Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Immersion, suspension, stasis...

So what is this?

This is s a sketch, an experiment, trying out an idea that I’m unsure about. It’s an experiment in making something that suggests or creates an affective state, an attempt to replicate the experience of something in such a way that the experience might be reproduced in the experience of the video, which might be considered to be attempting to reproduce a subjective state, or simply to replicate a situation as far as possible within the possibilities of a medium. Ideally it is intended to be experienced immersively, more of that later, but to this end the closest you can get to achieving some kind of immersion is if you watch it full screen
with the sound on headphones or better still the HD version at http://www.vimeo.com/2510462 (full screen with headphones).

Temporal slippage and the sensation of creeping jetlag, timelag. There’s a point when, after being on an flight for 12 hours, sleep seems impossible, weariness fills every limb, the dull hum of the engine, the occasional rough shuddering turbulence, the blinds drawn, seat reclined as far as possible, squeezed fetal, cabin lights dimmed, long slow feeling as though we could stay here forever, suspended animation, speed and perception, precipitates a kind of swirl of melancholy. It’s this creeping jetlag melancholia, a wistful, pensiveness born of suspension of time or its normal diurnal working patterns that I was trying to evoke: the suspension of a subjective experience of normality, a vague liminal hallucinatory state, a few kilometres over the Indian Ocean. This is the state that I am groping towards trying to recreate in this sketch.

The music that I’ve been connecting to this is the anti-drama of 90’s German techno: the more dubby ambient, deep, end of Basic Channel/Chain Reaction and Rhythm & Sound, or Plastikman’s Consumed, immersive spatial sounds, the sort of music that occupies narrow frequencies, is continuous and based on drones but with almost sub-sonic spatialised reverberant bass and rhythms, the sort of narrow frequencies of the pressurised container with the standing wave of the engine sound.

The interest here is in creating context, an environment, an affective situation rather than a perceptual spectacle or metaphors for vision and consciousness. Video here is not a ‘medium’, not here functioning as a carrier of information, or meaning, not in itself a stimuli for response, or to demand attention, and it is not a spectacle. It suggests rather that the viewer becomes immersed in the context that it creates.

Digital video is not so adept at being the presentation or a record of time past, it cannot easily be broken into discrete images that represent an indexical record of a moment. Digital moving image media is far more adept at thinking spatially. Compression dictates that any discrete moment, if it could be frozen in video, would represent not that one fraction of a second, but a merging of various particles of recordings of both preceding and following that moment, keyframing, bitrates all conspire against the representation of a temporal flow. So now temporal representation is a continuous streaming slippage of a number of points in time, all at once. If this is the case we recreate the illusion of the passage of time through perception and cognition, a slippage of multi-temporalities, or let’s say a lack of temporal specificity, suggests a spatial experience, multiple representations of time suggests the creation of continuity and place, in suspension, a few kilometres over the Indian Ocean.

The problem is that the video is inadequate in producing this context in and by itself without recourse to instructions to the viewer to watch it in HD, wearing headphones, or whatever. The possible best context for creating this context would be to create a space in which this video would be playing continuously, perhaps surround sound filling as much as possible the interior space, an immersive space itself standing in for an immersive space, a box, in installation. This line of enquiry is, perhaps, to be continued.

In the meantime, it has occurred to me that I have already made a film with these kind of immersive qualities, 17 years ago on super 8, it was intended to be exhibited in a cinema space, screening with continuous sound, Harmonic Maheno:

(watch it in full screen, with headphones... etc)


Philip Sanderson said...

In a way psychedelic or a kind of sublime perhaps, maybe subminimal?

Steven Ball said...

Hmm, neither psychedelic or sublime I think, although I can understand how simply watching the video might suggest that. I think Harmonic Maheno was certainly engaging more with ideas of the sublime. This new project though isn't really to do with perception or spectacle in that sense in that I suppose I'm interested in the possibilities of 'the affect' in a relational, environmental way, immersion not in perceiving the image and sound but in spatial relationship to them. It is of course impossible to simulate this with a short video on a single screen, but this might be projected within a box-space that one enters. If I continue with the project there will be other elements which further suggest spatial/installation modes. I was interested at this stage in floating the idea and particularly have been thinking about the efficacy of attempts to replicate experience and that this might only work effectively with some kind of a simulation rather than relying on the perceptual/cognitive affects of the cinematic spectacle to do it by itself. (This is something to do with what Deleuze calls "the affect as entity", having "firstness" rather than "secondness", the later communicated through expression - the most common cinematic affect). So the immersion here is not into (altered or alternative - perhaps the connection between Timothy Leary and Brakhage) states of consciousness through a kind of psychedelic metaphorical image (metaphors of vision), but more the equivalent of ambient music or sound. It occurs to me that surround sound cinema gets closer to this but also relies on perceptual devices, ie one sits facing a screen and inhabits an imaginary three dimensional world suggested through sound. Perhaps a better model would be that celestial descendent of the panorama: the planetarium, or perhaps resurrecting the virtual reality helmet!

Philip Sanderson said...

Well yes this was a road ( or a similar path in different landscape) I went down in the 90s when I abandoned the screen in favour of installations using light and sound in the space directly. I'm not suggesting that I was doing exactly the same thing with pieces such as Overheard Overhead but I recall similar problems when trying to describe it both verbally and orally.

Steven Ball said...

did you also consider the virtual reality helmet?

Philip Sanderson said...

No because what I liked about installation in the space is that its actual, not virtual,not in screen, on screen, but there.

Steven Ball said...

Yes I'd agree that the physical experience of the space being determined by the body's position in and relationship to that space. I was thinking of the virtual reality helmet as a kind of audio-visual headphones for an immersive experience, but having never actually used one I have no idea what the experience is actually like. My impression is that the early ones sacrificed verisimilitude for spatial physical interaction, but I guess computer processing power would have solved most of those problems and the Wii would seem to have inherited a lot of the physical interactivity.


HD rules!
i am floating allready.

(must try anoher helmet.)

Steven Ball said...

haha yes HD and virtual reality work well with abstract video!