The last 27 years have been a roller coaster ride of rapidly escalating computing power, ever more powerful mobile devices, massive content digitalisation, the development of entirely new forms of content, and steadily developing networking bandwidth and availability. Pitches to clients/funders in 1990 involved serious client-education and evangelising the possibilities inherent in the new media – possibilities that then only a few entrepreneurs, developers, engineers and designers could see. My colleague and co-author, the interactive designer David Collier (Designing for Desktop Publishing, Phaidon 1990) used to preface his pitches/talks/lectures by asking how many in the audience knew what a megabyte was. We all spent hours trying to convince the Record Companies that the new online media would be a serious threat to the CD, trying to tell publishing companies about e-books, marketing companies about interactive advertising, etc, etc. On some occasions, we were in the odd position of talking to middle-management execs who knew little of the visions that their more visionary CEO had espoused. On the other hand, there was the tremendous excitement of working in the heady mix or flux of design/technology/coding of developing new media for the 1990s and 21st century.
In this period all our modern media were reinvented. The catalysts are obvious in retrospect – less clear at the time:
Tim Berners Lee: Nexus World Wide Web-browser 1990
Here we have it – Berners Lee’s WWW was the catalytic engine that really launched the cyberspace age of digital media. We had the infrastructure (the Internet), we had the machines (the PCs, Macs, Next machines, laptops etc) and all we really needed was a user-friendly front-end to make it all accessible to everyone. And Tim Berners Lee not only made this possible, but he made it free as well. And he designed WWW not just for us to link to a number of mainframe-style Internet servers, but to link to anyone’s computer that carried hypertext-formatted documents. His brilliant insight was to provide a simple set of tools (http – for transmitting hypertext documents through the Internet; html – for formatting documents so they could be universally read through a common browser, by specifying the browser, and by giving everyone a uniform resource locator (URL) – a unique address on the WWW). This two-way, multipath, narrowcast, user-up model provided us all with the means to publish, to communicate, to find fellow-travellers, to create new markets and new routes to market – and the tools to disintermediate old-fashioned top-down models. This more than catalysed the digital media revolution, it amplified, turbo-assisted and rocketed it into mainstream culture 1995-1999. Just as Elizabeth Eisenstein (The Printing Press as an Agent of Change 1979) eulogised Gutenberg’s great innovation – the reusable or ‘moveable type’ used in the printing press (from c1439) – so future media historians will place Tim Berners Lee’s inspired invention of the World-Wide Web as the principle catalyst or ‘agent of change’ in the 1990s.
Gutenberg created in Europe a modern moveable typeface letterpress thus kickstarting a bibliographic revolution which, as Eisenstein and McLuhan and other commentators have pointed out, has had global impacts over the last 500 years – for example, McLuhan points to the sequential arrangement of letters, words and sentences as a key elements in the development of logic and the linear exposition of ideas, thus affecting Western culture and sparking the industrial revolution. Berners Lee has provided an easy to use interface to the Internet, AND a system of making, defining and storing and locating documents on internet-connected machines that anyone (after a simple intro to hypertext markup-language) can use – Berners Lee made us a gift of a two-way (bottom-up) medium for self-publishing, inter-personal and social communications, shopping and much else besides – His WWW is even more important than Gutenberg’s Press – it is instant and global and potentially available to everyone, and it doesn’t need wood-pulp!
David Lynch + Mark Frost: Twin Peaks 1990
Just occasionally in my lifetime, there is a work of sheer dramatic genius on television that is outside the genre of historical fiction – off the top of my head, these include The Prisoner (McGoohan, 1967); The Year of the Sex Olympics (Michael Elliot 1968); Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Adams/Lloyd 1978); The Adventures of Frank (John McGrath 1980); Our Friends from the North (Cellan Jones 1996), and of course Lynch’s Twin Peaks. (I know I’ve missed loads out). And there’s nothing more exciting – perhaps because so unexpected? Lynch’s revelation of what surrealist TV soap might be like, with Badalamenti’s haunting music was tops with me and my mates…
Zbigniew Rybczyński: The Orchestra 1990
This is a tour de force of experimental film-making on the cusp of the digital revolution – the early 1990s saw the setting-up of DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting) standards, the invention of Adobe’s Photoshop, the launch of WWW and the Nexus Browser, Adobe’s Premiere digital video-editing software, Apple’s Quicktime multimedia+digital video standard, and MPEG-1 – the standard for digital video. In a series of gob-smackingly elegiac sequences, Zbig, brought up on celluloid film, explores the potential integration of precise motion-control cinematography, classical music, dance and performance with his dedicated troupe of film technicians, actors, and assistants.
“To make my film The Orchestra, I went to France from the United States with three tons of High Definition equipment and a simple motion control camera head. I photographed different locations – one of them Chartres Cathedral. Chartres Cathedral is very big, and very dark inside. I beamed about 250 kilowatts of light upwards, but still the light could not reach the roof. And the rest of the building was plunged in darkness. To expose the mandala pattern on the floor I had to remove all the chairs there must have been a few thousand, or at least a few hundred of them. There were ugly white lamps suspended from the ceiling at intervals of about five meters, so when I used lighting, of course everything was overexposed. Terrible. It was two o’clock in the morning, so I greased somebody’s palm, and we climbed up to a place we could reach the lights from and tried to move them. Then there turned out to be speakers stuck on the walls, and religious tracts. What could I do in the shot? Very little. I couldn’t fly between the columns; I couldn’t change the decor. So I sat on the floor and I decided to ‘photograph’ the flying couple I had seen in Gdansk in my mind’s eye when I was fifteen.”
– Zbig Rybczynski “Looking to the Future – Imagining the Truth,” in François Penz, Maureen Thomas: Cinema& Architecture. Méliès, Mallet-Stevens, Multimedia, BFI, London, 1997
Brenda Laurel: Computers as Theatre 1991 + The Art of Human-Computer Interface Design 1990.
There were several keynote books on the new arts of hypermedia design – that fusion of screen-graphics, useability, information design, information-architecture and presentation that consumer-level software products demanded in the early 1990s, when the CDROM (and its derivatives like Philips CD-i) was becoming at last a viable computer-medium. The books I found most useful included these by Brenda Laurel – HCI Design just full of useful essays and papers by all the leading practitioners; Rheingold’s Virtual Reality – for its up-to-date briefing and histories of this important sphere of immersive interactivity; Ted Nelson’s great Computer Lib/Dream Machines; Kurzweill’s The Age of Intelligent Machines; John Thackara’s Design After Modernism; Gilder’s Life After Television; April Greiman’s Hybrid Imagery, Benedikt’s Cyberspace First Steps – but looking for an introductory book that could combine aspects of all these books – providing context, history, methodology, examples – we began thinking of what our students at the Newham Computer Graphics Workshop needed – began planning Understanding Hypermedia – which Phaidon published in 1993.
Howard Rheingold: Virtual Reality (1991) + Virtual Community (1993)
Through his books, and his experiences as a founder member of the San Francisco-based Whole Earth Lectonic Link (WELL) – a wide-area social-computer-network formed in 1985, Howard Rheingold played a major role in evangelising the new networked media of the late 1980s and early 1990s, and the transformative digital technological arts that were just cresting during this exciting period – especially the Virtual Realities being created by teams at NASA, VPL and Fakespace Labs… Rheingold has contributed to this grand media debate consistently and brilliantly over the last 30 years…
John Sculley: The Knowledge Navigator 1991
This was clever – a promotional film about a non-existent product. An aspirational target, a catalytic converter to direct Apple’s myriad designers, coders and engineers to the aim of creating a non-personal computer product that would integrate internet connectivity (internet, but still no widespread WWW when this was made), a touch-screen interface (but not multi-touch – that came later -from 2006), a multimedia machine with a killer app – an artificially intelligent software agent. Most of the proposed technology for the Knowledge Navigator was already in development around the world or at least a twinkle in an engineer’s eye (the foldable LCD screen, multi-window access to networked data sources and archives, inference engines, expert systems, even software agents), but what was not so straightforward a bit of forecasting extrapolation was the level of user-friendly AI assumed in the film. Sculley had already outlined the idea for the Navigator in his 1987 book Odyssey: Pepsi to Apple. Sculley had been an imaginative CEO at Pepsi when he was hired by Steve Jobs to captain Apple. Sculley played a really interesting role here in pulling-in the best thinkers and designers in Apple’s Advanced Technology Group – and soliciting advice from Alan Kay – to create an aspirational vision – a virtual prototype of a future possible product – a strategic goal for the hottest development team around..
Between Alan Kay’s original vision and sketch of his DynaBook idea (1968), and the final appearance of the iPad (2010), the Knowledge Navigator ‘vision’ (1991) fits somewhere in the middle, but there still isn’t a kid-friendly coding language in widespread use on the iPad (this was Kay’s not Sculley’s vision) – nor have we achieved the high-level AI agent (but we do have Siri – Speech Interpretation and Recognition Interface) there’s still some way to go, but Knowledge Navigator was a useful waypoint.
James Cameron: Terminator 2 Judgement Day 1991
Watching the output of Hollywood at this time – especially the work of James Cameron – was like watching a developing portfolio of the latest computer-graphic techniques. From his second directorial feature The Terminator (1984) onwards his background as a multi-talented technician (special visual effects, set-dresser, matte artist, photographer) shone through his films, especially in his appreciation of CGI and its developing scope as new algorithms appeared to optimise the latest increases in processing power (vis Moore’s Law). In The Abyss (1989) he had found a team at Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) who could produce the 3d, liquid non-terrestrial intelligence that is the principal non-human protagonist. And the liquid-metal shape-changing T2 (played by Robert Patrick) – an Oscar-award winner for best visual effects – was a technical and critical success for Cameron and ILM. My generation had watched the development of computer graphics from basic wireframes through hidden-line removal, surface shading (remember Gouraud and Phong shading?), the rendering of glass, metal and other materials, algorithms for transparency, for smoke, explosions, fire, human skin, motion-capture, etc etc)… These advances took place over a period of 30 years or so, and began to be commercially and aesthetically viable in the late 1980s and 1990s. And James Cameron played an important role in bringing them to life – though other directors, like Ridley Scott (Blade Runner 1982), and George Lucas (Star Wars 1977) and others played a part in this huge advance in cinematography.
Linus Torvalds: Linux 1991
Originally developed as a free operating system for personal computers based on the Intel x86 chip series, Linux has become available for more machines than any other operating system. And this is because it was developed on the open source model – a business model based upon allowing developers free access to the source-code of a software project in development, and encouraging them to extend and further develop the software, on the condition that they, in turn, donated their work for free. It is a highly successful, non-capitalist ‘coopetitive’ model that resulted not only in Linux becoming an enormously popular operating system, but in products like Apache – server software based upon Linux, developed in an open-source style, and now the most popular server-software in the world. See also: Richard Stallman: Free Software Foundation 1985.
Matt Mullican: Five into One 1991
Mullican’s experience of cyberspace (quoted above) is familiar to all of us who were experimenting with the early 3d CGI packages – if you typed in the wrong XYZ coordinates or simply moved a slider too fast, you got lost in the vast virtual space inhabited by your model, and like Mullican became curious as to where exactly you were when you were lost in cyberspace. The same experience sometimes happened in the hyperspace of hypertext too – following a trail of links occasionally you got lost and forgot why. The existentialism and disorientation of this feeling was commonplace among early new media enthusiasts, and echoes that awful cry of beginner computer-users ‘I’ve lost my file!’. It is the role of the user-experience designer, the software engineer and/or the information-architect to design software that avoids this kind of experience and to build devices to orientate the user in the vastness of the space that she is exploring.
Guido van Rossum: Python 1991
Nicole Stenger: Angels 1992 (immersive virtual-reality movie)
Nicole Stenger in her paper Mind is a Leaking Rainbow referred to above continues: “We were getting ready for what would become cyberspace, a wavelength of well-being where we would encounter the second half of ourselves…. Our minds were softly leaking rainbows of coloured imagination, soon to be joined by inumerable rainbows that would embrace the earth and change the climate of the human psyche.” There is a very interesting fusion happening from the late 1960s, between various mystical traditions, hallucinogenic drugs, counter-culture experimental movies (like Mothlight), and even Hollywood experiments (Doug Trumbull’s StarGate sequence from Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey, 1968). I guess this has been true in the avant garde of the early 20th century – where Mondrian, Kandinsky, and many others were heavily influenced by Theosophy, Blavatsky and the other 20th century evangelists like Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. This fusion of spiritual exploration and modern technology (whether film in the 1940s, LSD in the 1960s, computer graphics in the 1980s, VR in the 1990s, AR in the 2000s) is a continuing and very important strand of investigative research in modern art.
(See Theodore Roszak: From Satori to Silicon Valley (1986)
Frank Rose: The Art of Immersion (2012)
Jeff Hawkins + Donna Dubinsky + Ed Colligan: Palm-Pilot wooden prototype (1992) + finished product (1996)
Ivan Getting + Roger Easton + Bradford Parkinson: Global Positioning System (GPS) from 1993-1995
Satellites continued to play a decisive role in the 1990s: apart from GPS, low-earth-orbit (LEO) satellite-telephone networks (Motorola’s Iridium 1997) were in progress, eventually offering expensive but powerful broadband telecoms around the world. A huge variety of multi-spectral scanning satellites like Ikonos (1999), LandSat (from 1972 – LandSat 7 1999), NASA’s Seasat (1978) were providing terabytes of geographical, hydrographic and geological data, From as early as the 1960s (Telstar 1962) the satellite television industry had been growing – dominantly emerging as Sky (Sky Digital from 1998). By August 2015, the Union of Concerned Scientists estimate that over 1000 active satellites are in Earth-orbit, plus some 2700 redundant (out of use) satellites.
Robyn and Rand Miller: Myst 1993
It’s superfluous to say that the early 1990s was an exciting time for those of us engaged in content creation and design for the new digital media – so many things were happening. The whole subject was still of only marginal interest to the popular media, and we had to prise news from a myriad of specialist journals – the PC magazines, games mags, film, TV and A/V mags and journals, IT papers, media columns in broadsheets, Financial Times and Scientific American Special Editions, New Scientist, Nature (etc). Remember this was just before the WWW took off big (really from 1995), and USENET and specialist bulletin boards were still awfully clunky as information-sources. Then along came Edge and Wired. And Quicktime, and MPEG, and games like Myst and Doom – so different in form and content, but both supplying a key link in the chain of hypermedia developments that Richard Oliver and I were able to record in our 1993 book Understanding Hypermedia.
John Carmack + id Software: Doom 1993
Wendy Hall: Microcosm 1993
In her Introduction to Rethinking Hypermedia, her 2011 book, Wendy Hall describes the Microcosm research project: “This book is essentially the story of a hypermedia research and development project that started in the late 1980s and from which has emerged a philosophy that re-examines the whole concept of hypermedia and its role in the evolution of multimedia information systems. It is the story of Microcosm, which was the name given to the first experimental prototype developed as part of this project and which has somehow stuck, to become the name of the project as a whole as well as the philosophy it embodies.”….
“Our goal from those early days (mid-1980s) was to create information-management/authoring environments that allowed application-builders to customise the available (multimedia) resources into individual learning environments (Hall, 1990). This ‘resources-based’ approach to authoring is discussed in greater depth later in the book when we discuss authoring using Microcosm.”
Wendy Hall: Rethinking Hypermedia – The Microcosm Approach (2011) pps 2-3.
Nancy Burson: The New Face of America 1993 + Warhead aka Big Brother 1983
Bob Cotton + Richard Oliver: Understanding Hypermedia 1993
Richard and I – and Phaidon – thought that this was exactly the right time for an overview of where we were at in terms of the new media. While the WWW was still in a fledging state, the potential for the new digital media was at last becoming clear, and we wanted to produce a book that would provide an historical, non-technical overview of this new interactive, digital, multimedia universe that was about to change everything. And it was a real joy working with Malcolm Garrett and his team on the design of the book, and the editorial team at Phaidon Press who produced it.
Steve Jarret (ed): Edge Magazine (from 1993)
Edge was the first-ever games magazine that a designer would gladly leave around his or her studio – beautifully designed, with content-coverage that transcended current games product and stretched to encompass the whole exciting future hinted at by digital media, Edge was a must-have source of information, speculation, commentary on games, networking, digital media, interface design, games production, profiles of leading developers, histories of the games producers and publishers – essential data for any aspiring hypermedia designer!
Louis Rosotto + Jane Metcalfe: Wired Magazine from 1993
1993 was a bumper year for cool magazines – alongside Edge – the British games magazine, Louis Rosotto and Jane Metcalfe brought us Wired – a more general magazine devoted to the impact and promise of the new digital, networked technologies. Wired came with a highly respectable digital provenance – a ‘patron saint’ in Marshall McLuhan, editorial names like Kevin Kelly, (Out of Control 1994) Nicholas Negroponte (of ArchMac and the MIT Media Lab, and Being Digital, 1995), Bruce Sterling (Mirror Shades 1988), Stewart Brand (WELL 1985, and Whole Earth Catalog from 1968)); and with a hip design by Plunkett and Kerr, this was another magazine whose content and form were spot-on appropriate to the time. And you must remember, the Web was still in prototype at this stage – the big impact of WWW coming in 1994-1995 as the first proprietary browsers launched – the early issues of Wired just covered the Internet, the WELL (Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link), and UseNet, Compuserve and other internet-based networks…(as well as devices, CDROMs, games, VR, and consumer electronics, of course).
Scott McCloud: Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art 1993
As a very effective medium of communication, the comic-strip has evolved, especially over the last century or so, into a form upon which other media model themselves – just as this scrolling blog-page is made up of pictures in serial order, a running (linking) narrative, and iconic images. The comic forms the basis of verbi-visual communication (as McLuhan hints – see Marshall McLuhan: Comics – Mad Vestibule to TV in Understanding Media 1964 and Verbi-Voco-Visual Explorations – in several volumes 1967) -film and presentation storyboards are a spin-off, the pictures may move, you can add sound and video clips, you can animate the text captions and dialogue bubbles (etc) but this basic form of serial pictorial narrative is at the heart of much modern media. If you add branching pathways, sort algorithms, 3d environments, linking buttons, and gameplay/learning code, you have an interactive medium. McLuhan introduces comics as an instance of ‘cool’ media – media that invite and encourage participation and inclusivity: ““[T]he modern comics strip and comic book,” he wrote, “provide very little data about any particular moment in time, or aspect in space, of an object. The viewer, or reader, is compelled to participate in completing and interpreting the few hints provided by the bounding lines.” Furthermore, the hypertext inventor Ted Nelson had visualised the potential of ‘hyper-comics’ in his 1974 book Computer Lib/Dream Machines. By combining iconic imagery and serial narrative the comic defines the territory of entertainment media – in a similar way that the movies balance narrative with beautiful or spectacular visuals (eg cinematography). Whatever – Scott McCloud provides the best introduction to this still-evolving medium.
Ted Nelson: Hypercomics schema from Computer Lib/Dream Machines 1974.
Jeff Bezos: Amazon 1994
What an amazing period – these first few years of the 1990s! First the Internet infrastructure is given a friendly and user-friendly front end – and vastly increased functionality – by Tim Berners Lee and Wendy Hall – the communications infrastructure open to us all is radically overhauled from a top-down broadcasting model into a bottom-up network model; Kevin Kelly revisits the underpinning ideas, theories, and inspirations that lead to the Web/Net and to Interactive Multimedia – and writes a brilliant update on Cybernetics, followed a few years later by his ‘New Rules’ – a bible for what was becoming known as e-commerce; Two key magazines come to the fore: Wired in the USA, Edge Magazine in UK – both evangelising the new media; and Jeff Bezos launches Amazon – that god-send for bibliophiles – no longer did you have to rely on the clunky machinery of libraries or book dealers – or the serendipity of searching second-hand book stores (but we still did this – its too much fun not too!); and from zero in 1990 to mid-decade suddenly the world is changed…The success of Amazon was one of the key waypoints on the journey into the digital domain – a journey that was a short step for some (the BBC was quick to realise and exploit the potential of an online presence), a much longer haul for others – the Music Business was effectively disintermediated over the next decade, replaced by several networked file-swapping services, then superseded largely by Apple’s iTunes and iTunes Store. From an initial agreement with the Beatles Apple Corp not to trade in music-related media (it seemed an irrelevance back in the late 1970s), to becoming the World’s biggest ‘record’ company – about 25 years!
Kevin Kelly: Out of Control 1994 + New Rules for the New Economy 1998
Out of Control is a very important book – it’s a 1990s take on cybernetics – essential reading for anyone trying to understand how the world works in the 21st century. For a taster, watch Kelly’s recent TED talk:
Popular science books were a burgeoning publishing sector during this time. Examples like Out of Control and New Rules for the New Economy were followed by several more titles, all of which seemed to tie together into a neat re-appraisal of our selves and our times. See also: Steven Johnson: Emergence – The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities and Software 2001; Tor Norretrander: The User Illusion – cutting consciousness down to size 1999; Steven Pinker: How the Mind Works 1997; Matt Ridley: Genome – the autobiography of a species 1999
Peter Milligan + Brendan McCarthy: Rogan Gosh 1994
“…I sat down with the Scribbler of the Surreal, the Wordsmith of the Weird, Peter Milligan in of all places an Indian Restaurant. As some hideous lager lads shovelled chicken madras into their fog-brained faces, I was struck by the curious, elegant detachment of the young Indian waiter as he dealt with these Drunken Ones, who were playfully lobbing their onion bhaji at a garlanded statue of Ganesh, the Hindu elephant deity. Milligan then collapsed into one of his trance-like ‘poetic’ reveries and we began to cobble together an unlikely story concerning time-travel, Rudyard Kipling, Enlightenment for Yobs (Yobs into Gods cos’ Gods into Yobs), the Corridors of Uncertainty, Sitar Ray-Guns, and the whole vexed question of Indian science fiction, all of which had to be written in the succulent over-descriptive style of an Indian restaurant menu. ‘Sounds fabulous!’ I whispered to Milligan as soft candlelight flickered across like dirty pillows. ‘but we really need a good title. What shall we call it?’ The waiter approached to take our order. I asked him if he could recommend a main course – something spicy but not too hot. He stared at us both for some time, then smiled and said: ‘May I suggest Rogan Gosh?’” (Brendan McCarthy: Amar Chitra- Zoom! Zoom! Zoom! – An Introduction to the strange world of Indian Comics in Rogan Gosh 1994.)
panel by Brendan McCarthy+ Peter Milligan: Rogan Gosh 1994
Quentin Tarantino: Pulp Fiction 1994
Stelarc (Stelios Arcadiou): Involuntary Body/Third Hand 1994
Stelarc is inspirational. He takes some basic cybernetic theory and, dispensing with theoretical speculation and thought-experiments, he dives straight in and immerses himself in cybernetic technology, literally wiring his central nervous system into extra-somatic, technological body extensions like the Third Hand. And he does this as a kind of expanded-performance, examining the possibility of man-machine hybrids, body prosthetics, and ultimately, how people may think their way into a newly minted world where this kind of body-mind interface is commonplace. Stelarc is a contemporary of William Gibson (the inventor of ‘cyberspace‘ in the novel Neuromancer 1984), and just as Gibson was exploring the emerging territory of cyberspace in literary form, Stelarc was doing it for real.
And again, we get the multi-dimensional symmetries of fact, fiction, fantasy, technology, theory: during this period the mathematian/sci-fi author Rudy Rucker was writing his Software > Wetware > Freeware (his Ware tetralogy) riffing on the consequences of the neural-techno-plug-ins potential of Gibson’s Neuromancer. And Artificial Life was being invented by Richard Dawkins, and explored by biologists, game-designers, and many others. At this time also we have Hans Moravec and the great visionaries in robotics, and artificial intelligence, – in Robot – Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind Moravec visualising the post-singularity in a searing sequence of visionary prose – imagining the ex-human, disembodied hybrid intelligence expanding at light-speed through the universe – a poetic vision of the Anthropic Cosmological Principle detailed in Barrow and Tipler’s book a few years before. All these multi-source, trans-disciplinary inputs paralleling Stelarc’s psycho-physical somatic-cybernetic adventures…Wow!
see: Marquand Smith (ed): Stelarc the Monograph 2007.
Rolf Disch: Heliotrope PlusEnergy House 1994
Isn’t this what proper architecture was always meant to do? Provide us with a ‘home’ that would look after us, generate it’s own power, insulate us, even give us an exportable – an income of surplus energy? Rolf Disch did this in the early 1990s – at last, a late 20th century update on the igloo. Surely this is the kind of architecture – self-energising, sustainable – that 21st century people need – not the pompous manic posturing of global capitalism, but architecture that faces the challenge of a planet facing global warming, a post-fossil-fuel economy and where buildings – ‘machines full of loving grace’ look after us?
John Lasseter + Pixar: Toy Story 1995
Ever since the early 1980s we had been glimpsing the creative power inherent in computer-generated imagery (CGI) – for me, first through showreels from SIGGRAPH researchers, and from commercial computer-animation companies equipped with super-computers and high-end Silicon Graphics Workstations (the John Whitney Jnr 3i showreel from the early 1980s stands out – rendered on a Cray supercomputer I believe). Watching each annual iteration of CGI developments – from early hidden-line removal algorithms, through solid-modelling, ray-tracing, algorithms for depicting glass, hair, fur, human skin, human movement and so forth – all these years of time and millions of hours of human ingenuity – you were aware in 1995 of the magnificence of this 30-year collaborative history of CGI – it was embodied in Lasseter’s film.
Dick Higgins: Intermedia chart 1995
Dick Higgins was an important contributor in that period of exciting avant garde experimentation that characterised the late 1950s and early 1960s. It was Higgins who set up Something-Else Press in 1963 – I was lucky to have several books from this imprint – including Higgin’s own Jefferson’s Birthday/Postface double-book of 1964, and Al Hansen’s A Primer of Happenings and Time/Space Art (1965). Something-Else Press published concrete-poetry, the mail-art of Ray Johnson, Spoerri’s Anecdoted Topography of Chance (1966), books by Wolf Vostell, Al Hansen’s work on Happenings, stuff by McLuhan (Verbi-Voco-Visual Explorations 1967) and lots more by his fellow Fluxus artists and poets. Here we have his 1995 take on the Intermedia ‘media-space’ as we approached the Millennium.
John Brockman: The Third Culture (1995) + The Edge Foundation (1988) + edge.org (1996)
Grant Morrison + Phil Jeminez: The Invisibles from 1995
The idea of an ultra-hip, cool and adventurous cell of counter-cultural heroes, was explored by several 20th century artists – think of Michael Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius tetralogy in the late 1960s (and the Mal Dean illustrations that accompanied these stories in Moorcock’s New Worlds SF), early 1970s. Think of the rock groups upon which they model themselves – the Stones, the Beatles, the Social Deviants, the Fugs, the Velvet Underground, Kraftwerk et cetera. Think of the cult art-groups -think of Fluxus, think of USCO, think of Archigram, think of Oulippo, etc. And here Grant Morrison conjures a post X-Men comic underground cell of cool characters, a multi-cultural mix bonded together by Morrison and Jimenez. I love the idea, I love the drawings, I love the narrative layouts…
Steve Grand: Creatures (artificial life game) 1996
In the decade or so since Richard Dawkins revived interest in a discipline that was to become known as ‘artificial life’ (his Biomorph evolutionary software had been published in 1986 see Richard Dawkins: The Blind Watchmaker 1986), the mathematical science of artificial life had grown apace – as had the computing power widely available though personal computers. The tools and strategies of the study of artificial life had matured to a point where we could simulate and visualise not just single creatures (as in Tamagotchi – see next), but whole communities of artificially-alive creatures as in Steve Grand’s game/laboratory Creatures. Steven Levy’s historic overview of the development of Artificial Life as a discipline (Artificial Life – The Quest for a New Creation) had appeared in 1992, and summarised the evolution of this discipline from John von Neumann’s lecture on ‘The General and Logical Theory of Automata‘ – in which he outlines the rules of an iterative cellular automata – that was later, in 1970, rechristened as the Game of Life by John Horton Conway; on to Dawkin’s Biomorphs (1986), and the wave of innovation in this sector that followed…
Aki Maita (below right) + Akihiro Yokoi: Tamagotchi 1996
Neil Stephenson: Snow Crash (1996) + Cryptonomicon (2000)
The thrill of discovering Cryptonomicon, Stephenson’s first mature work – an extra temporal adventure story mashing late 20th century cyber-entrepreneurialism, 2nd World War crypography and cryptanalysis, Special services exploits in Europe and the Pacific War zones, a wonderful detailed and even touching novel, a boy’s own adventure story, an exploration of the early speculations and collaborations of Alan Turing in the late 1930s – all wrapped up in an immensely readable book that travelled around AMX Studios at high speed – a book that contextualised the digital-media world we were designing for…
Satoshi Tajiri: Pokemon 1996
Hayao Miyazake: Princess Mononoke 1997
In the 1980s and 1990s examples of an emerging ‘green’ mythology began to appear in the themes, context and narratives of comics, fantasies, animation series and movies (see Boorman: Emerald Forest, Cameron: Avatar, Attenborough’s Grey Owl, Miyazake: Nausicaä, etc), and for me it is Miyazake’s Princess Mononoke that epitomises this developing genre. Princess Mononoke is also replete with images and sequences that evoke the kind of response to poetic imagery described by Robert Graves in his The White Goddess (1948) – “The reason why the hairs stand on end, and the eyes water, the throat is constricted, the skin crawls and a shiver runs down the spine” – to paraphrase – is because you’re in the presence of the muse – the White Goddess (the primordial deity) – Princess Mononoke has several iconic sequences that evoke this response – the charge of the diseased wild boars, the confrontation with Pan – these stand out as the work of a visual poet… I love these evocations of the muse – the chapter in Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows titled The Piper at the Gates of Dawn does the same thing for me.
Lou Reed + BBC: Perfect Day video mix 1997
Janet Murray: Hamlet on the Holodeck – The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace 1997
As the new media appeared to become ubiquitous (this year everyone had a tamagotchi – they were even given away free with magazine-promotions) or a Pokemon toy or game, the Web was burgeoning as a vehicle for e-commerce – and we were building up a huge growth bubble as we approached the millennium, the level of comment and speculation on where all this was going was growing too. Richard Oliver, Malcolm Garrett and I were working on a new edition of Understanding Hypermedia (published in 1998), and Malcolm and I were preparing a pamphlet: You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet for the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) – and Janet Murray publishes this wonderful analysis of new media and its potential – based upon an idea illustrated in the Star Trek television series exactly a decade before – she asked could we build a real Holodeck? How would it work? What do we have to invent? – then proceeds to analyse the essential components and report on our progress towards such a marvellous materialisation of new media.
Luc Besson: The Fifth Element 1997
Not forgetting the Wachowsky’s The Matrix trilogy (from 1999) of course! Besson became a focal figure in French film history, when the critic Raphael Bassan identified him as the main director in the Cinema du Look style (see Nikita 1990).
Hans Moravec: Robot – Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind (1998) + Mind Children – The Future of Robot and Human Intelligence (1988)
Hans Moravec – a pioneer of Robotics and AI – takes a much longer and more philosophical view than Janet Murray (see previous). His concern and fascination is with what he and others see as the logical and inevitable consequence of our research and development in machine intelligence (AI) – that soon we will have reached a point (Ray Kurzweil calls it the Singularity) when we create a machine-brain that is capable of re-designing and improving itself (without recourse to us humans). Vernor Vinge – the mathematician and accomplished science-fiction author, and Ray Kurzweil (author of The Age of Intelligent Machines 1990, and practising AI developer), also speculated on the Singularity and when it was likely to happen, but Moravec ventures a leap further – to imagine the likely evolution of intelligence (in the form of ultra-intelligent machines (UIM) – ex-humans – or exes) in the universe beyond the Singularity – and writes the most thrilling and awe-inspiring projection of how a UIM might expand through the universe/multiverse. The idea of a Singularity and UIM is also part of a longer and far deeper debate on the possibility of an Anthropic Cosmological Principle, recently presented by John Barrow and Frank Tipler in a 1986 book of that title. These issues – and the conundrum of consciousness – constitute the big intelligence questions of our time.
Bob Cotton + Richard Oliver + Malcolm Garrett: Understanding Hypermedia 2.000 (1998) + You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet (1999)
Larry Page + Sergey Brin: Google Search Engine (beta) 1998
YoYo Ma: Silk Road Ensemble 1998 + Morgan Neville: The Music of Strangers: Yo Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble 2015
Mark Ward: Virtual Organisms (1999) + Steven Levy: Artificial Life (1992)
The Wachowskis: The Matrix 1999
Cynthea Brazeal: Kismet the Affective Robot 1999
Naomi Klein: No Logo (1999) + World Trade Organisation Seattle Protests 1999
Around the time of Naomi Klein’s No Logo, see also John Pilger’s The New Rulers of the World (2002), and Kalle Lasn’s Culture Jam – How to Reverse America’s Suicidal Consumer Binge – and Why We Must (1999). Lasn is the creator of the Canadian anti-consumerism Adbusters movement (and the catalyst of the Occupy Wall Street demonstration), Pilger a respected left-leaning crusading journalist. All three of these writers present the issues. In her 2004 book Green Alternatives to Globalisation: A Manifesto, the English Green politician Caroline Lucas presents a range of solutions. Get reading, get activated!
And look at Naomi Klein: The Shock Doctrine – The Rise of Disaster Capitalism 2007 and anything by Ioannis Georgiou “Yanis” Varoufakis and Paul Mason.
Will Wright: The Sims 2000
Scott McCloud: Reinventing Comics 2000
Ethan Coen + Joel Cohen: O Brother, Where Art Thou? 2000
The great financial crash of 1929, and the resulting depression – which lasted over a decade – had an important cultural impact, resulting in some serious literature: Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath (1939), William Faulkner’s Absalom! Absalom! (1936), and John dos Passos The Big Money (1936), as well as innovations in mass entertainment: The Marx Brothers movies; the madcap comedies and Romcom movies like Capra’s It Happened One Night (1934) and Hawks’ Bringing up Baby 1938), and the escapist fantasias of Busby Berkeley, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.There was a huge growth – both commercially and in terms of innovation – in both the comic strip and the animated cartoon, culminating in Disney’s ambitious feature Fantasia (1941). So in 1940, when Preston Sturges is planning his film Sullivan’s Travels, he wants his hero, the RomCom director Sullivan (played by Joel McCrae), to take the Depression seriously and make a worthy neorealism film provisionally titled O Brother Where Art Thou? To do the research for this film, Sullivan dresses as a tramp and sets off to explore the failed underbelly of American capitalism, aided and abetted by a down-on-her- luck actress (Veronica Lake). The movie reveals the good and bad side of the Depression – the generosity of ordinary people, the harshness of the Law. Anyway, Sullivan, his documents and memory lost in a scuffle, gets convicted and like the other prisoners, looks forward to seeing a film show once a month at the local (black) chapel – Sullivan realises that what people need during a Depression is definitely not a serious high-brow story, but a good laugh.
O Brother takes this premise and casts a satirical eye on the Delta politics and political-cultural revolutions of radio and PA systems, as well as the vicissitudes of the marketplace, and the tenacity of the law. I think its brilliant!
Brenda Laurel: Utopian Entrepreneur 2001
Jimmy Wales + Larry Sanger: Wikipedia 2001
As one of the most enormously important gifts to mankind of all nationalities and languages, Larry Sanger and Jimmy Wales’ Wikipedia must take pride of place amongst all the multifarious benefits of the Web/Net. The idea of a repository of all the world’s knowledge emerged in the 1930s in the grand visions of the Belgian Paul Otlet (The Mundunaeum 1934), and H.G. Wells (The World Brain 1938). It’s very pleasing for me as an anarchist, that Wikipedia emerged as it did successfully in the teeth of a range of private-enterprise attempts to provide an online encyclopedia (vis Microsoft’s Encarta 1993-2009), Encyclopedia Brittanica Online (from 2008). A user-generated, user-edited and updated world encyclopedia, run by the not-for-profit Wikimedia Foundation, and available free for everyone. In 2016, Wikipedia comprised 38 million articles in over 250 different languages, and not only has set the standard for an online encyclopedia (with ideas of user-participation copied by Brittanica, for example), but has become a daily information/education resource for millions – maybe billions – who heretofor might never have used an encyclopedia at all. Wales and Sanger are rightly recognised as megastars in the firmament of new media.
Casey Reas + Benjamin Fry: Processing 2001
Back in the late 1960s, the computer pioneer Douglas Engelbart (the inventor of the Mouse), evangelised the design of computers and software that ‘augmented’ human skills and methodologies. Reas and Fry are doing the same here, developing a powerful visually-oriented programming language that offers some of the complexity, flexibility and subtlety demanded by those visual artists and designers who want their computers to reflect (and augment) how they think and work – rather than being forced into a programmatic or algorithmic way of thinking, if this is alien to them.
Bob Cotton: New Media Opportunity-Space 2001
The design problem was simple: how do you show the extent and diversity of the digital media developments impacting upon the whole World? I looked at lots of maps, at Martin Dodge and Rob Kitchin’s excellent Atlas of Cyberspace (2001), and as I have always been interested in the art of information graphics (the manual/human ancestor of data visualisation), but in the end had to work from the first principles of taxonomic classification, intuition and experience. Social media in 2001 was only just taking off – the main developments (MySpace, Facebook, etc) came around 2003-4, though nets like Friends Reunited and ecademy had been running a couple of years. ‘Enhanced media’ is the yellow zone – in it I included all the digital forms remediated and repurposed from ‘conventional’ media – the analogue print and electronic media that were the status quo at this time. It was the area I labelled dynamic media that was really interesting to me – the arena of original computer-generated media – new experiences like virtual reality, computer games, data-visualisation, simulations – while all these were distantly rooted in real-life experiences, they were genuinely new in the sense of providing new experiences, new ways of visualising data, new forms of education and entertainment, new information-visualisation etc that weren’t simply a remediation of existing forms…
Stephen Regelous + Peter Jackson: Massive Prime (Crowd Generator) 2001
Massive Prime (Multiple Agent Simulation System in Virtual Environment) was game-changing software, making the creation of vast crowd scenes (and the battle-scenes in Lord of the Rings), if not cheap then at least more controllable from the directors point of view. Prime is built by Stephen Regelous of Weta Digital, the special effects company created by Peter Jackson, Regulous and others. It is not cheap, and for years after 2001, it really was the only viable solution to crowed-generation, and consequently appeared in many other fantasy movies, commercials and short films. With developments in PreViz software, CGI, humanoid-modelling, sophisticated compositing and image processing – and other elements of virtual cinematography, the digital effects industry now makes possible the visualisation of anything the director may require. We’re getting closer to the fusion of animation and live-action dreamed of by Sergei Eisenstein in the 1930s. Massive Prime is a huge step towards this goal. Take a look at the showreel:
Randall Packer: Multimedia From Wagner to Virtual Reality 2001
Stephen Spielberg: Minority Report 2002
Alexander Sokhurov: Russian Ark 2002
Doug Liman: The Bourne Identity 2002
As the English director Paul Greengrass went on to direct two subsequent Bourne movies, he added to Liman’s winning formula, with even faster cutting, a much more documentary feel, more outrageous fight and chase sequences, perfecting the Bourne genre with the addition of John Powell’s score and Moby’s riveting Extreme Ways.As I mentioned above, the stylistic and film-craft innovations of Liman and Greengrass in the initial Bourne trilogy had a major impact on the genre. As James Bond was reinvented in Casino Royale (2006) with Daniel Craig, and a less self-parodic, more ‘serious’ approach to the Bond epic, the impact of the Bourne movies was very apparent – action was less stylised, cinematography more gritty, cutting much faster.
Russell Merryman + Cliff Wootton: BBC Interactive Television News – the beginning of the UK revolution. 2002
Manfred Mohr: space.color.motion, P777, 1999-2002
There is a sublime subtlety and certainty about these lovely generative images from Manfred Mohr – they are algorithmically generated as Mohr codes and the computer visualises his exploration of 6-dimensional hypercubes: The computer-graphics pioneer Freider Nake notes:
“We stick to the six-dimensional hypercube. We stick to its 32 internal diagonals and to the paths along edges from the starting point to the end point of a diagonal. There are 720 such paths per diagonal. The new pictures don’t just consist of such edge-paths. Continuing algorithmic research into the black line, those paths are now used to define colored areas. The areas are generated in the following way. Two edge-paths get related to each other by their six edges. Vertices of corresponding edges are connected by straight lines. Quadrilaterals are thus defined which are then colored and projected onto the picture plane. Into this strict process a random element is injected with the choice of four paths of edges (out of the set of 23040 possible ones). (We could describe the generation of the colored areas more abstractly by taking an equivalent graph instead of the hypercube as the start.)
Colors are selected from a palette precalculated by the artist. He maintains a loose connection to the earliest phase of generative art in the mid-sixties: the colors of a palette are randomly selected; if the result doesn’t meet the artist’s taste, he discards the palette and has the machine recalculate it. The overall color style is his very personal decision. It relates to the quality of representamens in the same way as line widths did in the past. Taken together, connectedness, neighborhoods, repetitions, similarities, and shock value of the colored areas, however, are the results of the algorithmic process. They appear exactly as they must because of the algorithm. The artist provides for their possibility by defining the algorithm. He gains a distance from his work whose visual appearance, often enough, comes as a shock to himself. Algorithmics may contain elements of cruelty.
Mohr’s work exists in a double way. It is an individual perceivable, corporeal materialization in its own right. At the same time, it is an instance of an algorithmically (i.e. computable) defined class. This class is the immediate work of the artist. We, as observers, get to see the class mediated only by its instances. They are, in turn, accessible to the artist only through the medium of the computer running under control of the algorithm.” (Frieder Nake: form.algorithm.color – Manfred Mohr: algorithmic man Copyright by Prof. Dr. Frieder Nake, from exhibition catalog ‘Manfred Mohr – space.color’, Museum für Konkrete Kunst, Ingolstadt 2001)
Mike Little + Mike Mullenweg: WordPress 2003
Chris Briscoe + Primal Pictures: The Complete Human Anatomy (CDROMs) 2003
Briscoe had an interesting, multi-part career – as a computer-graphics pioneer at the Slade School of Fine Art (in the basement with a Dec PDP11), as director of Digital Pictures making leading-edge computer models and animations, as a pioneer in using 3d modelling to assist in reconstructive plastic surgery, and of course in this Complete Human Anatomy adventure – that really brings the benefits of high-resolution computer-modelling and animation to the anatomical arts – very effectively bringing the work started by Henry Gray (Gray’s Anatomy) in 1858 right up to date.
see also Catherine Mason: A Computer in the Art Room – Origins of British Computer Arts 1950-1980 (2008)
Scott Bukatman:Matters of Gravity (2003) + The Poetics of Slumberland (2012)
I find that Scott Bukatman is inspirational for the visual artist as well as the scholar – his insights from meticulous research are thrilling. Few scholars approach his seemingly intuitive understanding and empathy with the contemporary, multi-formed zeitgeist. His analysis of Winsor McCay’s fabulous Little Nemo in Slumberland (published from 1905): “Moving from comics to cartoons, perhaps I can introduce one final version of the tension that exists in McCay’s work between the control and discipline so inherent in every line that he deploys and the resistance to discipline so manifest in his comic characters. In 1911 McCay created a truly pioneering work: an animated film of his Little Nemo characters. The film was released commercially with the addition of a framing narrative in which McCay bets his colleagues that he can bring his characters to life; he can make them move (a striking recapitulation of the wager that led to Muybridge’s initial attempts to record animal locomotion). The audience watches him draw some of his characters and gets a glimpse of the labor that goes into the creation of a sequence of animated drawings. Finally McCay screens his film. The animation is dazzling…but part of its magic derives from the contrast with the drawings that we’ve watched McCay produce – all profiles or frontal poses that have nothing to do with the colourful Flip who suddenly turns smoothly toward us to blow a voluptuous cloud of smoke in our direction. The animated figure takes on a playful and thoroughly profound autonomy and inaugerates the battle between cartoonist and creation that will culminate in Duck Amuck. Flip, the character who continually ruins one Nemo adventure after another, emerges from, but I would push further and claim that he in fact eludes, the rigidity of the chronophotograph, Flip and Sammy – smoke rings and sneezes – mark the disobedient and undisciplined body in McCay’s controlled universe.” (Bukatman: The Poetics of Slumberland (2012) p44)
Gore Verbinski: Pirates of the Caribbean 2003
Peter Greenaway: Tulse Luper Suitcases 2003-04
Priit Kasesalu + Jaan Tallinn + Niklas Zennström + Ahti Heinla + Janus Friis: Skype 2003
Video-Conferencing had been a buzz-word for what was considered a killer-app for Internet commerce (or B2B – Business-to-business as it was called then). It was held out as something that would emerge from the ultra-broadband ‘Information Superhighway’- and was envisaged as a high-end product that major players like Bell, Motorola or BT would develop. And they did – creating expensive video-suites in-house for businesses to ‘video-conference’ instead of attending real-world meetings. In the 1990s, I saw several prototypes of much cheaper VideoIP products (video over Internet Protocol), including some very impressive multi-participant, multi-screen equivalents of video-conferencing. But modem speeds restricted image and sound quality, and they weren’t commercially viable until data-compression techniques, and bandwidth, improved. In 1998 I had the then highly rated ISDN (Integrated Systems Digital Network) connection installed in my studio on the Isle of Wight, getting about 10 times the standard modem speed. A few years later compression and bandwidth improved enormously, (from a few hundred bits/second in mid 1980s to 100 million bits/second in 2017) and Kasesalu and his team were able to build Skype and launch it as a viable audio-visual conferencing and one-to-one meeting tool, establishing a dominant lead in this new market place by following Berners Lee and giving it away.
Peter Burnell + BBC: Crisis Command – Could You Run the Country? 2004
Bob Cotton, Peter Burnell, Mike Hayles, Mike Hugg + BBC: Crisis Command 2004
This was great fun – a collaborative effort in inventing a possible future for television – we wanted it to be interactive, participative, realtime – ultimately channelling realtime news casts (what Bunny used to call ‘Fresh Disasters’) into a programme format where invited experts and celebrities were called in to command the Nation’s response to the crisis. The BBC production team, including producers David Tibballs, Jon Hesling, Aiden Hansell – and the renowned BBC journalist Gavin Hewitt, perfectly linked inputs from Amanda Platell, Simon Woodroffe and Charles Shoebridge, and the actors who played incidental roles. The immersive news environment in our televisual command centre (the Bunker) was created with lots of screenage featuring credibly ‘real’ news casts from Channel 4 and BBC News – enough ‘augmented reality’ to convince viewers – and participants – that this was indeed a developing national crisis – putting real psychological pressure on the protagonists trying to decide what to do. The Synergy AI team comprised the central team of Peter Burnell, Mike Hugg, Mike Hayles, and myself, with highly informed input from Malcolm Phillips, our emergency-response expert. There’s still lots of mileage in this format – it was an early example of ‘news-gaming’.
Dr Hirokazu Kato: ARToolKit (developed 1999-2004)
In the last decade or so, AR applications that can be run on phones or pads and viewed on a monocular (head-mounted display) or flat-screen, or through a device like Google Glass or Cardboard have been produced for sectors as diverse as emergency-response, surgery, car-mechanics, gameplay, historical visualisation, museum point-of-information, adverts and interior-design/clothing visualisations. Now that Apple has launched its ARKit with IOS 11 in 2017, we can expect a much wider range of easily accessible AR applications over the next few years. I think these are the X-Ray Specs of the 21st century, enabling us to see aspects of the real-world. The researcher Jay David Bolter produced some original AR experiments with his Ghost Movies in 2001 – walking through old towns and revealing aspects of their history and previous inhabitants through superimposing contextual imagery and information.
Mark Zuckerberg: Face Book 2004
David Baszuki + Erik Cassel: Roblox (from 2004-2006)
Frank Miller + Robert Rodriguez: Sin City 2005
Of all the remediations of comics in film, Robert Rodriguez work on Frank Miller’s Sin City is the purest – a stripped down, 3-dimensional drawn space in which the larger than life live-action characters enact the noir fantasy of Miller’s stories. There is the graphic reduction, the monochrome tints that high-light certain characters and tropes, the pared-down, comic-strip narrative – the truth to the original – both in graphic and cinematic style and in creating a film that shares the same stylistic and narrative paradigm of the original that makes this work in a way that more recent comic-remediations don’t. Topped with superlative performances by Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Clive Owen and the galaxy of fellow stars – this was one the earliest features to be shot almost entirely on a digital set – the actors performing largely against green-screen sets, then the Miller-drawings translated into 3d CGI and the two composited together. The colour-processing of Sin City – the rendering in sharp black and white and the spot-colouring translating the style of the original drawings and printed-comics was critically acclaimed – indeed the whole movie was critically praised, Rodriguez winning the Technical Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. I was very excited seeing this film, not just because of the traditional relationship between film and comics (a long history of remediation from Superman, Tarzan and Flash Gordon (and many others) in the 1930s to the major repackaging of the Marvel Comics stable of superheroes recently) but because these art forms (the movies, animation and comics) are coeval and I believe, always meant to work together synergistically or symbiotically to a common end. As early as the first decades of the last century, animators like Dave Fleischer, Stuart Blackton and Winsor McCay were attempting the fusion of animation and live action, with McCay making explicit the roots of comics and film in his Gertie the Dinosaur film and integrated live-action/comic animation filmed ‘lectures’.
Zachary Leiberman: openFrameworks 2005
Ever since I started getting into the ‘new media’ (aka interactive media, digital media, multimedia etc) my awareness and appreciation of new media art has been measured at least in part by the magic of particular algorithms, by explorative methodologies, by the fusion of previously disparate technologies, by creative coding. This covers a wide spectrum of ingenuity and innovation – ranging from Gordon Pask’s Musicolour and Colloquy of Mobiles through to Google Earth, Dayton Taylor’s Time-Track timeslice videos, the early multi-touch experiments of Johnny Chung Lee and Jeff Han, Chris Chapman’s Multi-Dynamic Image Techniques designed for Expo67 – so not merely computer-based works – but including ingenious configurations of technology. Often in the above examples, these innovations seemed to be the artist looking far ahead, over the horizon of current limitations, to imagine the coming of the digitally convergent age…
Matt Madden: 99 Ways to Tell a Story: Exercises in Style 2005
Given the critical success of Sin City (see previous), and the later blockbuster successes of the Marvel comic-film remediations, there might be room for a 99 Ways to remediate a comic into a film. I would suggest there are many more than 99 – perhaps an infinity of interpretations, given the huge number of variables involved in both media. But to return to Print: in 2006 the graphic designer Marcus Kraft published a typographic treatment of Queneau’s Exercises in Style called “Stilubungen visuelle Interpretationen” which can be viewed at: http://marcuskraft.net/portfolio/2006_stiluebungen_01.html
Lars + Jens Rasmussen: Keyhole Earth + Google Earth 2005
The world-embracing visions of Paul Otlet, HG Wells and Vannevar Bush began to be realised in incremental stages through the 1970s to the present (the main highlights include: ARPANET/Internet (1969-1975), World Wide Web (1990), Wikipedia (2001), Google Earth 2005) and in last two decades we are beginning to reap the rewards of these grand visions of interconnected experts, interconnected knowledge and interconnected technologies. It is hard to underestimate the impact of online GIS systems like Google Earth – they follow the innovations of the Atlas (Babylon 600 BCE) the model Globe-Atlas (Behaim’s Erdapfel globe 1492) as triggers of insight and intellectual curiousity. In the 21st century, the innovations emerging from GIS, from satellite-mapping and from GPS, and from the Web-Net, have resulted in the best, most accurate and current mapping tools ever invented, and they are available to all of us, for free!
(BTW, John Sculley had visualised a global digital GIS in his Knowledge Navigator video of 1991 – the video shows a professor researching a talk he is to give and using a web-like interface and a Google Earth style digital GIS, he can call up recent papers on the subject and create a new illustrated talk using GIS… this is both a visionary and prescient glimpse of the future and an aspirational/inspirational vision of what is now an every day tool.)
John Hanke + Dave Thau + Google: Google Earth 2005
The 1990s was an important period in the development of geographical information systems (GIS). In 1994 we had seen the new media-art group Art+Com developing and demonstrating ideas on the future of GIS in their innovative Terravision installation, and terrestrial information in image and data forms were beginning to pour into the world-brain from multi-spectral scanning satellites like Ikonos (1999), LandSat (from 1972 – LandSat 7 1999), NASA’s Seasat (1978) and others. Never had we known so much geography! By the time Google released Google Earth – and subsequently related media-tools like Google Maps (2007) and Streetview (2007), our cup was overflowing! US-based organisations were releasing their data into the public domain and Google was assembling it into a GIS for us – all the GIS experiments in the 1990s had never envisaged delivering this kind of high-resolution GIS over the internet – let alone providing it for free – to everyone! Wow!
Art+Com: Terravision art installation 1994.
Ben Lavender + BBC: iPlayer 2006
It’s hard to exaggerate the importance of the iPlayer in the massive, world-changing transition from analogue channels to digital media in the last 25 years. Digital not only liberated more channel bandwith, encouraging a proliferation of new channels in both Radio, Television, and Cellular services, but expanded BBC high-quality output into the WWW and Mobile marketplaces too. I remember in the early 2000s attending BBC-Innovation workshops, and witnessing how the BBC was strategically envisioning the digital media domain as we entered the 21st century. One key slide showed the BBC’s traditional competition-space – CNN, ITV, Sky etc – while the new competition-space was envisaged as Google, Amazon, Apple and other major players in the new digital world. The iPlayer was a result of this kind of strategic analysis – evangelised within the Beeb by Ben Lavender – and his contemporaries like Russell Merryman and Cliff Wootton (who worked on BBC News Interactive in 2002) – who I met briefly while teaching on the MA in Interactive Media at University of the Arts London during this period.
The i-Player was a key step in making television interactive – putting control into the hands of the viewer in terms of when and where (on which device) to view BBC content. It was the very successful beginning and set an exemplar for all other broadcasters, who caught-up over the next decade, commissioning or producing their own media players in-house. BBC can justly claim to be industry-changing innovators – not just in content-creation, but in the very form of media – in leading the transition to digital.
Brian Eno: 77 Million Paintings 2006
Frédéric Vavrille + Vincent Castaignet: Live Plasma 2004 + Musicovery 2006
My first fascination as a student was with what was then called information design (or communications design), and like my friend and contemporary the Illustrator George Hardie, I fell in love with Otto and Marie Neurath’s Isotypes (1936), Fritz Kahn’s Das Leben des Menschen, with Harry Beck’s London Underground maps (1933), with Graphis annuals, Matthew Murgio’s Communication Graphics (1969), and later with Edward Tufte’s beautiful books (from The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, 1983). I was fascinated by the work of Joseph Novak (Concept Mapping 1972), Tony Buzan (The Mind Map Book 1993) on Idea-mapping/concept mapping, and OK I loved hypermedia and interactive computer applications too, so when these three interests (in information design, knowledge representation and computer graphics programming) were fuzed together in the 1990s in Java-scripted apps that linked data with concept-maps (like Plumb Design/Thinkmaps’ Visual Thesaurus – 1997) and later with Frédéric Vavrille’s brilliant Musicovery and Live Plasma, I was in heaven…
Jean-Luc Courcoult (Royale de Luxe): The Sultan’s Elephant and the Little Girl (London 2006)
Julian Assange: Wikileaks 2006
Bill Moggridge: Designing Interactions (2006) + Designing Media (2010)
AES+F: The Last Riot (The Liminal Space Trilogy) 2007
For me, this got extremely close to the immersive new media experience I was looking for – the installation-show I saw was in the Russian pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2007 – it was electrifying – a set of high-resolution looped-animated tableaux juxtaposing Benetton-style consumerist imagery with landscapes, cityscapes and sci-fi projections modelled in 3d CGI – and all bound together with Wagnerian sound loops – the whole creating a totally absorbing mesmeric experience. (I was reminded of seeing Philip Glass’ Akhnaten at the English National Opera in 1984 – they’re doing it again in March 2016). I like this AES+F stuff – its stylish, deep, haptic, immersive, emotional, sensory, intellectual – a perfect expression of the zeitgeist… The other parts of the Liminal Space Trilogy I’ve only seen in video, but still the videos give you a glimpse of their magic.
Victoria Vesna (ed): Database Aesthetics – Art in the Age of Information Overflow 2007
Lev Manovich broaches the subject of databases and art in his The Language of New Media (2001), and Katherine Hayles surveys the database/narratives issue in her Writing Machines (2002); Frances Yates’ The Art of Memory (1966) covers the pre-digital, pre-encyclopedic work on memory systems. This is a rich area, linked to information- and data-visualisation, for which The Atlas of Cyberspace (Martin Dodge and Rob Kitchen 2001) is a good introduction, while Edward Tufte’s series of brilliantly designed and produced books on Information Design provide the best encyclopedic coverage (see Tufte: The Visual Display of Quantitative Information 1983; Yasdani and Barker (eds): Iconic Communication 2000). Marina Warner writes eloquently about the ‘ocean of stories’ in her brilliant Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale (2014). There’s much more to come on this exciting arena of research, exploring the flux between database+data-visualisation+non-linear narrative. These are core aspects of our contemporary art-exploration.
Will Eisner: Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative (2008) + The Spirit Artist’s Edition (2006)
Andy Rubin + Google: Google Android mobile operating system 2007
Mitchell Resnick + Natalie Rusk + MIT Lifelong Kindergarten Group: Scratch visual programming language 2007
There has recently (2017) been a commendable (if long-time coming) response to the educational shortfall in computer-science and coding disciplines that were predictable in the 1990s. By the end of this second decade of the new millennium, programmes and clubs like Scratch, Coding Clubs, Raspberry Pi, Python, CoderDojo, Decoded (Code-in-a-Day). and similar initiatives that supplement or replace the largely out-dated official curricula provision of UK schools will be successful. This is cool – however, the UK secondary education sector also needs to thoroughly rethink the curriculum provision for the entire new media sector, which no longer falls neatly into First Industrial Age specialisms. What’s needed is not just a STEM (SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, ENGINEERING, MATHS), nor ‘just’ the addition of ART (‘STEAM’), but a wholly radical revision of the creative curriculum to embrace the kind of student-centred, project-based, inter-disciplinary education embraced by the modernist art schools post Bauhaus. New Media aren’t just about coding. They thrive and develop in the convergence of coding, content, UX-design, new interface and product design and device development. The entire creative industries in the UK (currently in 2017 worth around £84.1 billion) are really not taken seriously at secondary level. ‘Art’ is taught on an archaic model. Art history is barely taught at all. Media history teaching is even more rare. We should be teaching our kids how to operate in the virtual world they’ve adopted – the world they live in, play in, socialise in. ‘Art’ in the school curricula needs a radical rethink. Fred Turner, in The Democratic Surround (2013), reminds us of the important inputs of Lazlo Moholy Nagy (The New Vision 1928) and Herbert Bayer at the Bauhaus, Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead – and I would add Everett Reimer’s School is Dead (1971), the lectures and TED Talks of Sir Ken Robinson: Do Schools kill Creativity? (2006) , and Ivan Illich: DeSchooling Society (1970). The blueprint ideas are there. Let’s get on with it!
Henry Jenkins: Convergence Culture 2008.
- Transmedia exploration (and media convergence) has of course been at the core of the Modernist experimentation in the 20th century. Examples for you to contemplate include Sonia Delaunay’s The Prose of the Trans-Siberian and of Little Jeanie (1913); Kurt Schwitter’s Ursonate (1932); Lazlo Moholy Nagy’s Total Theatre and Eccentrica Meccanica (1925), and the Happenings phenomena of the 1960s (see for example Allan Kaprow: 18 Happenings in Six Parts 1959), and the proliferation of digital forms. channels and media in the late 20th and 21st century has amplified the potential of using transmedia for a variety of reasons, including fanzine-exploration of a commercial brand; marketing, hypertext-fiction, comics/film remediation, (etc)
anon (Satoshi Nakamoto?): Bitcoin 2009
Despite the rabid rightwing of libertarian economics lauding Bitcoin’s anti-centrist/anti-governement potential : “In 1999, Professor Milton Friedman, a Nobel Prize winner in economics stated: “I think the internet is going to be one of the major forces for reducing the role of government. The one thing that’s missing but that will soon be developed, is a reliable e-cash” it’s also true that the ultra left – anarchist, Kropotkinites also welcome the idea of a state-free technological currency – and bitcoin is the first of these state-independent currencies – a trustworthy medium of exchange because of it’s incorruptible mathematical block-chain provenance.
Daniel Crooks: Static No12 (Seek Stillness in Motion) 2009-2010
Chris Milk + Aaron Koblin: The Wilderness Downtown 2010
Damien Hirst: Nessus from the Entomology Series (from 2009)
Jack Kirby + Stan Lee: Iron Man comic 1963 Iron Man films 2008-2015
And more: Marvel have resolved a modus operandi for generating commercially, aesthetically and technically successful movies based upon their comic-strip stable of superheroes… Along with Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez’ Sin City (2005), Jon Favreaux’ Iron Man provides two illustrations of comic-to-film remediation to act as guides to how the three art-forms (comics, animated cartoons and live-action films) can be synthesised into successful features. Sin City and Iron Man perhaps illustrate two extremes of contemporary, 21st century remediation, and there are plenty of options still to be explored. After all in the 1960s we had Alphaville (Godard 1965) and Barbarella (Vadim 1968) – both derived or inspired by pulp fiction/comics – (Alphaville was subtitled une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution – a character invented by Peter Cheyney 1936. Lemmy Caution was played by Constantine in the TV series started in 1953); Barbarella was created by Jean Claude Forest in 1962. – And compare the William Dozier/Adam West Batman television series (1966-68) to Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008). As with any other remediated work, there are an infinity of options – a choice extended still further by the availability of motion-capture, wire-fu, CGI and other digital special effects, as well as by advances in make-up, character prosthetics (Heath Ledger as the Joker!), costume, mise-en-scene (etc). We get ever closer to what Bukatman describes as the technological spectacle – a kind of plasmatic fusion of film+cartoon+comic+special-effects + CGI + virtual cinematography – laced together with various narrative strands derived from or commenting upon the often non-linear comic-strip form.
Giorgio Metta + Plymouth University + Italian Institute of Technology: iCub robotics project from 2009
Jonathan Ive + Apple Computer: i-pod (2001) + iphone (2007) + ipad (2010)
Jonas Akerlund + Lady Gaga + Beyonce: Telephone 2010
AES+F: Allegoria Sacra from 2011
I love this complex mash-up of consumerist iconography and classical mythology which echoes Bellini’s strange painting (of purgatory?), and reinforces the position of AES+F as an art collective successfully grappling with the 21st century zeitgeist – interpreting and inventing iconographies for our time, as we try to reconcile ancient religious belief with modern capitalism, and to invent new digital cyberspace media to portray this. See their informative and innovative website at http://aesf-group.com/projects/allegoria_sacra/
Giovanni Bellini: Allegoria Sacra 1550
Rama Karl Hoetzlein: Timeline of 20th Century Art and New Media 2011
Bob Cotton: timeline of digital media developments (fragment) c2009
In contrast, this attempt to combine non-linear captions with a concept-map/timeline hybrid is mine (sample from a much longer timeline, from 2000). As I’ve said elsewhere, the key to providing useful learning tools and information-navigational aids in the 21st century is in the fields of information-design and database aesthetics/data-visualisation (as well as the lessons from Piaget and Bruner).
Alexandra Elbakyan: SCI-HUB 2011
Eric Brown + IBM: Watson Cognitive Computing 2011
Sandra Gaudenzi + Judith Ashton + Jon Dovey: i-docs – Exploring Interactive Documentary Storytelling from 2011
Pet Shop Boys + Matthew Dunster + Javier de Frutos: The Most Incredible Thing 2011
David Hockney 9- and 18-screen Wolds multi-screen video 2011
Kathryn Parsons: Decoded (Teaching Code in a Day) training agency 2011
Ken Schafer: FrameForge 3d Studio Previz Software (from 2012)
Inevitably, if PreViz follows the phenomenal innovation-growth curve of CGI generally, PreViz will become a total movie-making tool, making high-quality desktop movies a reality for anyone with the skills, patience and processing power. As a PreViz tool only, this kind of software fills a gap in the visualisation process thus: idea>treatment> script> storyboard > animatic > preViz… As of 2017, sophisticated general purpose CGI modelling and animation software (such as ReAllusion i-Clone 7), with realtime character and expression animation, streamlined workflows, large libraries of scenes/ sets/props/ characters etc, plus sophisticated lighting with simulated industry-standard rigs, simulations of Arri Alexa and other professional movie cameras, with soft-lenses, lens and iris-setting for field of view and depth of field (etc, etc) have already become complete software movie-making tools – with lip-synch voices, realistic inverse kinematics (body movements etc). In 1995, John Lassiter’s Toy Story was the first full-length animated feature to be entirely computer-generated – and wisely, given the state of the art at the time, this was a cartoon-style treatment for simplified toy characters. When in the next few years will we see the first iteration of what would be a fulfilment of Eisenstein’s quest for a fusion of animation and live-action? When will we see the first totally desktop-produced software movie? It won’t be long!
Eben Upton + Raspberry Pi Foundation: Raspberry Pi (Single-board computer) 2012
At last computer education was growing up! After the attempts by the BBC (the Acorn-BBC Micro (1991) – combining a low-cost computer with an accompanying television series (The Computer Programme) on how to use it, forward to the extremely limited European Computer Driving Licence (which amounted to a training course on Microsoft products) introduced in the mid1990s, at last the idea of ‘computer literacy’ had progressed to become a proper computer science for our digital media dominated culture. It took three centuries or so after Gutenberg before national literacy programmes emerged, so I suppose its not surprising that the idea of an appropriate computer-education should take 40 years or more. Considering that there were never any national Television or Film Literacy secondary education projects either, yet these media had been in the public domain, defining our cultural life for decades. The left-wing of my brain ‘knows’ that this is due largely to the literary bias of British education, perhaps also to the emergence of consumerist capitalism that dominated our culture from the 1960s on – the economic model that triggered the counter-culture, and informed the British Pop-Art of the Independent Group. It resulted in what CP Snow described as the Two Cultures – the split of Western Education between the sciences and the humanities – a doctrine that he agued was detrimental to solving the World’s problems.
Getting hands-on with computers is not simply being able to use the standard software of business (Microsoft Office), it is also partly to do with digital media literacy – the ability to make and use (and critique) multimedia in all its forms; its also the ability to learn how to learn within the vast resources of the Web/Net – to learn how to operate a search engine discriminatingly; and to filter sense from nonsense, news from ‘false news’, in the same way you would in a public library; and largely a question of encouraging analytical and algorithmic thinking, using computers and networks to underpin problem-solving, and learning to script, code or engineer software. Our whole world is digital, its time that computer-science was extended to become absolutely central to our education system and to the doctrine of life-long (self) education.
Magpi started as a free fanzine in 2012, and in 2015 became the official organ of the Raspberry Pi Foundation, the same year that the Foundation joined with the UK coding initiative Code-Club to support the development of a local network of pre-school, school and hobbyist coding clubs for 9-13 year-olds throughout the UK and the rest of the world. There are currently (2018) 10,000 clubs in 100 countries. Many of these offer the Raspberry Pi package of Scratch, HTML+CSS, and Python languages.
Jason Silva: Radical Openness 2012
Jason Silva enthusiastically expresses the sense of joy and excitement occasioned by deep immersion in the techno-optimism of the cyber-arts, philosophies and technologies that myself and lots of my artist-developer buddies also find inspirational. And he is enviably good at going for it – the video-making elegantly illustrates the Johnny Cooper Clarke-like rapidity of his intellectual rant. I used to expose my film students at Arts University Bournemouth to this anytime it looked like they needed a direct adrenalin shot in the neocortex – worked every time!
Palmer Luckey + Oculus VR: Oculus Rift VR Headset 2012 (released in 2016)
Ninian Doff + Graham Coxon: What’ll it Take to Make You People Dance? 2012
Leanne Allison: Bear 71 interactive (web) documentary 2012
Robin McNicholas + Marshmallow Laser Feast: Sony PS3 realtime projection-mapping 2012
Gene Youngblood: Secession from the Broadcast + The Build (blog 2012) + Piotr Bujak: Secession from the Broadcast tribute-exhibition (Krakow 2015)
There are several keynote media philosophers and critics of media over the last century, including the likes of Walter Benjamin, Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Marshall McLuhan, Jean Baudrillard, Scott Bukatman, Lev Manovich, and in the multimedia/intermedia sector it is Gene Youngblood who focussed attention on the emerging new media in his 1970 book Expanded Cinema. Here he draws attention to the marketing and advertising, the propaganda and news-filtering, the uber-capitalist power momentum – the oligopoly – of Broadcasting / Media ownership (Google, Facebook, Baidu, Yahoo, and Microsoft dominate, while the top 30 global media companies control a lion’s share of worldwide advertising and marketing) – the richest 1% in UK own 24% of national wealth – Independent 2016). See:
Neil Brand: The Sound of Cinema 2013
This is the best introduction to the largely under-examined art-form of film music. The issues of scoring music to be played in tandem with an enacted drama had been initially addressed by the great operatic composers of the 19th century – perhaps especially Wagner – and here Brand explores the potential of music and film coevolving to create new fusions of the two art forms. Brand is the best kind of teacher/communicator, bringing his practical musicianship skills and analytical talents to bear on the two most powerful creative media of the 20th century – music and film, and on the way exploring the latent potential of the intermedia synergy and coalescence or symbiosis of the two forms. Essential viewing!
Neil Brand: Sound of Cinema 2013 – sample clip
Lev Manovich: Software Takes Command 2013
Ali+Hadi Partovi: Code.org 2013
It’s rather surprising that it has taken nearly twenty years for us to realise the vital importance of coding in our entirely digital economy. Over the last 3 decades, our media, our businesses, our communications, our entertainment and large parts of our sciences and arts have become thoroughly integrated within the new digital domain. We are a digital culture, and the engineers of this new global domain are the coders, hackers, programmers, computer scientists, electrical engineers, telecoms engineers, content creators, artists, writers, designers, film-makers, animators and entertainers who together ‘make’ the new media. Code.org – and coeval equivalents in other parts of the world – the Roblox game-creation website, Decoded (Teaching Code in a Day) in London, LiveCode, Xavier Neil’s 42 code-school project (and many more) – are beginning to address this huge gap between what conventional education provides and what the new digital industries need. But coding, although it is the essential glue that melds digital content and services together, is not the only approach to getting kids involved and engaged with new media – we need to embrace the producers, the entrepreneurs, the content-creators (writers, illustrators, artists, directors etc), the content editors – the designers, editors, art-directors, compositors, post-production artists etc etc – in fact a wide range of the talent that is engaged in our vast world-circling converged information-news – entertainment-advertising – education economy. These guys should know about coding and about how digital ‘works’ of course, but others will have content creation skills less dependent on coding, others have the integrative skills essential to combine digital content within coded apps, games, worlds, services – an integrated approach to digital media education is needed to compliment the coding schools. I think of the mediainspiratorium in this light – it’s a tool to support this kind of education for the new economy.
Patrick Hughes: Venice Volumes 2013 (reverspective constructions from 1964)
Who needs computers to create new mediated experiences? Certainly not Patrick Hughes, whose art has consistently dealt with a variety of cognitive, aesthetic and philosophical experience. These reverspectives are truly shocking in their ability to disorientate and confound – the eye and the brain of the observer in a neat tangle or paradox as spectacular as those beautiful engravings of Maurice Escher. And recently Hughes has been building reverse/inverted face masks to further confound our senses.
Alex Poulson + Appshaker: Dinosaur Island, Walking with Dinosaurs AR app. 2013
Julie Alice Chapelle: Computer Component Bugs (from 2013)
Fred Turner: The Democratic Surround – Multimedia and American Liberalism from World War II to the Psychedelic Sixties 2013 (centre illustration Herbert Bayer: Field of Vision 1930)
Fred Turner illustrates how the theory of the democratic surround emerged from design and psychological studies and design experiments at art schools like the Bauhaus, and how it became a central leitmotif of modernist communication – and subsequently inspired a range of immersive design experiments that underpin the counter-culture explosion of intermedia arts in the 1950s and 1960s. So these are the theories that underpin the work of Ray and Charles Eames (for example, A Communications Primer 1953, & IBM Egg and Information Machine at 1964 World’s Fair), and incidentally, the Exploding Plastic Inevitable light-show of Andy Warhol, the videowalls of Nam June Paik, and much more…
Marina Warner: From the Beast to the Blonde (1994) + Once Upon A Time – A Short History of Fairy Tale (2014)
Melvyn Bragg + BBC Radio 4 + Open University + Nigel Warburton + Cognitive: A History of Ideas (60 part series from 2014)
Nonny de la Peña: Project Syria: – Immersive Journalism VR 2014
David Coz + Damien Henry: Google Cardboard VR viewer 2014
Google Cardboard is the latest iteration of the original tug-of-war between the movies as a single-person experience (of the Mutoscope, Kinetoscope etc). and what John Lassiter calls a ‘shared audience experience’ – the pull is now between personalised, interactive, totally immersive motion-picture experiences and the most dominant 20th century mass-audience cinema model. Although mass-audience interactive technologies have been developed successfully – Loren Carpenter’s Cinematrix system (1994), the future looks like it’s in the highly personal experience – though some kind of hybrid of the two is still very attractive as a thought-experiment.
Nick Bostrom: Superintelligence – Paths, Dangers, Strategies 2014
The issues raised by Bostrum – that of the impact and possible results of research into artificial intelligence and machine learning – are becoming more and more relevant as we get nearer to the time – predicted recently by Vernor Vinge, Hans Moravec and Ray Kurzweil (among several others) – of the potential ‘intelligence singularity’ when we develop a superintelligent machine. This possibility became the subject of science fiction films back in the 1980s (Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner 1982, James Cameron’s The Terminator 1984), though it refers back to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and Karel Capek’s Rossum’s Universal Robots in the 1920s, and has been revisited in various ways recently – in Luc Besson’s Lucy, in Alex Garland’s Ex Machina and in Ghost in the Machine (2017)(see below). And in the real world, in the development of neural networks, whole-brain emulation, machine-learning et cetera. These are the big issues of our time, alongside the realisation that we have to develop a sustainable economics that enables us to live and to thrive on a tiny planet of limited resources.
Luc Besson: Lucy 2014
Elon Musk + Sam Altman: OpenAI 2015
Concerns that the rapid advances in machine learning, artificial intelligence, whole brain emulation, and robotics might inadvertently (or purposely) result in a situation where researchers were catastrophically outpaced by an ‘superintelligent’ machine – a software machine that could easily replicate itself and evolve through the internetworks of data channels enmeshing the planet – in effect a superintelligent machine that could take over the world, and perhaps regard humans as an unnecessary viral form…these concerns led to the formation of the OpenAI organisation. Their motto is “Discovering and enacting the path to safe artificial general intelligence.” and “OpenAI’s mission is to build safe AGI, and ensure AGI’s benefits are as widely and evenly distributed as possible. We expect AI technologies to be hugely impactful in the short term, but their impact will be outstripped by that of the first AGIs.” (openai.com)
Alex Garland: Ex Machina 2015
Philip K. Dick + Frank Spotnitz: The Man in the High Castle (novel 1962) Amazon television series 2015
The UK Guardian newspaper (online) reviewed this: “After the success of Amazon’s moody, atmospheric pilot a year ago – the most-watched programme in the company’s short history as a production studio – the 10-part series feels like a conscious bid to launch a drama as buzzy as any on its streaming rival Netflix. Perhaps the best way to create a potential House Of Cards-beater is by stacking the deck, because The Man In The High Castle has an awful lot going on: it’s a lavishly realised historical piece about life under occupation, a geopolitical spy thriller, a far-flung love story and a sci-fi conspiracy.” Graeme Virtue: http://www.theguardian.com
Nick Sousanis: Unflattening 2015
Following the trail blazed by Paul Klee (Pedagogical Sketchbook 1925) György Kepes (Language of Vision 1944; Donis Dondis (A Primer of Visual Literacy 1973); Will Eisner (Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative 1996), and Scott McCloud (Understanding Comics 1993) – and others – Nick Sousanis tackles the issues of visual (image and text) communication – and does it in comic-strip form – very well! The task of improving communication – especially now, as many obviously prefer online media to print – means that the kind of communication offered by comics – one of the world’s most successful popular media – is of course of central importance. The time of the comic and the cartoon – evolving in parallel for more than a century now – has come. The power of hand-crafted drawings and animations of different kinds, and of course computer-generated imagery – to synthesise new communication media, like that deployed by Sousanis, and in Britain by Cognitive Media (see Melvyn Bragg + Cognitive: A History of Ideas 2014, is one of the solutions…
Phil Jones Cardiff Research Inst: Energy-Positive House 2015
Jeffrey Powers + Occipital: Structure 3d Sensor 2015
Bjork + Andrew Thomas Huang (dir): Black Lake + Family – Moving Album Cover 2015
Ian Forrester + BBC R&D: Perceptive Media Initiative c2015
Andy Holden: Laws of Motion in a Cartoon Landscape (2015)
John Wilcock + Ethan Persoff + Scott Marshall: John Wilcock – The New York Years 1954-1971 2015
I’m a sucker for this style of drawing and this subject-matter. Persoff and Marshall create a media-rich graphic narrative of this fascinating period in the 1950s and 1960s when the American underground was gradually morphing from the Beatniks and Hipsters into the Counter-culture identified by Theodor Roszak in The Making of a Counterculture (1969). The wonderfully drawn and rendered characters (see Marilyn above), and the ‘body language’ of styling for the period (as good in comic form as Madmen was in film), reminded me a set of pop-music compilation albums featuring illustrations of this period published in the 1970s (whose name and artist I cannot find). And of course Wilcock in the 1950s was as important as John Brockman, Richard Neville and Felix Dennis were in the 1960s. This generation help catalyse and focus the underground/counter-cultures in important national fora.
Dorota Kobiela + Hugh Welchman: Loving Vincent 2016
Dorota Kobiela (writer and director) and /Hugh Welchman (producer) have produced a marvellous composite film of the last few months of Vincent van Gogh’s life, dramatically stitched together with oil-paintings commissioned from 80 professional oil-painters and live-action film processed to fit with the style of Vincent’s paintings. The film was the inspiration of Dorota Kobiela, and dervied from her reading of van Gogh’s letters and diaries and sketchbooks of this tragic latter period of his life – a period that produced many of the several masterpieces that punctuate his then sadly neglected life and artistic talents. What I most like about this film is the harnessing of several different filmic and animation techniques to create a whole that speaks expressively of the artist, successfully re-imagining the end days of his life through a ‘van Gogh’ visual filter.
The best collection of van Gogh’s letters and sketches (the ones that inspired this film is:Royal Academy of Arts: The Real van Gogh – the Artist and his Letters 2010 – the catalog of the Royal Academy exhibition of his work….
Jean Favreau + Disney Studios: The Jungle Book 2016.
Henry Markham + EPFL: Blue Brain Project 2006-2016 (ongoing)
Virtual Reality (VR) Headsets c2016
Many of the new headsets simply accommodate smart phones, running stereo VR or monoscopic AR (Augmented Reality) downloadable apps, yet providing the kind of ‘virtual reality’ 3d CGI artificial-world or the photographic-reality piloted by Apple with their QuicktimeVR 360-degree scrollable wrap-around panoramas (1994). There seems to be no doubt that these headsets and HMDs will play a significant role in future entertainment, surrogate experience, education, training, and telepresence activities (such as remote healthcare diagnosis, distance surgery, etc). Already practitioners like Nonny de la Peña (Nonny de la Peña: Project Syria 2014) and others are making VR documentaries using HMDs. Occipital and other imaging specialists have developed camera-sensors capable of recording 3d structures as well as photographic imagery; these techno-aesthetic developments will no doubt coalesce into the kind of ‘virtual cinematography’ that Matrix effects pioneer John Gaita imagined in 1999 (Wachowski’s The Matrix 1999), If we can combine these immersive media with their extrapolation into the kind of mirror worlds conceived by David Gelernter in the early 1990s (Gelernter: Mirror Worlds – The Day Software puts the Universe in a Shoebox – How it will Happen and What it Will Mean (1991), then some even more interesting stuff will happen!
Demis Hassabis:DeepMind/Google DeepMind + AlphaGo – AlphaGo software defeats human at Go. 2016
Paul Windridge: The Sonosphere 2016
Windridge is a poet of digital cinematography – making short zen-like meditations on fragments of the everyday world, remediating and re-interpreting his visual and sonic experiences in his captivating works. Take a look at Shore from The Sonosphere:
This south-west-facing coast of the Isle of Wight entranced Tennyson and Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, attracted some of the Pre-Raphaelites (Holman Hunt visited, Marie Spartali lived on the island and was a frequent visitor to Freshwater Bay to see the photographer Julia Margaret Cameron), and Charles Darwin spent some months here in 1868 (staying in the house I now live in); and Alice Liddell holidayed at Freshwater Bay. There is a magic here that Windridge aims to capture in his films…
ING + Microsoft + Bas Korsten of Walter Thompson Amsterdam: The Next Rembrandt 2016
Andrew Blauvelt: Hippie Modernism at Walker (walkerart.org) 2016
Rupert Sanders + Masamune Shirow: Ghost in the Shell 2017 (Shirow: 1989)
Personally, I just love these latest iterations of the cyberpunk genre. Cyberpunk was initially a literary genre created largely by William Gibson (Neuromancer 1984), and Bruce Sterling (Schismatrix 1985), and the writers Vernor Vinge, Neal Stephenson, Rudy Rucker, and John Shirley (and others), most of whom owed a debt to William Burroughs (Nova Express 1964), and to Philip K. Dick’s scifi stories of the late 1950s and 1960s. Stylistically these latest examples of cyberpunk films are indebted to Ridley Scott’s vastly influential Blade Runner (1982), to Luc Besson (Fifth Element 1997)and to the Wachowski’s The Matrix 1999). It was of course a style of comic strip (bande dessinee) originally explored by the French (Jean Claude Forest: Barbarella 1962; Philippe Druillet Lone Sloane 1966; and Jodorowski and Moebius: The InCal 1981)); by the Japanese manga auteurs and illustrators mentioned above, and by the Anime films of Hayao Miyasake (especially perhaps Laputa, Castle in the Sky (1986). It’s a very rich comic/graphic novel/movie genre that seemed to illustrate the kind of real-world developments (from the 1960s on) of lifestyle changes, gender revolutions, eco-politics, the Internet, videogames, social media etc) – therefor a most appropriate and visionary response to the spirit of our age.
Sander’s treatment of Ghost in the Shell is exemplary cyberpunk – a collation of familiar tropes derived from previous movies in this genre (Blade Runner, The Matrix, Fifth Element etc) infused with the latest futurist prognostications and zeitgeist intuitions as to the likely impact of AI, Robotics and humanoid cyborgs in the near future. This is a serious movie, and its body language (sets, locations, costume, prosthetics, props etc) reflects Sander’s intuitions on the genre, extending it beyond the 1980s into the contemporary – I especially loved the giant 3d hologram projections of commercials, corporate logotypes and idents hovering in and over his cyberpunk cityscapes. The science and developing technologies of robotics, cyborg construction and mechanics is well handled, and the difficult leap into human-brain transplants is well – even poetically – visualised. There are plenty enough manic mecha-action sequences to satisfy the most devout Manga-fan, and Sanders remediation fits well with Masamune Shirow’s original hand-drawn visuals; and there is the central underpinning ethical-moral dimension as we gradually discover the Major’s background and her psychologically decent human roots, and the vicious corporate plot she has been a victim of. Every movie in this genre faces the tautology of balancing narrative continuity with spectacle, and Sanders does it well here.
Scott David + World Economic Forum (WEF): Global Transformation Maps 2017
Naomi Klein: No is Not Enough 2017
Klein continues (from the above quote (p9-10 of No is Not Enough): “…He is the product of a business culture that fetishizes ‘disrupters’ who make their fortunes by flagrantly ignoring both laws and regulatory standards. Most of all, he is the incarnation of a still-powerful free-market ideological project – one embraced by centrist parties as well as conservative ones – that wages war on everything public and commonly held, and imagines corporate CEOs as superheroes who will save humanity. In 2002, George W. Bush threw a party at the White House for the man was the intellectual architect of that war on the public sphere, the radical free-market economist Milton Friedman. At the celebration, then US secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld declared, “Milton is the embodiment of the truth that ideas have consequences.” He was right – and Donald Trump is a direct consequence of those ideas.”
The gross feelings of inadequacy in the face of the mass stupidity and xenophobic hostility of Trump’s election campaign (and of the ‘Brexit’ vote in the UK), have been ameliorated somewhat by Klein’s precise analysis of Trump’s ‘Shock Doctrine’ disruptions and disintermediations. In No is Not Enough, she goes on to outline a strategy for reversing these destructive doctrines.
Tony Tost (writer) + Killan Scott + Sarah Jones + Logan Marshall Green: Damnation 2017
Killan Scott featured as a corrupt police superintendent in the BBC series Ripper Street (Richard Warlow 2012), which applied the same logic of political, social and mise-en-scene realism as Damnation. This ‘underground-history’ genre also really benefitted stylistically from the gripping realism of Stephen Knight’s Peaky Blinders (from 2013). The acting, cinematography, sound and music (and costume and art-direction) sit well in the company of these two breakthrough BBC productions – and Tost’s inspired script makes the story both personal and political, and helps us revisit the mid-West during the time of the great Depression, the Wobblies (members of the Industrial Workers of the World – a revolutionary trade union founded in 1905 in Chicago), the Works Progress Administration, Federal Arts Projects, field-recordings of the country Blues, and the Okie migrants – there are many, many stories waiting to be told of these times. The feature film that sprung to mind wasn’t John Ford’s 1940 Grapes of Wrath, but Sydney Pollack’s damning 1969 They Shoot Horses Don’t They? – there’s a kind of existential hopelessness about Damnation, despite its strong message of revolution. Nevertheless, Damnation deserves all the praise it gets. If only Trump’s base voters could as easily see how they are being duped.
(BTW the character of Amelia Davenport – a middle-class, highly educated and intellectual writer and revolutionary – was perhaps modelled on the IWW and Communist Party of America member and radical Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (the lady to whom Joe Hill wrote his song The Rebel Girl).
We always knew we would be in an interesting space in these first decades of the 21st century. The books we wrote so lovingly in the 1990s and early 2000s were about the potential of the digital new media that was proliferating at laser-speed around the world. And here we are, creating the real-life holodeck of the 21st century media-arts. I just wanted to take stock of the kind of ingredients that seem to be coalescing to populate the ‘solution-space’ out of which the new media forms that will characterise our time will emerge. This is my take:
Artificial Intelligence – narrative software agents, realtime voice-translation, inference engines, the singularity and beyond (post human arts). Current interesting areas of development include machine-learning/deep-learning, knowledge-mining, pattern-recognition (including voice-, face-, posture-, gait-recognition etc); capsule neural-networks, deep reinforcement learning, lean-data learning, etc. The real breakthrough will come when someone implements a real ‘augmentation’ companion – a conversation-theory app such that as Gordon Pask described in 1975, would create a dialectic that could be both sequential (learning) and ‘holist’ – step-by-step, or non-linear (to acquire a bigger holistic grasp) – furthermore the conversation-theory app (or learning buddy) would be a super chatbot, with a built in (machine-learning) knowledge base and inference engine that could prompt us, make suggestions, give ‘teachback’ (intelligent feedback), just like a teacher or an informed friend or mentor would do. Such a ‘conversational expert system’ sitting by our side (metaphorically) would ‘know’ about us – our individual experiences, range of knowledge, special interests, mode of learning. It would have powerful search and semantic-search engines, a great parsing engine, inference-engine and knowledge-extraction engine – all constantly running searches to assure us/question us, contextualise our query.
When Things start to Think – the internet of everything – objects get context- and get narrative-rich, and the real-world is integrated within the VR/AR experience. Using smart objects and AR glasses for example, we can integrate narrative multimedia into a country or city walk; we can ‘see’ virtual protagonists (other game-film players or their avatars) in our realtime environment, etc.
Telemetry and Telematics – satellites, remote sensing, drones, mini-drones, surveillance cameras, webcams,video conferencing, Skype, virtual worlds, etc – as well as sophisticated imaging and geographical-information systems (like Google Earth and Streetview maps) give us a rich mix of telematic experience-at-a-distance that embraces remote working, distance-journalism, exploration, surrogate travel, virtual communities, distance-medication and surgery, and drones, CCTV, surveillance satellites, dash-cams, head-mounted cameras, et cetera…
Immersive VR and AR expanded cinema in 2020s as applied to dramatic features, investigative journalism and documentary, educational ‘field’ trips, telepresence, etc. The increasing sophistication of AR headsets or goggles (or glasses, visors, head-up-displays, etc), such as the 2016-2017 Microsoft Hololens, means that we can expect the imminent fusion of cinema-screen and arcade-viewer (back to the origins of the movies)…
Robotics, and virtual robotics – with recent developments in AI, we can expect experiments in all kinds of practical and aesthetic/dramatic forms – from driverless buses, vans and cars to robo-care, learning mentors and buddies, and art experiences: synthesised actors, recreations of past stars and historical/fictional characters, more sophisticated crowd-generators (Weta’s Massive Prime (2007) was the breakthrough app), personality constructs, synthespians (see below) etc
Synaesthetic experiences – We are looking at immersive sensory experiences triggering a kind of synaesthesia or mixing of the senses, triggered by multimedia, artificial sensors, haptic, somatic and cerebral stimulation, etc. Expect more sensory-input mash-ups
Total Cinema – integrated live-action-CGI-animation, VR and other elements of expanded cinema. The computer can simulate all and every medium, art-methodology, style – why are film-makers limiting themselves merely to photographic reality?
Synthespians, Digital doppelgangers, etc By which I mean the digital replicas (motion-capture, biometrics, personality-capture, visemes, voice digitalisation, etc etc) of actors and stars and their use as synthespians and virtual actors in all-digital movies…
Social Media-space, friends of friends, recommendation-engines, Uber and similar services, mapping media responses in realtime, instant fan clubs – Rheingold’s Smart Mobs (2002) etc…
(to be continued)….
Please add your own suggestions for inclusion in this mediainspiratorium: