Monday, July 15, 2013

Thoughts rendered in Internet video.

The following link discusses a a brain study which utilizes millions of 1 second long internet clips to predict the thought processes of an active brain.

Using fMRI the process collects calibrating data from volunteers who are watching short video clips, and uses this data to later predict the visual content of what they are currently watching.  The result is a ghostly image created from an amalgam of videos, which has a quality to its blurriness as if peering into someones thoughts through a glass darkly.

From the article:

In the long term, the hope is that such technology could be used to build brain-machine interfaces that would allow people with brain damage to communicate by thinking and having those thoughts translated through a computer, Gallant said. Potentially, you could measure brain activity during dreams or hallucinations and then watch these fanciful states on the big screen.

This study is a few years old and one can only imagine the process has become keener in its predictive abilities.  The possibility that such a process could "see" into the dream images of an active brain is an exciting proposition and is what I find of most relevance to the project for which this blog was created.  

One of the goals of this project was to recreate a sense of "consciousness" through the juxtaposition of short online videos and to conceptually connect the functions of human memory with media-based "memory".  The question at hand  amounts to:  Is the activation of media based memory through mechanical means essentially relatable to human thought?  And, if that thought could be seen and heard, what might it look and sound like?  What about desires, beliefs and emotional states?

The study and the project are relatable in that they use the vast and growing store of online video as the basis from which to begin this synthesis, pulling these videos out of their original context and re-contextualizing them as the building blocks from which to peek into a consciousness otherwise unseen or un-see-able.  One could imagine a more sophisticated version of the process used in the study could perhaps capture a lyrical moment or series of moments otherwise inexpressible through traditional art forms, one perhaps only possible though the cold machineries of  "generative" computer based art.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Mousetrap

The following essay was my response to an assignment which involved comparing-- The Mousetrap--, the play-within-a-play, in Shakespeare's Hamlet, with a video montage of the same name in Michael Almereyda's 2000 adaptation of the play starring Ethan Hawke.  I post it here as it seems relevant to the content of this blog and represents, by way of comparison, many of my feelings about its conception.  

In Michael Almereyda’s 2000 film Hamlet, the director re-imagines Shakespeare’s play in the art and commerce world of twenty-first century Manhattan. Characteristic with this updating of the text, the stage-play’s play-within-a-play, The Mousetrap, is re-imagined as a video montage.  In film and play, both Hamlets create a presentation from borrowed material.  The film’s Hamlet, however, creates a work which bears neither the burden of presenting itself as another play entirely, nor must it bear the potential missteps associated with a live non-recorded performance.  As such, it is the Hamlet of the film which seems to have more directorial control.
Both Hamlets create a work from borrowed material.  In the play, this material is borrowed mainly from a single source, The Murder of Gonzago.  It is fortunate that this play so closely describes the murderous situation with which Hamlet is determined to draw out his uncle.  In this sense, Hamlet is playing the part merely of curator.  He goes further, however, in his control of the play and adds lines. “You could for a need study the speech of some dozen lines or sixteen lines, which I would set down and insert in’t, could you not?”(2.2.537-539).  
In the film, Hamlet borrows from a number of sources for the video montage.  Interestingly, much like the play, where Hamlet borrows a well-known play from antiquity, in the film Hamlet borrows mainly filmic images from film’s golden age through the 70’s, including what seem like sitcoms, PSAs, a few golden age epics, and even pornography.   As curator and editor, Hamlet has the power to juxtapose these images in a variety of ways, using any or all of the editing abilities afforded him by his computer editing suite.  In this sense he seems to be in greater control of the whole of the production.  
Additionally, in the film, Hamlet can edit to his heart’s content until he has what most closely resembles his vision, and can then make a permanent copy of this production.  Lacking these technological advantages, Hamlet in the play must rely on a one time production that either passes or fails.  To this end, he goes to great lengths to explain the tone in which he wants the dialogue to be read.

Speak the speech, I pray you, as i pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue. But if you mouth it as many of our players do, I had as lief the town crier spoke my lines.  Nor do no saw the air to much with your hands, thus.  But use all gently.(3.2.1-5)

This technological advantage applies, also, to the integrity of the borrowed material.  In the play, the players can only be expected to remember so much, however, with recorded media, the presentation is consistent every time.  As such, the curating of the borrowed materials is more exact in the film.  Whatever video Hamlet remembers and intends to use, it will be the exact same video he saw the first time.
Both Mousetraps, however, need to maintain a certain amount of opacity. That is,  the play or video is meant only to affect the King and Queen, yet it is important that others be present to witness it.   In choosing a known play, the Murder of Gonzago can act as both idle entertainment for the many, and condemnation for the few with more subtlety.  However, in the the film, since the Mousetrap video montage is more an original work, and is understood as such, the potential for the greater audience to interpret Hamlet’s motives are increased.   By this measure, Hamlet sacrifices a degree of the production’s opacity in exchange for greater control of the finished work.
In the play, Hamlet may have, if he decided to, written his own play.  As a prince, it isn’t hard to imagine that he could have had the resources needed to pull of an original production, or something more-his-own.  This brings up the question as to what extent each Hamlet considers himself artist or avenger.  It would seem the Hamlet in the film is more the artist and the Hamlet of the play the avenger.  However, in the film, Hamlet’s personal videos seem more like a diary than a film, a more modern version of the oratory self-reflection of the play’s Hamlet.  Like in the play, it is his need for vengeance that inspires him to create.  
In this sense, directorial control is only a secondary concern.  The real joy of the creation doesn’t lie in the self-expression, but in the revenge.  However, it could be argued that the play-within-a-play or the film-within-a-film could be considered a sort of revenge in its self.  And, it is this sort of revenge Hamlet seems to be most capable of.  “Must I like a whore unpack my heart with words?,”(2.2.583) Hamlet asks himself.  In Almereyda’s adaptation, he unpacks his heart with images.

Sunday, May 9, 2010


Dimensions of Compatibility
An experiment in narration, musical improvisation, and conceptual montage featuring original and found digital video, still photography, and panorama.
Video Installation @ Cranky Yellow
2847 Cherokee Street June 25th through July 25th
Opening Screening with live music and video projection June 25th @ 8pm