Paul D. Miller on Thu, 3 May 2001 05:43:47 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Notes for Oberhausen Short Film Festival

>Hey folks, here's an essay I wrote for the Oberhausen film festival.
>I was asked to curate an evening on "Time" and the cinematic image
>by Laura U. Marks, author of "The Skin of the Film: Intercultural
>Cinema, Embodiment and the Senses", and of course, I included a wide
>variety of films:

Raymond Scott (one of the composers for Bugs Bunny, and one of the
first people to use electronic music in TV commercials in the early
1950's), Philo T. Farnsworth (the inventor of TV), Wu-Tang Clan, The
Roots, Emergency Broadcast Network, Craig Baldwin's "Spectres of the
Spectrum" (he uses my music in several scenes...), Icebreaker
International (the folks who did a "conceptual" trek through NATO's
supply routes for military parts aboard a super freight tanker
capable of carrying millions of tons of equipment.... I did say it
was conceptual...), Luke Dubois (one of the main professors at
Columbia University's electronic music department, and a core systems
programmer for MAX applications with video stuff), Soundlab (the
folks who do conceptual art events in NYC), and a whole bunch of very

Brian Eno is going to do a talk on time and electronic music, and a
couple of other folks from different generations will be around as
well. If anyone's around next week, come on by. There'll be a wide
variety of people there. More info can be found at the Oberhausen
film festival's website:

Also, if anyone's interested, there was the "Race in Cyberspace
Conference" this weekend at MIT along with shows at the Boston Cyber
Arts Festival, and there were a wide variety of folks (Zapatistas,
computer programmers, dj's etc etc) representin' - the symposium will
be posted on-line in a little bit
more info, and some video downloads can be found at:

okay here goes....

>Material Memories:
>Time and The Cinematic Image
>Notes for the Oberhausen Film Festival 2001
>By Paul D. Miller
>"Time is invention, or it is nothing at all."
>Gilles Deleuze, Movement-Image
>"I am the OmniAmerican born of beats and blood, the concert of the
>sun unplugged."
>Saul Williams, Om Ni American
>It was Maya Deren who said it a long time ago: "A ritual is an
>action distinguished from all others in that it seeks the
>realization of its purpose through the exercise of form ." The time
>was 1945 and she was to later go on to be one of the first
>cinematographers to document the Voudon dances of Haiti. For her
>film was both rupture and convergence - the screen was a place where
>the sense of vision was conveyed by time and its unfolding in the
>images of her investigation. Black bodies, white screens - a ritual
>played out in the form of possession and release in her projections.
>The rhythms of fragmentation and loss for her were a new currency, a
>new way to explore the optical poetry of the Americas reflected in
>the dances of the Caribbean. Time and cinema for her were one dance,
>one meshwork of physical and psychological time, the rhythms were
>altars of a new history written in the movements of dance. In her
>1945 film "Ritual in Transfigured Time" she explored the poetry of
>suspended time to try to create a new artform of the American
>cinema, a ritual of rhythm and noise that would engage everything
>from later films like "Divine Horsemen" (her homage to the Loa of
>Haiti) to her classic 1948 film "Meditation on Violence" that
>explored the Wu-Tang school of boxing (not the liquid swords of
>Staten Island, but the Chinese art based on the Book of Changes in
>China). Ritual time, visual time - both were part of a new history
>unfolding on the white screens of her contemporary world. She sought
>a new art to mold time out of dance, a social sculpture carved out
>of celluloid gestures and body movements caught in the prismatic
>light of the camera lens: "in this sense [ritual] is art, and even
>historically, all art derives from ritual. Being a film ritual, it
>is achieved not in spatial terms alone, but in terms of Time created
>by the camera. " In the lens of the camera the dance became a way of
>making time expand and become a ritual reflection of reality itself.
>Film became total. Became time itself - a mnemonic, a memory palace
>made of the gestures captured on the infinitely blank screen.
>"Money is time, but time is not money." It's an old phrase that
>somehow encapsulates that strange moment when you look out your
>window and see the world flow by - a question comes to mind: "How
>does it all work?" Trains, planes, automobiles, people,
>transnational corporations, monitor screens large and small, human
>and non-human all of these represent a seamless convergence of time
>and space in a world made of compartmentalized moments and discrete
>invisible transactions.  Somehow it all just works. Frames per
>second, pixels per square inch, color depth resolution measured in
>the millions of subtle combinations possible on a monitor screen
>all of these media representations still need a designated driver.
>From the construction of time in a world of images and advertising,
>it's not that big a leap to arrive at place like that old Wu-Tang
>song said a while ago "C.R.E.A.M" - "Cash Rules Everything Around
>Me."  That's the end result of the logic of late capitalist
>representations redux.
>Think of the scenario as a Surrealists' walking dream put into a
>contemporary context. Andre Breton first stated the kind of will to
>break from the industrial roles culture assigned everyone in Europe
>back in 1930: "the simplest Surrealist act consists of dashing down
>into the street, pistol in hand, and firing blindly as fast as you
>can, as fast as you can pull the trigger, into the crowd. Anyone who
>at least once in his life, has not dreamed of thus putting an end to
>the petty system of debasement and cretinization in effect has a
>well-defined place in that crowd, with his belly at barrel level ":
>weapons drawn and firing as you take a sleepwalk through the crowded
>thoroughfares and shopping malls of the information age, your
>statement makes even less sense than the world that you want to join
>as you become a mediated celebrity straight out of a Ballard short
>story or maybe Warhol's kind of 15 minutes of fame.
>What the Surrealists called "automatic writing" - letting the
>subconscious thoughts become a formalized artistic act - gets
>flipped, becomes a gangsta dreamtime remix, like an open source
>Linux coded operating system, psychogeographic shareware for the
>open market in a world where identity is for sale to the highest
>bidder. Screen time. Prime Time: Life as a infinite level video game
>with an infinite array of characters to pick from. Like I always
>say, its one of those situations where, poker faced, the dealer asks
>you "pick a card, any card"  It's a game that asks - "who speaks
>through you?" There are a lot of echoes in the operating system, but
>that's the point. The game goes on. The moment of revelation is
>encoded in the action: you become the star of the scene, your name
>etched in bullets ripping through the crowd. Neon lit
>Social-Darwinism for the technicolor age. Set your browser to drift
>mode and simply float: the sequence really doesn't care what you do
>as long as you are watching. "Now" becomes a method for exploring
>the coded landscapes of contemporary post-industrial reality, a
>hypgnagogic flux, a Situationist reverie, a "psychogeographie" - a
>derive without beginning or end  ask any highschool student in the
>U.S. and they can tell you the same thing.
>Most people trace the idea of time without variation to Newton's
>1687 Principia. With the term "Absolute Time" he created a sense
>that the world moved in a way that only allow one progression, one
>sequence of actions. Joel Chadabe's, director of the Electronic
>Music Foundation in the U.S., book length essay on the idea of Time
>and electronic music, "Electric Sound" points us to a the old
>referential style of thought that Newton highlighted: "as if models
>of a synchronous universe, every musical composition and painting of
>the Newtonian period - roughly from 1600 to 1900 - reflected one
>line of time. In every musical composition, there was but one line
>of chord progessions to which all notes were synchronized. In every
>painting, there was but one line of travel for the viewers eyes, one
>perspective to which all objects were synchronized. " The kind of
>synchronized time imagined in this scenario is what by most
>accounts, fueled the Industrial Revolution, and lubricated a culture
>based on highly stratified regulation of the limited amounts of time
>available for production. Einstein's 1905 Special Theory of
>Relativity paved the way for the physics that Richard P. Feynman
>would extend and develop much later in the century. As Chadabe puts
>it: "Einstein's universe was a multiplicity of parallel and
>asynchronous timelines. " Chronos, the Greek god of Time, was a
>cannibal: he devoured his children and left the universe barren.
>From time all things emerge and into Time all things go. Chronos at
>the heart of Europe, Chronos at the crossroads becomes a signpost in
>suspension - multiplication of time versus the all consuming one
>track time, one track mind.
>Anyway, feel a million flurries of now, a million intangibles of the
>present moment, an infinite permutation of what could be the
>thought gets caught You get the picture. In the data cloud of
>collective consciousness, it's one of those issues that just seems
>to keep popping up. Where did I start? Where did I end? First and
>foremost, it's that flash of insight, a way of looking at the
>fragments of time. Check it: visual mode - open source, a
>kinematoscope of the unconscious: a bullet that cuts through
>everything like a Doc Edgerton, E.J. Maret or Muybridge flash frozen
>frame. You look for the elements of the experience, and if you think
>about it, even the word "analysis" means to break down something
>into its component parts. Stop motion: weapons drawn, flip the
>situation into a new kind of dawn. It's only a rendition of
>Breton's dream - surrealism as a mid-summer nite's scheme, check the
>derive in the 21st Situationist scene. A scenario on the screen:
>camera obscura, the perspective unbound walking through a crowd, gun
>drawn, firing wildly until everyone is gone could it be another
>version, another situation  like the police whose 19 out 41 bullets
>shot Diallo dead or the kids that walk into the schools to live out
>their most powerful stunningly banal lives by ending their
>classmates.  This  is how it is in the sign of the times - an
>advertising tie into the symbols of a lawless world ,something
>anything to grasp onto to give meaning to the ultra swirl
>Or something like that.
>For Breton and the Surrealists that moment of total freedom -
>walking into a crowd firing blindly, was a psycho-social critique of
>the way that time and culture had been regimented in an industrial
>society. Freedom was in the abandonment of the roles that they, like
>everyone else around them, were forced to play. Flip the script,
>timestretch the code: From Frederick Winslow Taylor's "clockwork
>economy" that was taken from his "Principles of Scientific
>Management" on up to the hypercondensed TV commercials of the early
>21st century the motif: "Money is time, but time is not money."
>What happens when you look at the time part of the phrase? You're
>left with a paradox in math and physics translated into the social
>realm of human transactions and the uncanny system of
>correspondences that make up the components of reality as we know
>it. What would happen if the dream stopped? What would happen if the
>bright lights and technicolor illusions that hold contemporary
>reality together were swept away in a swirl of static? What would we
>do if that place where all the stories come from suddenly vanished
>like a mirage in the desert of our collective dreams? As the amount
>of information out there explodes exponentially and threatens to
>become almost the only way people relate to one another, it's a
>question that seems to beg a response: what would happen if it just
>vanished and the lights went out? I write this after a week of
>intense activity - a trip to Washington D.C. where I saw first hand
>some of the time machines the Naval Observatory on Massachusetts
>Avenue uses to measure half-life decay of cesium particles and their
>relationship to the precise measurement of time, and then the image
>and soundtrack switched and now I'm in Austin, Texas, half a country
>away, for the SXSW film festival of interactive media. Crossfade in
>to a week later, Newark Airport, transfer to the Toronto Music
>Festival. The script unfolds while the fragments coalesce. I like
>to think of this kind of writing as a script information  - the self
>as "subject-in-synchronization" (the moving parts aligned in the
>viewfinder of an other), rather than the old 20th century
>inheritance of  the Cartesian subject-object relation.  What are the
>ontological implications for such a shift? What does this kind of
>"filmic time" do to the creative act, and how do we represent it?
>It's been well documented that music has engaged these issues from
>the beginning of the cinema moment. From the  first sound film "The
>Jazz Singer" to D.W. Griffith's awe inspiring classic "Birth of a
>Nation" the issue of how to deal with different approaches to the
>notion of fragmented time - and how we portray it - has haunted the
>cinema. After a couple of years of movies like "The Matrix,"
>"Bamboozled," and "Blair Witch Project" it seems that, without a
>doubt, the conflicting impulse of how to portray psychological time
>has become a core motif in cinema. Early films, like Oskar
>Fischinger animation intro for Disney's "Fantasia" or Many Rays's
>film shorts explored how portray the human subject in relation to
>the objects around us. But when jazz entered the picture, that's
>when things really flipped into a more immersive narrative context.
>The first sound film to hit pop culture's criteria of  mass ales and
>massive influence was Alan Crosland's 1927 epic "The Jazz Singer" -
>film shorts were used to keep audiences occupied while film reels
>were changed. The ongoing relationship of how to go between images
>arrives and conquers - becomes song.
>A blip on the radar? A database sweep? A streamed numerical
>sequence? In a short space, my narrative has switched formats and
>functions, time and place - all were kind of like fonts - something
>to be used for a moment to highlight a certain mode of expression,
>and, of course, utterly pliable. As I sit here and type on my
>laptop, even the basic format of the words I write still mirrors
>some of the early developments in graphical user interface based
>texts  still echoes not only in how I write, but how I think about
>the temporal placement of the words and ideas I'm thinking about. It
>a world view that  definitely ain't linear. came out of the
>graphical user interfaces invented by the likes of Alan Kay, and
>Douglas Engelberts, and Ivan Sutherland - stuff that let you move
>into the screen and interact with the icons and objects on the
>monitors surface. Into the picture, into the frame - that's the name
>of the game. Context becomes metatext, and the enframing process, as
>folks as diverse as Iannis Xenakis, Kool Keith a.k.a. Dr Octagon or
>Eminem can tell you, like Freidrich Kittler, "Aesthetics begins as
>'pattern recognition. "
>Repetition and Claude Shannon? Repetition and James Snead? As has
>been well documented by folks such as Tricia Rose, James Snead, and
>Sherry Turkle (whose book "the Second Self" could be a digital era
>update on W.E.B. Dubois critique of African American "Double
>Consciousness" and the multiplying effects of digital media on self
>representation) the sense here is one of prolonging the formal
>implications of the expressive act - move into the frame, get the
>picture, re-invent your name. Movement, flow, flux: the nomad takes
>on the sedentary qualities of the urban dweller. Movement on the
>screen becomes an omnipresent quality. Absolute time becomes dream
>machine flicker. The eyes move. The body stays still. Travel. Big
>picture small frame, so what's the name of the game? Symbol and
>synecdoche, sign and signification, all at once, the digital codes
>become a reflection, a mirror permutation of the nation. Where to
>go? What to do to get there?
>	Sometimes the best way to get an idea across is to simply
>tell it as a story. It's been a while since late one Autumn
>afternoon in 1896 Georges Melies was filming a late afternoon Paris
>crowd caught in the ebb and flow of the city's traffic. Melies was
>in the process of filming an omnibus as it came out of a tunnel, and
>his camera jammed. He tried for several moments to get it going
>again, but with no luck. After a couple of minutes he got it working
>again, and the camera's lens caught a hearse going by. It was an
>accident that went unoticed until he got home. When the film was
>developed and projected it seemed as if the bus morphed into a
>funeral hearse and back to its original form again. In the space of
>what used to be called "actualites" - real contexts reconfigured
>into stories that the audiences could relate to - a simple opening
>and closing of a lens had placed the viewer in several places and
>times simultaneouly. In the space of one random error, Melies
>created what we know of today as the "cut" - words, images, sounds
>flowing out the lens projection would deliver, like James Joyce used
>to say "sounds like a river." Flow, rupture, and fragmentation - all
>seamlessly bound to the viewers perspectival architecture of film
>and sound, all utterly malleable - in the blink of an eye space and
>time as the pre-industrial culture had known it came to an end.
>	Whenever you look at an image, there's a ruthless logic of
>selection that you have to go through to simply to create a sense of
>order. The end product on this palimpsest of perception is a
>composite of all the thoughts and actions you sift through over the
>last several mirco-seconds - a soundbite reflection of a process
>that's a new update of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein or the German
>proto Expressionist 1920 film "Der Golem," but this time it's the
>imaginary creature is made of the interplay fragments of time, code,
>and (all puns intended) memory and flesh. The eyes stream data to
>the brain through something like 2 million fiber bundles of nerves.
>Consider the exponential aspects of perception when you multiply
>this kind of density by the fact that not only does the brain do
>this all the time, but the millions of bits of information streaming
>through your mind at any moment have to be coordinated and like the
>slightest rerouting is, like the hearse and omnibus of Melies film
>accident, any shift in the traffic of information can create not
>only new thoughts, but new ways of thinking. Literally. Non-fiction,
>check the meta-contradiction Back in the early portion of the 20th
>century this kind of emotive fragmentation implied a crisis of
>representation, and it was filmakers, not Dj's who were on the
>cutting edge of how to create a kind of subjective intercutting of
>narratives and times - there's even the famous story of how
>President Woodrow Wilson when he saw the now legendary amount of
>images and narrative jump cuts that were in turn cut and spliced up
>in D.W. Griffiths's film classic "Birth of a Nation" called the
>style of ultra-montage "like writing history with lightning." I
>wonder what he would have said of Grand Master Flash's 1981 classic
>"Adventures on the Wheels of Steel?"
>Film makers like D.W. Griffith, Dziga Vertov, Oscar Michaux, and
>Sergei Eisenstein (especially with his theory of "dialectal montage"
>or "montage of attracttions" that created a kind of subjective
>intercutting of multiple layers of stories within stories) were
>forging stories for a world just coming out of the throes of World
>War I. A world which, like ours,  was becoming increasingly
>inter-connected, and filled with stories of distant lands, times and
>places - a place where cross cutting allowed the presentation not
>only of parallel actions occurring simultaneously in separate
>spatial dimensions, but also parallel actions occurring on separate
>temporal planes - in the case of Griffith's "Birth of a Nation,"
>four stories at once - and helped convey the sense of density that
>the world was confronting Griffith was known as "the Man Who
>Invented Hollywood," and the words he used to describe his style of
>composition -"intra-frame narrative" or the "cut-in" the "cross-cut"
>- staked out a space in America's linguistic terrain that hasn't
>really been explored too much. Griffith's films were mainly used as
>propaganda - "Birth of a Nation" was used as a recruitment film for
>the Ku Klux Klan at least up until the mid 1960's, and other films
>like "Intolerance" were commercial failures, and the paradox of his
>cultural stance versus the technicl expertise that he brought to
>film, is still mirrored in Hollywood to this day. Jazz time versus
>Hollywood time. "The Jazz Singer" versus the silence of "Birth of a
>Nation" on the mind-screens of contemporary America: echo meets
>alias in the coded exchange of glances. What Mikhail Bakhtin might
>have once called "diacritical difference" now becomes "the mix.," or
>as James B. Twitchell says in "Adcult USA" his classic analysis of
>advertising culture, media, and the "carnival of the everyday" in
>the images and sounds that make up the fabric of American daily
>life: "[the situations are] homologues of each other and semilogues
>of those in the genre. Entertainments share diachronic and
>synchronic similarities; they refer to individual texts  as well as
>to all precursors and successorsevery programmers worst fear is
>that we might change the channel "
>If you compare that kind of flux to stuff to Dj mixes, you can see a
 similar logic at work: it's all about selection of sound as narrative. I
 guess that's travelling by synecdoche. It's a process of sifting through
 the narrative rubble of a phenomenon that conceptual artist Adrian Piper
 liked to call the "indexical present:" "I use the notion of the 'indexical
 present' to describe the way in which I attempt to draw the viewer into a
 direct relationship with the work, to draw the viewer into a kind of self
 critical standpoint which encourages reflection on one's own responses to
 the work"
>To name, to call, to upload, to download take on the notion of
>dance and memory. By moving across the screen you uncover slowly
>detirioratting images of dancehalls - a lyrical critique of how much
>we move physically and the immense amount of potential culture has
>for change, it's a situation that's based on geographic and temporal
>simultaneity - i.e. creating a new time zone out of widely dispersed
>geographic regions - reflect the same ideas by using the net to
>focus our attention on a world rapidly moving into what I like to
>call "prosthetic realism." Sight and sound, sign and signification:
>the travel at this point becomes mental, and as with Griffith's
>hyper dense technically prescient intercuts, it's all about how you
>play with the variables that creates the artpiece. If you play, you
>get something out of the experience. If you don't, like Griffith -
>the medium becomes a reinforcement of what's already there, and or
>as one critic, said a long time ago of Griffith's "Intolerance":
>"history itself seems to pour like a cataract across the screen"
>This is the James Snead critique of what Spike Lee ironically called
>"Colored Peoples Time" in Bamboozled, or what Morpheus in the form
>of Lawrence Fishbourne asked Neo in the Matrix: "Do you think that's
>air you're breathing in here?"
>Like an acrobat drifting through the topologies of codes, glyphs and
>signs that make up the fabric of my everyday life, I like to flip
>things around. With a culture based on stuff like Emergency
>Broadcast Network hyper edited new briefs, Ninja Tune dance moguls
>Cold Cut's "7 Minutes of Madness" remix of Eric B and Rakim's "Paid
>in Full" to Grandmaster Flash's "Adventures on the Wheels of Steel"
>to later excursions into geographic, cultural, and temporal
>dispersion like - contemporary 21st Century aesthetics
>needs to focus on how to cope with the immersion we experience on a
>daily level - a density that Sergei Eisenstein back in 1929 spoke of
>when he was asked about travel and film:"the hieroglyphic language
>of the cinema is capable of expressing any concept, any idea of
>class, any political or tactical slogan, without recourse to the
>help of suspect dramatic or psychological past" Does this mean that
>we make our own films as we live them? Travelling without moving.
>It's something even Aristotle's "Unmoved Mover" wouldn't have
>thought possible. But hey, like I always say, "who's counting?"
>Chronos - the all consuming father - watches as somehow his children
>are given a "stay of execution" and he is forced to stay hungry -
>what happens when a scene is no longer a scenario, but a
>computational process?
> 1   Maya Deren, Experimental Films "Ritual in Transfigured Time"
>[1945-6] (Mystic Fire Video,) NY
> 2 ibid
> 3 Andre Breton, Manifestoes of Surrealism, trans Richard Seaver and
>Helen R. Lane, Ann Arbor Paperbacks, pp 124 1972
> 4 Joel Chadabe, "Electric Sound," Printice Hall Press, pp21, 1997
>  ibid, pp22
> 5  Friedrich Kittler, "Literature/Media/Information Systems:
>Essays" (John Johnston, editor), pp130 Overseas Publishers
>Association, 1997
> 6 James B. twictchell, "Adcult USA: The Triumph of Advertising in
>American Culture" Columbia University Press, New York, 1996

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