Musings on ****media
by G.H. Hovagimyan
Mass media, multimedia, cross media, intermedia, new media digital media, all these terms seem to signal Marshall McCluhan's maxim that, “The Medium is the Message.” In the 21st century I believe we are moving into a *Post Media* information environment. What does that mean? Well perhaps I can thread together some ideas about the various media forms to explain this concept.
At the start of the 20th century mechanical recording and reproduction mediums were beginning to change the way in which societies communciated and formed their tribal mythos. The often cited example is that painting moved increasingly towards abstraction upon the arrival of the photographic process. Perhaps, but from the American perspective at least something more interesting was implemented with the use of photography. Consider Matthew Bradyís documentary photographs of the American Civil War carnage. The devil is in the details. One could no longer stand in front of a heroic painting of soldiers and generals and fantasize about the glory of battle or rather one could compare the actuality of war by looking at a photograph. Has this stopped anyone from going to War? Not really. What it did was stop people from painting heroic battle scenes. The symbolic language of representational painting just doesnít compare with the information of a photograph. Interestingly enough the desire to express some other emotional message in photography sits at the core of this mechanical process. The debate has been how to circumvent the inherent ìtruth* of the cameras eye to create a new mythos. Photography has many qualities to its process. Each one of them has been explored in an effort to express the feeling of the frozen image. On one side of the process there is the use of lighting and filters to create various atmospheric moods. On the other is sort of mass familiarity created by the multiple printing and distribution of an image. This particular notion is addressed by Walter Benjamin in his essay , Art in the age of Mechanical Reproduction. Benjamin talks about the extra qualities of an art work and surmises that art loses that numistic aura when it is reproduced. I disagree. Meaning for any art work is a communication process, a shared tribal agreement on the meaning of any icon, symbol etc.. In this sense , meaning has more to do with language and the evolving nature of linguistic forms. I place art in the category of a language as well.
It may be noted that Ludwig Wittgenstein and the school of philosophy known as Logical Positivists posited most human activity to be linguistic in its basic structure. They surmised a communicative element that forms the core of meaning and in some sense an organizing principal to human endeavors. Oddly enough the search to create emotion by focusing on varoius procedures seems to create meaning for each indivudual photographic process so that at the end of the 20th century one can view art that is entirely about staging a photograph or lighting a photograph or using the distribution of an image over mass media as an art work.
Perhaps the most simplistic quality of art, the one most people recognize immediately is the idea of mimesis. The (fool the eye) notion of reproducing reality so completely that one can’t tell the difference between real and recorded or real and reproduced, This constructed reality sits at the heart of motion pictures. It is also the basis of the idea of multimedia. What occurs in the 20th C is that the 2 strains of constructing reality and dissecting processes to create emotion create a new mythic discourse on meaning. Film in particular has an axis that incorporates many media, sound, theater, painting, photography etc.. in a multimedia presentation. The other end of the mimetic axis is the necessity to edit time based film into shots or segments. The issue is how to express an idea with an economy of time. Here we have a jumping off point for time based art and multimedia presentations. The language of film becomes a starting point for multimedia art and performance. The artist looks at the language of film and posits alternatives. In this way filmic language becomes the subject of a multimedia art work. It appears that within the photography/film medium the process of construction/deconstruction of an image creates the basis for multimedia art.
Cross media and hybrid media also have some initial beginnings in 20th C technologies. Silent film for instance incorporates text into the moving image creating a binary presentation of text | image familiar to the TV generation on the small screen. What is not apparent is that the orginal silent movies were often presented in theaters with full orchestras. The orchestras played during the movie. In more modest small town theaters a piano player was often used. Here the hybrid and cross media structures are quite clear. Indeed as television extends the language of film it adds another element and that is the TV commercial. With the TV commercial we have an interesting occurence. The creation of a consumer culture presented in a medium that is is some sense also defining the global media mythos.
Obviously I'm skipping around in my linking of mediums. I haven't mentioned anything about radio or earlier perhaps telegraph. But let´s look at these two. The telegraph is a rather interesting idea of nodal communication stripped down to morse code. Here again we have a binary coding structure that transmits the message. The message is encoded and sent to the next node and either transmitted along the nodal line to its final receiver or decoded if the final destination. As for radio, radio was the first live transmission medium. What one is aware of is the nascent beginnings of political rhetoric and propaganda first excitedly adopted by heads of state. Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini for instance used the radio as a tool to incite or terrify. Roosevelt had his fireside chats to engage the public. Later in the century the French Situationistes artists found that a hybrid political theater disturbance/ agitation was quite effective when created for the mass media of television and radio.
One of my favorite anecdotes is the story of Alexander Graham Bell the inventor of the telephone. The classic story is that Bell had set up his first test of a primitive telephone diaphragm in two separate rooms of his offices. Bell was using various liquids to soak a diaphragm to make it more responsive to electromagetic impulse. as the story goes at a crucial moment he knocked over a beaker of acid accidentally splashing the diaphram. The acid burned his hand. It was also the correct fluid for soaking the diaphram. In a surprised state at burning his hand Bell called out for Watson, “Watson come here. I need your help.” These were the first recognizable words transmitted over the telephone lines. Bell during his career took to the road to present his inventions and popularize them. He and Watson had a demonstration where they reenacted that fateful moment. Perhaps the first telematic performance art ,Bell would rent a hall and set up his apparatus he would then go out side of the hall and speak the words “Watson come here ...” . To make the presentation more entertaining Watson would then go outside the hall and being an amateur opera singer, he would proceed to serenade the audience with a remote transmission aria!
Recording of sound and image was greatly accelerated with the advent if the reel to reel tape recorder after world war II. By the 1960’s artists were beginning to use videotape to record/ playback and manipulate images and sounds. Some of the earliest pioneers in this type of media art like Hans Breder created visionary experimental works that added to and enlarge the scope of image manipulation. The truth of the recorded sound and imaged has become the manipulated / recomposed truth of stored information. Around the same time concrete musicians were using tape recording machines to create abstract music based solely on the idea of capturing incidences of sound. A similar intention was expressed with the use of early video recording equipment. The late 20th C sampling culture of Hip-Hop and Electronica iterates this notion while at the same time creating a political position of anti-copyright. This position harks back to situationism, and extends the teleology of Walter Benjamin's essay , Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction* to including digital recording and storage.
all of these threads of media ideas create a meta-language of New Media discourse that I believe is the current climate of the arts. I do believe however that we are moving away from recording or what I term Playback Culture into a new form of generative art. This is the Post Media environment that I spoke of earlier. In generative art or music or theater, computer algorithms create or manifest the forms of art. In this way the art is ever changing. There is no master and subsequent copies. There is only dynamic iterations of form. The new cultural mythos is a mapping out of human society that is extended into its technology and in a sustained symbiosis with that technos.
Copied from Critical Writings of G.H. Hovagimyan