Saturday, January 9, 2010

Claiming Its Space: Machinima, Michael Nitsche


Although machinima has grown exponenatially, it remains a largely undefined digital artistic practice in-between existing traditions. Machinima makers freely sample/ combine/ and break elements of traditional media. They "play" their references. This essay does not attempt to fix machinima to any single definition but will identify the intermedia relations to better position machinima into the digital media landscape. The argument will target three main influences: film, television, and theatrical performance. To exemplify these points the essay will discuss examplatory and relevant machinima pieces. It puts emphasis on the real-time aspects in production and play back to highlight the key specifics of this relatively new format.

1. Introduction
Machinima is a video production technique that uses real-time graphic engines, such as video games, to generate moving images. Since its official introduction in 2001 it has made its way into film festivals, art exhibitions, commercial film, television, and theater productions. Still, it remains a largely undefined phenomenon in-between existing media. The cross-media references are legion and rarely critical or even consciously applied. Machinima makers freely sample, combine, and break elements of traditional media. They “play” their references.

This essay does not attempt to fixate machinima to any single definition but to show some of the transmedial and intertextual references that are at work. In the machinima community this intertextuality is debated as part of the discussion about “inside-out” versus “outside-in” approaches. “Inside-out” refers to game players using machinima as expression and recording of their play. “Outside-in” stands for the use of game engines as tools for traditional animation and story-telling independently from games. “Outside-in” productions such as Anna (Kang 2004) are not recognizable as game-based media but are stand-alone animation pieces. “Inside-out” productions like Red vs Blue (Roosterteeth 2004-2007) incorporate the elements of the game engine in their content. To this day, the debate remains open and circles around the role of game, play, and presentation in machinima. This essay will target two main influences: the moving image (film and television) and theatrical performance. Basis for both is the dominant source of machinima: the video game.

2. Video Game
Machinima has been defined as ‘cinema made from computer-game visual renderers’ (Hanson 2004:60) or as film-making using real-time virtual 3D environments (Kelland et al. 2005) and ‘Filmmaking + Animation + Game Tech’ (Marino 2004:3). There is still a lot of leeway in these attempts to define the new format and the community is struggling with a clear definition as it continues to evolve. The definition of machinima that informs this essay most is Katie Salen’s (2002) concept of machinima as a form of emergent play: ‘part theatre, part film, part videogame’ (99). Salen lays out the main cornerstones of the intermediality of the format: born from video games, machinima applies theatrical techniques to generate the event, which is presented often in a cinematic way. According to her, machinima finds itself operating in a media triangle. How machinima connects the various references has changed over the format’s history. These changes themselves illustrate the constant media-border-crossing that is at the heart of machinima.

Machinima pioneers often refer to the hacker- and demoscene, whose programmers take pride in creating highly elaborate graphical extravaganzas, often with the most efficient and lean code (Tasajärvi 2004). They strive for the best possible visual graphics rendered in real-time by the smallest code base. To keep the file size small, most elements are created procedurally. That means that visuals are created, animated, and rendered during runtime. The same task applies to video game engines. 3D game engines such as Doom (Romero et al. 1993), Stunt Island (Stephens 1992) or Quake (Carmack and Abrash 1996) rely from their outset on a real-time animation of virtual spaces and characters. For interested artists, modifying these games is far easier than coding a classic demo from the ground up. No wonder that players turned into producers and started to use game technology for their art. Instead of coding the rendering algorithms themselves (like the demo programmers did), players started to use and modify the available game engines.

Especially Quake became a wide-spread machinima production platform because it optimized the recording of events in the game engine in data logs. These data logs – so-called “demos” – can be played back in the game engine to re-live the events in the game world. Originally, players used demos to record their virtual matches and distribute these recordings as data files. Often the recorded events themselves were simple bragging movies or examples of playing strategies and remained in the gaming domain. Quake became so dominant as a production tool that the term “Quake movie” became a predecessor for “machinima”. But as artists experimented with other game engines, the reference to a single game engine became obsolete and the more generic term “machinima” was coined by Anthony Bailey and Hugh Hancock in 1998/1999 as a combination of “machine” and “cinema” (Word Spy 1995-2007).

In its early days the format lived almost entirely in the game engine itself. Machinima pieces were available exclusively as demo files that could be played back only in the very same game engines they were produced in and only if certain hard- and software configurations were met. The machinima community, thus, was limited to experienced video game players who could master their game engine. But even in the early days of machinima – 1990-1996 – video game engines already played with their proximity to film production and the artistic presentation of the moving image. A game such as Stunt Island referenced the world of film production already in its very design: Stunt Island provides the player with a playground (a virtual island) where stunts and collisions can be staged between various game objects. These stunts can be played back and suitable camera angles can be arranged to show the stunt in the most effective way. Players do not gain a high score but a spectacle.

From its outset machinima affiliated itself with this kind of game technology and cinematic expression which are bound to produce problematic media combinations. Yet, it is precisely because of these friction zones between the media at work that machinima remains so interesting. During that early period, the growth of the format was driven mainly by a community of players. Hackers, modders (who modify existing game engines for customized use), and game artists created their machinima pieces in tuned game engines, often tweaking them further to achieve specific effects. Machinima evolved not as a clearly industry-defined media format but from the practices of an underground art production that playfully embraced any media format that offered itself for their artistic practice. It was created by expert players and experienced by a limited, yet growing group of aficionados, all united by the game needed to produce and play back the “demo”.

When game developers changed the underlying demo format, this production technique became more difficult for machinima producers. The era of the “demo” started its steady decline at the turn of the century. Instead, machinima makers started to capture the moving image directly from the screen. The presentation itself moved into the foreground. Players transformed the toy-like game engines into expressive production environments which ultimately can generate and contain (cinematic) art. At that point, machinima exemplifies Levinson’s steps of media development from toy to mirror to art (Levinson 1985). But this orientation of machinima towards the film format came with a price: The game engine lost its value as replay engine and remained only a production tool. Game engines only rendered the images during production; from then on these images were recorded directly onto tape or digitally captured from the screen. The final outcome is a normal video file that does not depend on the game anymore but can be viewed in any media player.

The disappearance of the game engine as playback device literally cut the technological specifics of machinima in half. At the same time, it opened up machinima to the masses. Because machinima became available in standardized video formats everybody could download and watch it. Machinima spread beyond the hard-core gaming community and emerged as a wide-spread form of cultural expression using video games. Today, machinima is an accepted platform for artistic expression that uses video games and offers an own aesthetic and culture.

It was only a matter of time until the game industry adapted the approach and simplified machinima production. Games like The Movies (Molyneux 2005) or The Sims 2 (Bradshaw 2004) include necessary machinima features out of the box as well as editors for content customization. While the older engines demand a lot of technical expertise and player-generated tools, these modern ones are more accessible. However, they still pose limitations. For example, neither of these two engines supports demo-recording.

Machinima became more popular among viewers and more accessible for producers but it also lost some of its original powers. Today the demo-recording scene has almost faded in the shadow of the screen-capture technique. This is a paradigm shift from the recording of the event (in a demo) to the recording of a viewpoint to the event (in a screen capture) – from a new game-based logging format to the established production of moving images as successive still renderings. In the wake of this ongoing shift towards traditional film production more and more film techniques find their way into machinima: sound post- or pre-production, editing of pre-recorded moving images, post-produced special effects such as compositing or color correction, and other techniques are now commonplace in many machinima productions. This illustrates the gradual move of machinima from game media to television and film media – it also describes a gradual decline of its original traits.

In screen-capture machinima Salen’s triangle of theater, film, and game is skewed towards the film aspect with a decline of the game and – as will be discussed – the live performance part. The following argument will be that theatrical and performance qualities of machinima are implied in the game-ness of the form while the visual traditions of the moving image are more indicators for what most machinima aspires to be and how it is usually read by its audience.

3. Theater
Virtual environments have been discussed as theatrical stages since the mid-eighties starting with Brenda Laurel’s unpublished Ph.D. thesis (Laurel 1986) as a first point of reference. Laurel calls for a dramatized virtual environment and suggests Aristotelian structure as a useful concept to drive the generation of the events in the virtual world. She suggests a story-generating Artificial Intelligence system with three main tasks: ‘create a world, make that world interactive, and make the user’s experience of that world dramatic’ (Laurel 1986:21). This idea of a dramatized event structure seems to be generally accepted but her reference to Aristotle does not go undisputed.

Exactly which theatrical model should be applied has been the point of many debates. Suggestions range from Aristotelian (Laurel 1993), to non-immersive (Frasca 2001), neo-Aristotelian (Mateas 2002), and spatial (Jenkins 2004). However, even the most prominent critics of Laurel’s theory accept that there is a ‘performative aspect‘ (Aarseth 1997:21) to playing a game.
At the same time, performance studies started to address the notion of a virtual performer (e.g. Burrill 2005) and practical experiments were conducted in the area of virtual theater. Digital worlds have been home to forms of improvisation (Perlin and Goldberg 1996, Hayes-Roth et al. 1994), virtual television shows (Benford et al. 2002), or various mixed-media performances (for an overview see e.g. Dixon 2007) as well as many other forms of virtual performances. Specifically for machinima, the theater aspect grows from the way events are generated in the game engine on the one hand and the way events are played back in the demo file on the other. The following paragraphs will look at these aspects that are typical for machinima and that reference theatrical qualities.

3.1. Players are performers
There are significant differences between playing a game and performing for a machinima piece. Games are often defined using a ‘quantifiable outcome’ (Juul 2005, Salen and Zimmerman 2003) whereby the outcome is provided by the world of the game. Action is often driven by a set goal that should be achieved within the borderlines of the game.

To reach this goal the player has to perform certain actions based on specific rules. Because machinima often uses the limited range of (inter)actions available in a video game, it is also often limited to the game’s available action repertoire. But the aforementioned shift from ‘playing the game’ to ‘playing a machinima performance’ exemplifies how this limited range can be re-applied in new ways. The play is not aimed at a closed circle in the specific game setting but at future viewers. Machinima actors do not improve their high score but play the game as a performance for an audience (see also Lowood 2005) who is the final addressee. With that in mind, machinima actors apply the available repertoire in ingenious new ways.

What might be a failure in the sense of the game can be a successful dramatic expression for the machinima piece; what might be a cheat or bug that threatens the game’s consistency or technical stability can be the very topic of a piece. Game-ness can often become a focus of machinima in the form of critical commenting (see e.g. Bot [Palmer 2004]) or self-reflection (see e.g. ‘Red vs Blue’ [Rooster Teeth 2003-2007]). Machinima does not simply draw technological assistance from games but its content often expresses game topics, design, experience, and technology.

The machinima talk show This Spartan Life, hosted and produced by Chris Burke (2005) and available as free downloads on the web, lives in this in-between area between playing the game and performing a show. Chris Burke, a.k.a. “Damian Lacedaemion”, invites guests to join him online in the world of the popular shooting game Halo. Inside these open game environments he conducts interviews as a visual chat between two avatars strolling through the game space. But while he, his guest, and his virtual camera operators, who record the event, use the game space as a virtual show stage, others continue to log on to the same world to play the game proper. The surrounding game world still operates as a functional game space, where virtual heroes kill each other. And because they are unaware of the ongoing interview situation, these players might attack the show’s host or even the guest. The game is interwoven with the concept and the setting of the show. Occasionally, even Burke and his guests fall back into the expected game behavior: at one moment they might be talking about digital activism and art production – the next they are shooting at each other’s avatars. The borderline between “doing an interview” and “playing the game” is extremely thin and This Spartan Life gains a lot of its innovative momentum from playing along this media borderline.

More in the tradition of established TV talk shows, the ILL Clan’s work (On the Campaign Trail with Larry & Lenny Lumberjack [ILL Clan, 2003] and Tra5hTa1k with IlLWill [ILL Clan, 2005-]) is a good example of improvisation in a specially prepared game world. Tra5hTa1k with ILLWill is a live talk show staged in a virtual TV studio custom-made for this purpose. What it lacks in unpredictable game features compared to This Spartan Life it balances with the improvisation acting skills of its performers, who perform their pieces as theater shows with participating live audiences and on real theater stages. This form of machinima blends the real with the physical performance: virtual and physical stages interconnect.

3.2. Processing live – performing live
Live performance and game can also connect on the replay stage in the form of the “demo”. The discussion of “live-ness” has stretched the term into other media before. Auslander (2000), for example, argues that television replaces live performance as it aims to ‘recreate the theatrical experience for the home viewer through televisual discourse’ (Auslander 2000:30). But re-processing a demo recording in the game engine pushes this live-ness and the discourse even further. The player-audience encounters the event rendered in real-time as an ever-new performance happening on their individual machine in front of them.

As previously outlined, a demo data log preserves the events of the in-game performance and can re-create these actions later in the same game engine. The replay of a demo-recording effectively renders the events live again in the game system. The action as well as the event space are generated again in real time but in absence of the original human performers. That is why every demo-playback is a unique real-time event creation. Playbacks can differ from each other depending on the machine’s hardware and software. For example, the resolution of the piece depends on the settings of the game engine, the frame rate on the power of the graphic card, and the collision control on the processor. In other words: one can download the demo file of the seminal Quake machinima piece Diary of a Camper (van Sickler 1996), run it inside the Quake engine, and receive a new – and in some ways a first – staging of the event as it was originally created by the Rangers Clan in 1996.

Because the event is re-created again certain interactive options open up. The demo recreates the event situation and usually locks the action itself but the visualizing camera can remain flexible and the “viewer” as well as the local game engine can take control of the camera and shape the visualization at will. Not unlike large-scale happenings that allow audiences to enter the performance space and engage in the event, demos can offer viewers a level of interactivity through visual exploration.

Virtual performance and demo-recording position machinima in a dual proximity to theater. Intermediality, here, is at work in production as well as replay and heavily infused with game-specific traits that add a unique edge.

4. Film
Machinima can be understood in reference to existing film genres but it can mix these references with a new game-related perspective. This game-reference can vary depending on the kind of game engines used to create the machinima. To avoid confusion all examples used here will focus on machinima made in the same game, namely World of Warcraft (Blizzard Entertainment 2004). This narrows down the game-related range and allows for a valid comparison between different machinima. World of Warcraft is a Massively Multiplayer Online gaming phenomenon that was launched in 2004 and provides its millions of players access to a pre-constructed, consistent virtual world, where they can go on virtual quests, socialize, explore, and interact with other players and the “world”. Although the setting is clearly “otherworldly” and inspired by fantasy and folklore literature, when these interactions are recorded in the form of machinima we can trace various film conventions in the machinima result.

4.1. Stepping into genre
One day in the game space of World of Warcraft, Daddar, a skilled player, sets out to kill the virtual guards of the Ironforge Bank, a prominent location in the game world. His raid could be interpreted as a typical in-game action as it follows basic interaction principles of World of Warcraft and does not alter the location or the actor. But Daddar records his actions, edits highlights together, and releases them as the machinima A Day at the Ironforge Bank a.k.a. Ironforge Bankers (2005). This recording will serve as a first guide to trace film genres in machinima.

The piece is placed in the earlier tradition of the machinima bragging movie and the whole event is aimed at a future audience. Daddar wants to gain the recognition of his community (it was a male avatar). The machinima piece is the goal of his actions, not a successful bank heist. Like early theater recordings the camerawork is very limited and confined to the immensely restricted in-game camera controls of World of Warcraft. In addition, the only post-production in A Day at the Ironforge Bank is in the editing and the addition of an underlying, largely unrelated music soundtrack. Still, Daddar’s actions and his machinima fit a certain cinematic representation form.

The tale of a lonely outlaw successfully fighting the odds has its own tradition in outlaw Western movies. A bank robbery, a stealth attack, a desperate stand-off against numerically superior forces, a defeat, a stubborn death-defying return, and a fierce and bloody battle leading to an escape on horseback into the great wide open – all the elements that define A Day at the Ironforge Bank – can also be found in classic outlaw films. And like the outlaw (anti)heroes of the new Hollywood of the nineteen-sixties to seventies that grew from a counterculture opposing the established system (King 2000), Daddar’s fame is based on an attack on the establishment: a bank controlled by the game system and its game company. It is situated in a virtual location that is by definition hostile to his kind, guarded by computer-controlled characters that cannot really be defeated. His actions might be useless in a gaming sense but match the established genre-standards.

Even before the rise of the sixties counterculture Warshow argued that ‘the gangster is the “no” to that great American “yes”’, a figure who ‘has put himself in a position where everybody wants to kill him and eventually somebody will’ (Warshow 2001:106). Daddar’s game character is part of the rogue class and furthermore a member of the “undead” race. His character appearance and background is as much a gangster as one can be in the game of World of Warcraft. Like Warshow implies, this gangster figure has to be tragic. Ultimately, Daddar’s efforts are futile: the virtual bank cannot be defeated. The Rogue cannot destroy the very game system that generated him in the first place and no matter how many guards and accountants this anti-hero might fight, due to the set-up of the game the bank treasures remain beyond his reach and the killed accountants will respawn automatically. The bank always wins.

Even the final exclamation mark of the tragic anti-hero accepting a dramatic death in the face of the impossible odds is not available. The game prevents characters from dying permanently and provides a form of instant re-birth in the case of a virtual death. Unlike the heroes in Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde (USA 1967), George Roy Hill’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (USA 1969) or Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (USA 1969), Daddar cannot go down in a glorious last stand because even the gangsters are protected from death in World of Warcraft. The system always wins but the player can never really lose either because he is automatically re-born and his character’s death is soon forgotten. This creates a new form of tragic heroism based entirely on the features of the game world.

Because they make so much sense in the connection of game and gangster movies Daddar’s actions remain a significant social comment – a comment that visually and conceptually follows outlaw myths as established in cinema and other media. In this tradition, the piece ends adequately with the “money shot” of the outlaw riding on his horse into the open wilderness.

4.2. Gaming conventions caught on tape
A Day at the Ironforge Bank is a good example of an early World of Warcraft movie that consists almost entirely of edited yet otherwise unaltered gameplay captured on video. Adding custom-made material to the game world is very difficult due to the technical nature of the World of Warcraft game system. This imposes a lot of limitations on machinima production in this particular game engine. For example, it prevents any demo-recording, complicates complex camera work, and forbids in-game editing. Machinima artists using this game, thus, had to find other ways to circumvent the limitations and improve the range of available expression (e.g. they use the in-game model-viewer as a kind of green-screen studio). As World of Warcraft movies grew more complex, their creators also started to include more effects in post-production. Jason Choi’s acclaimed World of Warcraft film Edge of Remorse (2006) uses post-produced color effects throughout, image compositing, as well as a lot of other audio-visual enhancements. It succeeds in delivering a stand-alone piece of computer animation that happens to be produced in a real-time engine. Its content and depicted actions do not reference the original game setting or tasks anymore. Edge of Remorse still uses the game’s assets but not its rule system or functionality. For example, it excludes the ever-present graphical user interface needed to play the game effectively and uses a widescreen aspect ratio to mimic traditions of other film epics. Here, machinima leaves its gaming roots behind and turns into a technical production method only.

The aforementioned double-effect of playing and performing is also part of the Leeroy Jenkins (2005) film, which brought the online persona Leeroy Jenkins to sudden fame. The machinima was also created in the World of Warcraft game world but its legend spread into other online worlds and communities as well – a sign for cross-referencing also within the gaming community. The film itself is about a disastrous attack on a monster base located in an area of the game world called Upper Blackrock Spire. It starts with a group of player avatars assembling in front of the monsters’ cave and preparing for a controlled attack. All turns into utter chaos when one player, Leeroy Jenkins, dashes for a surprising and seemingly spontaneous charge into the cave. The other players follow to rescue their overly enthusiastic comrade but the whole group dies miserably in the attempt. The Leeroy film uses audio dialogue between different players that adds depth and personality and is the source for most of the comic effect. The voices are not re-recorded but left in the lower sound quality of the original performance, adding to the impression of viewing a real gaming event. The piece also shows the typical World of Warcraft interface: mouse cursor, and other game-typical icons, menus, and information. Because all these insignia of the play are clearly visible and because the event is a continuous performance bar any post-production, the film might appear to the untrained eye as a kind of documentary of serious gameplay.

However, any experienced player notices that the event is not a tragic documentary but a staged comic action. Instead of a documentary of annoying and hazardous gameplay, Leeroy Jenkins is a recorded virtual performance that plays with the game’s conventions. In fact, it draws its success from this intertextuality between game and film because a lot of the film’s humor can only be understood if the viewer knows about the gameplay including proper in-game behavior, social structures of gaming groups, and game setting. The Leeroy incident became so famous that it grew into a part of the World of Warcraft history and entered the cultural circle that forms around this game environment precisely because it deals with in-game topics in an innovative and – as will be argued – also in a cinematic way. The film has been downloaded more than a million times from, a main web site for World of Warcraft machinima alone and it is a good example for the interrelation of game and cinematic interpretation in the forming of a virtual world’s identity and culture.

In terms of cinematic references, Leeroy Jenkins can be traced back to classic slapstick films and vaudeville performances. It includes headless races through enemy pitfalls, obvious miscommunication, and irresponsible spontaneous behavior driven by amazing incompetence and hubris. Leeroy behaves like an anarchic cartoon character; his companions are the seemingly more responsible counterparts and representants of “reason”. From this outset the stage is set for a comedy snowballing from logical planning to chaotic mayhem. The piece picks up speed until its disastrous ending much like a classic screwball comedy. This is remarkable as the camera remains tied to the in-game restrictions of the World of Warcraft game. There is, for example, no cut or any underlying music in Leeroy Jenkins, which supports the audio-visual style of a continuous in-game “fake documentary”. At the same time, it re-positions the film in the neighborhood of traditional one-reelers that conserved vaudeville acts in a single shot.

Like A Day at the Ironforge Bank, the Leeroy Jenkins Film is a far cry from classics such as the Marx Brother’s Duck Soup (Leo McCary, USA 1933) or the mastery of Keaton or Chaplin but it points in those directions to create the necessary intertextual references or at least the underlying associations. Their cross-media operation is key to understanding how they operate. One has to know about the artistic traditions of film and game to fully grasp these machinima pieces. The Leeroy incident does not work like a text-based story or a single screen-grab just as a Keaton stunt does not work in a single image or a short story. Both need to be performed and recorded to remain accessible. The impact of game-ness on the performance and replay methods in machinima adds a new point of reference. The cinematic tropes machinima quotes might be universal but their specific realization is highly adapted to the world of video games.

Ultimately, all the mentioned machinima operate in the context of narrative cinema. Edge of Remorse, A Day at the Ironforge Bank, and Leeroy Jenkins all tell stories and tell them in cinematic ways but with varying levels of game references. Their intertextual variations exemplify the range of machinima within a single game engine as it connects to theater as well as film genres, playing with these references throughout.

5. Conclusion
Machinima lives in a space in-between: between film and live performance, game and theater, code and physical action, staging and game play. The balance is held by the specifics and the technology of the video game that supports live event generation and recording on the one hand, and the construction of the moving image with its cinematic traditions on the other. It is in this triangle of intermedial references that machinima is on a constant move. Is machinima an expression of the game or a game-enabled cinematic technique? There is no single answer to that, which is why machinima remains an exciting and rather flexible field with a lot of creative opportunities. This field can inform other media crossovers such as interactive television or virtual theater. Because machinima is still driven by the player community, it is also a good indicator of what is possible in terms of larger audience acceptance.

The players, audiences, and producers of machinima grow with expanding media literacy. Their new generation can make the transitions between playing, performing, and watching an event without considering them as breaks of any existent textual format. Their media literacy seamlessly connects between ludic game actions, narrative film, and dramatic live staging. Machinima stands out as a prime means of expression of such intermediality and as a good playground for more experimentation.


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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

BETWEEN DUCHAMP AND TURING: Strategies for Linkage Between the Visual and the Auditive in Audio-Visual Art, David Sudmalis

School of Visual and Performing Arts, University of Tasmania, Launceston, Australia

In Lev Manovich’s essay The Death of Computer Art the author concluded that ‘the convergence will not happen’ between the seemingly irreconcilable aesthetics of ‘Duchamp-land’ and ‘Turing-land’ (Manovich 1996). The battle between content and state-of the-art technologies, suggests Manovich, is not resolvable without an appropriate strategy for extrapolating techniques and methodologies of one into the other, thereby creating a new form that transcends technology in the service of a new creative medium.

This paper examines strategies for creative linkage between image and sound within a technologically facilitated environment. This linkage exists within technological and methodological frameworks, circumventing the less satisfactory outcome in which one art form is merely a sympathetic counterpoint to the other. With the very real possibility of abandoning the focus on one type of media and moving towards a more synaesthetic arts experience (Paul 2003), a gestural model of composition (Sudmalis 2001) is employed to create meaningful linkages in the creation of original audio-visual works that employ technologies as mediator and facilitator of these linkages. The result is an audio-visual work that communicates more successfully than either one of the discrete component arts forms would have alone. The discussion of parametric linkage includes references to examples created by the author which use, as their relative points of departure, aspects of the natural environment and natural

Duchamp v Turing

For Manovich, the terms ‘Duchamp’ and ‘Turing’ are used to identify opposed ends of the spectrum of computer art (Manovich 1996). In Duchamp-land, the art output is oriented toward the content/the rationale/the concept that may operate on a number of levels, and draw meaning from a range of fields including sociology, the arts and politics. It is sometimes self-referential, and even destructive towards its materials (for example, Nam June Paik fixed magnets to monitors, thereby distorting their output, and opened television sets in order for the technology to be laid bare). In Duchamp-land, content reigns.

In direct contrast to Duchamp-land, Turing-land operates in an environment where there exists an orientation towards new, state-of-the-art computer technologies, and where process and method are the drivers of the creative act. It is simple in its meaning, usually exploring one or another technological facet (interactivity, for example), and takes its technology very seriously, almost reverently, as opposed to the more deconstructionist attitude towards technology that
seems to exist in Duchamp-land.

Terms other than Duchamp and Turing could be invoked to describe these extreme, opposed ends of the creative spectrum. Modernist v postmodernist, concept v method, Cagian v Boulezian, holistic v parametric may be considered as substitutes at the ready. Manovich’s terms relate to object and application, and to contextualisation and evolutionary practice. The middle ground between the two exists where the concept is facilitated by technological process, where ‘… the world of culture at large and the world of computer culture meet each other’ (Manovich 1996). It is here that strategies for linkage between disparate art forms that incorporate concepts, techniques and methodologies across disciplines can be developed. Whilst this paper deals with creating linkages across audio and visual art, it shall now examine the method employed in
creating these linkages within the domain of sound. Strategies for the linkage of sound and image will then follow.

Gestural approach to musical composition

Despite the relative common usage of the label ‘gesture’ in the discussion of contemporary music, a simple and brief definition is incongruously difficult to determine. This is perhaps because ‘gesture’ is the least immediately quantifiable musical parameter found in a composer’s vocabulary. Whilst it is inextricably linked with the other more measurable parameters of pitch, tessitura, rhythm, performance media, tone colour, dynamic and articulation (the application of which may be quantified independently of one another), ‘gesture’ refers to the totality of the aural element conceived through the interaction and simultaneity of these disparate events. Gestural composition, whilst incorporating the pre-composition machinations of each parameter, relies entirely upon the aural totality created through the interaction of the aforementioned elements, their development, and their context of meaning within the work as a whole. It is dependant upon its ‘organic context’ (that is, its position in a chain of events [as antecedent or consequent]; its stratification or contiguous juxtaposition), or its ‘individual context’ as an ‘autonomous, absolute’ moment (Stockhausen 1963, pp. 198–199).

‘Gesture’ is not intrinsically a musical term. As such, many definitions exist to serve its extra- musical applications: ‘significant movement’; ‘the use of such movement to convey feeling or as a rhetorical movement’; an ‘action to evoke a response or convey intuition’; ‘movement of the body, head, arms’; and ‘any action or proceeding intended for effect or as a formality or
demonstration’ are but a representative sample of definitions in standard usage. As is evident from the meaning proffered above, the concept that movement as the conveyor of information or intent is of paramount importance. It is a language of itself without a verbal requisite. It implies that gesture as a communicative device is reliant upon the directness of its syntax, and further dependant upon the nature of the dialogue to arrive at contextual meaning. In other words, gesture as communication is dependent upon the context within which it operates. Far from being content with this successive or purely contextual nature of gesture, composers have expanded the concept of antecedent/consequent relationships, personifying musical gesticulation into a self-encompassing and self-fulfilling entity. Karlheinz Stockhausen argues

… each now is not regarded untiringly as a mere result of the immediately preceding one or as the prelude of the one which is approaching … rather [it is] something personal, autonomous … independent [and] absolute … (1963, p. 61).

Stockhausen continues, forwarding his thoughts on how the perception of material presented as being of itself without relation to that which has transpired, or that which is to follow, creates a stillness, or impression of timelessness in the temporal flow. It follows, then, that the gesture requires examination regarding its context (as part of a larger form), itself (as a centred, autonomous entity) and the effect of its deployment pertaining to the aural perception of the passage of time or the progression of the work in question. Hence, ‘gesture’ is an entity constituted from substantively different component parts existing on several planes simultaneously: it may be perceived as the juxtaposition from events before to events after, or as a self-sufficient moment impervious to its wider context, preferring instead to concentrate on the ‘now moment’ (Hasty 1986) (or, indeed, both concurrently).

Of itself, this definition is neither difficult to understand nor particularly taxing to deduce. What makes the defining process somewhat troublesome is its application. The linear succession of related events within music (for example, the unifying nature of pulse or the recognition of an audible harmonic scheme) does not present problems regarding the perception of continuity. However, when these related events are removed and replaced with contiguous, often apparently unrelated gestures, the perception of musical form changes as a result of the deficiency of predictability on the listener’s part and the subsequent reinforcing and heightening of the ‘now moment’ or ‘individual context’. As Christopher Hasty argues, ‘extreme contrast or the absence of predictability can negate temporal succession and thus create an absolute discontinuity’ (1986, p. 60). The question of gesture relates, then, not only to its context, but also to its role as a facilitator of unification or as the catalyst for discontinuity (Marek 1981).

The ‘problem’ to solve, it would appear, lies in reconciling apparently disparate musical gestures without compromising development over a larger formal structure—that is, without constantly reverting to stratification and juxtaposition of different gestural types as the primary musical development. Edgard Varese’s Integrales, for example, employs a crystallisation technique which effectively fuses different gestures (or music materials) as subsequent gestures are presented; Stockhausen’s Momente, whilst devoted to the ‘now’, uses only a small number of gestures, concentrating instead upon their proximity to each other and their metamorphosis through the influence of other moments, whilst retaining some aspect of the integrity of the initial gesture in its pure form.

Whilst the actual application of gesture is idiomatic to one’s compositional style, a reliable, working definition of gesture should be an absolute; neither malleable nor vague, in which case the term would be rendered meaningless. Thus, gesture is the aural entity created by the interaction of the various musical parameters. These individual parameters exist simultaneously and inform different aspects of the resultant sound complex. Methods of development of a gesture may take the form of changes in one parameter that informs the aural entity, or numerous changes and developments across numerous musical parameters. Richard Brooks defines the ‘minimum definition of gesture [as] a single sound subjected to at least one parametric permutation’ (1980, p. 55). His qualification of the ‘minimum definition’ is that it is more likely that a number of parametric specific developments occur simultaneously in order to constitute the awareness of changes to (or indeed the existence of) an individually recognisable aural entity. As he concludes, ‘any parametric alteration or permutation needs to be aurally more apparent to achieve gestural significance’ (ibid, p. 56).

Thus, the composite aural entity constituted of the various musical parameters may undergo development of itself in one parameter or numerous parameters simultaneously, or undergo a development that involves the ‘fusing’ with another defined gesture type. This ‘fusing’, or hybridisation, is the method through which the gestural model may inform a musical work, not only on the level of surface detail but also on the macro level—particularly in terms of form and texture. The application of the gestural model at the pre-compositional level (that is, defining the idiosyncrasies and behaviour of the component gestures of a work at the outset of the act of composition) allows for the free and ready interchange of otherwise parametric specific transformational procedures. These may then be applied to other parameters within the same gesture, and to other gestures within the same work, constituting both gestural development through the application of the former, and hybridisation through the application of the latter. The strength of this method lies in its flexibility, as developments within a defined parameter may be applied across other parameters within the gesture, or exported to other gestures entirely. This
facilitates compositional and developmental unity alongside thematic or conceptual consistency. Strategies for linkage

Perhaps the most significant concepts of strategic linkage are descended from Wagnerian Gesumkunstwerk and the application of the leitmotif. In this form of total art work, methodological frameworks are developed within which the creative artist may develop specific gestural information, but always within the service of the concept, or meaning, of the premise. It is perhaps of little surprise that the successor to Wagnerian Gesumkunstwerk is found in the plastic arts—most notably film (Prendergast 1977). Linkages between the visual and the auditive in film have, since film’s conception, been sought to augment not only the experience of the consumer of the arts product, but better and more fully communicate the on-screen drama. Indeed it was as early as 1949 that Aaron Copland codified the set of aesthetic criteria for music in film that is still used today. In order to ‘make potent through music the film’s dramatic and emotional value’ (1949, p. 28), Copland derived five broad areas that allowed music to operate in a film:

• music can create a more convincing atmosphere of time and place;
• music can be used to underline or create psychological refinements
—the unspoken thoughts of a character, or the unseen implications
of a situation;
• music can serve as neutral background filler;
• music can help build a sense of continuity in a film; and
• music can provide the underpinning for the theatrical build-up of a
scene, and round it off with a sense of finality.

These five broad areas canvassed by Copland show the communicative power of music; however, it is clear that music exists subserviently to the dramatic action and premises of the film. In this model the music is an emotional counterpoint to the film—albeit a highly effective and powerful one.

An earlier attempt to fuse music with image is to be found in Alexsander Nevsky, the 1932 collaboration between Sergei Eisenstein and Sergei Prokofiev. Whilst the resultant audio-visual score is oft heralded as a wholly successful example of a gesturally interrelated, parametrically intertwined relationship due to the ‘same motion laying at the base of both the musical and plastic structures’ (Eisenstein 1947 in Prendergast 1977, p. 223), there is a fundamental discrepancy relating to the correspondence of the structures. This discrepancy has to do with the information that is presented on the audio-visual score. Image and music are not shown: selected, key frames and musical notation is shown. There exists lack of consistency with relation to the passage of time in the visual, and no accounting for the difference in aural and visual perception times. What is apparent is a similarity of shape, but on paper only—not in audio-visual reception. The dangerous opposite of this is a literal translation of image into sound—otherwise known as ‘mickey-mousing’. This technique, quite obviously, takes its name from unadulterated mimicry in the musical part of the visual part—a technique that may be commonly found in cartoons. Whilst Prokofiev was keen for convergences and similarities between image and film, they ‘were never crudely synchronised but were intertwined in the complex texture of music and action in a much subtler way’ (Eisenstein 1948, p. 152). Unfortunately, the more subtle means of linkage between the audio and the visual proved to be temporally flawed.

If there exists an absence of a generalised theoretical framework for the analysis of ‘musical multi-media’ (Cook 1998, p. vi), there also lacks a substantive methodology for the creation of works of this ilk outside of the more intuitive Copland model, and the method of occasional convergence. It is in this relative void that a gestural method of composition comfortably sits. In addressing each of the 17 component musical parameters (Solomon 2002) and apportioning them to parameters in the visual domain, parametric leitmotifs are established, all of which are changeable yet regulated by pre-composition. Once the technique has been established, the real, informed act of composition may commence—to give the method meaning (Boulez 1975). Employing concurrent models of gestural and parametric development, and hybridisation across component art forms in the collaborative process, results in new media that is truly intertwined at both the conceptual and the technological (or process) levels. Through this particular method, linkages across disciplines are made at the methodological level, creating a closer relationship between the discrete component art forms than would normally exist in the situation where one art form responds to the other, or is employed for supportive or colouristic purposes. ENKI for flute, digital audio and live electronics was composed for the opening of the International Digital Art Awards (IDAA) 2004 in Launceston, Tasmania, and had a very close parametric linkage to several works in the exhibition. This was achieved by selecting key works (under the guidance of the curator of the exhibition), examining their relative conceptual drivers and technical points of departure, and employing the same principles of development and transformation in musical parameters that function similarly in the visual domain. (Far from a simplistic and didactic model, there is considerable scope for the individualist assignment of linkages in order to communicate in the desired fashion using the audio-visual medium.) Although the range of digitally-manipulated print media in the exhibition was large and diverse, there was in evidence a similarity of concept and technique throughout the works. These included:

• organic evolutionary principles;
• parametric specific developments;
• distortion;
• transformation; and
• making the familiar unfamiliar.

ENKI was designed to incorporate elements of a fixed audio part, able to be broadcasted, with a live flute part modified in real time by live electronics. The digital audio part was comprised of numerous flute samples (C flute, bamboo flute and shakuhachi, for example), modified wood sounds (tapping, clapsticks, marimba), sounds of metal (such as cymbals) and short excerpts from extant orchestral works of mine that embrace sounds of nature (Cicada Dusk, Naracoopa) assembled and modified in Pro-Tools. These orchestral chunks ultimately manifested themselves in the digital audio part as spatialised repeated figures, creating a larger macro-rhythm. While the digital audio part was broadcast, the flute simultaneously performed from the score. The score had some non-traditional elements but was, overall, notated in a standard fashion. A combination of regular notation and boxes of text, the score contained an analysis of the fundamental composition drivers that then formed the parametric basis for instrumental improvisation. Simultaneously, the flute signal was passed through an effects unit and treated as raw material for improvisation by a sound designer or mixer. Thus the flute sound heard by the audience was comprised of the raw acoustic sound and the treated, manipulated and spatialised sonorities of the amplified flute. Additionally, the flautist was at times required to produce sounds somewhat unfamiliar to traditional flute performance, including tongue clicks, pops and lip kissing, as well as organic sounds (such as breathing), and the evocation of key words:
‘Enki’, ‘Annunaki’ and ‘Ti-it’.

All three key words are essential components in an alternative view of the evolution of Homo sapiens. According to this view (which is fully expanded in the works of Zachariah Sitchin and Rene Boulay, amongst others), the Annunaki descended to Earth and settled in the Sumerian region in order to exploit the natural resources of the planet. The indigenous population (early humans) were used as unskilled labour and as a food source. Unsatisfied with the intelligence and strength of the early humans, the Annunaki set in process a genetic engineering experiment to develop the cognitive capacities of the species whilst simultaneously improving their strength. Charged with this responsibility was Enki, the chief engineer. Ultimately, Enki was successful in creating this stronger and more intelligent strain of human through the confluence of human and technology. Such was Enki’s love and admiration for his creation, he enabled this new human species to breed (which was at odds with his original brief). ‘Ti-it’ refers to the act of creation itself—the term, according to Bouley, is Sumerian for ‘new life’, but has historically been mistranslated as ‘rib’. The use of ‘Enki’ as the title of the work relates to the use of human performers and the technological aspect of the performing media. The cross-fertilisation of\ sound-type output (whereby the flute is treated electronically in real time, the digital audio consists of some ‘pure’ flute sounds, and the performer uses breath sounds and phonemes) unifies the organic sound with the processed, electronic sounds, thereby creating one aural entity.

This is reminiscent of Enki’s own experiment, and parallels the digitally-manipulated print media showcased in the exhibition.
The transformational and developmental aspects of ENKI were related directly to the transformational and developmental principles that underpinned the key works of the exhibition.

1 Additionally, important convergences occur between the composition of image within the limitation of the frame and the architectural aspect of form in the composition. The relationship between musical form and visual composition is also evident in works such as CageFor by Ruslanus Baranauskas

2 Here a familiar, if hybridised, humanoid form is rendered unfamiliar through the processes of juxtaposition of body parts, the employment of a limited colour palette, and dimensional modelling based on foreground, midground and background layers. These aspects of CageFor are paralleled in ENKI: the familiar timbre of the flute is placed contiguously
with exotic flute samples and the transformed audio of the regular C flute, with the raw materials primarily limited to flute sounds or breath and text sounds. The spatialisation of the sound (via the broadcastable digital audio and live electronics in combination with the directionality of the acoustic flute) results in location-specific relationships between musical layers reminiscent of the interplay between foreground, midground and background layers in Baranauskas’ work. Future research and applications

Present conditions allow for a degree of cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural collaboration that was barely imaginable (if imaginable at all) fifty years ago (Fischer 2003). However, while technological means for the production and dissemination of new arts products have fostered the emergence of new forms of creativity and media, it appears that in the case of audio-visual art, defined and discrete convergences have been generally neglected. Instead, an emphasis has been placed on the critical theory of the visual component.

Future research would seek to correct this discrepancy by analysing the parametric and symbolist synergies of key audio-visual works. Within this context, I also believe that exciting research can be undertaken in the composition of such works and their public presentation. Current projects in progress include employing the gestural method within the short film format, and the investigation of a new form: ‘music film’ (a development of emphasis within film music). I believe it desirable and possible for a specialist arts niche to be developed using the methodologies discussed. This specialist niche would draw upon Tasmania’s expertise and character in nature and wilderness print media and moving image, and combine it with an audio component that is of equal importance in facilitating meaning. Representations in the visual domain would be transmogrified into audio reflections—not merely sympathetic counterparts or mood facilitators, but equal component art forms that communicate more to the spectator than either one would alone. This specialist niche, with nurturing, has the potential to be a truly Tasmanian form dealing with Tasmanian themes, yet able to communicate internationally.

1 For a discussion of the key works and further musical analysis, please see my paper Music for an Exhibition: ENKI and the IDAA (Sudmalis, 2004).

2 CageFor may be viewed at

Boulay, R. A. (1990). Flying Serpents and Dragons: The Story of Mankind’s Reptilian Past. Clearwater, FL: Galaxy Books.

Boulez, P. (1971; translation by S. Bradshaw & R. R. Bennett, 1975). Boulez on Music Today. London: Faber & Faber.

Brooks, R. (1980). Structural Functions of ‘Musical Gesture’ as Heard in Selected Instrumental Compositions of the Twentieth Century: a Graphic Analytic Method. Ann Arbor, MI: Universityof Michigan.

Cook, N. (1998). Analysing Musical Multi-Media. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Copland, A. (1949). Tips to moviegoers: Take off those ear-muffs. The New York Times, 6 November.

Eisenstein, S. (1948; translation by R. Griffith, 1970). Notes of a Film Director. New York: Dover.

Paul, C. (2003). Digital Art. London: Thames & Hudson.

Prendergast, R. (1977). Film Music: a Neglected Art. New York: Norton.

Hasty, C. (1986). On the problem of succession and continuity in twentieth century music. Music Theory Spectrum 8, pp. 58–74.

Manovich, L. (1996). The death of computer art’ The Net Net [WWW site, cited 5/2/04]. Available from Internet: .

Marek, Z. (1981). The Perception of a Musical Work from the Aspect of Anticipation of the Further Course of the Succession of Sounds. Presented at the Eighth International Seminar on Research in Music Education, Dresden, German Democratic Republic, 15–22 July 1980. Published in Council for Research in Music Education 66–7, Spring 1981.

Solomon, L. (2002). Music Parametric Analysis [WWW site, cited 15/2/04]. Available from Internet: .

Stockhausen, K. (1963). Texte zur elektronischen und instrumentalen Musik, vol.1, Aufsatze 1952–1962 zur Theorie des Komonierens. Cologne: M. Du Mont Schauberg.

Sudmalis, D. (2001). Gesture in Composition: a Model of Composition Involving Gesture, Gestural and Parametric Development, and Hybridisation as Examined in Six Original Compositions. PhD thesis, Sydney Conservatorium of Music/University of Sydney.

Address for correspondence
Dr David Sudmalis
School of Visual and Performing Arts
University of Tasmania
Academy of the Arts
Locked Bag 1-362
Launceston TAS 7250

Above copied from:

Virtualities: Television, Media Art, and Cyberculture, Elizabeth Seaton

Margaret Morse is well-known to students of media studies for her critically astute analyses of media culture. Articles such as "Talk, Talk, Talk: The Space of Discourse in TV News, Sportscasts, Talk Shows and Advertising" (1985); "The Television News Personality and Credibility: Reflections on the News in Transition" (1986); and "An Ontology of Everyday Distraction: The Freeway, the Mall and Television" (1990) are now considered "classics" of the field if, at the very least, their continued presence on course syllabuses is evidence of enduring value. It was Morse who provided an explanation of the crucial role of the TV news anchor as "the personality in the machine," that is, as the enunciator who breeches the "wall" of the television screen to build a subjective link to the viewer. And it was Morse who, long before most cultural studies and political economy were to catch on, undertook an analysis of the synergistic relations of television, freeways, and shopping malls as analogous media, interrelated in their de-realized mundaneness as machines for what Raymond Williams once termed "mobile privatization."

The above articles are included in this new collection of Morse's writings (published under Kathleen Woodward's Theories of Contemporary Culture series) along with other essays on video art and cyberculture. Morse publishes not only in academic venues, but in art and photography journals such as Afterimage or Art in America and exhibition catalogues, and this disciplinary breadth is evident in the essays assembled here. The book as a whole is indicative of a scholar involved in the interdisciplinary pursuits of media and cultural studies, moving from close examinations of different media and media forms to consider their wider cultural implications in a given historical moment. While an eclectic collection, the potential for confusion is tempered by a rigorous conceptual and theoretical structure.

Despite what appears to be the foregrounding of things technological in the title, Morse is predominately interested in pursuing the cultural relations of our cyber-age, or what she describes as "the far greater complexities of a postindustrial and postnational socio-political information economy" (p. 4). The path into this territory however begins at the television screen. As Morse's previous works have argued, the very success of television as a medium of social control is due to its expertise at subjective relations: its ability to establish a type of virtual interpersonal world with the viewer. Morse thus extends television's premise to examine how newer "cyber" technologies continue with such subjective relations in ever more sophisticated degrees. Television then represents an "interim phase" in a process in which machine-human relations become ever more personal and subjective. For Morse, it is "left to the genres of cyberculture to develop the full implications" (p. 4) of a form of social and cultural maintenance based not just upon subjective identification, but inhabitation and even embodiment. We, rather than the machines, become the cultural transmitters.

Lest one find Morse's thematic structure too teleological or characteristic of the emancipatory science fiction of computer marketing, what she examines throughout these articles are the contradictory processes of technological hegemony. This "evolution" itself is based upon a paradox: while our work and private lives are increasing characterized by impersonal relations with machines, these same machines become more refined and elaborate in their personal and subjective means of expression. In effect, our machines become more cultured. As Morse argues, information, which is impersonal and ephemeral, must be "reengaged with personality and information.": "[T]he more abstract and removed information has become from everyday life and the perceptual field, the more virtual the substitute context of subjectivity in a here-and-now at the foundation of cyberculture will be" (p. 6). Such virtual relationships--personal, subjective, and embodied--are the primary focus of Morse's book and act as the thread by which each essay is bound.

The book is divided into three sections, each of which is indicative of this overall concern. The first, "Virtualities as Fictions of Presence," establishes historical and conceptual premises for the book as a whole. Morse's fine introductory chapter offers the conceptual framework and the theoretical tools (theories of language and subjectivity) for understanding succeeding chapters. Her second chapter, "The News as Performance," expands upon ideas regarding social power and news discourse originally found in "The Television News Personality and Credibility." The second section, entitled "Immersion in Image Worlds: Virtuality and Everyday Life," is comprised of essays which examine technologies and technological spaces (or more aptly, non-spaces), which bear greatly upon the conduct of our daily lives but of which we have only a tangential awareness. The essay "An Ontology of Everyday Distraction: The Freeway, the Mall and Television" is included in this section, as are two others which respectively concern the development of television graphics as a precursor to the imagery of virtual reality, and the perceptual relationships between culinary and cyber cultures. Section three, "Art and Media Environments," considers the analytic and exploratory work undertaken by artists using media technology, beginning with the older form of video installation and moving to a discussion of the construction of subjectivity in art which creates virtual environments.

As Morse reminds us in her introductory chapter, the "new" abilities of cyberculture (especially their "interactive" and "telematic" capacities), have radically altered our understanding of the function of images. Only a decade ago, under the scrutiny of a "politics of representation," an image was recognized as a discursive construction which conveys situated knowledges and powers. Today, images ferry not only a politics of meaning or place, but an ever-more-tangible "aspect of agency," in which the remote control of images (via telematics or telepresence) can be used to inflict immediate and potentially deadly change on the real world. An obvious case in point is the Gulf War, widely noted for the ways in which its mediation resembled a video game. What are the ethical costs of a war in which it is images, rather than flesh and blood people, which are the primary agents of destruction? What happens to a sense of social accountability or even humanness when telematic images allow one to be removed from the consequences of one's actions?

Virtuality is dematerialized--it exists in effect, but not in actuality. The composition of virtual worlds (such as the evil empire of Saddam Hussein) carries with it certain ontological insecurities which undermine our sense of reality and perhaps ultimately, empathy. The virtue of virtual reality is that no one really lives there. And thus, as Morse explains, the technological apparatuses of fiction and artifice used in the mediation and conflict of the Gulf War imparted a sense of distance which influenced the conduct of both bombing crews and the "moral remoteness" of Americans towards those who actually suffered from the effects of the war. One senses that the continuing air strikes by the U.S. against an already devastated Iraq, and the mute complicity of its and Canada's media and populace, are made possible by the conflict's mediation by virtual telematic technologies. As Morse writes, "'we' met the enemy and 'he' was not just dehumanized, he was a nonentity, for there was no one there" (p. 30).

The increasing presence of these machines in our everyday lives and the consequences of remoteness and disengagement which they convey also has its effects closer to home. If one is to judge by the promotional discourse of material culture, it appears as though security has become a pervasive concern within the lives of North Americans. Increasingly urged to protect ourselves against the threat of an unpredictable world, we are offered the defences of wired cars, cellular phones, "smart" houses, gated communities, private police forces, and the video surveillance of what remains of public space. Such consumer technologies invariably promise to help control a world which is said to be out of control, to fend off a reality which is felt to be more dangerous and difficult to manage. Paradoxically, the means towards this retreat involves the increasing technological engagement with, and mediation of, "reality." So, too, the concurrent growth of private enclosures which are worlds away from anxiety and fear: the theme parks, shopping malls, and mega-movie palaces which offer a separate and exclusive clientele the utopias or "no-places" of a virtual reality.

This brings me to the possible limitations of Morse's analysis. While Morse is committed to the cultural implications of cybertechnology--in particular its ramifications for human subjectivity and language--there is room for a more extended discussion about the political economy of these new machines and the cultural industries they support. One case in point concerns her conclusion to the chapter "The News as Performance," which incorporates much of the analytic thesis of the earlier "Television News Personality" article. In a discussion of "post-television," Morse sees the potential of a "public sphere" for cyberculture limited to a question of access: only 20% of people will be able to afford the requisite technology. And yet, what really inhibits the processes of a "public sphere" (the very term conveys an optimism I no longer have), is the privatization and/or corporatization of public space. Can virtual space ever be considered public space? Today, the erstwhile problem of access (the exclusion of women and slaves from the agora) is an effect of privatization. It is in this respect that Morse could delve deeper into the structural factors at work in the political economy of cyberculture. What, for instance, is the relationship between the growth of private, virtual worlds and a class structure in North America increasingly described as "feudal" or "oligarchical"? What bearing do the abstractions of finance capital have upon cultural expression (wherein money has now only speculative, rather than concrete value, and is mobile, rather than attached to a locus of production)?

Leaving these questions aside, the book is a careful and rigorous analysis of media both old and new, and is often stunning in its insights. Much previous writing on "cyberculture" has tended towards either simple-minded cheerleading or overly obtuse critiques laden with techno-jargon and self-important puffery. Morse's book offers an informed discussion about the practices and process of virtual machines from someone who clearly has experienced them firsthand, and who has the wisdom and critical distance to tackle the complexities and contradictions of such wondrous machines. One can only wish that the cheerleaders would take note.


Morse, Margaret. (1985). Talk, talk, talk: The space of discourse in TV news, sportscasts, talk shows and advertising. Screen, 26(2), 1-11.

Morse, Margaret. (1986). The television news personality and credibility: Reflections on the news in transition. In Tania Modleski (Ed.), Studies in entertainment: Critical approaches to mass culture (pp. 55-79). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Morse, Margaret. (1990). An ontology of everyday distraction: The freeway, the mall and television. In Patricia Mellancamp (Ed.), Logics of television: Essays in cultural criticism (pp. 193-221). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

---Above copied from

Monday, January 4, 2010

Karen Finley: A Constant State of Becoming: An Interview by Richard Schechner

Sun Mar 23 11:40:19 2008
Karen Finley
A Constant State of Becoming
An interview by Richard Schechnev

SCHECHNER: You say bookers are canceling The Constant State of Desire
and your other pieces. What's going on?
FINLEY: People are scared of my information. They really don't know
what I'm going to do, they don't like me dealing with sexual issues or
political issues.
SCHECHNER: Or the combination.
FINLEY: Yes, the combination.
SCHECHNER: You're a woman in control of yourself. It's not the sexual
material in itself. You can go anywhere in this country and rent videos of
hardcore porn.
FINLEY: If I was doing porn they'd be very happy. When they book me
they think they're going to get some kinky chick from New York going
out there shoving my tits in their face. When they find out I'm more than
that-well, in London I was canceled out this summer, I was banned by
the Westminster Council and Scotland Yard.
SCHECHNER: Did they send you a letter or anything?
FINLEY: I don't have a letter, I can't really prove it, but sponsors are really
scared that their funding is going to be taken away from them. The first
place [in London] I was asked to stop was at the ICA [Institute of Contem-
porary Art] and next was AIR [Artists in Residence], a gallery. People say,
"Oh, we can't really put you on here, but maybe we could set something
up in a loft, not announce it publicly." I could go on performing under-
ground, but I don't want that. I don't do anything that's illegal.
SCHECHNER: Has the same thing happened in the USA?
FINLEY: Yes. At Scream, a club in Los Angeles, they canceled me a week
before I was to go on in August. Lydia Lunch performed there, and they
were scared of what I was going to do. They told me the vice squad
threatened to take their license if they put on someone like me. I lost out at
Club New in Miami where they told me I would upset their yuppie clien-
Karen Finley I 53
tele. And in Atlanta the owners of a club there all of a sudden chickened
SCHECHNER: What scares people so much?
FINLEY: I've gotten letters from institutions-whose names I won't men-
tion-telling me that I just could not perform there, that their city is just
not ready for me. In Philadelphia I really want to perform at Painted Bride,
but I was told they said, "Oh, Karen Finley, there's no way that she's
going to perform here."
SCHECHNER: It reminds me of the 1969 midwest tour of Dionysus in 69.
Members of The Performance Group were arrested in Ann Arbor at the
University of Michigan, there was a near riot in Colorado Springs at
Colorado College, and in Minneapolis we weren't allowed to perform on
the University of Minnesota campus although we were booked. The
Firehouse Theatre gave us a space downtown. It was a tumultuous time.
We were using nakedness and the play combined sex and politics. But a
whole lot has happened in 20 years-what is it in your situation that
arouses such fear?
FINLEY: I think I stir people to be responsible for what's going on in their
own personal lives, in their one-to-one relationships, interweaving this
into the whole society's corruption. That's very disturbing. I destroy the
games people live on, a very yuppie world where security is having a
,000 a year job, or 0,000. People really don't want that questioned.
What happened to the motivations of 20 years ago of having a much more
socialist-humanist society? We're supposed to have more time on our
hands because of technology. But I don't see it going towards culture or
helping people.
SCHECHNER: What do you see?
FINLEY: I see people with a lot of anger towards anyone who can't make
it, anger towards the homeless, or if you're 18 years old and can't afford to
go to college, well it's your own problem. No one wants to help anyone at
all. You can see how our social programs are deteriorating. That attitude
goes on even in the arts.
SCHECHNER: But how does this relate to, say, in The Constant State of
Desire, turning men's balls into candy.
FINLEY: I'm talking about abuse. I talk about how old people are disre-
garded-that if they've only got ten bucks to their name they're lucky to
have ten. Also we're really scared of our own sexuality which is no longer
a sexuality of love but a sexuality of violence.
SCHECHNER: It's not only the ideas behind what you're saying, but the
very words themselves that scare people-because "sexual women" are
often constructed by males as being visible, physical, and literally dumb,
without words. Men, and many women too, obviously continue to see
women as objects. Women are subjects only in selected fields where they
must act according to definite rules that have been set down by men:
women are corporate executives, police"men," politicians, etc. But what
you are presenting is a woman who is a subject expressing the sexual
violence and humor that women are still supposed to be the objects of, or
ignorant of, or excluded from. You don't just show it, you talk about it-
the shock is in the words you use, more than the gestures.
154 Karen Finley
I. Karen Finley performing
The Constant State of
Desire at P.S. 122, New
York City, March 1987.
(Photo by Dona Ann
FINLEY: I think my gestures too. Because if you're not a mother and
you're not a whore in this society you're considered unproductive. Wom-
an's value is still based on her biology. If a woman becomes a bank presi-
dent she still conforms to a male image of what that is. Women executives
have not been able to establish their own imagery. The only two things
that a woman does that is not compared to a man is giving birth and
spreading her legs. I bring that to light, and that's very threatening. Female
oppression is everyday, it's the anchor I have to society. If I would choose
to have a child right now there are basically no childcare facilities-it's a
catch-zz situation. They want us to do our biology's job, but at the same
time they really want to put that down. That's what The Constant State of
Desire's about, womb envy. Not penis envy, but womb envy.
SCHECHNER: Go into that a little more.
FINLEY: The reason why the feminine way or the maternal way has been
oppressed is because the male energy is so scared of it. And so the only way
males can deal with it is to knock it down, to not allow it to come up. In
The Constant State of Desire I wanted to show vignettes of capitalist, con-
sumer society where people go far out, stretch the boundaries-but still
they never can be satisfied. So they take things into themselves, and this is
what incest or abuse are about.
SCHECHNER: What about the style of your performances? You're not
like Spalding Gray-I also admire him very much-who's laid back, cool,
a person who only occasionally shows how much he's involved in the
autobiographical stories he tells. Your stuff is obviously about you but not
literally true, a kind of surrealistic, automatic talking. And the way you
present yourself is to very often go into a trancelike state, a blank look on
your face, a sing-song delivery of lines.
FINLEY: Umm-hmm.
SCHECHNER: How did that style come about, and now, at this moment,
could you reflect on that state of being?
FINLEY: That state of being is very natural, so I'm surprised when people
call it a trance state. It's something really lacking in our culture-any kind
of religion, or any kind of spiritual mask, or any way of breaking the usual
routine of day-to-day acting. When one is emotional, when an event takes
someone by surprise, whether it's a death, a birth, or anything, it breaks
that nine-to-five type of behavior. That's what I want to be showing. I do
go into somewhat of a trance because when I perform I want it to be
different than acting. I hope this doesn't sound too dorky or trite-I'm
really interested in being a medium, and I have done a lot of psychic type of
work. I put myself into a state, for some reason it's important, so that
things come in and out of me, I'm almost like a vehicle. And so when I'm
talking it's just coming through me. And it's very exhausting. After I
perform I have to vomit, my whole body shakes, I have to be picked up
and sat down. It takes me about an hour before I stop shaking. When
performing I pick up the energies from the people, I got to completely
psych into them because I want them to feel that I am really feeling it.
Maybe not even my words, but just that energy. I'm giving everything I
have to make it an experience. You can't pick that up on film or on disks.
It's the live experience, and that's really important.
SCHECHNER: How do you get yourself into that?
Karen Finley I 5 5
FINLEY: Usually a few days before-if I'm working or something-I'm
not really there, I'm always thinking what's happening at this moment, so
all the information of this moment, any experience that happens to me, I
really believe this experience is important to me, everything is a story,
everything that I come on is cause and effect. I look on everyone who
comes to me as being precious about three days before. I have to be alone; I
go into a room and do associative writing. I just open up and start writing.
Like I don't rewrite my performances, they're like trance writing, like lots
of time I just wake up and it just comes to me. And sometimes I really
believe I have other voices coming to me. So I open up to the voices.
SCHECHNER: So this would be a couple of days before?
FINLEY: Yeah. And then the day of it I do not eat from the night before.
And what makes the strongest performance is if I completely seclude my-
self, fast, and not take baths and stay in this certain state I get myself into.
SCHECHNER: And then just before, when the audience is assembling
and you're off stage?
FINLEY: I get such horrible stage fright. The day of it I can't remember
anything at all. I jitter, horrible smells come out of me, I smoke and I
usually don't. And I never see the audience, I never know if they're there. I
never perform for the audience-I mean, sometimes I do, sometimes I
break it, sometimes it's too much so I break it-but usually I stay within
this energy. I can have things happen to me up there, like pain. You see I
never rehearse a performance, that's the scariest thing-that I'm going to
go out there and I don't know what I'm doing. That to me is the perfor-
mance part.
SCHECHNER: But you do the same thing night after night.
FINLEY: Well I have to do that for runs. But I don't consider that per-
formance then. I consider The Constant State of Desire a "performance
procedure" because I change it, I change the act-but it's getting to be
experimental theatre.
SCHECHNER: So The Constant State of Desire is a theatre piece not a
performance piece?
FINLEY: Yeah. I just did something recently at the Cat Club [New York]
that's a performance; it's site-specific.
SCHECHNER: A one time only thing.
FINLEY: I can start doing it again, but once you start preparing it and
doing it, it changes. I mean I still go into the trance-
SCHECHNER: But then it's something you enter that's familiar to you,
rather than something you're hoping will come to you.
FINLEY: Yeah. So that's why I still like to perform in clubs because art
spaces-at least in New York, except for Franklin Furnace-have com-
pletely removed themselves from spectacle or happenings or any kind of
performance event. Nowadays, you have to know, you have to have a
proposal. That's really completely destroyed the whole idea of ritual.
Ritual is not celebrated at any performance spaces except Franklin Furnace
and maybe some other little spaces. I think ritual's something that needs to
be celebrated in our culture. You see, I went to school in the late '60s and
'70s SO-
156 Karen Finley
FINLEY: The San Francisco Art Institute. We established the idea of com-
munity there. That's also why I like New York a lot, there's a community
of artists. I don't think that what I do is anything strange or bizarre. It
peeves me off when people act like, "Oh, wow, this is something new,"
but it's not new at all.
SCHECHNER: Each piece may be new but it's also always in a tradition.
Art is like great cooking-food is never new, it's the way things are
recombined and displayed.
FINLEY: I feel I'm part of a tradition.
SCHECHNER: Who do you admire in your tradition?
FINLEY: Actually I like writers a lot, and musicians: Truman Capote,
Tennessee Williams, Gene Ammons, and Ornette Coleman.
SCHECHNER: You're kind of old-fashioned.
FINLEY: I like old-fashioned stuff, I like Uta Hagen a lot.
SCHECHNER: You don't like punk and new wave or whatever's trendy
FINLEY: Yeah, I love the Butthole Surfers, and I like Frank Moore's work
a lot, and Survival Research Laboratory.
SCHECHNER: Where is Survival Research?
FINLEY: In San Francisco. And I like Johanna Went. I like people who
perform one night and that's it. I like people who take risks.
SCHECHNER: What does it mean to you then that The Constant State of
Desire's getting printed in TDR with this interview and some pictures?
FINLEY: Well I'm just really, really happy about it because I got some
horrible reviews on the piece, and I felt extremely depressed. I felt com-
pletely misunderstood, that I had no place to take my work. I wanted to
get a legitimacy so I could be doing runs somewhere. I hope that a lot of
people who have theatre spaces or who are in organizations that sponsor
theatre will say, "Oh, wow, it's in TDR, maybe it is OK."
SCHECHNER: You want it to be rebellious, subversive, and OK.
FINLEY: I don't think I ever wanted it to be rebellious.
FINLEY: I wanted to destroy certain people, but I thought that was part of
my tradition. I consider good art that which destroys the last generation's
SCHECHNER: You just wrote The Constant State of Desire straight out?
FINLEY: I didn't do a lot of rewrites. It took a lot of time, I write little
sections, and then I sort of associate to them, and it just comes. A lot of the
writing happens after I speak it, and then it's written.
SCHECHNER: Is it you-? Your dreams, your fantasies, or what? Who
do these words belong to?
FINLEY: When I write, a lot of it I have actually seen. And a lot of it is
from me. They are my words. But I don't write the way some people do-
Karen Finley 157
they go out, they look, and they write from a situation. I write more from
SCHECHNER: Are you the characters then?
FINLEY: No, no. It's not-no. It's really larger. They're transparent,
they're pale pink, and pale blue, and silver-
SCHECHNER: Who are "they"-?
FINLEY: And a lot of chiffon. I feel they come from here [gestures to her
chest and stomach]. It is me, but when you do automatic writing, it's a
different way of writing. I just go and sit down and I say, "Now is the
time," and I start doing it. I have lots of notes, I have eight or ten boxes,
and I do a lot of writing, and I keep notebooks. I write down sentences like
all of a sudden I'll write down, "She should not be made to feel ashamed."
And I'll go off on that, feel ashamed, or I might know of people's lives that
have been shattered, and that it's important for something of their lives to
come out. I don't like the writing to sound too calculated. I don't want my
pieces to sound like theatre. The chanting, I don't know where that came
SCHECHNER: Where did some of the imagery come from? Breaking the
eggs in a plastic bag and then rubbing yourself with it?
FINLEY: I wanted to do a celebration and it came to me in 30 seconds.
SCHECHNER: That whole image?
SCHECHNER: It fits so well: womb envy, eggs and women, and the
violence against women, the breaking of all those eggs.
FINLEY: At the same time it was beautiful, and afterwards it was a cele-
bration. We don't seem to party with naivete anymore. Except when I'm
playing before people who just don't have any idea about performance art.
This past weekend I played in a Chicago club, Metro, and my brothers
were in the audience saying, "Wow, this isn't bad, this performance art
stuff is pretty good!" They allow themselves to enjoy. Whenever I go to a
performance I stand at the back so I can walk out. I always expect the
worst. Whenever somebody starts doing really well, people put them
SCHECHNER: How old are you? And where have you performed?
FINLEY: Thirty-one. I've played in Chicago, where I was brought up,
and San Francisco, and New York. I went to school in San Francisco from
1978 to 1981, then I went back to Chicago. And I came to New York in
SCHECHNER: Anything else biographical I should know?
FINLEY: One thing that's come up in a lot of articles is that my father
committed suicide. That put an effect on me that reality is stronger than
art. And it makes me interested in real time. When I'm performing, real
time is stronger for me than theatre pretend-time, or the-show-must-go-
on attitude, I really don't like that attitude.
SCHECHNER: How old were you when your father killed himself?
FINLEY: I was twenty-one, I was just starting to perform. I was home on
158 Karen Finley
Christmas break. I didn't expect him to do it. He went into the garage and
shot himself.
SCHECHNER: It was very violent.
FINLEY: Yeah, it was a violent-but I think that-right, it was a violent
SCHECHNER: Every suicide is violent, but sleeping pills are a different
kind of violence.
FINLEY: In terms of statistics men usually use guns, women use pills.
SCHECHNER: Talk a little more about how this affected you.
FINLEY: Nothing else matters. When something like that happens it
doesn't make any difference if at that day I had a million dollars or if I
had-or if I had anything materially or careerwise, anything, it would not
have made any difference in terms of that act happening. That really put
me in such a reality state, of realizing that nothing really ever matters. In
some ways, it actually freed me: whatever you have won't matter. Some-
how that energy I really put into and show in my work. So even in terms
of my content, still even if I'm up here, if five minutes beforehand some-
thing happens that's always going to take-, is much more important.
Someone suffering is always more important than this work.
SCHECHNER: Does that mean if something were to happen you would
stop your work and attend to the person in pain?
FINLEY: Definitely.
SCHECHNER: That puts your work in question, makes it fragile, how-
ever strong you may seem, however assured and safe in that trance. Your
work is a kind of shimmering that may at any moment get blown away by
something that is solid and destructive. The art which you said is destruc-
tive is itself susceptible to being destroyed.
FINLEY: My generation, except now with AIDS, has never before had
any similar situation-it's always had a sense of immortality.
SCHECHNER: Right. Even nuclear obliteration feels far away, not per-
sonal. AIDS is imminent: "Is this person I'm kissing killing me?"
FINLEY: For me it's: "Am I going to see this person in two years? Will
this person be gone?" I think it's good to question your mortality. That
sense of preciousness is a good respect to have.
September 1987

Above copied from: TDR (1988-), Vol. 32, No. 1. (Spring, 1988), pp. 152-158

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Interactive Poems: intersign perspective for experimental poetry, Philadelpho Menezes

Relazione presentata nel Convegno Internazionale della Associazione degli Studi Parola/Immagine, Los Angeles. Ha come fondo del discorso il lavoro di poesia ipermediale dell'autore.

Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo (Brazil)

The view that I intend to explore in this paper is that the possibilities opened to poetry by the new technologies of communication may be considered on two levels: (i) the possibilities of interaction with the reader, the most obvious and basic element of NTC, but the one where most theoretical discussion of the novelty of the technologies is concentrated; (ii) the interfaces that NTC imposes inside the communication system, that is, the internal interface between visual, verbal and sound signs of the poem. Despite the fact that my comments are based on poems that I call “intersign poetry”, these questions can be extended over the other communicational fields and products with similar analyses (newspaper, advertisement, encyclopœdic CD-ROMs, dictionaries, etc.). My view is that hypermedia, developed from hypertext, whether in CD-ROMs or in websites, does not come to be used only as an exercise in mechanical interaction with the user, but also to suggest rich ways of mixing different kind of signs, obliging the user to adopt an intellective approach to the exercise of reading. This activity brings the user out of the traditional system of languages, separated into their specific fields, into to an intersemiotic system of communication. If this interface between signs of different languages does not work in a hypermedia construct, NTC is merely reducing the activity of the user to a functional and programmed use of technology and communication. Some might argue that a functional work immediately produces new behaviour patterns and paths to new sensations. This is a predominant trend in contemporary theory of communication since Marshall McLuhan established the concept of medium as a message in itself. Nevertheless, recent theorists of technology have criticised this concept, arguing that without a level of intellective consciousness, it is impossible to establish new ways of relating to machines; without a certain level of reflection, is difficult to know exactly how to exploit the perspectives that the new technogies open up for us.

My analyses dialogue with two importants studies on digital communication published in United States in the 1990s. The first is Hypertext - Th Cconvergence of Contemporary Critical Theory, by George P. Landow, of Brown University (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997 edition). Landow defines hypertext drawing on different theses such as Vannevar Bush’s conception of memex, Jacques Derrida’s deconstructivism, and Roland Barthes’s analysis of the new relationship between text and reader. Technically, for Landow, hypertext can be defined as a technology of texts put into a web that can make clear the intertextuality inherent in literary works. But, by making rapid and explicit the consultation of subtexts, and by increasing the potentiality of nonlinear and decentered contemporary literature, hypertext changes the conception of text and writing, thus transforming the role of the author and the possibilities of literary education. This new ethic of technological texts must be considered even when we go out of textuality and enter hypermedia programmes, a further development of hypertext, where non-verbal (visual and sound) signs are joined. Hypermedia facilitates working with experimental poetry as hypertext does literary works.

The second approach towards technological writing that I intend to consider is that of Richard A. Lanham in his book The Electronic Word (University of Chicago Press, 1994). Lanham analyses the transformation of the internal feature of the sign, its variable and changeable forms, its ways of organising itself according to the principle of collage. Computer graphics provoke “judgments about scale, a new icon/alphabet ratio in textual communication, nonlinear collage and juxtapositional reasoning (...) - all these constitute a new theory of management”. So Lanham deals with the concept of rhetoric, viewed as a dialetical play established in looking AT a surface pattern of communication and THROUGH it.

By the other side, the experimental poetry appears as an already traditional place for mixing different codes in the modern and contemporary poetics. It is useful to understand clearly what is the concept of “experimental poetry” adopted here: it is a kind of poetry, manifested in some styles and movements in the twentieth, whose form is not displayed in verses. So the concept is rooted in two grounds: I. in the visual field, experimental poetry embraces since the spatialization of verbal texts (like the foremost Mallarmé’s Un Coup de Dés) until poems with printed images (like the italian visive poetry of the 60’s), passing through very well known visual poetics as the chaotic arragments of futurism, the figurative poems of Apollinaire’s calligrammes or the geometric constructivity of the concretism; ii. in the sound field, experimental poetry contains since phonetic ruptures of dada’s poems until the polipoetry concept of Enzo Minarelli’s creation in the 80’s, crossing the inventions of the electroacustic poems of Henri Chopin, the French lettrism of the 50’s, some beatnik kind of discourses, among others.

A privileged place for the discussion of these issues, central to the contemporary poetics and aesthetics, is the digital technology because of its opened use possibilities, either the perspectives that they can still offer to the mix the two trends of experimental poetry in only one space of the communicational. Regarding a new spatial configuration that is no longer the codex form of the book, the poetry inevitably trespasses the limits of the verbal sign itself. Overcoming the unchanging and bidimensional space of the page as a support for the printed word, necessarily the possibilities to work with the isolated verbal sign in an instigating way is, we could say, also overcomed inside these news configuration of space. If the hypertext becomes naturally hypermedia by the inclination to the integration of the languages within the digital technologies, the digital poem also becomes a traffic between signs of different languages that, when well done, could be called “intermedia” - I prefer “intermedia” term to indicate the communication of a poem where a semantic and functional integration between different kind of signs is predominant, requiring a exercise of “composition” by the reader/observer. The “multimedia” term is preferable to designate poetic communications where free accumulation and superposition of many signs install a simple illustrated and didascalic ways of relation between signs. However, poetry, before entering the technological space of communication, had already reached, according to the intersign poetics, the object poems and the sound poems where, respectively, elements sucs as interactivity and immateriality, two totems of the emerging (and yet so fragile) theories of poetics in new media, are achieved. What matters also in the use of these new technologies is the easiness and the encouragement towards integrative realizations between languages where non-verbal signs (sound or images) are not reduced to the role of mere elements of reinforcing the verbal feature.

On the basis of these considerations, I have been trying to develop a concept of “interpoetry”, related to exercises in the field of experimental poetry, first with visual poems, later with sound poems. Interpoetry has two meanings: that of interactivity and that of intersign poetry. The fusion of these two meanings in one poem is the concern of my work in the area of interpoetry. I will start with the older meaning: ‘intersign poetry’ is the name I used fifteen years ago(1) to express the idea of a poetry created by the fusion of verbal and non-verbal signs. At that time, I was concerned with exploring the characteristics of a visual poetry that, produced in the years after the concretist movement, distinguished itself from the tradition of experimental poetry up to the time of concretism: the tradition of making the visual element derive from the verbal element. From the figurative poems of Greek Antiquity to the concrete poetry of the 1950s and 1960s, every type of visual poetry in one form or another exploits the graphic form of the text, the word or the letter, that is, the various visual forms taken by the verbal sign. In some rare cases, when drawings or engravings enter the space of the poem, the visual element acts as an illustration of the text. The idea of intersign poetry was to use visual images (drawings, photos, numbers, or other graphic elements) as compositional components of the poem through formal interrelationship and semantic interpenetration with the verbal sign; from this, the coming to fruition of intersign poem is the function of an exercise in decoding, interpretation, and decifering that the reader/observer must undertake in the light of the montage of visual and verbal signs present in the poem. Thus intersign poetry emerges as a kind of visual poetry which negates past forms of visual poetry.

These questions led me to an idea that has guided my work since: poetry is a specific form of organising signs in a poem (formal fusion plus semantic montage); it is a language. It is neither a problem specific to the verbal code nor a problem of the techniques through which this language is exhibited or transmitted. Hence, when in the first half of the 1990s I began experimenting with the possibilities of sound poetry, I sought to try to introduce these concepts into the field of sounds by producing poems in which non-verbal sounds played, in the sound poem, the role of images in the visual intersign poem: to create formal fusions that produced not only acoustic effects but more especially meanings deciferable through intellectual interpretation(2).

In the second half of 1997, I began producing poems in which sounds, images and words coalesce, in a complex intersemiotic process, in a technological environment which precisely facilitated the simultaneous presence of verbal, visual and acoustic signs: hypermedia programmes. The idea here was to avoid doing what the visual poem up till concretism had always done: make the visual follow on from the verbal. Or what recited poetry always did: illustrate the reading of the text with music or incidental sounds.

But it was also necessary to avoid the equivocal discourse produced by artists who worked with the new technologies: these latter assume that the mere use of new technologies produces new languages, that is, new ways of combining codes. In practice, this does not happen. Technologies like videotext, computer graphics and holography, present new environments in which the signs of the poem are placed; that is, they suggest new ways of organising these images into spacial and temporal structures, different from those of the printed page. But this does not mean to say that the poem automatically takes advantage of these new structures. Technology suggests; it does not impose. And what we see today is a traditional visual poetry ( principally following concretist and futurist forms) reproduced in terms of the new technologies.

Intersign poems are not “experiments of poetic written texts”, but intersigned processes of word, image, sound, movement, varied ways of reading, where the image, the sound and the movement are not simply features of the word. Interpoetry sets out consciously to occupy the structures provided by the new medias, modifying the relationships between image, sound and word within the specific environments which only hypermedia makes possible. There are two levels of structure which may be considered typical of interpoetry:

1. the mode of relating image, sound and word, which gives continuity to the processes operative within visual and sound intersemiotic poetry, establishing the basis of intersign poetry in hypermedia, obeying a certain specific development of the poem within the time and space of hypermedia.

2. Forms of relationship with the reader and the question of interactivity. The intervention of the reader/user amplifies the forms of participation that the avant-gardes had introduced into art, breaking with the classic contemplative role of the reader/observer. The option of multiple paths for the reading of the interpoem gives rise to two circuits of association: a network of connections based on the technological links made available by hypermedia; a network of associations set up between the data of the poem, which refer to eachother, subterranean to the virtual links, and which could be called post-virtual. The suggested links (interpretative associations) thus supplant and subvert the links that are offered (virtual paths). The interpoem thus establishes the primacy of ‘suggestion’ over ‘explanation’, one that characterizes technological art in general. And it underlines the rethorical question put by Lanham: the superficies of technical links, this opened way to be read, keeps our attention AT the communicative features of the poem as a kind of game; the web of suggestions made by virtual (or mental) links requires our reading THROUGH the communicative features up to semantic conections. It could be said that the rethorical structure of reading an interpoem lies and relies upon the oscillation between “explanation” and “suggestion”, “technical links” and “semantic links”.

The intersigned fusion conducts, after all, the creative exercise towards the fusion between the text genres, where the poetry penetrates the field of theory, tale and encyclopedic information. Everything proceeds to the creation of big systems of communicating chambers where the narrative fiction, the game, the poetry, the scientific research, the daily information and the interpersonal contact can be moments of the same productive exercise.The fusion of genres is, furthermore, natural to interpoetry: visual poetry, sound poetry, theoretical text, encyclopœdic information, fiction, lies, games, all are possible paths within the interpoem. Questions are further raised by the perspective of incorporating narrative forms, by the production of works which could be called ‘interprose’ and which could appear as a follow-up to interpoetic work.



. AA.VV.: “Visual Poetry: na international anthology”, Visible Language, Vol. 27, n. 4, Providence, Rhode Island School of Design, 1993.

. BARILLI, Renato: Retórica, Lisboa, Presença, 1979.

. BARTHES, Roland: "O grau zero da escritura" in Novos ensaios críticos, São Paulo, Cultrix, 1974.

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