Paul D. Miller on Wed, 6 Apr 2005 15:36:51 +0200 (CEST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> Scripted Space: Film Form, Film Formlessness

To Various and Sundry - This is the preface for a
book coming out that will accompany a
book/catalog for the multimedia component of the
festival. Artists included in the book: Darren
Aronofsky, Matthew Herbert, Coldcut and others.

Its been a while, but hey, I've been busy.


Paul a.k.a. Dj Spooky

=46ilm Form/Film Formlessness

"In Nature we never see anything isolated, but
everything in connection with something else
which is before it, beside it, under it, and over

Goethe, 1825

"The perfect beat - can never really be found,
its the search that makes the event happen"
Afrika Bambaataa - "Looking for the Perfect Beat", 1979


What happens when you see an image, but hear no
sound? What happens when you hear a sound, but
see no image? These are rhetorical questions in
search of rhetorical answers. The method of the
inquiry is what drives the investigation. Thought
holds the bits and pieces of the process
together, but that's my point. These days it
almost seems as if media has become an entire
ecology for most of the "developed world." With
our cell phones able to beam us high resolution
videos, our 'podcast attention span searches for
the next download almost like a character out of
William S. Burrough's "Beat" imagination. Our
bill boards switching images with blinding speed,
our advertisement drenched urban landscape that
stretches from the city to the suburbs, and the
exurbs beyond is a coded landscape, a Sphinx that
asks a riddle for which there is no answer: how
do you make sense of the datacloud? The "mix" has
absorbed all of this. Artificial or real, nature
or nurture - the idea of nature has been
displaced by the man made environment of the
urban NOW. All of this we take for granted. We
wake up in the morning, and we turn on the
computer to download the days details. We move in
a stream of data that almost seems insatiable.

Collage? Forget it - its last century's news.

Bricolage? So very 1920's.

=46luxus? C'mon=8A

Neo-Expressionism? C'mon=8A that went out in the 1970's. It's tired.

New term:
Scripted Space

Public Expression, private space: a flux of
architectures frozen and then dethawed. The
liquid play of software, wetware, and hardware.
Like Warhol: From A to B and back again. The
loops these beats are made from move between the
realm of the visual and the audio, the tactile
and the invisible.

Scripted space: Architecture is nothing but
frozen music. Music is nothing but liquid
architecture. We dethaw the process. This is the
experience economy.

It's generally agreed that the first known use of
music with the cinema was on December 28, 1895,
when the Lumi=E8re family attempted to test the
commercial value of some of its earliest film
works. That first screening, with piano
accompaniment, took place at the Grand Caf=E9 on
the Boulevard des Capucines in Paris. It's also
generally believed that at the fist public
showing of the Lumi=E8re program in Britain, at the
Polytechnic on Regent Street, a harmonium from
the Polytechnic's chapel was used to accompany
the screening. This performance occurred on
=46ebruary 20, 1896, and by the time Spring arrived
in April that year, orchestras had become popular
musical accompaniment for films wherever they
were played  . The idea of the "theme song" took
on a life of its own as cinema evolved from the
small theaters to become a genre in its own
right. Today when we look at remixed video clips
by groups like Emergency BroadCast Network,
Hextstatic, or Eclectic Method, one can say the
same logic at play: essentially, sound is meant
to be the glue holding the collage of experiences
together. The theme song is an audio logo lifted
from any scene, any mix CD, and sound file - and
given an imaginary context. Theme and scene.
Rhythm and edited context. The listener, or the
viewer puts the meaning together. Again, the mix,
is what you make of it.
	A couple of years after the Lumi=E8re crew
made their name in the film industry the Russian
composer Alexander Scriabin created works that
were meant to embody a concept where light
projections were extensions of the orchestral
works he composed. Light and sound were meant,
essentially, to be interchangeable. It's hard to
say whether Sciabin was a madman, a genius, a
philosopher, or a mystic. All that's certain is
that he wanted to, as he would put it, create a
'theater of sound' that immersed the listener in
an imaginary landscape. "I create you as a
complex unity" he wrote in his "Po=E9m de l'extase"
A visionary? Scriabin was all of this at the same
time - a personality that combined contradictions.

According to the Brazilian musicologist Lia Tom=E1s:
Sample clip begins:
  We take a sample from a text, and flip it into
the remix file: In his first compositional phase,
which lasted until 1898, Scriabin was explicitly
influenced by Chopin. After that, he started to
be interested in philosophy, getting in touch
with several systems, yet not delving deeply into
any. Having read authors like Goethe, Nietzsche,
Schopenhauer, Plato, and Schelling, Scriabin
decided on systematizing a formulation of his
own, which would reflect more his conception of
the world. Wagner's idea of  =ABTotal Work of Art=BB
attracted Scriabin's attention, as it met his
early reflections. Like Wagner, Scriabin could
not consider music as pure music, having itself a
reference. That seemed absurd to him. Music had
to express something. This conception of
Gesamtkunstwerk was based upon a merger of
philosophy, religion, and art, where a
transubstantiation would be achieved through
music, sound leading to ecstasy. Through this
musical rite, he intended to recover the ancient
history of magic powers (Bowers 1970,1:319).

And it is in =ABPrometheus, The Poem of Fire=BB, his
last symphony, that his project comes true. One
of Scriabin's most daring compositions, it
requires, besides the orchestral apparatus
(orchestra, choir, and piano), a "tastiera per
luce", a keyboard for light that projects
predetermined colors in synchrony with the music.
In the original score, there is a supplementary
staff denominated =ABLuce=BB, where there are musical
notes corresponding to the colors determined by
the composer. For Scriabin, this correspondence
should occur in a synthetic manner. He suggests a
colorful audition of the work. With this view,
starting from an arbitrary, personal color scale,
he matches the colors chosen with the fundamental
notes of the inversions of the synthetic chord.
Thus, the =ABLuce=BB staff accompanies the harmonic
succession of the work.

With =ABPrometheus=BB, Scriabin opened a new
vocabulary in his musical language. He created
music where concepts of basic traditional harmony
such as the idea of tonality are replaced by
preconceived harmonic nuclei that can generate
the theme and unify the derivations of the chords
in the composition. Like "lego blocks" of sound,
we do the same thing with software. It's an
inheritance as much as from Duchamp's "found
objects" as it is from the idea of using
pre-composed blocks of sound (then having an
orchestra play them). The sample is an abstract
machine: it can be any instrument. Check it: For
Sciabin this "nucleus" in the middle of his chord
is a code generator - it's defined by Scriabin as
the =ABsynthetic chord=BB, also known as tonality
chord or mystic chord. It consists of a
hexaphonic chord composed by a superposition of
perfect, augmented, and diminished fourths: C -
=46# - Bb - E - A - D. This chord is continuously
used throughout the composition and, besides
serving as a basis and a unifying principle, will
be the producer and propeller of all the musical
discourse.  So to with multi-media. I draw a link
- it's up to the reader to connect the dots.

With a more careful reading of the composer's
texts, it can be observed that they have an
underlying thinking, an indicator that can lead
to another key to the understanding of Scriabin's
universe. This key is in another structure of
thinking, which cannot be seen as false or
deceiving, although its foundation lies on a
setting other than the rational one: myth
thinking becomes myth science. Play variable X to
generate variable Y, cut and paste the end
result. Edit, loop, break it down. Compile and
render the file. Repeat . Sample Clip Ends:
So what are we art loving, ADD (attention deficit
disorder) frazzled, and digitally overloaded
artists, writers, and musicians to think about
all of this? My answer is simply this: think and
play. Plug and play. Download and play. Always
remember: the keyword in this search engine:
"play." So many of us are too serious. We in the
United States have had the most mediated war in
human history fought in front of our eyes, and no
one knows what's going on. We've watched
elections televised, edited, and sequenced in a
way that would have made Stalin proud. It's that
obvious, and still, the population has no idea
what's going on. How does one of the most
advanced nations on the planet have one of the
most ignorant populations on the planet? Simply
put: our media ecology, like so much else in the
world, is completely screwed up. It doesn't take
a rocket scientist to understand that the
difference between Europe and the U.S. is based
on a different ecology. The soundtracks are
different too! Once it gets to multi-media and
contemporary art, the difference meter goes off
the scale. I don't even know where to begin or
end the critique, but the main thing to think
about is that the way we consume entertainment is
a good place to start. The Subliminal Kid, Dizzee
Rascal, Blacktronica, Airborne Audio, TV on the
Radio=8A. Hexstatic, Coldcut, Macrosound listserv,
Illegal Art, Sonic Outlaws, Emergency Broadcast
Network, Panoptic=8A And so on. These are names of
producers, artists, and creatives. Pseudonyms for
the work they do. The method is the mode. The
mode is the medium.

	According to the Economist's April 2005
edition and TNS Media Intelligence
( there are
something like 400 to 700 brands that come into
existence everyday. And each and every one of
them needs attention. It's a world where identity
and attention, become scarce resources. In this
info-drenched landscape the sounds of film, the
film of sounds, become a mytho-poetic space. They
create a logo-centric realm where we inhabit the
images that we create with an ease that would
have astounded Sciabin and the Lumi=E8re family.
One era's technology is another era's mythology.
That's what I've been hinting at all along: the
multimedia environments you'll be reading in the
rest of this book are conversations about a
certain kind of media literacy. One that posits
"reading" as being aware of the interplay of
archival elements, and asks, like a dj, for you
to make your own mix of the fragments. Again, we
go back to the idea of the "audio logo" - this
time think about the impact of Raymond Scott's
compositions that were used as backdrops for Bugs
Bunny, and think about how each character's
movements are accompanied by a shift in sound
texture. The fragments become echo chambers for
the movements that they reflect. The same thing
happens with multi-media and film composition in
a digital environment.

"Whatever our hearing tells us about space and
the directions from which sounds reach us is not
strictly indispensable=8A space and time are
annihilated=8AIt strikes us as uncanny that
pictures can bbe sent by telephone, and that we
can see by radio=8A "
Rudolph Arnheim "Film As Art: A forecast of Television"

Cellulae means simply, in Latin - "little rooms"
or "compartments" - think of the same word
applied to cellular networks, cellspace, mobile
networks, virtual reality, evolution,
nanotechnology, and mobile media - frames per
second on celluloid, or lines per millimeter for
NTSC and PAL. You've just mapped one metaphor
onto another. Biology meets technology in the
exchange. And both gain. It's a situation where 1
+ 1 =3D anything. Think of the wordplay on the term
"media" and apply the same metaphoric shuffle,
and you get all sorts of multiple perspectives.
Again: that's the point.  The woes that have
befallen the "old media," all puns intended, have
reached cartoonish proportions. Let's look at
Sergei Eisenstein's essay written in Moscow,
April 1929 after the rise of the Soviet Union -
and see how resonant it is with our media


	The Projection of the dialoectic system of things
	Into the brain
	Into creating abstractly
into the process of thinking
	yields: dialectic methods of thinking;
	dialectic materialism -			Philosophy.

And also:

	The projection of the same system of things
	While creating concretely
	While giving form
	Yields:					Art.

What Eisenstein focused on was a kind of
"dialectics" of projection that we are now living
in as a basic foundation for contemporary
multi-media. He went on to write: "The foundation
for this philosophy is a dynamic concept of

Being - as a constant evolution from the
interaction of two contradictory opposites.

Synthesis - arising from the opposition between thesis and antithesis=8A.

The spatial form of this dynamism is expression.
The phases of its tension: rhythm. 

When the record collection of noted
anthropologist Harry Smith was released as a
statement that sought to define American folk
music he was perplexed. He won a Grammy Award for
it, and he was still pretty confused. For him,
his record collection had always been a sound
track to play for friends that would come over to
his loft in downtown Manhattan. The records would
play, and he would switch them in time to the
collage films he had hand drawn in sequence to
music by the likes of Charles Mingus, Prince
Albert Hunt's Texas Ramblers, and the Beatles.
=46rom Cajun social music to Appalachian murder
ballads, his film's record-turntabel soundtracks
were collages of radically disparate cultures
and, like the multi-media scene today - they were
often unfinished and unstable. They were drawn by
hand because that was the way things worked for
Harry Smith. For our digital media drenched
landscape, we edit by hand and use software to
interpret the gestures. We've come full circle.
The Beats of the 1950's represented a break in a
hyper conservative American culture, and in the
same way that Eisenstein would link montage to
his state apparatus (he made films dedicated to
Lenin after all=8A), Smith made films that
reflected his milieu. Multi media - the speed of
sound, the sound of speed, reflects this like an
archaeology of broadband. See how those old 56k
modems work in the era of Land Area Networks, and
cellular relays, and think of what it was like to
play records at a "Beat" party of the 1950's with
projections. For us, the Beats have become our
beats. We move to rhythms dispersed like
waveforms, our sounds are alive like the last
living leaf from a dying tree. We reflect deeply
uncertain times. Again: the natural and the
artificial blur with blinding speed. In the 19th
century Karl Marx would say "all that is solid
melts into air." In our era, we repurpose that
phrase and remix it: all that was solid becomes
software. Music is a mirror held up to the world
to see what stares back. The image is what we can
make of it. Sound track/image track. All mutable,
all mutually conditioning.

Scripted Space>Sample Clip begins> Norman M. Klein, film historian>C:dir>

Where does that leave our public culture today?
We return to arrangements vaguely similar to the
Baroque mercantile public world of 1620 A.D. but
dominated by new systems of power - under the
cybernetic impact of metaconsumerism (from
warfare to computer games). This eccentric blend
of miniature and the massive produces monuments
for transconsumerism, like the Rococo ceilings in
Las Vegas super malls, and IMAX cinemas, a faux
sky, a transnational special effects sunrise,
instead of the hundreds of thousands of lights
that mapped the Coney Island amusement parks in
1910. Beside it, like princely lords, a baronial
warlord capitalism takes on the heraldry and
paradox of mercantilism in 17th century Rome or
=46lorence. Entertainment, public space, and
electronic feudalism become essentially
indistinguishable. Not that this is new. Feedback
systems have always been essential to special
effects =8A Scripted space implies code as the
foundation for any kind of media environment. It
was Oscar Wilde who said so many years ago; "mere
color, unspoiled by meaning, and unallied with
definite form, can speak to the soul in a
thousand different ways." I like to think of this
essay as an exercise in collage thinking, of
starting the reader on a path into the other
writers, artists, and musicians who inhabit this
cinema mediated realm. Turn the page and a
different story emerges from each text.
I'm not exactly sure where its all going, but
then again: I know this - for those who are open
to the world and the information that describes
it, its going to be a very very very fun century.
Make your own mixes! This is a text that says
simply: play instead of pressing "play."

Paul D. Miller alias Dj Spooky that Subliminal Kid

NYC 2005

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  archive: contact: