Friday, October 22, 2010

The Heart of the World

This week's screening My Winnipeg (2007) makes use of the language of early cinema to convey director Guy Maddin's personal memories of his hometown.

In the short film The Heart of the World (2000), Maddin commemorates cinema itself by crashing Soviet montage head-on into German expressionism and Hollywood melodrama. It's a celebration of stylistic excess. but also a strange alternate-world dream of cinema history, an act of memory which reforges the medium's past in the crucible of the present:

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Database and narrative

Lev Manovich, in his influential book The Language of New Media, discusses the relationship between database and narrative:
As a cultural form, the database represents the world as a list of items, and it refuses to order this list. In contrast, a narrative creates a cause-and-effect trajectory of seemingly unordered items (events). Therefore, database and narrative are natural enemies. Competing for the same territory of human culture, each claims an exclusive right to make meaning out of the world (Manovich 2001, 225).
Digital media, by virtue of their dependence upon database structures, are often thought to undermine the dominance of narrative as a cultural form. What, then, are the implications for representing memory in digital media? For Paul Arthur,
the 'natural' fragmentation and dislocation that is part of digital textuality actually much more closely mirrors the chanciness, randomness and fluidity of memory than does traditional narrative (Arthur 2009, 51-2).
Do you find these arguments persuasive? Does the cultural form of the database rule over narrative when it comes to digital media? And is the database better suited to representing the fluidity of memory?

These ideas can be explored by looking at the online multimedia work Dust on My Shoes. According to its creators, this work:
is based on an epic travel book written by Peter Pinney, an Australian adventurer who journeyed overland from Greece, through Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Assam and India, to Burma in 1949'.
Dust on My Shoes knits together material from Pinney's book with images, maps, audio recordings and animations, together with stories provided by other travellers. In doing so, it explores the possibilities for creatively combining the 'competing' forms of the narrative and the database, in ways that suggest the workings of memory.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Remediation and nostalgia

Remediation, according to J. David Bolter and Richard Grusin, is 'the representation of one medium in another' (1999, 45). The video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (Rockstar Games, 2002) remediates film, TV and radio, using specific forms and techniques to produce a sense of ironic nostalgia for the 1980s through the dominant media formats of the period.

Vice City draws upon the storylines and aesthetics of a number of gangster films, but is particularly indebted to Brian De Palma's film Scarface (1983) and the TV show Miami Vice (NBC, 1984-89).

The other contemporary phenomenon mentioned in this week's lecture is the use of analogue tape effects in digitally-produced music (achieved either by mastering to analogue tape or by applying digital effects to emulate analogue audio saturation). I've included here some examples from Boards of Canada and Neon Indian, in which a nostalgic atmosphere is created through the remediation of analogue tape/audio effects (although, as demonstrated by Neon Indian, trying to sing like '80s pop duo Hall and Oates is another handy way to capture that elusive nostalgia-effect).

Dawn Chorus by Boards of Canada

 Boards of Canada: Amo Bishop Roden

Boards of Canada: Sunshine Recorder

Deadbeat Summer by Neon Indian

Collective memory in the digital archive

Via its website, SkyNews UK offers an interactive overview of news highlights from 1989 to 2008:

The site invites users to 'explore the biggest news stories from the last 20 years in video, text and pictures and send us your memories'. News photographs, headlines and television are thus remediated via a spatial interface that encourages its users to see personal memory and public history as closely intertwined.

Personal memory in the digital archive

This clip introduces Microsoft's 'MyLifeBits' project, including project leader Gordon Bell. MyLifeBits offers multimedia tools that allow users to record events from their lives and then retrieve them at will. In this way, personal memory is transformed into a fully searchable digital archive.

How persuasive is this notion? José van Dijck suggests that it overlooks:
  1. the fundamental differences between human memory and digital memory 
  2. the way that technology does not simply mirror 'natural' memory, but also shapes the ways in which we remember.