Monday, 24 November 2008

Divergent Myopia

Over the last couple of months and behind closed doors, the world’s digital innovators have been readying their developments for public consumption.

Red Cameras have cannily taken on the Digital SLR market by making their new cameras both still and movie capable. True the 28k sensor will not be able to have a full moving stream of images recorded from it for a while (bits of the sensor will, but not the whole thing), but it is a mark of the time that convergence has been attained and then left behind as a concept.

Convergence is after all a product of re-mediated thinking - were you to imagine a future if you were a science fiction writer, it would be composed of elements that were obverse or at a tangent to those you’d already experienced. Therefore imagined futures will always be a product of the past, as by the same logic contemporary descriptions of our world will already be defunct by the time they are articulated.

Canon and Nikon have put out DSLR’s that are movie capable and to Canon’s credit the EOS 5D Mark 11 is full 1920 x 1080 pixels whereas the movie capable Nikon D90 only records 1280 x 720 pixels. Both however record in Mpeg4 which is less than ideal in that the camera as a DSLR shoots RAW data and that is what the best electronic movie cameras attempt to do - but Mpeg4 is severely compressed. The thinking is that compression is bad as it introduces artefacts into the image that was not there in front of the lens.

The thing is, any recording is an artefact - it is not reality, it is mediated reality. So the entire conversation about compression needs looking at as Wavelet Transform technology takes over from Discrete Cosine Transforms as the chosen way to deal with incoming data. DCT’s are the meat-grinder way of dealing with data or a meat-head parking your car to use another metaphor and Wavelet’s are a valet service to park your car. A mixed metaphor there - but to extend it a little further, some people would hold that the damage the valet does in parking the car is as bad as the meat-grinder’s dealings with it.

Also, in a conversation with an 80‘s imaging idol, Zbig Ribchinsky recently, he swore blind that Red cameras which use extensive wavelet transform in the handling of data have a thoroughly unacceptable level of compression of the blue channel so that he’d rather use a sony camera - and he didn’t mean an F35 or an F23 - he meant a lowly HDV camera with high compression. Confused ? So was I.

Anyway, there’s yet another welter of outpourings in the digital domain and everyone who’s buying equipment might be better advised to let the market settle down for a bit - given the credit crunch. The fact is we are in the middle of a large outpouring of technology and will be for a little while yet.

Meanwhile, convergence as an intellectual item has lost its gloss in that it’s far too simple a way of describing what is happening within late liberal capitalism. It’s a heady brew to think that ‘it’s all coming together’. On one level it’s always coming together, so convergence as a millennial belief system is symptomatic of the time and also, in the way of things, when things get labelled, you can be pretty sure that the thing that has been labelled is past its sell by date and joined the cue for the dustbin of history.

This also makes me think on the idea of remediation, which has served well for nearly a decade.

‘Jay David Bolter and Richard Grussin contend that new media achieve their cultural significance by honoring, rivaling and revising earlier media such as perspective painting, photography, film and television. This process of refashioning, they refer to as ‘remediation’ and note that earlier media have also rearticulated the content and logic of one another: photography remediated painting, film remediated stage production and photography, and television remediated film, vaudeville and radio. Accessing audiovisual, news, education and entertainment shows on the same medium even from different sources blurs the distinctions between the contexts in which each originated (Bolter and Grussin, 2000). Megan Sapnar, The Journal of New Media and Culture, Winter 2002’

Another definition of remediation is:

The process of correcting environmental degradation…

Is there a connection, perhaps of renewing, revitalizing - even cleaning up a area that has become too polluted by time and overuse ?

Whichever definition you go with, in the earlier use of the term the author utilizes recent forms to speak of the that which they define and all of these forms seem to me a product of the analogue to digital era. So it might be that remediation is a term of the media era and is like everything else that utilizes the idea of hindsight. After all the word remediation contains a very recent word 'media'. In other words it looks back at the past with a revisionist agenda. Of course it’s very hard to look back without an agenda of any kind - nor look forward for that matter. Everywhere we look we project a set of meanings that in fact refer to our contemporary paradigm of which, it is very, very difficult to free oneself from. However - the influx of technology which is faster than our ability to gather a set of useful meanings around it, is continuous and unabated and is a reflection of the notion that we are in fact not the players - but the played.

In the practice of neuro-science there’s currently a tendency to believe that the momentary self - the one present in the moment - tends to believe that it is acting, making things happen, being present and yet clinical trials in advanced MSR scanners tell us that there’s a deciding function that tells the autonomic system what to do one fifth of a second before the momentary self receives the command and translates it as an idea that it thinks it has had.

Taking this idea and clothing it with my previous sentence ‘there is an influx of technology which is faster than our ability to gather a set of useful meanings around it’ then I suppose I am proposing that we are more receivers than creators and that it is in the group zeitgeist powered by the proposition of incoming and outgoing paradigms that carry our little human selves along like a small craft white water rafting, populated with people furiously hanging on down the ‘river of time’. This is a blog so I give myself the artistic license to be clichéd, poetic, etc. The point though is that I do believe we are innately formed as technological creatures rather in the way that Arthur C Clark’s apes in 2001 are technological. Sometimes we have accelerated moments and we tend to put the agency of that acceleration outside of ourselves - in the same way that we place intuition and insight inside ourselves. Neuro-science would have it that we are witnesses in the melee that is life.

So, in terms of incoming technologies that are fitting and appropriate to our sensorium (the sense equipment we have, plus the witness function or sense common to all other sensorium functions, the mind or self) there is a flow to history that seems to be coincident with our physiognomy.

As a child I used to feel that what was beautiful to us had some kind of resonance with our construction. The way the lines of a jaguar car - if not a jaguar - was pleasing because it was a reflection of the construction of our eyes and minds. Or a sunset/sunrise had elements in it that our sensorium had evolved to witness - but not just witness, be surprised at, to marvel at, to be beholden to. Again I reach for Susan Sontag’s use of Andre Breton’s idea quoted in her 2003 book, ‘Regarding Photography’. She draws from Breton that beauty is always identifiable to us as a constriction of the spirit. Like an in-drawing of breath, there is first a contraction before expulsion of breath - in between, there is no movement, just breath held. That is my test, by the way, for what is ‘great art’ as opposed to ‘little art’. There must be that internal response.

So the Canon 5d M11 represents one of these little tricklings from ‘the great beyond’, our ‘secret self’, the deeper zeitgeist, whichever cause you choose, and as such is an indicator of where we are going. I’ve been in meetings with groups of scientists who deal with rarefied technology; I’ve witnessed the myopia that’s possible within that kind of psyche and witnessed the commercial lubricant that is one way of releasing the creativity and potential developments with their technological niches combined (because it’s the combination of technologies that is the liberating element) and I’ve also taken part in releasing the stuck-ness one can sometimes find there.

So here we are, great apes with a brain and a technology to match the brains we are to grow. In fact, sometimes it seems as if the technology is the leading factor in our development. If a reasonable definition of art is ‘that which reveals what will shortly become apparent’ then a technology which reveals ‘that which will shortly become possible’ is a fitting thing to accompany it.