Tom Sherman on Tue, 9 Apr 2002 08:35:34 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> An Addiction to Memory

[and the desire to annihilate images]

Tom Sherman

        Non-linear editing has engineered the increasing use of repeat
structures in video. 'Phrases' of images and sync- sound are repeated or
recombined to establish the form and substance of video compositions. The
analogies are minimalist musical structures, or more profoundly genetic
recombination, where the elements of DNA are reassembled in endless
combinations to yield the life's diversity.  Unfortunately, this
recombinant strategy in video produces a synthetic pabulum where the
reconstituted image/sound appears to be a single 'species' of video. It is
difficult to distinguish one recombinant composition from another.

        Recombinant video aesthetics were established by artists Dara
Birnbaum (U.S.) and Tomiyo Sasaki (Canada/USA)  in the late 1970s/early
1980s, and by Granular Synthesis (Austria) and EBN (Emergency Broadcasting
Network, USA) in the 1990s. The television-remixing Scratch movements in
the 1980s in the UK bridged the work of Birnbaum and EBN. All these
artists adopted the recombinant strategy prior to the availability of
digital non-linear editing. There were reasons. For Birnbaum it was a
critical deconstruction of pop culture. Sasaki used repeating clips of
wildlife and foreign cultures to permit audiences to see through the
distancing shield of exoticism. UK Scratch paralleled the emergence of
vinyl scratching in clubs. Granular Synthesis granulated and reassembled
samples of video life, transforming the human form into a machine, an
essence of technology. EBN took video hip-hop to the level of spectacle.

        Video permitted these artists to build on repeat structures
initiated in experimental film (montage/collage)  and minimal music (Steve
Reich, Terry Riley, Philip Glass). There are traditions at the base of our
recombinant cultures. Audio tape recorders and VCRs had permitted artists
like John Cage, Edgard Varese and Nam June Paik to play with literal
memory. As Marshall McLuhan was fond of saying, the instant replay was the
most significant development of the 20th century.

        There is an explosion of recombinant video today. Istvan Kantor
(Monty Cantsin), and Jubal Brown, both based in Toronto, immediately come
to mind. Kantor and Brown produce their own distinct brands of recombinant
video music. Kantor fuses sex and violence in a percussive new form of
image-based rock and roll. Brown operates at higher frequencies of
percussion, dealing with images at a jungle-beat rate. Another artist to
watch is Michael Dimitri Ceraldi. Ceraldi, based in Syracuse, New York,
and signing his tapes "mdc," comes from the world of skaters, and pushes
the deliberate stroll of hip-hop into extremes paralleling the flight and
crash realities of skateboarding. On the West Coast of the U.S., a new
breed of video-scratching groups, including Animal Charm (Los Angeles),
and Century Quartet (San Francisco Bay area), mix their video 'live' in
clubs and art houses.

        In the millennial decade, a time when memory is cheap and the
density and intensity of layered, abutted files increases exponentially
from remix to remix, the traditions of collage and montage are left in the
dust, now looking like an early warning system for an inevitable, societal
addiction to synthetic memory-abuse. Ultimately, this will be a folk
movement. Any ordinary person with a Mac and iMovie may succumb to the
intoxication of exercising the power of digital video memory. Final Cut
Pro offers more control, but video samples stacked in straight-cut repeat
using iMovie are raw and edgy and fresh. The edges of stuttering iMovie
video-clips are so pronounced and rich, encouraging most operators to go
over the top, leading them to make loud, percussive, dense strings of
mechanical, metallic video compositions.

        With enough RAM and ROM and an endless desire and capacity for
repeated experience, a new obsessive compulsive art is seen emerging from
desktop and laptop studios everywhere. Non-linear editing systems are
powerful image processing tools. For anyone angered by the constant
barrage of advertising, political propaganda, infotainment and
advertorials (the pulsing obnoxious surplus of vulgar images in their own
regimen of endless repeat), a personal technological device that chops and
grinds up these threatening, seductive images is extremely valuable, even
necessary, for survival. Basically the digital non-linear video editing
system is an image buzz-saw, the electronic equivalent of a sausage
grinder, or an electric vegetable chopper or juicer.

        There is nothing subtle about recombinant aesthetics today.
Recombinant work is aggressive, vindictive and destructive (not
necessarily deconstructive). Deconstruction depends on a certain level of
sustained, modified representation. The howl of image-blenders today is
the scream of a new abstraction. Rapid, sustained repeats of an image
leave an impression of total, otherworldly, abstraction. Electronic
images, having already broken away from the physical world (automobiles
often 'fly' like an 'eagle'), are even more terminally distanced from
'reality', emptied of associative meaning by numbing redundancy. Images
are made strangely concrete through isolation and repeat. Descriptive,
analogous and metaphoric relationships are wiped out. Images are emptied
of meaning, reduced to retinal objects. The global world of image,
incomprehensibly complex and other-worldly in scale, is crushed and
reduced to a manageable sub-human scale. Context and meaning are
annihilated on the microelectronic level of personal technology.

        Isn't this the buzz? Isn't it satisfying to operate, to take
violent, effective action on a manageable fragment from the colossal,
global world of image? For most people the world's infosphere is a
totality overwhelming in scale. Images of advertising and political
influence permeate the universe of our consciousness. The jet streams of
satellite-spawned image-flow blow right through our psychological micro
environments (embodied units of individual human consciousness). For
anyone resenting the barrage of intrusive, oppressive advertising,
propaganda and ideologically conformist entertainment, isn't it satisfying
to be able to capture a hostile image in a file, and then to beat it into
the ground by repeating it over and over again until every last reference
or attachment to the world at large is gone?

        Does this explain the tendency to pound images to death?  While
some say it is simply a return to the formal excesses of modernity
(expressive abstraction or the necessary structural aspects of
minimalism--recombinant 'beats' basically 'structure' themselves as
audiences are subjected to and recognize the patterns of repeats), maybe
the instinct to sample and repeat is simply an act of aggressive
hostility? Non-linear editing systems are used as weapons for
electric-guitar-like solo demonstrations of machine-gun editing.

        First the moving image is contained or frozen in a file. Then this
file is replicated and introduced as an image specimen on a screen. Its
sync-sound yelps as it is strobed mercilessly and all meaningful
references to the living image are destroyed. This is the pure
objectification of image. As the references fade the image becomes
meaningless, a remnant of memory. Even dead images are beautiful.

        There is an seemingly unlimited quantity of images in various
degrees of repeat in the current global infosphere. We all go through
unlimited quantities of images in various degrees of decay and expiration
in memory. The global image environment is a nether world. This could be
the basis of a new information-based economics. Micro-info-economists
would measure and predict the relative life or death of an image. In this
light, artists who practice recombinant aesthetics at a stroboscopic rate,
are literally trying to beat images to death.


Tom Sherman is an artist and writer, and an associate professor of video
production, media arts history and theory, at Syracuse University, in New
York, USA.  For more information check out:
Sherman's upcoming book, _Before and After the I-Bomb: an Artist in the
Information Environment_, will be released by the Banff Centre Press, May


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