Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Integration, Convergence and Reflection

For a thorough assessment of my research up until this moment, please see the blog dated 8th February entitled Time and Resolution: Experiments in High Definition Image Making, which outlines my work and current findings.

Any DP of calibre will have wanted to use a camera such as the Genesis, the F35 or 23, The D21 or the new Dalsa to Arri D3, but the available and ubiquitous and first camera of nearly the highest resolution, has been the Red One. From what I’ve seen of the F35, it has the credentials to create a film-like image. What I mean by this is the simple improvement in highlight handling, where the hot whites roll off and transform to what seems to be a gentle white – though I have seen some DP’s create bad whites with this camera. Come to that I’ve seen very good output from the red as well as very bad.

The Red has been more than sufficient to the task of introducing higher resolution imaging to the world and now it’s even used to gather footage for TV shows. I saw one being used (as a badge of quality) on a low budget show the other day. So the 4k high resolution image or at least the technology that allows this little seen level of detail has surfaced into the mind of the zeitgeist.

But as a friend of mine said to me – “I don’t understand what your research has go to do with convergence or the idea of pervasive media” (as if this were the main or indeed the only criteria of digital worth).

Pervasive Media as an outcome of ‘Convergence’ (in some quarters) is the low-resolution introduction of digital technologies via mobiles and in my mind is typified as the kind of technical development that might lead to the world of Spielberg’s Minority Report. ‘Hello Tom’ says an advertising display as Tom Cruises’ character walks past.

Delightful or oppressive, this can only happen if the world of art devotes itself to a research and development strategy around new technologies which it is prone to do. From Art comes commercial use. It’s always been the way that since art has gained a technological edge – from music concrete using reel to reel recorders as a source of sound materials to make art, then on into early video art, then computer and digital art, the commercial realm has benefited from the investigations of artists.

Pervasive media is a sign that convergence exists and also it is a sign of the beginnings of integration, that’s currently my name for the next technological stage. Our recent flirtation with convergence as the main act in town is now coming to an end. Convergence began around 1400 with the invention of the printing press, which to my mind was an act of integration of several realms that had persisted as separate for millennia. At various Media Institutes, freethinking professorial headmasters have created ‘sandpits’ for people to play in and generate connections between hand-held devices (one sometimes imagines these are born of a nostalgia derived from readings as children in the 50’s of 20’s and 30’s science fiction – wrist communicators, ray guns and the like). All of this energy is directed toward generating the use of software on various ‘implements’ – objects within this world that refer to another world, the data world.

In my own research I have been looking at creating intelligent environments with remote telematic ‘eventing’ probably derived from my own penchant for moments in shows like star trek where the crew goes into the hollo-deck. Another convergent/integrative investigation. Here though, my intent is to enter into the data realm, where there is a significant difference from bringing mysterious objects, which have a narrative life similar to a comic book hero’s mysterious findings on another world – Green Lantern’s ring and lantern for instance. The significant difference is that there will no longer be a need for separate objects – implements and tools.

So to return to my friend’s question, ‘what does high resolution have to do with convergence and pervasive media?’ the answer is simply that when everyone has accommodated themselves to the idea of a low-resolution devices, spaces or events, then they will need to bring in higher levels of veracity to the experience. And with resolution comes detail and with detail comes veracity – as someone said ‘God is in the detail’. Yes we have to understand the technologies that allow free-flow of data at a sufficient rate to enable ‘veracity’ to substitute for the low-res Barnum and Bailey effects enjoyed at the pervasive bleeding edge, but I’m here to apply the bandage, stop the flow of blood and take off the leeches which were never that useful anyway.

My task is not simply to give sufficient thought to the enabling of high resolution experience, it is to consider what that means before we do so. There are ethical, moral, social and theoretical issues in the introduction of the new and we no longer have time to consider this after the event.

My interest in high resolution imaging means I have to get into the ring with the big bad sludge monster that people interested in Pervasive Media, or low resolution are not having to deal with. Sometimes I feel like Mickie Rourke in ‘the Wrestler’. The Sludge Monster’ is ‘latency’ – that element in the universe that Newton identified as entropy or as having entropic qualities.

I’ll explain this in a moment. It surprises me that, of the pervasive institutes worldwide, few are integrating their research with others outside of the traditional and Renaissance form of the symposium, or a conference, article or paper. Today, every event occurring at any research institute should be broadcast via the web. Every research institute should gather online to listen to the findings of others.

Because research is framed within the academic model it is fundamentally isolationist. It has learned the buzzwords that government is pushing for, knowledge transfer etc, but it hasn’t learned the culture, mainly because the funding for all of this style of research is given to something akin to a medieval barnony which in itself encourages separateness and at its extreme, the siege mentality.

The solution is that the academy begins to dissolve itself through moving away from the use of text as its fundamental currency. It needs to embrace resolution as the solution. Resolution equals veracity of experience.

So, when my friend asked me what my research had to do with pervasive media enquiries I had to reflect on the question and this is what I thought: I’ve been looking at streaming data from and to remote telematic spaces – an example of this would be a ‘Star-Trek-like-hollo-deck’ that can correspond with other ‘hollo-decks’ (clubs in Tokyo and London for instance) - and I began to realize that we have had the technology to create events in different places at the same time for some time now, but we have been enamoured with an outmoded thought process – that the idea of convergence has been configured intellectually up until now as a world full of implements – which echoes our past experience (for instance the recent appearance of the Wii).

But the under-the bonnet-mathematics that’s powering the digital domain is qualitatively different from any maths that have gone before because it’s a viral and intelligent mathematics that is replacing a more passive mathematics – And the software, hardware and firmware should now be envisioned and designed as integrative - as the digital domain is now becoming.

A way to characterize what it actually now is, is to invert the notion of a world full of implements, where technologies grow together. From my point of view we are way past that point and the maths is configurable so that in fact the world as it stands can be real-time modelled into a 3D version held in what used to be called a computer but should now be called a ‘domain’.

Using ‘difference’ a computational technique - the space without people in as compared to the space in their absence - this then alone can become the root of a triggering system – organic gestures, movements, glances and speech can trigger events. We will no longer need a laptop or tower to deal with the digital domain that is becoming pervasive in a way we can barely now imagine – in fact it will not be pervasive, because that suggests a reality filled with implements – it will be integrative because the potential ‘modelled’ reality will overlay reality as it is.

Two issues will remain: Latency and Resolution. Latency is about how long you have to wait, given the speed of the system (which moves at light speed) and Resolution is about how big the individual has to make their instruction (gesture, speech etc). High Resolution is data heavy and will have an effect on latency – and vice versa. So, two cameras used not as optical devices, but as matrixing and triangulation devices, coupled with appropriate software can do this real time – right now with the technology we have. Integration is therefore the real-time modeling of the world in the digital domain.

Imagine the detail of that modeling using the F35...

Friday, 27 March 2009

Still Prisoners after all these years

For a thorough assessment of my research up until this moment, please see the last blog dated 8th February entitled Time and Resolution: Experiments in High Definition Image Making, which outlines my work and current findings. Click the title to go there.

25 years ago I was asked by Chiatt Day Advertising in Los Angeles to cover the making of '1984'for Apple Computers. This commercial was to be directed by Ridley Scott to introduce the Macintosh to the world. Costing around $1.5 million dollars, '1984' was to make advertising history by being shown only once in the middle of that years Superbowl - a highly prestigious slot - but never before had an advert been only shown once. The message of the whole enterprise was: 'If you miss this, then you're going to be at a disadvantage'. This sentiment in itself set the tone for the definition of the self at the end of the 20th century, when the self was to be defined by its likes and its dislikes. At the beginning of the 21st Century, the individuality of a person is now to be seen to be definied in these terms.

I was then working and managing a Soho based facility called: ‘Videomakers’ and we had gained a reputation for shooting on the American system – we understood for instance that if you shot images in certain English situations there would be a strobing of the image due to our electrical system being based on 50 rather than 60 cycles. We were to shoot on NTSC, the American television format which recorded 30 frames of 525 line resolution images. We used to joke that NTSC meant ‘Never the Same Colour’ because it didn’t have the 13 cycle oscillation which the PAL signal did, which was a colour reference signal that the tv set could realign weather distorted images.

What I hadn’t quite internalized was that I was to be sent the son of the owner of the company to direct us, a young guy called Mark Chiatt. He’s probably now quite influential in the LA advertising world. At the time he was young and raw and often on the shoot I found my self being grabbed by the shoulder and spun round to cover something I’d already shot a few minutes earlier.

1984 as a commercial made advertising history for several reasons, the main being that it was only to be shown once during the 1984 Superbowl and the footage we were to shoot would be used, not only in a ‘Making of’ for the troops at Apple, but also to be shown on American News programmes and various other places (disco’s even) to hype the fact that the commercial would only be shown once and you’d better catch it. You’ve probably seen the commercial – if not, go here and have a look:


It just so happened that at the very moment I was shooting this for apple, a friend of mine was involved in shooting a large IBM shoot down the road and we’d both been constrained to sign secrecy clauses so that we may not talk about what we were doing outside of the studios for some time to come. Needless to say we met and talked together in a pub in Soho and mused on the nature of all of this but of course didn’t discuss the issue more widely – at the time.

On the shoot, which lasted for 10 days and cost about $1.5 million which was huge amount of money at the time, I found myself on an amazing set which, wherever you looked you inhabited that future world and the sets themselves rose 4 stories at least with sliced up jet engines hanging on the walls as if they were massive air conditioning units. I started to realize that a director like Ridley Scott had a greater imagination than most at the time and that he knew how to create a world. Also, the crew was large, maybe 50 people in total with around 100 skinheads from the Bother Boots Agency (who could also be hired to collect debts, be bouncers, extras – whatever). A lot of them were also Neo Nazis. The adveritisng agency was straight down the line capitalist. The country we were in was Thatchers Britain, the world we were in was Orwell’s distopian totalitarian future. We the crew were basically anarchists (sort of). There were even socialist workers party infiltrators amongst the ranks of the skins trying to change hearts and minds and not get beat up.

Very soon I realized that I was in an amazing and historic situation. The commercial would be fantastic visually (he had already made alien in 1978 and Blade Runner in 1981 which showed he knew a thing or two about creating an interesting sci-fi world on screen). The ‘Making of ‘would therefore be impressive – so what about me, the artist, film maker, cameraman – what would I do ? I’d already had a seminal moment when checking back the rushes and finding the whole crew standing behind me and the soundman watching what for them was the first time any of them would see images of what they were doing at the time of making those images – usually they would wait months to see the outcome at the cinema – not this time though. So suddenly, instead of ostracizing us as the enemy with the new technology as they usually did, they welcomed us and even began to help us.

The soundman, Antony Cooper and myself decided that we’d like to interview the skinheads. There had already been a knifing and a rape and the crew were very nervous that this group of extras, being already known for rioting on Pink Floyds ‘The Wall’, may just get very violent at the end of the shoot. We found the biggest most interesting Skin and arranged an interview. A short while after we had begun more skinheads had heard about what we were doing and quite a few joined us, including the ‘theorist’ – so named by us because he was watching and listening to what the skins were saying and originally correcting them. Then Mark Chiatt joined us and made the mistake of asking a Skin about his Bulldog tattoo: “What’s that shit on your arm ?” Meaning what’s that mark on your arm. There was a moment of cross-cultural confusion as the Skins thought that he was insulting them and we nearly came in for a beating – but we managed talking them out of that by saying that he was American and didn’t truly understand what he was saying. Close.

I decided that I had to ‘steal’ the footage (effectively from myself as the image maker) and put on another hat and work with the material I had shot. This took some fast footwork where I managed to get some standards conversions done to import the footage into the pal system – the colour and contrast of the images suffered of course – all before handing the NTSC rushes over to Apple.

Later Mark made a good corporate piece for apple which played the disco circuit in California and also was used on the news networks and then the commercial showed and instantly gained its position in the industry hall of fame.

I worked with the material at Videomakers for a while – we had just taken delivery of a time base corrector, which could freeze the image and we had basic vision mixer capabilities too. One night I became angry at the sheer hatred cming out of the Skins during the interview footage and collided that aginst an image of the grl from the commercial who hurls a hammer at the Telescreen and thus brings Big Brother crashing down. This was elementary scratch video – or, going back 60 or so years to Vertov and especially Eisenstein with his Montage of Attractions – the collision of one image against another to produce a third meaning.

As soon as I showed the work which I now called ‘Prisoners’ knew I had a special piece of work and the requests for festival screenings proved this to be so.

Prisoners deals with the problem of ideology, the potential manipulation of meaning and the hotness or coldness of the medium as expressed by McLuhan – as well as several other issues. I called this work Prisoners because I was interested in the problem of having a fixed ideology, of having a fixed set of ideas in relation to the world. To use a metaphor: it seemed to me that having sun glasses was useful whilst in the sun, but useless in the middle of the night. So therefore those people depicted in my work, the capitalists, neo Nazis, Thatcherites, communists, corporatists and us, the anarchists were all held Prisoner by our own set of beliefs.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Digital Metempsychosis

For a thorough assessment of my research up until this moment, please see the last blog dated 8th February entitled Time and Resolution: Experiments in High Definition Image Making, which outlines my work and current findings. Click the title to go there.

In investigating HD technology and aesthetics I have had to examine the digital realm and try to understand how resolution is formed from a set of under-the-bonnet-technologies, this need has itself created an inevitable spill over into an investigation of the deeper construct of digital technology itself.

Necessarily, standard and current academic theoretical understandings have come into play and ideas like Remediation and Convergence have had their sway with me but I’ve always felt that these ways of looking into the subject are themselves boundaried by a set of limiting characteristics that have had their part in disguising the real nature of what is going on. I recently said in writing to a friend: 'We are investigating what we think is a hat and may later come to find out is a pair of shoes'.

I’ve been watching the development of digital innovations, from interactive telematic spaces to 3D printers and it seems to me that the paradigm change from web 2 to web 3 has already happened. In fact it’s bigger than that. The concept of numbering developments on the web is almost Victorian in its obsessive compulsive indexing and cataloguing of change. The 17th century Enlightenment project has had its day. Now we need different tools for a different terrain and it is called the Digital Domain.

We take stabs at understanding it and come up short because we’re using a language designed for something else to try to name it and it resists being named because it is substantially and qualitatively different from prior technologies.

The ‘Digital’ is a technology of the imagination, not the material realm. It is true it utilises some physical means – pathways and voltages and resistance and ohmage and optics etc. But they are the transportation system for the wavelet transform mathematics that power our current change of paradigm - and that mathematics was born 200 hundred years ago in a pre-Victorian age as an late-enlightenment gesture. We will of course develop new mathematics to do the rest of the job.

So I have come to the conclusion that the time of Convergence is nearly over and the time of Integration has begun.

Integration is fundamentally concerned with overcoming the idea of latency. Latency is the function within a system where nothing can be truly instantaneous. Of course – you can’t press a button in the UK and have an instantaneous event happen in Australia. Light and radio waves travel at a certain speed – not an infinite speed which is why the signal will have some latency.

Integration is about removing the gap – or at least creating the experience that there is no gap. Touch a telematic wall in Tokyo and your dance partner in Vancouver then touches your hand on their telematic wall and an event, an animation of a butterfly say, is generated on the wall in both spaces. What is important is that this cannot be instantaneous but it can be made to seem to be instantaneous.

I am in a sense making this up and in another sense I know that this technology can be achieved not only right now, but actually several years ago.

Taking another route to establishing the idea, think of Adobe CS4 which has Encore, Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Premier, After Effects etc in its package. Each programme is now designed to stimulate all the other programmes from their programme interface. The day will come when (As with Maya) it’s all there in the same programme interface. They will al become one. And not only that. The idea of distinct programmes will have to go. As will the idea of distinct national boundaries. That’s what the credit crunch was about. A backup in the system that rendered it as destructive as it was aiding us. Ivan Illich studied the idea of a system and realized that with health for instance, there is the idea of iatrogenesis. This is the function where allopathic health treatment cause as much illness as the cure. Don’t trust me on this. Look at the figures.

So the idea of the system per-se is bankrupt. It is a medieval view of the world where as Newton inherited, everything is supposed to work like a machine of finely manufactured wooden cogs. It has its limits and in this sort of wooden design, friction is the problem. To push the analogy, friction and latency are the same thing.

So ideas around web 3 and integration have to get beyond the remediated language that recognises latency as a problem.

How do we get beyond the apparent problem of latency ? Heisenburg spotted the problem of the observer. You can know the position but not the velocity. You can know the velocity but not the position. I can’t remember the name of the Indian Mathematician working with Nasa but this man proposes the idea of observing an experiment and creating change when the experiment is viewed at the same time in another location by another observer and comparing the results later. The comparison will then develop a Morse code of fluctuations that both ends can use at the time of the observation thus eliminating the time delay. They will have their Morse code reference book and be able to see what the communication is – plus or minus its probablility which is chartable.

It will not be long after that to travel from the telegraph to the web real time viewing of the image of another as we speak together – over vast distances. Earth to Mars, Earth to Andromeda. Etc. Distance will be eliminated as a problem of latency.

Ursula Le Guin wrote about this in the Dispossessed,a novel that discussed the benefits of an anarchist society as opposed to a capitalist society. Her Theory of Simultaneity always struck me as being on the button – this is to be distinguished from Einstein’s Relativity of Simultaneity as published in his Special Theory of Relativity. With Leguin, everything everywhere is happening simultaneously, it is the inhabitance of a shell of a self-conscious entity that is placed within the space-time continuum that generates the idea that there is the apparent reality of ‘sequence of events’ and therefore latency. Einstein didn’t see past this and didn’t imagine the nature of a self conscious entity outside of a space/time continuum. LeGuinn realised that the self-conscious entity is a product of space/time but has ‘essence’ within non space/time. Essence is like probability. We can chart it’s marks in other media (space/time) and therefore know it exists. By extension, in a realm where everything is different an object (or a subject) with personal boundaries means nothing in that dimension. Nor does space, nor does time.

Looked at like this we can re-formulate what latency might actually be. From within the space-time continuum it looks like time is taken to do things. From the point of view of Simultaneity it is apparent that the idea of ‘distance’ is the problem. In this case of course, were one able to inhabit the simultaneous dimension, there is no time and there is also no distance of course. So we have to re-invent our understanding of distance so that there is no duration in it. Duration is a product of space and is called time – and vice versa.

Have I lost you? The thing is these words are in space/time so I haven’t got a chance to relay this insight when the description itself is undermined by a language generated that is obverse to the understanding – suffice it to say many people know this about the world. Now, within the period of Integration we just have to work out the ‘physics’.

A last note on this – a Victorian parlour game posited the idea of the Flatlanders, two-dimensional beings who perceived a three dimensional sphere moving through their two dimensional world first as a dot, then as a growing circle, then as a shrinking circle, then finally a dot, before it disappeared, To know higher non space/time dimensions take this metaphor and realise that an experience of a further dimension using your current senses which are developed and tuned for this dimension does not work. All understandings are therefore relative and limited. However, we have to keep our minds open to possibilities.

If I’m right then it will become inevitable that worldwide, each person will be assigned a code to register their individual existence and everything that I described above will become an available future.

This concept will inevitably raise the shadow of a familiar dystopia for us: for where there are possibilities for freedom there are also possibilities for repression and control. If as I stated that everyone has a code, then the first image my mind goes to is a bar code tattooed on the arm which is reminiscent of the treatment of the Jews in the Holocaust.

However, this is not a necessary outcome. For a start we were all born with a gene that makes some of us stand up and rebel. Don’t forget, the holocaust was not conclusive, nor was Cambodia, nor was Rwanda – a lot of damage was done, but these events eventually stopped.

The code is a way in which wherever you are in space/time you have a co-ordinate and therefore you can be mapped. If you carry two codes on two devices, then you can then be triangulated and it is triangulation that affords a 3d mapping of the world and your place within it and is key to the telematic realisation of space. Move an arm in the real world and your virtual arm will also be seen to move. What it does in that virtual world is then a matter of triggers and events and things then happening in the real world.

Integration is that realisation and then also of course its transformation into the beginnings of what could be called Web4….

But ‘web this’ and ‘web that’ are for consumers and the credit crunch gave us a way of disassociating ourselves from the raping of the wealth of the world by a few brigands in the higher hills of the data realm (known as money). These guys only did what they were trained to do and we have to re-invent what we ask of each other and what the base lines of automatic ethics achieve for the human condition. A lot of people say this cannot be so, ‘people are always going to be like this’. They often site the behaviour of chimpanzees being our nearest relative and exhibiting behaviour like rape and murder and that this somehow comments upon us. But the lie in that is that chimpanzees are not our nearest relatives, the Bonobo monkey is and it exhibits the kind of behaviours that if reflected and amplified in us would enable us to generate ‘web 3’. As John Lennon said, I may be a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. One potent dreamer, infects the rest.

So we no longer need to characterise ourselves as murders, cheats, liers and worst of all, morality free consumers (it was getting very tiresome anyway). Instead we can begin to look into our future, which of course as post-consumers, we can be a part of making its description and realisation.

In terms of researching High Definition Imaging, everything above relates to this area. The question of veracity of experience opens directly into resolution because without enough resolution one is aware of the scenery and mechanisms that are used to construct the image or experience. We need resolution sufficient to the task at hand.

I believe that without funds I am fairly stuck though. My latest bid to the AHRC fell upon stony ground as I have to apply into a scheme that is not suited to Creative Research Fellows and I hope to get a hearing for this point of view – but that’s another story. I shall of course carry on my research in any way I can and I have a few projects that are happening within my portraiture series. The kind of invention I was describing above is on hold until I manage to get the funds to try to realise the beginnings of what I have described – and I maintain, everything I’ve described above is not only possible, most of it is happening anyway, and above all what I’ve described is probable within a reasonably short time.