Posts Tagged ‘immersion’
“Dollhouse Desert”, a collaboration between Karl Baumann, Nicolette G.D and I, was screened last week at the State of the Arts 2013: the Future of Fulldome Festival. The host was the Vortex Immersive Media Dome at L.A. Center Studios. This is my first excursion into the fulldome format, and I found it incredibly fun and challenging.
The unconventional orientation of the spectators translates into a whole new vocabulary for camera motion and field of view. Fulldome is a medium that can both create the visceral impression of swallowing the viewer and offer moments of poetic stillness. “Dollhouse Desert” immerses the spectactor in a surreal mental landscape in which claustrophobia and the call of the void become complimentary affective states that seamlessly alternate.
In the vein of (immobile) light and space artists from earlier decades such as Dan Flavin or Robert Irwin, Licht makes sculpture from light and shadow. One can imagine an interactive variant where the play of bright, dim and dark is crowd-sourced by an online community, or algorithmically indexed to sensor information measuring the trajectories or body data of the visitors. Or offering a counterpoint to the natural time outside. In any case, presenting new expressive possibilities for data visualization.
The SOUND club in Phuket, Thailand, features architecture that brings a literal meaning to the term immersive. With nothing but round angles, pod-like seating arrangements, curvy corridors and dreamy, shiny, deep blue surfaces, the club recreates a surreal aquarium atmosphere. One can only imagine the synesthetic possibilities if a DJ were to play minimal dubstep, ambient, or deep house. Club architecture is one of many sites of themed entertainment / art environments where the affective potentialities of space are being experimented with and explored. The hybrid nature of clubs as venues for both social and artistic enjoyment – the two functions brought together in a sensual, hedonistic spirit that transforms both the experience of the art and the experience of others – makes them fascinating grounds for architectural experimentation, bringing us back to a Vidler-like (The Architectural Uncanny) notion of architecture as the design of different kinds of in-habiting, of being in space.
Me posing in front of the set I designed for a viral video to promote Fox’s “Rise of Planet of the Apes”, coming out in August, directed by fellow USC Cinema student Thenmozhi Soundararajan. I created some scientific animations and projected them on three layers of scrims, to produce a 3D effect without the stereo. The whole thing is supposed to represent a TED talk from the future. The melty shape to the left is a brain. Awesomely, the fabric we used – voile – added a shimmery grain to what is otherwise an ordinary digital-looking 3D model…
I will be presenting alongside my iMAP colleagues and Anne Balsamo at ISEA Istanbul 2011, for our collective panel “Madness of Methods”, which represents iMAP’s unique scholarly and design methodologies. My own presentation is about the notion of “toy cities” and the emergence of contemporary entertainment worlds and themed spaces, using case studies from the theme park industry, the festival world, and my own work.
Chair, Anne Balsamo, Professor of Interactive Media, University of Southern California
Common among the creative fields–the arts, science, technology and design–is a commitment to the production of new knowledge based on original research. Research is the praxis of systematic critical reflection that focuses on compelling domain-defined questions. The “question of method” is often used to distinguish art and design from science and technology: where the latter are defined by reified methodological paradigms, and the former by the repudiation of such paradigms. In practice we know this to be a false opposition: artists and designers systematically engage the empirical in many ways in their creative work; scientists and technologists creatively improvise to form rational accounts of their technical projects. The participants on this panel are each engaged in developing innovative methods that demonstrates the notion of art practice as transformative research. For some of them this takes the form of performance and real-time video mixing, for others it is the creation of locative media experiences that probe cultural dispositions and habits. Key areas to be discussed include: the tensions between empirical, interpretive and critical research techniques in the performance and production of art practice; the contribution of psychoanalysis and cognitive science to arts research; multimedia techniques for the creation of real-time knowledge production; making research visible to transdisciplinary (academic) audiences; and communicating arts practice research in dynamic vernaculars. This panel will describe, explore, and demonstrate a range of new methods of emerging arts research.
Creating Toy Cities: the experience design of transmedia objects
University of Southern California, iMAP Media Arts + Practice, PhD Student
Media convergence in the form of transmedia storytelling franchises that distribute content across multiple platforms is a growing field of inquiry in media studies. A perspective of interdisciplinary design enables us to also investigate the emerging convergence of user experience across different media. This paper traces a common logic of experience design that informs the hybrid transmedia objects that are theme parks, digital games, public art pieces, and museums. This is the logic of the toy city, the community of attractions that operates at the juncture of the material and the digital, the spectacular and the interactive, to create a signature experience for the user that defies medium specific modes of feeling, knowing, and creating. Case studies highlight the ways in which these media phenomena operate on three levels, as affective objects, as technological devices, and as imaginative worlds.
Indexical Immateriality: Photography and Cinema inside the Machine
University of Southern California, iMAP Media Arts + Practice, PhD Student
Grounded in a longstanding interest in the photographic, my artistic research is partly based around the idea of the indexicality of the photographic document as a trace of the real and a record of the past. My work attempts to probe the question of whether photographic indexicality functions differently when experienced within a mutable digital environment than in a fixed analog one. In this paper, I will present an analysis of several interactive new media projects that I have been instrumental in developing. These are works of computer interface design that feature both photographic and cinematic imagery in ways that represent space, place and time in specific cultural contexts. This analysis will draw on theoretical writings about the indexical in cinema, photography, new media and language by such writers as Roland Barthes, Mary Ann Doane and Rosalind Krauss.
Forschertrieb, The Instinct for Research: Toward a Queer Psychoanalysis and a Psychoanalytical Queer Theory.
University of Southern California, iMAP Media Arts + Practice, PhD Student
Exploring the ways in which the digital works as an interface for queer sexuality (in fantasy and in practice) this paper argues for a Queer Theory return to psychoanalysis, and its tradition of theory-based practice and practice-based theory. The construction of the human body – its drives, its affects, its markings, its illnesses – have all been questions taken up by Queer Theory as it has had, from the beginning, the lived body as its main object of study. Yet Queer Theory’s rise to academic prominence has also coincided with an intense re-configuration of this human body and how it deals with its objects of desire through the increasing embedding of digital technology in the everyday. Taking up barebacking (unprotected sex among strangers) as an emblematic contemporary “problem” of and for queerness, the paper investigates the ways in which psychoanalytic theories of early childhood development help us understand what is at play between the new media subject and his new media object.
Double Shadow: Digital Representation and Authorial Identity
University of Southern California, iMAP Media Arts + Practice, PhD Student
As we spend time exploring the Internet, what digital remains do we unintentionally leave behind? Based on this information alone, how would a stranger construct the story of an individual’s history? Like an archeologist might collect data and examine physical remains to create a plausible human history, what might be derived from the examination of digital remains? Double Shadow is a conceptual film project that seeks an answer to these questions. The work takes the form of short biographical film based on “factual” information gleaned from the Internet.
Making Trouble: redesigning the rituals of civic life
University of Southern California, iMAP Media Arts + Practice, PhD Student
Harold Garfinkel, father of ethnomethodology, once described his methodological “preference to start with the familiar scenes and ask what can be done to make trouble.” My work applies this sensibility to the design of public rituals. I will present research from several collaborative vox pop experiments and situate this work as “making trouble” for the assumptions that traditional journalism creates when it uses social media to curate the public back to itself. Culminating with a call to arms, I argue that the designers and funders of new civic platforms should embrace the opportunity to redesign our public rituals from the ground up.
You Hold the Camera Now: An Action Research Case Study of Pre-kindergarten Transmedia Narrative Design.
University of Southern California, iMAP Media Arts + Practice, PhD Student
This paper presents findings from a pilot research project called the Junior Audio-Video Club. Conducted at USC’s Institute for Multimedia Literacy,the project introduced media production skills along with concepts of recombinant and transmedia storytelling to two groups of four- and five-year old preschool students over the course of a 16-week curriculum. Through an account of our experimental pedagogical approaches, and through an examination of student-produced media artifacts, this paper aims to identify key insights and challenges to the pursuit of early childhood media arts education, and to explore ways in which art practice as a research methodology can inform practical approaches to collaborative curriculum design, facilitation of pre-linear creative expression, and promotion of media literacy skills as an integrated component of early childhood literacy education.
Media-Making Madness: #Revolution, Media, and the Arab World
Laila Shereen Sakr
University of Southern California, iMAP Media Arts + Practice, PhD Student
This presentation will examine in what ways might social media in the Arab world be unique — both in terms of how the society is operating, tightly woven; and in terms of media’s history in the Arab world, born in print form as an apparatus of the state since the Ottoman Empire? Using spatially designed information visualizations along with other representations, this presenter will demonstrate live media mixing as a research methodology whereby one can capture temporal specific conjunctures such that others can witness them. The purpose of doing so is to capture the special something that makes Twitter (and other social media sites) so feared that a government would shut down Internet to an entire nation during civil uprising and protest.
Neural Mediation: Instrument of Perception as Spectacle, Narrative, & Method
University of Southern California, iMAP Media Arts + Practice, PhD Student
Drawing upon theoretical works in cognitive science, affect theory, and speculative fiction, I will analyze contemporary and historic representations of neural instrumentation throughout a variety of media formats, including a personal interactive animation project. I will contextualize these representations of perceptual inquiry across interdisciplinary frameworks, highlighting suggested fantasies associated with each form. I will show how uses of body-based sensors present the corporeal and cognitive systems as narrative spectacle. As perceptual tools and methods are appropriated from the sciences, new arenas of hybrid design research practice are established.
April 4, 2011
Check Out Student Work from Annenberg Innovation Lab Conference
Last Friday, I had the pride and joy of participating in the first conference organized by the Annenberg Innovation Lab. The Lab is a new research initiative launched over the past year, with the goal of becoming an incubator for new media practices and platforms, a space where important conversations can occur between academics and industry leaders which may help shape the future of communications.
The mastermind behind the project is Jonathan Taplin, a saavy industry veteran, who has tapped his considerable network to bring some major stakeholders to the table. He’s been working with two amazing women — Erin Reilly, who is also the Research Director for my own Project New Media Literacies, is the Creative Director and Anne Balsamo, a veteran of Xerox Parc, serves as The Director of Learning. I am proud to be working with the lab on several new initiatives which I will be talking about here more in the future, including a new platform to support our work in fostering New Media Literacies and a new eBook project which will expand the resources available to Comic Studies scholars.
They’ve pulled in many other key researchers from across USC, providing a context which supports the move from theory to applied practice. The real special sauce at the lab is going to be the ability to mix social and cultural insights with technological experimentation and innovation in a space where humanists and social scientists can work hand in hand with engineers and business people.
Between them, Taplin, Reilly, and Balsamo hit the deck running, pulling off the near impossible, in getting the center ready to share some research results only eight months after it was originally conceived.
The conference’s highlights include a conversation between Balsamo and the two authors of the important new book, A New Culture of Learning, Doug Thomas and John Seely Brown; a presentation by the musician T. Bone Burnett showing how degraded the current state of sound is within the music industry and announcing a significant new research initiative to help repair the damage of the past decade of failed digital practices; a discussion of the value of play in fostering an innovative environment whether in schools or the workplace; and some great exchanges with key thinkers and doers within the computer and entertainment industries.
But, for me, by far, the highlight was seeing the work being done by USC students as part of what the Lab calls CRUNCH sessions. Altogether, more than 60 students from 8 different schools worked over the past two terms to develop prototypes, including demonstration videos, for new projects which covered a broad range of different models of media, from innovative approaches to eBooks to new gaming controllers, from civic media to new kinds of visualization tools. The most amazing thing was done by the student teams fueled entirely from their own passions: the Lab provided them with a space, with brainstorming and training sessions, and with technical consultants, but they were neither paid nor offered academic credit for the considerable labor they put into the process. Most of the teams were interdisciplinary, and one of the key values of the Lab was to help match up students from across the University to work together towards common goals.
I was pleased to see how many of the students involved were people I’d been seeing in my classes and it was great to witness what they could create when turned loose on their own projects outside any academic structures. It was especially pleased to see that these projects were informed by a deep understanding of the value of storytelling and entertainment and a grasp of the actual needs of communities of users who have been underserved by the first waves of digital development.
What follows here are the five winners of the CRUNCH competition, each representing a very different model of what media innovation might look like.
NimbleTrek \ Natalia Bogolasky and David Radcliff
WeLobby \ Leonard Hyman
WeLobby from Dave McDougall on Vimeo.
Combiform \ Andy Uehara and Edmond Yee an
New Quill \ Michael Morgan
Interactive Geosurface Map — Lauren Fenton
And for good measure, here are three more projects which I thought were too cool not to include:
Love in the Time of Genocide \ Thenmozhi Soundararajan
The Mother Road eBook \ Erin Reilly
Reading the News on the Wall \ Jennifer Taylor
Our team entered this project for the Annenberg Innovation Lab CRUNCH Challenge. Thank you to the Center for Land Use Interpretation, Onomy Labs and Microsoft for making the GeoSurface Map a prototype reality!
The GeoSurface Map is an interactive exhibit for local museums and libraries. Its interface is an interactive table that allows users to collectively browse satellite imagery. But more than a playful and immersive interface for navigating geographic data, the GeoSurface Map is a multimedia storytelling experience about land use practice.
Project Lead / Designer: Lauren Fenton, USC School of Cinematic Arts
Programmer: Shreyas Heranjal, USC Viterbi School of Engineering
Project Coordinator: Desdemona Bandini, Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism
A TANGIBLE INTERFACE WITH THE WORLD
The Interactive GeoSurface Map uses an interactive device created by Onomy Labs called a Tilty Table. The table functions as a tangible interface to create an experience of effortless fly-over navigation through Microsoft’s Bing Maps database of high-resolution satellite images. By tilting and twisting the Tilty Table, the user can zoom in and pan over details of the landscape. By dwelling on hotspots they can access multimedia metadata on important landmarks.
COLLECTIVE RE-DISCOVERY OF ONE’S LOCALITY AND PLACE
Apps like Google Maps and Google Earth allow people to visualize high-resolution satellite images and a database of meta-data about different geographical locations. However, this data can easily become meaningless, as there is no narrative attached to it. The Interactive GeoSurface Map gives the user the possibility of connecting the dots between different data elements, of reading different landscape features of the satellite images as a network, rather than as a random assembly of geographical features, streets and buildings.
Most geographical data apps are meant to be used as individual interfaces on laptops or desktop computers. Onomy Labs’ Tilty Table technology makes it possible for people to browse the data collectively, and to share a moment of discovery through an intuitive language of very simple gestures. A powerful moment of recognition takes place when users understand the infrastructural and historical relationships between different features of the landscape, features they may have casually noticed but had not paid attention to.
FROM GEOGRAPHICAL DATA TO A STORY ABOUT LAND USE
We are collaborating with an institution called the Center for land Use Interpretation, a research institute that creates exhibits about land use practices, from the history of the L.A. freeway system to the water supply network. The GeoSurface Map team adapted their exhibit,Urban Crude, about the oil fields of the city of Los Angeles, for the Tilty Table. Urban Crude explores the way oil is being drilled in the city, by whom, and what kind of strategies they adopt to seamlessly integrate this drilling activity into the urban landscape, which includes hiding oil wells behind fake buildings and churches and disguising pumpjacks and methane vents as inconspicuous infrastructure. The GeoSurface Map adaptation of the exhibit turns different locations on the satellite images into hotspots, accompanied by floating text from the original exhibit explaining the history of oil extraction in that particular site. When selected, the hotspots lead into an panorama of animated photographs. This immersive multimedia experience, which combines interaction with geographical data with text and video, weaves a narrative around the practice of oil extraction within the urban landscape of Los Angeles.
AN INTUITIVE TOOL FOR EDUCATION ABOUT COMMUNITY AND SUSTAINABILITY
By using storytelling and tangible interface technology, the GeoSurface Map makes engagement with land use data compelling and intuitive, making it possible for a wide demographic range of users, from children to grandparents, to gain meaningful knowledge of their neighboring environment, encouraging users to become agents of change and affect how their cities are organized and sustained in the future.
The GeoSurface Map is a learning platform that allows users to become familiar with urban planning initiatives in their area and become the shapers of local land use, water distribution, and transportation policy. Land use data is often restricted to geological and industry databases, even though land use practices affect everyone’s everyday life on a deep level. Thanks to our partnership with the Center for Land Use Interpretation, our solution makes that data accessible and comprehensible to a mainstream audience.
Knowledge about local land use helps people become pro-active about engaging with their municipal governments and government institutions on issues of urban development and the future of their communities.
AN INTERACTIVE EXHIBIT FOR PUBLIC USE
The GeoSurface Map is meant to be an interactive exhibit piece that can be housed in a museum, at a science center, in a public municipal or government building, and in schools and universities. It has the potential to affect a large number of individuals in a lasting way, providing them not only with invaluable information about their home area, but also immersing them in a memorable, aesthetically enchanting media experience.
Our end users include families, young people, and retired persons who have access to and can afford to pay for a museum ticket. The introduction of GeoSurface Mapping devices into public areas that are free of charge (for example, public libraries), would further lower the income barrier of end-users.
A FLEXIBLE HARDWARE AND SOFTWARE ARCHITECTURE
The satellite image database we use, Microsoft’ s Bing Maps, is a free service that the GeoSurface Map accesses through Microsoft’s Silverlight application for Bing Maps developers.
Our code determines a basic interface for an unlimited amount of content. We can add as much text, images, videos, tags and metadata as would be necessary for future iterations and future land use projects. The Tilty Table API, although based on just a few affordances, is very flexible in terms of the different types of actions these affordances can map onto.
The GeoSurface Map is a product that is both a piece of hardware, an interface, and an information/media service. Development of the product involves collaboration with Onomy Labs (hardware/API) and The Center for Land Use Interpretation (as a partnership for content creation), as well as with Microsoft’s Bing Maps service.
Any museum, public library or educational institution can purchase GeoSurface Mapping as an interactive exhibit package (hardware, interface, and content), provided they have Internet access.
The GeoSurface Map interface was in part inspired by the creative cartography work of Liz Mogel and Trevor Paglen. Going beyond representations of data, their maps are narratives that emphasize the infrastructural and social aspects of the annotated space. (http://www.artnews.com/issues/article.asp?art_id=3091). Katherine Harmon’s You Are Here: Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination was also a rich source of imaginative cartographic examples.
My new Unity game! Cracked Marble Maze is about wandering through a game without the possibility of ever reaching an end state. The rotating maze is suspended in starry void, but even if you fall through the cracks in the walls, you are transported back to a random spot in the maze by a stellar cloud. Boosters in the maze tunnels make the maze rotate in the opposite direction. When you get to the center of the maze (the rotating cracked marble), you can jump to any of the other “arms” by jumping from the marble to one of the rotating entrances. It’s hard to keep one’s balance on the marble! Luckily, running up 90° slopes is possible…
The bouncy 3D labyrinth with its electrocuted fuzzy fauna continues to be built…in stereo! A prototype arch and its puzzled subject pose for the game engine camera.
Inflatacookbook: 1970s alternative media/architecture collective Ant Farm’s instruction manual on how to create weirdly inhabitable inflatable structures
In the late 60’s and 70’s, the San Francisco hippie art and architecture collective known as Ant Farm were creating buildings out of giant inflatable plastic bags. Their 1969 work, 50×50′ Pillow for the Whole Earth Catalog led to the commission to build the medical tent–or as Ant Farmer Chip Lord called it, “the Bad Trip Pavilion”–at Altamont.
Ant Farm also created uncannily prescient work about things like the all-consuming, TV-driven, pop media culture and the American fetishization of cars. [They’re the ones who buried that row of Cadillacs nosefirst in the Texas desert.]
from Make Magazine:
“I had the pleasure of meeting and becoming friends with Ant Farm co-founder Doug Michels in the early ’90s. He was as delightfully crazy as ever, drawing up designs for spheres of water floating through space filled with dolphins, a Japanese sex theme park, a giant couch, called the National Sofa, in the park across from the White House, where people could come and interact with the First Family via the National TV set. This was definitely not a guy who liked to paint inside the lines. Sadly, Doug died in a freak climbing accident in 2003.”
As a child, I spent hours with my Sega Genesis or (Sega Megadrive, as it was marketed in Europe) developing digital motor reflexes meant to ensure my survival in a colorful 8-bit world. Rolling up in a little ball to zoom through transparent tubes or accelerate and fall in not-quite-Earth-gravity parabolas became second nature. Sonic introduced me to the delights of a sacharine electronic soundtrack that made the hard primary colors of Sonic world’s shimmer and subliminally controlled my minute pushing and pulling of the tiny joystick. Sonic is a masterpiece in synesthetic design: visual, aural and kinetic mesh together to create a re-embodied experience, more akin to telepresence than manipulating an avatar.
Carnival Night Zone
Apparently, other fans who still have dreams of pinballing through Sonic levels and have developped an automatic jump and bounce response to hearing repetitive synth melodies have posted these walkthroughs of Sonic 1 and 2…a nostalgic flashback to an archaic utopia.
Matthew Barney, Cremaster I
text: Margaret Morse, Video installation Art: The Body, the Image, and the Space-in-Between
Morse evokes a piece by Muntadas called haute CULTURE Part I, in which two monitors are placed on each end of a seesaw, thereby making an elegant point, couched in physical terms (physical even as in “physics”, since gravity is employed as an artistic device) about the act of comparing both sets of images. This piece offers an example of what Morse calls “kinesthetic” learning, or the kind of information processing and intuition specific to our perception of the organization of objects in space. Kinesthetic perception is synesthetic and active – it involves visuality, sound, and the haptic in a way that allows each sensorial input to complement, suffuse and correspond to another, and using the entire body, including its own position in space relative to other objects, as a sensory organ. The kinesthetic subject is always hyper-aware of her body/herself as key element in the epistemological puzzle posed by the installation piece: all the meaning that can be gleaned from a space must bounce off of her, her critical interpretation changes and accrues only according to her own changing orientation in space. This unfolding signification is also temporally grounded – in fact kinesthetic appreciation can be defined as a temporalized experience of space, a strange, subliminal experience in which we both critically stand outside ourselves to consider ourselves-within-the-world and have an acute consciousness of inhabiting our bodies, of being materially and psychically connected to the outside world. Morse’s term of “body ego” encapsulates this awareness of oneself as an entity, something that participates in both the object and the subject.
Going back to Muntadas’ seesaw, we can see how the artist’s physical demonstration of a conceptual relationship between the two objects/monitors offers us a uniquely visceral insight into an a priori realm of abstract and critical thought. The kinesthetic argument being made is playful – an analogy more than a declaration. Using the evocative power of objects and their wealth of cultural denotations, an artist can articulate kinesthetic phrases, in which different objects constitute a semantic content and their relative positions (taking into account the multiple trajectories of the visitor) operate as syntax. Objects are further mis-en-abime within the virtual windows of screens and video channels – kinesthetic art erases to a certain degree the ontological difference between what is represented (screen-based) and what is presented (anchored in physical space). The resulting aesthetic and epistemological experience is intuitive and multidimensional, blurring the boundaries between thinking and feeling.
For those interested in interactivity not only as an art or industry practice but as a way of life and social experiment, Burning Man remains a visionary site where specifically space, in Lefevrian fashion treated as a shaper of social and cultural context rather than background, is radically explored and expressed. Taking its cue from the Situationists and their idea of a playful “psychogeographic” city, Burning Man is fun fair, ginormous art installation, multimedia playground, slum-mushroom, Fourrierian commune where the consequences of extremely minimal legislation (including a prohibition against the use of money) allow you to live the anarchist American dream.
If you could do exactly what you wanted to invest your time in, and give it some kind of physical form, what would you chose to do? This is the question answered by Burners…often giving rise to habitats, zones, and contraptions that you would only see in the virtual realms of computer games or from the sets of fantasy and science fictions movies. Loose in time, without any schedule (divorced from leisure and encouraged to participate), revelers spend it being in and feeling the weirdness and possibilities of space. From this radical redefinition of these basic parameters, sociality starts to mutate beyond recognition…
The theme for 2010 is METROPOLIS. I would think unavoidable research for anyone interested in dreams of future cities! “Every year a dense metropolis arises in the Black Rock Desert; every year it disappears without a trace. Tumult and change, churning cycles of invention and destruction – these forces generate the pulse of urban life. Great cities are organic, spontaneous, heterogeneous, and untidy. They are, like Burning Man, magnetic hubs of social interaction. This year’s theme will function as a micro and a macro-scope, an instrument through which we will inspect the daily course of city life and the future prospect of what we call civilization.”
Using Benedict Anderson’s concept of imagined communities as virtual loci that gather individuals into a common cultural space,Susan Douglas (Listening In) reads radio in terms of its capacity, as a social practice, to uniquely constitute (American) subjectivity. Radio’s most obvious affordance is that it allows people separated in space to listen simultaneously, “to experience that very moment of (their) lives in exactly the same way” (p.24). Douglas argues the new medium gave rise to an unprecedented kind of intersubjective intimacy – a linking of inner worlds that occurred not through a meeting of the minds (radio listeners remain anonymous to each other) but by sharing a common (cultural, technological) platform for fantasy.
Radio listeners are bonded by a specific practice of self: as thousands tune in to the same Top 40 song, they cross over together and for a moment into a temporality different from their distracted, fragmented present and experience time as a (musical) signature, as an embodied flow. For the duration of a song, radio holds out the possibility to a fragmented collectivity to perceive themselves as a unique, flavorful being – the kind of communion achieved is not one that can gather a community (radio listeners are experiencing themselves, very closely, rather than experiencing others) but that produces similar and separated subjectivities. Radio-listening Americans live apart but dream together.
Here Douglas’ concept of “dimensional” listening, as radio’s purported affordance that encourages listeners to generate their own powerful imagery to compensate for the absence of a visual world, enters into play. If other media like cinema, where worlds are “given” to the audience for consumption, constitute a vault of imaginary material, then radio trains the subject in the practice of a specific type of imagination, setting up the scaffolding for an inner space that we can freely populate. To “develop an ear for radio” means to gain access to “a repertoire of listening styles and emotional responses”, to be attuned to different inner worlds that we can switch on or off (in this sense, prefiguring the advent of portable music players as mood-regulating devices). In the 20s before regular programming this might mean tuning in to imagine a ionospheric topology projected from the disparate stations the ham could reel in; in the 30s it could mean regularly conjuring the presence of an entire cast of fictional characters from a soap drama. Douglas argues that in exploring the “spaces” of sound – by promenading our consciousness through the rippling folds of rhythm or timbre in music, by stalking the unfolding story of a voice – we are really spelunking in our own depths.
The term “training” characterizes the kind of self-building radio enables in the sense that listeners (according to Douglas) become emotionally attached to broadcast material, especially if they hear it repeatedly: “the more we listen to certain kinds of music, the more we learn to like it.” (p. 32) – in a quite neurological way, Top 40 songs imprint themselves on our mind, giving shape to our subjectivity. This emotional sculpting modifies the listener’s sense of time in significant ways. Radio creates privileged temporal moments for the listener, a more intense experience of the present that accompanies the listener’s exploration of their inner space. Over the course of a life, these privileged moments call to and ricochet off one another – mental states or moods jump across one’s temporality, seeding the self with fragments of past incarnations, reliquary fantasies. Douglas emphasizes that radio almost from the beginning was marked by nostalgia, by the longing for a disappeared moment that a broadcast song could briefly bring back into the present. In this sense dimensional listening is not dissociable from another term Douglas uses, “associational” listening, or the forging of correspondences between the flow of our lives and the soundtrack that accompanies it, meaning that daily routines – e.g. doing laundry while listening to a jazz tune on the radio – are dyed with the color of a sound that can make an initially undifferentiated slice of everydayness remarkable. This quality in radio emerges from its difference from the gramophone as a listening practice – the fact that radio temporally mapped out a listener’s day (starting with regular programming) with scheduled sound. As manufactured sound and especially music became ambient (as consequence of ubiquity) they started exercising an unprecedented level of influence on people’s lives.
Douglas also investigates the fascinating history of the beginnings of radio and the social significance accorded the new technology at its inception, particularly around the relationship between radio and a collective desire for the existence of a tangible spiritual dimension, a longing for the unchartered and unknown that characterized both radio’s marketing as a mechanical “medium” (a notion that interestingly recontextualizes media in terms of spiritism) and the practice of DXing. Radio uncannily symbolized, more than the phonograph which was an inscription device, the utopian possibilities of technology as interface between different ontological realms, as a transducer that could allow for communication between what was previously considered incommensurable: the living and the dead, humanity and the extraterrestrial, invisible world of the airwaves, two individuals separated by vast distances. Douglas points out that in endowing radio with this mystique Americans were engaging in a search for meaningful connection, a sense of existential and communal belonging that, at least in the collective Western imaginary, had been lost in the turn to mechanized, serialized, fragmented modern life. DXers, poetically dubbed “distance fiends”, developed a form of radio practice that engaged the technology not only as a commodity fetish but also as, literally, a medium, a means of accessing different possibilities of signification through the exploratory use of the technology’s affordances. Before the more commoditized modes of dimensional and associational listening, tuning in to the radio was also a game played across the virtual landscape of the airwaves as DXers would fish for the disembodied voices that stood in for real-world localities.
Douglas’ discussion of DXing as a poetic practice weaves into her general investigation of radio not only as a locus for a cultural imaginary but as a technology that crucially enables imagination – which raises questions as to how other sound technologies have been and might be imaginatively used. If the commodity-use of the record, the tape, the MP3 player have trained us to meaningfully experience sound in certain ways that have constituted our subjectivities according to certain common cultural (capitalist) patterns, then what other cultures (and other subjectivities) with potential to challenge or re-organize capitalism emerge as a result of exploratory, imaginative use? Radio leads us into a consideration of contemporary countercultural (but also massively embraced!) practices around sound technology, namely DJ and remix culture…
a solution to the screen vs. physical space dichotomy: merging two different ontologies of immersive space. You need to enter a secret space within the larger installation to look at the screen: watch a movie in a closet, a cabinet, then crawl out/emerge.
From website “Create Digital Music”
Brainpipe is a psychedellic journey down the neural pathways, a long, strange trip into the minds of an unusual band of independent game designers. And while some games demand muscular graphics cards or brilliant flat panels, this is one that requires playing with headphones. The immersive sense of the descent down this brain’s pathway is entirely dependent on its sound. While even big development houses often license sound engines, the band of hard-core designers at Digital Eel also rolled their own interactive audio code to make the sounds fully seamless…..
Peter: Let’s talk about the game mechanic. Some of it feels familiar – this descent through a cylindrical pipe – but there’s something quirky and unique about your take on it. How did you settle on the interaction mechanic?
Iikka: This was quite literally the first thing I programmed for Brainpipe. We were trying to come up with a new “short” game after putting another larger project on the back burner because we didn’t have enough free time to work on it. Within a few hours I had the basic control scheme and the moving pipe running on the screen. This is similar to how some of our other short games (Plasmaworm, Dr. Blob’s Organism) got started; the first prototype is something you can play with. After that there were tweaks of course, but the feel stayed much the same…
We were talking about music right away and how the sound, the intensity of the patterns and colors on the pipe walls, and the speed of traveling through the pipe should all work together. [We wanted] a kind of triple whammy to suck the player in deeper and deeper — a strong, cumulative effect…
Making sure each obstacle has a sustained sound so you can hear it coming in the distance in front of you and then hear it pass by and recede with Doppler shift certainly adds to the audio illusion.
I think the kicker is the way the intensity ramps in the game. It’s sort of like a rising sawtooth waveform-shaped thing. During each level, the intensity, the speed increases, Then, between each level, the intensity drops to give you a breather before the next level begins. Each time the intensity drops, it is still at a higher intensity level than during the previous level break, and all of this ramps upward.
The sensation of synesthesia is something a handful of game designers have tried to achieve. What are some of the games that have inspired you? Are there games you feel have reached that fusion of sound and visuals?
Iikka: My personal influence is the “demoscene” that I was a part of when I was younger; it’s a subculture of programmers and artists using computers to create non-interactive but real time audio-visual experiences.
Rich: For me, LucasArts’ adventure game, The Dig, with its seamless looping of various Wagner themes and so on. The music would morph as scenes changed. It was an amazing piece of work.
The music from Star Control II innovated with music and visuals, and it directly inspired the music for Strange Adventures in Infinite Space and Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space. The idea that each alien race should have their own theme music came from there (though this kind of thing is less unusual now than it was when SC2 was originally released), as did the idea to attach separate and distinctly different music to each thing, category of thing, item, window, pop up announcement –every action in the game and every flick of the interface … like a toddler’s “busy box” of sound.
Back to Brainpipe, other areas of music outside of games inspired us as well. Aleatoric, musique concrete, avant garde — stuff Bill just naturally creates and stuff I’ve always loved since I was a kid. [I checked] out the LP’s at the library by Stockhausen, Varese, Morton Subotnick, Ussachevsky, all these wonderful pre-synthsizer electronic sound and found sound composers. And the records were awesome because they were always in pristine condition — relatively few others ever checked them out.
IN a show put on by noise performer Kawaiietly Please – in which we participated, not listened, or perhaps listened to the point of participation. She started by taking her microphone for a walk around the venue’s small room, picking up vibrations that fed into a distorting filter in her computer, amplifying white noise. It was painfully loud, but only when the beats kicked in four to the floor did our organs start to thump synchronously against their skeletal cavities. Kawaiietly Please creates an event that uses sound as a dilating instrument, opening up the minds/bodies of the audience via their ears: in front of the stage, a giant white stuffed gorilla lies in an inflatable kiddy pool, its belly stitched with black cables. Kawaiietly Please tiptoes towards it, the cacophony around us lending an intense stillness to the scene. Then the sound begins to bark at us like a rabid dog and she pulls out the cable from the stuffed corpse – she struggles, the clothy flesh resists – and some of us impromptu jump on it and start tugging too. The sound – damaging feedback, harsh static, thereminish vibrations – throbs across our muscles as we pull, pull and finally – yes! – we tear. The monkey explodes in a shower of stuffing and glitter, an entire horde of smaller creatures spills out. We go nuts. Now we have something to lay our hands on. The noise that throws us about like rag dolls gives us back what is our own – our impulse to be kinetic. A double acceleration: the movement in time that is sound galvanizes a symmetry-response momentum in extensio – everything snaps (in place) with the thrashing of our bodies.
We dive to the floor, grabbing stuffed animals, pulling them apart solitarily but more often engaging ferociously in tug-a-war: I grab an arm, you grab a head. Soon enough we are fighting each other. Not knowing how it came to this, I am on the floor being dragged around by someone who is battling me for the limb of a teddy bear. The kicking and screaming I do is much more than liberating: this synesthetic simultaneity of hyper-loud sound, cuddly texture (the plush, soft, squeezable bodies of the animals) and violent muscular resistance (the propelling motion of the tugging) is driving me insane with fun. Kawaiietly Please weaves in and out amongst us, jerking her head back, rubbing herself against the floor with scattered petticoats, feeling up the PAs – ghostly in the red light, flitting in and out of the decibelic tidal wave like a hummingbird. We roll her in the rubbery folds of the kiddy pool (the excitement of tactile/sonic texture peaks), mock- suffocating her. She is buried beneath the blue plastic while we throw bits of stuffing and animal parts as though they were flowers.
The noise abruptly ceases: we clap, we shriek, we instantly miss it. She emerges, bows. For about an hour afterwards a number of us are still twitchy – we vault rather than climb onto chairs, we hop rather than walk, laugh rather than bother with coherent sentences. A warmth suffuses us, stretching our mouths in toothy smiles. We want more of this extreme friendliness.
“Why can’t we have an aesthetic language of composition for the sense of touch using vibration?”
Old Skool – mid 90s
new iteration of happy
J-Pop: happy and breakbeats
Over the past six months I’ve been listening about 3 hours a day to happy hardcore, a sub-genre of “rave”, “techno”, “electronic” music considered a spin-off from early 90s U.K. hardcore techno (which also evolved into other kinds of hyper-fast specimens such as gabber/speedcore, like happy hardcore distinguished by its four to the floor beat but without the synthy melodies and jungle/drum n’ bass, whose syncopated fury is driven by breakbeats). Happy Hardcore is a product of rave culture, which approaches music from a decidedly anti-aesthetic point of view: this is not music meant to be listened to /considered/tasted (nothing is more contrary to the notion of taste than the dirty, praxis-based logic of musical fodder, meant to be digested by your dancing), but to kick you like a soccer ball into a parabolic trajectory, with usually a 7-hour interval between the going up and the coming down. Your body suffers through the DJ set of happy hardcore – crushing waves of relentless beats pound a machine rhythm into your feet while the perpetually shifting, morphing timbres of the synthesizer travel up and down your spine, stretch out your skull from the inside, creating a space (grimy and vast, like a warehouse) for the free play of endless sonic variations. Happy Hardcore is brutal in the sense that it locks you into a logic of acceleration – like driving a car with your foot spastically pressing down on the gas pedal – and that, at least within the context of a DJ set, it never stops. Not delivered in discrete packets of consumable “songs” but turned on like a tap – for a given period of time you swim in it, fight with it, ride with it, drown in it; it becomes your medium, a total texture for a parallel reality, a cognitive landscape apart. When they turn the music off and the night is over, it’s as if the air had gone out of the room – your ears, surreptitiously, have metaphorically started to function as lungs, allowing sound to bond to your bloodstream.
Why happy hardcore? If you look up happy hardcore on youtube, you’re likely to find tracks played to a still image that looks like a smiley face with angry eyebrows and a ferocious, toothy, grin – and that is exactly what it feels like. It can only be described as a mean joy, an apocalyptic celebration – the kind of happiness you would feel if you were being catapulted over a chasm, your feet treading air.
- Posted by: David Pescovitz on Boing Boing blog
- on September 1, 2009 at 7:10 am
Want to see with your tongue? Boing Boing’s David Pescovitz looks at technology that blurs the boundaries between our five senses.
What if you could see with your skin? Or taste what you see? While those kinds of experiences might suggest a mental disorder, or an acid trip, the ability to substitute your senses by choice is on the horizon. A confluence of new technologies are leading to a kind of digital synesthesia.
Synesthesia, of course, is the fascinating neurological phenomenon whereby stimulation of one sense involuntarily triggers another sensory pathway. A synesthete might taste sounds or hear colors. But the ability to reroute the senses could dramatically help blind individuals, for example, or restore the sense of touch to amputees wearing prosthetic limbs.
At Institute for the Future, where I’m a researcher, my colleagues and I have spent the last few months exploring the notion that “everything is programmable,” or will be soon. The idea is that emerging technologies—from pervasive computers to synthetic biology—are making it possible to program our bodies and our worlds to desired specifications. Increasingly, we are looking at the entire world through a computational lens. As part of that research, we’ve been collecting “signals”—events, developments, articles, scientific publications—that taken together, give indications of key trends. We’ve entered these in our public Signtific signals database and tagged them based on their subject matter. I’ve found many research efforts suggesting how we may reprogram our senses in the future.
For example, there are the “Flavor Tripping” parties fueled by Synsepalum dulcificum, aka “Miracle Fuit,” the West African berry that temporarily reprograms your taste buds to make anything sour or bitter taste perfectly sweet. And there’s the story of Daniel Kish, the blind psychologist who, by clicking his tongue, uses echolocation to “see.” In the realm of digital synesthesia, numerous projects are attempting to leverage tactile feedback in the form of clothing outfitted with tiny vibrators. Instead of picking up your phone to read a text message, you might feel the words spelled on your back.
The late Paul Bach-y-Rita could be considered the father of all technology used to reprogram the human senses. In 1963, Bach-y-Rita developed a “Tactile to Visual Sensory Substitution” device. It converted images from a camera to tactile sensations that a blind person could feel on his or her back. Bach-y-Rita’s research was all based on the notion of “sensory substitution.” The brain, he argued, was not hardwired and that a working sense, say touch, could be used to replace a failing one, e.g. vision. His ideas around the plasticity of the human brain were very controversial at the time but widely accepted today. He continued his research on sensory substitution technology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and his company Wicab, until his death in 2007.
“I can connect anything to anything,” Bach-y-Rita said in a profile in The Telegraph shortly before his death:
We see with our brains, not with our eyes. When a blind man uses a cane he sweeps it back and forth, and has only one point, the tip, feeding him information through the skin receptors in the hand. Yet this sweeping allows him to sort out where the doorjamb is, or the chair, or distinguish a foot when he hits it, because it will give a little. Then he uses this information to guide himself to the chair to sit down. Though his hand sensors are where he gets the information and where the cane “interfaces” with him, what he perceives is not the cane’s pressure on his hand but the layout of the room: chairs, walls, feet, the three-dimensional space. The receptor surface in the hand becomes merely a relay for information, a data port.
In the latest incarnation of Bach-y-Rita’s work, the data port is the tongue. The company he co-founded, Wicab, has developed a visual prosthetic for the blind that converts images from a video camera into tactile sensations on the tongue. The system, called BrainPort, pairs a head-mounted digital video camera with a postage stamp-size electrode array that sits on the tongue. A small computer translates the visual information into a pattern that is “displayed” on the tongue.
“The tactile image is created by presenting white pixels from the camera as strong stimulation, black pixels as no stimulation, and gray levels as medium levels of stimulation, with the ability to invert contrast when appropriate,” reads the company’s website. “Users often report the sensation as pictures that are painted on the tongue with champagne bubbles.”
The BrainPort is not yet FDA approved, but clinical studies have been quite exciting. During trials, blind test subjects had their brains scanned while using the device. Interestingly, even though the device provides tactile sensation, visual regions of the brain were activated.
Seeing with your tongue may seem unusual, but arguably not as weird as “skin vision.” A researcher at Tel Aviv University suggests that humans might be able to “see” with their skin. Engineering professor Leonid Yaroslavsky hopes that through biomimicry, new kinds of imaging technology might be developed that obviates traditional optics. Yaroslavsky presented his theories on the subject in a scientific book titled Advances in Information Optics and Photonics. From an American Friends of Tel Aviv University press release:
Skin vision is not uncommon in nature. Plants orient themselves to light, and some animals—such as pit vipers, who use infrared vision, and reptiles, who possess skin sensors—can “see” without the use of eyes. Skin vision in humans is likely a natural atavistic ability involving light-sensitive cells in our skin connected to neuro-machinery in the body and in the brain, explains Prof. Yaroslavsky.
While the first people to reprogram their senses are likely to be people with a sense that has failed them, the technology will likely trickle down. Eventually, the hard lines between our five senses may be blurred. And in a world where everything is programmable, five may be a choice, not a limit.
Do you see what I’m saying?