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Wireframe Aesthetics (Part 2). Above is a screen grab from the 20th Anniversary Tron DVD, specifically a "making of"
feature. This was probably an early test for the MCP (Master Control Program): it looks better exploded like that than it did in the finished movie, where it seemed pretty stiff. I learned a lot from the DVD, specifically how Moebius's production sketches dramatically spiced up the film's look, and how Sid Mead, the futurist designer who also consulted on Blade Runner, contributed cogent machine design (e.g., the light cycles and tanks). The computer graphics were divided among four different companies. In order to communicate the movements the filmmakers wanted (say, in the sequence where a Recognizer chases a tank), the animators hand-wrote numerical coordinates for the horizontal, vertical, and depth axes of each object, as well as variable factors such as pitch and yaw, on a sheet of paper, and the graphics shop keypunched the numbers in: 600 numbers translated into four seconds of film. The movie had approximately 20 minutes of computer-generated footage (including the "descent into the computer," the yes/no-speaking "bit," and other vignettes), all of which had to be painstakingly integrated with the backlit kodalith of the rotoscoped sequences. The "making of" featurette is tres corporate; the Disney execs interviewed basically fib and say the movie succeeded from the get-go, when in actuality the game outsold the film in '82. Absent is any mention of Wendy Carlos' lush electronic score, snippets of which are playing constantly in the background.
The Artforum Top Ten wasn't great when Greil Marcus did it: too cutesy-cryptic, with endless attention paid to blues and folk-based music only a few ex-hippies care about. Since he left, artists have been doing Top Tens and now it's even worse. Instead of talking about stuff they know and like (like, say, the work of fellow artists), most feel, because it's Artforum, they have to drop references to obscure theorists, difficult bands, and hard-to-navigate websites (and don't get me started on the "Hot List"). Thus it was a pleasant surprise to see Guy Richards Smit mentioning homestarrunner.com in this month's issue--something even kids like! The link to Smit's Top Ten is here (at least while the mag is on the stands); the link to Homestar is here (but not in the online version of the Top Ten--go figure). Speaking of Homsar, I mean Homestar (cryptic, Marcusian in-joke), I recommend the Strong Bad email called "techno," in which the masked one improvises a spot-on, old school techno track with mouth noises until suddenly interrupted by The Cheat doing a "lightswitch rave." Even Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel would have to agree this is superb. "The system is down... The system is down..."
LoVid at Southfirst, May 10, 2003 (photo by yours truly)
If you're looking for uninformed opinions on upcoming movies, I can recommend no better source than PreReview. The blurbs there (including a few of mine) are based on fleeting glimpses of trailers and TV ads, memories of films that look superficially similar, and half-baked speculation. In other words, the movies are getting exactly the kind of ink they deserve. Check it out, it's fun!
The images above are pixelist drawings from the deviantART website. (The name "deviantART" rankles, by the way; it's not like there's much sexual or transgressive content on the site. In fact, it's fairly tyPICal in its table-jammed, info-overloaded layout. A lot of the work is great, though.) Although deviantART makes images freely available for the clicking, the administrators guilt-trip you about asking each artist's permission to reproduce them. I mean no discourtesy or larceny towards the artists; my weblog is a labor of love and I just don't have the time or energy to obtain scrupulous copyright permission for everything I put up on it. Hopefully you will cut me some slack and take each reproduction as the compliment it was intended to be. It's not like I'm passing it off as my own work, or selling T-shirts, or anything. (This is my standard, bitchy "fair use" disclaimer and will be linked to in future posts.) Left to right, top to bottom: banxter, wenstrom; wenstrom, beef; astropioneer, robotriot. Each image is linked to its source page.
Last night I caught a couple of musical performances at Siberia, a scummy, graffiti-scrawled punkoid club across from the Port Authority at 9th Ave. The Experimental Makeup has been described as "roots electronica"; they use a combination of hotwired analog equipment and heavily filtered digital sequencer loops. The result was a long, continuous (I would say) ambient piece that occasionally segued into dub. The dub parts were the best, with one of the players crooning dumb stuff like "let's go to the beach" in a Gary Wilson-meets-Damo Suzuki voice. The burps and sniggles emanating from the analog equipment were frequently ear-tickling (if that's the right word at these decibel-levels). Next was Makita, as in the drill, "from Berlin," which was much more rockin'. The singer and guitarist were respectively Wolfgang Mayer and Tom Früchtl, who I had just heard a couple weeks back as 2/5 of Discoteca Flaming Star. Also playing was laptop-and-keyboard percussionist Michael Schultze supplying a fast-thumping rhythm. Described by Früchtl as "powerbook deathmetal," the music consisted of revved-up metal tropes played very rapidly and proficiently, while Wolfgang shimmied his exposed midriff and sang lyrics like "This is the end of the society of fun" and "my blood is boiling" (I occasionally thought of Nitzer Ebb, plus a guitar). One song lyric consisted solely of numbers: "666-767, 666-767, 666-767..."
More on the William Gibson/contemporary art connection mentioned in my last post. Below is a list that could probably be added to:
1. In Count Zero, an A.I. assembles objets d'art resembling Joseph Cornell boxes. Cornell's sculptures are overrated IMHO, too much antiques roadshow and not enough zap. (Sorry, I know that's simplistic, but I don't feel up to a full-bore critique.) Cornell's proto-remix of the film East of Borneo, in which he strips out the narrative elements and reduces the movie to a series of evocative fragments, is great, though.
2. Mona Lisa Overdrive has a character making battlebots similar to Survival Research Laboratories'.
3. The book All Tomorrow's Parties depicts but doesn't name Noritoshi Hirakawa's photos, exhibited at Deitch Projects in NY in September 1998. Here's how Dominique Nahas (a male writer, in case you're wondering) described the work in artnet:
The works in this series, titled "The Reason of Life," are diptych cibachromes. In one half, a black-and-white documentary pic gives us the dead-pan set up: an attractive young woman wearing a skirt stands in a public space, staring defiantly out at the viewer, while passersby continue on their way in a blur, oblivious to what's going on. The woman holds a shutter-release bulb in her hand, the cord lasciviously snaking down to the ground at her feet. It's connected to a camera placed on its back between her legs. The Peeping Tom lens is obviously aimed directly up at her crotch.The Gibson book imagines the diptychs split in two. The girl-clicking-shutter photos are exhibited in a crowded bar; patrons admitted to a more exclusive area of the bar get to view the cr0tch shots. I'm sure Gibson is fascinated by the Japanese-ness (queasy sex department) of the photos, but in the art world context they come off as gimmicky--a smutty one-off footnoting earlier, more daring work in which Hirakawa documented Tokyo girls flashing their bare pubes on the street. Gibson's idea of bifurcating the viewing context is actually more dramatic than the rather pat diptych mode Hirakawa chose.
The diptych's color half delivers the undercover goods: white calves, flanks and a delicious sliver of white pantie [Oh, please!] framed by swirls of miniskirt. Hirakawa creates a male fantasy come true: willing women documenting their private parts for us, as a tacit acknowledgment if not a celebration of the intersection of secret male and female desires.
4. Pattern Recognition has the creator of "the footage." I don't wanna spoil this with the book fresh out but I found the conceit contrived and poorly explained, from an artmaking standpoint.
I've recently read William Gibson's new novel Pattern Recognition, reread his "Virtual Light trilogy" (Virtual Light, Idoru, and All Tomorrow's Parties), and have been following his weblog, and am now jotting down a few thoughts. First, Gibson has really mellowed over the years. As he himself says, he no longer does "deep fried anomie" or even cyberpunk. Pattern Recognition is his first attempt at a mainstream novel with tech (as opposed to sci fi) elements. I have to say it's less satisfying because it limits his imagination. His gift for extrapolating/exaggerating current trends into pungent satire hasn't disappeared but it's severely circumscribed. Also, it's a weird book because the writing of it clearly straddled 9/11. The "hunt for the perfect pair of sneakers" he started at the go-go turn of the millennium acquired a melancholy 9/11 subplot which skews (and actually comes to dominate) the tone. I realize that many of us went through a similar thought process but Gibson's unabashed consumerism (reverent descriptions of clothes and gear) makes the transition to a meaner, leaner consciousness even bumpier.
One thing PR shares with all the books that preceded it is a weak plot. The Virtual Light novels each relied on what Alfred Hitchcock calls a "McGuffin"--some object that drives the story but turns out not to be terribly important (respectively virtual sunglasses, a nanotech generator, and a kind of fax teleporter, the last being the most significant of the three). I won't spoil PR but the thing the main characters are focused on feels like another McGuffin. And once again an artist is a supernatural hero figure--I sometimes think WG was born to be an art critic [update: more on this here], even though I don't entirely trust his eye (Cornell? Noritoshi Hirakawa?). What Gibson does best is make cutting social observations in gemlike prose, e.g., his travelogue through a one-step-removed Japan in Idoru, his thoughts on reality TV (Slitscan, Cops in Trouble), and in the new book, bleeding-edge trendspotting or "cool hunting." Which brings me to my main point: why do these things have to be in a novel?
I was somewhat let down when I found out his weblog was a kind of promotional stunt, timed to coincide with the PR book tour and then to end. I actually thought for a moment that he might be an old media guy that wrote about new media and one day started living it. At this stage of his career a weblog seemed like a better vehicle for his dry observations than his novels, which are becoming lackluster, as novels. It seems silly to be killing a bunch of trees and providing grist for the book-publishing hype cycle when he could be communicating directly, and semi-interactively, with his core readership. I briefly, naively imagined him living on the royalties from his rather lucrative back-catalogue and just blogging. Oh well, not everyone is made for the potlatch economy. I'm not sure I am either, so I'm sorry for projecting. To be honest, I worry about being sucked wholly into the blogosphere, like Colin Laney disappearing through a "nodal point" into pure data, and was hoping for a prominent guinea pig. *pities self*
Postscript: After I wrote this I visited Gibson's blog to get its hyperlink and found this stuffy piece on "writing vs blogging." I guess as he prepares to start work on that next book after being a pretend-blogger for a few months (he says the two activities are mutually exclusive), he's decided to go out with a bitchslap, by declaring bookwriting more important than blogwriting. As for the supposed ease of weblog writing, I can only say speak for yourself.
[Update, July 2005: Gosh, this post is harsh. Gibson did restart his blog a year after the "stunt" and kept it going for a few months, but it has trailed off again. With two years hindsight I have only to add, not everyone has the need or personality for regular blogging. I'm not sure I always will. Blogging is right for me because I like to post sound and pictures (as opposed to say, a novel, where I would constantly be having to suppress and channel other senses through a linear stream of words), but that's me. Different strokes and all that...]