. What if the alternate world existed everywhere you went, like in Sliders?
In college, a friend of mine mirrored whitehouse.gov and replaced key words and phrases with terms he thought were more fitting. For example, "congressmen" was replaced by "oil-men" and "dollars" with "petro-dollars." He had a clear idea of the world he wanted people to interact with (knowingly or not). The changes were subtle and website looked legitimate it and ultimately garnered lots of attention. Those who understood what was going on sent their praise and those who did not, sent confused and sometimes angry emails about their experience. A
(I believe he eventually he blocked the domain because he found it disconcerting that most traffic came from the military)
Although we'll need very sophisticated technology to apply more interesting filters across large portions of the internet, I think "Fiction Portals", engines that could alter the web slightly according to the "author" needs, could change the role of an author in an interesting way.
I want to play with the this idea of an author: Like a scientist, the author would need to understand how minor changes to society would manifest themselves across real content, tweaking words and ideas ever so slightly to produce a world that is that is vast, believable, and could be engaged from any direction, hopefully revealing some interesting truths about the real world.
So, after playing around with this idea for a bit, I threw together a very primitive prototype that alters the internet in a subtle way (maybe too subtle?) but I think hints at a form that could eventually allow us to Slide.
it's multimedia, jim, but not as we know it 04.30.2007, 4:26 PM
I spent yesterday evening in a visitors' centre for a country that doesn't exist. Kymaerica is a parallel universe with its own artefacts, stories, history and geography, roughly coexistent with this world (the 'linear' world) but not identical to it.
The central space for exploring Kymaerican history and heritage is online, but it erupts into the 'linear' world here and there. There is a permanent installation in Paris, Illinois; there are now five plaques in the UK: during the London exhibition there was a bus tour around Kymaerican sites corresponding with Central London.
The creator of this Borghesian experience is Eames Demetrios, designer, writer, filmmaker and Kymaerica's 'geographer-at-large'. I was struck by the parallels between his work, and some aspects of alternate reality gaming (ARGing), which I've argued here recently represents the emergence of a new genre of genuinely Web-native fiction (see Ben's post below about World Without Oil for recent if:book discussion of this form). Though Kymaerica is presented as a piece of art, and alternate reality gaming generally thinks of itself more as entertainment, they have much in common. And this provides some intriguing insights into how, when thinking about the relationships in storytelling between form and content, the nature of the Web requires a radical rethinking of what fiction is. So my apologies in advance for the way this first attempt to do just that has turned into a longish post.
Eames calls what he does 'three-dimensional storytelling'. I want to call the genre of which I believe that Kymaerica and ARGs are both instances 'multimedia storytelling'. 'Storytelling', as opposed to 'fiction', because the notion of fiction belongs with the print book and is arguably inseparable from a series of relatively recent conventions around suspension of disbelief. And genuinely 'multimedia' in the sense that it uses multiple delivery mechanisms online but is not confined to the Web - indeed, is most successful when it escapes its boundaries.
People have been telling stories since the first humans sat round a culture. Narratives are fundamental to how we make sense of our world. But the print industry is such that otherwise highly-educated publishers, writers and so on talk as if no-one knew anything about works of the imagination before the novel appeared, along with the category of 'fiction' and all the cognitive conventions that entails. Why is this?
The novel is one delivery mechanism for storytelling, that emerged under specific social and cultural conditions. The economic, cultural and social structures created by and creating the novel hold up the commodification of individual imaginations (the convention of 'original' work, the idea of 'great' authors and so on) as their ideological and idealised centrepiece. The novel was for a long time the crown jewel of the literate culture industry. But it remains only one way of telling stories. And part of its conventions derive from the nature of the book as physical object: boundedness, fixity, authorship.
Meanwhile, many of us live now in a networked, post-industrial era, where many of the things that seemed so certain to a Dickens or Trollope no longer seem as reliable. And, perhaps fittingly, we have a new delivery mechanism for content. But unlike the book, which is bounded, fixed, authored, the Web is boundless, mutable, multi-authored and deeply unreliable. So the conception of singly-authored 'fiction' may not work any more. Hence I prefer the term 'storytelling': it is older than 'fiction', and less complicit in the conceptual framework that produced the novel. And as Ben has just suggested, the Web in many ways recalls oral storytelling much more than modern conceptions of fiction.
I also want to be clear about what I mean by 'multimedia', as the word is often used in contexts that replicate much of the print era's mindset and as such, at a fundamental, misunderstand something about the Web. On the basis of experiments in this form to date, Multimedia fiction' evokes something digital but book-like: bounded, authored, fixed like a book, just with extra visual stimuli and maybe some superficially interactive bells and whistles. I have yet to come across a piece, in this sense, of 'multimedia fiction' that's as compelling as a book.
But the Web isn't a book. Its formal nature is radically different. It's boundless, mutable, multi-authored. So if the concrete physical form and economic conditions of a book's production make certain demands of a story, and reciprocally shape its reading public, then what equivalent demands do the Web make?
Gamer Theory and Mediacommons demonstrate the potential for a 'networked book' to become a site of conversation, networked debate and dynamic exploration. But these are discursive rather than imaginative works. If the generic markers of a novel are fairly recognisable, what are the equivalent markers of a networked story? Drawing out the parallels between Kymaerica and an ARG, I want to suggest a concept of 'multimedia storytelling' characterised by the following qualities:
2) a rebalancing of authorship with collaboration, and
3) a dissolution of the boundary between fact and fiction, and attendant replacement of 'suspension of disbelief' with play.
Web reading tends towards entropy. You go looking for statistics on the Bornean rainforest and find yourself reading the blog of someone who collects orang utan coffee mugs. Anyone doing sustained research on the Web needs a well-developed ability to navigate countless digressions, and derive coherence from the sea of chatter. And multimedia storytelling mimics this reading practice. The reader's activity consists not in turning pages but in following clues, leads, associative echos and lateral leaps, and reconstructing sense from the fragments. It is pleasurable precisely because it offers a souped-up, pre-authored and more rewarding (because fantastic) version of the usual site-hopping experience. A typical ARG may include many different websites along with emails, IM chats, live action and other media. Part of the pleasure is derived from an experience that requires the 'reader' to sift through a fragmented body of information and reassemble the story.
Kymaerica is not fragmented across the Web like an ARG: the bulk of the story archive is available through the eponymous site. But the offline, physical traces of its story can be found in Texas, Illinois, London, Oxfordshire and elsewheres. And the story itself is deliberately fragmented. The way Eames explains it, he has the entire history of this world worked out in detail, but deliberately only reveals tiny parts of it through supposedly 'factual' tools such as plaques, guides and the kinds of snippet you might find in a museum dealing with the 'real' or factual world. "I always want to hint at something that's just out of reach," he told me. "It's like writing a novel so you can publish a haiku."
So just as an ARG offers fragments of the story for the players to reconstitute, for Eames it's up to the audience to join the dots. This fragmented delivery then requires a radical rebalancing of the relationship between the author and the reader.
Whereas the relationship between a print author and a novel reader might be characterised as serial imaginative monogamy, the relationship between multimedia storytelling and its readers is fragmented, multiple, polyamorous, mutable. Again, this mimics the multiplicity, interactivity and mutability of Web reading, along with its greater reliance on user-generated content. ARG stories play out in time and, while the core story is worked out in advance, are highly improvisatory on the edges. Players work together on fora, or even - as in WWO - write additional imaginative content for the story. Interaction with characters in the story may take place in real time, either in the flesh or by IM or email; mistakes may generate whole new storylines; the players collaborate to solve puzzles and progress the story.
Eames' three-dimensional storytelling remains similarly improvisatory. The back story is worked out ahead of schedule; but every conversation he has with others expands the story further, and needs to be incorporated into the archives. He's keen to get the world well enough established to invite others to contribute material to the archives. And the experience is highly absorbing, even for the initially sceptical: in Paris, Illinois, the local townsfolk now hold a Kymaerican Spelling Bee as part of the town's annual festival. Neither ARGs nor Kymaerica have entirely abandoned the notion of sustained authorship, as in different ways Ficlets or the Million Penguins wiki experiment attempt to do. Rather, it has been resituated in a context where the reader or listener has been recast as something more like a player. The story is a game; the game structure already exists; but the game is not there until it is played.
The replacement of 'reading' or 'listening' with 'playing' is the final characteristic I associate with multimedia storytelling, and is inseparable from the existence of Web stories in a network rather than a bounded artefact, whether print book or CD-ROM. A networked story is porous at the edges, inviting participation, comment and contribution; this renders the notion of 'suspension of disbelief' useless.
The first books represented a revered source of ancient authority: the Bible, the classical philosophers, the theologians. And even when telling stories, books provide a conceptual proscenium arch. Opening the covers of a book, like seeing the lights go down in a theatre, conveys a clear signal to begin your 'suspension of disbelief'. But the Web gives no such clear signals. The Web is all that is not authoritative: it is a white noise of opinion, bias, speculation, argument and debate. Story, in essence. Even the facts on the Web are more like narratives than any reliable truth. The Web won't tell you which sites you can take seriously and which not; there are no boundary markers between suspending disbelief and taking things literally. Instead of establishing clear conventions for which books are to be taken as 'authoritative' and read literally, and which to be treated as pure imagination, the Web invites the reader to half-believe everything all the time, and believe nothing at the same time. To play a game of 'What if this were true'?
Again, multimedia storytelling mimics this experience. Is this site in-game, or just the product of some crazy people? Was there really a Great Dangaroo Flood on Old Compton St? It uses familiar tools conventionally used to communicate 'real world' information: email, IM, the semiotic register of tourist guides, plaques, visitors' centres. It hands the responsibility for deciding on when to suspend disbelief back to the individual. And in doing so, it transforms this from 'suspension of disbelief' to an active choice: to a kind of performed imaginative participation best described as 'play'.
Multimedia stories are not 'read': they are played. And unlike a suspension of disbelief, which contains within itself the assumption that we will afterwards revert to a condition of lucid rationality, play has a tendency to overspill its boundaries. The Parisian Embassy in Illinois is beginning to have a reciprocal effect on its surroundings: a street in the town has been renamed in line with Kymaerican history. The Florida authority responsible for historic sites has received at least one complaint about Kymaerican plaques, which they sensibly just said were not their responsibility. Take away the proscenium arch and fact and fiction begin dancing in ways that either exhilarate or terrify you.
Reports of the death of the novel are greatly exaggerated. Multimedia storytelling in the form I've just tried to outline does not compete with the novel, for reasons which I hope I've made clear. But the Web as storytelling medium deserves better than misguided attempts either to claim its ascendancy over previous forms, or else to force it to deliver against ideas of 'fiction' that do not reflect its nature. The interlocking qualities of fragmentation, collaboration and boundlessness mimic the experiences of reading on the Web and require a different kind of participation than 'reading'. Suspension of disbelief becomes deliberately-performed play, collaborative reconstruction of the story is essential to the experience, and an ongoing improvisatory dance takes place between author and readership.
alex itin netrospectives 04.06.2007, 2:31 AM
Our dear friend and artist in residence Alex Itin has been getting noticed of late. Yesterday he was profiled on The Daily Reel, a popular site that curates quality video from around the web and frequently features his work. Other interesting video sites have also been a-knockin'.
An even better meditation on Alex's work is this comment posted by Sol Gaitan last month in response to his popular piece, "I Made Pictures of Making a Picture of Everyone Who Might Be Looking At These Pictures of Everyone" (a bona fide blockbuster on Vimeo). I've reproduced it in full:
Robert Rauschenberg's fabulous exhibition of 43 transfer drawings at Jonathan O'Hara Gallery produce that feeling, in retrospective, of seeing something that is going to mean a lot in the future. And they did. Executed in the 60's they were the precursors, as well as the result, of appropriation. Duchamp and Picasso are two obvious examples that come to mind when one thinks of the origins of appropriation, today we prefer the term "mash-up." The exciting thing about Rauschenberg is his extraordinary use of the quotidian to create highly manipulated works that elude classification. As his combines include and exclude us, the transfer drawings leave us with a feeling of immediacy and at the same time of blurry memories.
Alex Itin's play with appropriation produces the same feeling. He is doing something that is going to mean a lot. His investigations of the uses of technology to produce an art as dynamic as its medium, is evident in these "horizontal scrolls." The medium is limiting, so Alex is searching for a way to blog that defies its verticality, very much along the lines of the Institute, where his art resides. There are extraordinarily beautiful artist homepages on the Internet, but Alex's redefinition of the blog as a place of encounter, intentional or by chance, a place of fusion where he produces and manipulates his mash-ups is unprecedented. With this "horizontal scroll" he moves a very important step forward. He addresses us in all our anonymity while creating the piece in front of our very individual eyes. His use of the blog as a way of communication through live creation makes it burst along its seams.
The way Rauschenberg's transfer drawings fall on the paper seems aleatory, but it responds to the limitations he found in both collage and monotype before he started his silkscreen explorations: "I felt I had to find a way to use collage in drawing to incorporate my own way of working on that intimate scale," (as cited on the show's catalogue by Lewis Kachur from art historian Roni Feinstein's dissertation, NYU 1990.) The result are aerial collages of images transferred from newspaper that become a testimony of their times. The 60's were charged times, and the newsprint chosen by Rauschenberg; the civil rights movement, Vietnam, the invasion of Czechoslovakia, astronauts, consumer products, address high modernism, while their heterogeneity alludes to the fragmentary condition of postmodernism. Alex's depiction of those looking at his blog is highly charged in a similar manner; who are us anyway? What seems improvisation takes the form of social commentary, as he says on his blog:
who is my audience?... I think I'll draw them and perform in front of the drawing. Today's post also asks the question (more than most), which here is the real work of art? The drawing, or the film of the drawing, or the whole thing together on the blog, or what?
Rauschenberg's masterful use of gouache, watercolor and ink washes lends coherence to the whole. It centers the viewers attention on image and text, fusing them. Their dynamism makes us think of the artist at work. Alex has the medium, and the shrewdness, to put both, process and work, in front of our eyes. The result is not the voyeuristic epiphany of seeing Pollock dripping paint on a canvas that would become the actual piece, here it is the artist at work, moving in precarious terrain, which IS the piece.
Rauschenberg's pieces elude nomenclature, they are neither painting, nor collage, nor sculpture, they are thresholds to new forms of perception. Today's challenge is to rethink the meaning of appropriation in a moment when capitalist commodity culture has become the determinant of our daily lives. To appropriate today is to expose the unresolved questions of a world shaped by the information era. Permanence is constantly challenged and the evolution of Alex Itin's work on his blog shows this as clearly as it can be.