Tuesday, November 4, 2008

ARTICLE: Michel Chion

from Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen

Chapter 4: The Audiovisual Scene

Chion makes, at the beginning, a very interesting observation regarding sound. He posits that sound has no "container" like the image does (contained within the frame) and that subsequently sound must be treated differently. The combination of sound and the image, as in cinema, result in what Chion calls a "spatial magnetization" of sound by the image. That is, when sound that corresponds to the image exists in synchrony the image becomes the perceived source of the sound, even in cases where this is illusion is physically more difficult to create aurally, as is the case with mono sound.

Borrowing from Pierre Schaeffer, Chion utilizes the Greek word "acousmatic" to describe "sounds one hears without seeing their originating cause". This holds a particular critical value in the consideration of film sound when compared with what Chion calls "visualized sound" - sounds taking place onscreen and off. Chion also identifies a third category of sound which he calls nondiegetic. Nondiegetic sounds do not have an originating source present in the visual image and exist external to the world of the story (i.e. a laser sound in a Civil War story).

Thursday, October 9, 2008

ARTICLE: Rudolf Arnheim: In Praise of Blindness

"The wireless artist must develop a mastery of the limitations of the aural. The test of his talent is whether he can produce a perfect effect with aural things, not whether his broadcast is capable of inspiring his listeners to supplement the missing visual image as realistically and vividly as he can."
                                                                      —Rudolf Arnheim, "In Praise of Blindness," 1936

Arnheim discusses the use of the radio as a means of transmitting art. He describes the radio (or “wireless” in his dated parlance) as something incomplete in real experience but not lacking, if successful, because it creates a whole experience for the listener.

In order to succeed in this form the broadcaster must “develop a mastery of the limitations of the aural”. Arnheim is of the opinion that aural performances that inspire the listener to imagine the work visually have failed to provide the necessary components of experience to the audience.

Arnheim makes the distinction between two types of broadcast: the radio play and the relay. A radio play (take for example Radio Tales of the Strange and Fantastic) “is self-sufficient, completes itself in the aural” whereas a relay simply rips the audio wholesale from an event very much rooted in the real world and reliant on other sense (a live theatrical production or a sporting event, for example).

Arnheim describes silence, what he calls “the acoustic void”, as having a necessary and complementary role in the radio play, much like an empty stage. For the relay, however, silence suggests to the listener that there is much that they are missing and destroys any illusion of unity in the work."


Arnheim, Rudolf. 1936. “In Praise of Blindness; Emancipation from the Body,”
               in Radio (trans. Margaret Ludwig). London: Faber and Faber, pp. 133-

"In Praise of Blindness" and many other readings can be found in the excellent Radio Text PDF from Self Learn Los Angeles [PDF LINK DEAD] http://www.selflearnla.org/2011/05/25/radiotexte-pdf/

ARTICLE: Errol Morris: Which Came First, the Chicken or the Egg?

An entry from Errol Morris' blog for The New York Times.
Which Came First, the Chicken or the Egg?

Errol Morris presents us with a discussion of the way in which a meeting between academia and photography has captured an obscure moment from the Crimean war and in doing so preserved (or created) the extra-photographic narrative of Roger Fenton and his assistant: daring wartime photographers or cowards; master craftsmen or disingenuous cheats.

This piece not only demonstrates Mr. Morris' abilities as a documentary researcher but it also goes beyond the extant work on the topic; extending this discourse with the article. His researcher's journey is prompted by only two sentences from Sontag's On Photography. Through his attention to these sentences Morris uncovers a controversy in academia and extends the debate regarding the propriety of Fenton's photographs of “The Valley of the Shadow of Death”. By proposing a contest to the readers of the New York Times, Morris further extends the discourse initially represented by a mere two sentences and a few footnotes. This discussion raises important questions regarding authorial intentionality and critical interpretation.

Morris' focused inquiry reveals a criticism of Sontag's assumed authority within On Photography that is made clear by Morris' careful wording and footnoted critique of Sontag's unwillingness to include the photographs in her work. His blog assumes the voice of a video documentary complete with transcriptions of interviews and sometimes abrupt transitions suggestive of film editing techniques. Within this form is encoded Morris' critique of Sontag's authorial voice and polarization of an unclear discussion regarding not only the circumstances of two dated wartime photographs but also of a very dead man's bravery and character. Morris likens the cultural function of photographs to Ruskin's pathetic fallacy, a comparison that I agree with as both are results of technology's influence on 19th century thought.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

ARTICLE: Image Manipulation in Russia

New York Times - It Isn't Magic - Putin Opponents Vanish From TV


I first became aware of this through the Technology Podcast at The World on NPR. Below is a clip I snagged from that podcast regarding the story and the image in question.


Monday, September 22, 2008

ARTICLE: Pixel Perfect

an article by Lauren Collins from The New Yorker


My thoughts:

Pascal Dangin is clearly an intelligent man and he seems to have considered the social repercussions of his actions but he still continues his work within the fashion industry. He cites that he is simply providing the supply for a demand. I don't strictly disagree with him but an argument could be made that he has some sort of moral obligation to his culture, community and peers to improve the lot of the individual in society. Dangin seems to have compromised by insisting upon anatomic limitations to his photo manipulation, however he acknowledges that his work presents an unrealistic standard of beauty.

An uneasy comparison could be made between the work Dangin creates and other industries associated with negative social impact, such as firearms, The guns that Smith and Wesson creates have the potential to ruin lives but (I believe, perhaps naively) this negative impact lies in the application of the technology. Dangin's work does not end lives but it has the potential to create, in an individual, a negative self-image that reduces quality of life.

If his retouched images were presented in a manner that makes their unnaturalness apparent, not through appearance (which is already the case), but through forum and commentary the social ills correlated to work such as his might be mitigated or somewhat reduced.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

ARTICLE: In Plato's Cave: Zombies and Susan Sontag

from Susan Sontag's collection of essays On Photography:

Sontag rather quickly asserts that "[t]o photograph is to appropriate the thing photographed" - that is, the subjective moment is transformed (literally) into an object. This creates a document of the past that is simultaneously factual and unreal. Sontag believes that photography has become prolific in our culture because it assuages certain anxieties felt over alienation resultant from the industrialization of labor. The camera makes the photographer a voyeur, removing them from the reality of the moment thus giving them mastery over their experience of the world.

I was amused to notice that many of Sontag's concepts were explored, in a somewhat hokey fashion, in George Romero's 2007 film "Diary of the Dead". The film is presented entirely in POV. This allows the documentarian to distance himself from danger and the discomfort of personal interaction. Romero seems to have developed a script directly out of quotes from Sontag: "While real people are out there killing themselves or other real people, the photographer stays behind his or her camera, creating a tiny element of another world: the image-world that bids to outlast us all." Diary of the Dead provides a clear example of photography as an act of "non-intervention". The documentarion does nothing but film as his friends are attacked. Though Romero's treatment is somewhat heavy handed (the camera is directly compared to a gun, reinforcing Sontag's claim that "there is aggression implicit in every use of the camera") it does well to illustrate a critique of the impact of the mediated image on an alienated culture.

PHOTO: Reunited at last

These fraternal twins were separated at birth. Sven (pictured right) was raised on a farm in Copenhagen while Dante has spent that last 14 years in a cabinet in Brussels.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

ARTICLE: Separation Perfected

Chapter 1 of The Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord of the Situationist International

Debord's critique is clearly founded in a Marxist discussion of alienation. From this perspective he describes, using a term borrowed from Schopenhauer, a Weltanschauung or put simply, a world-view which has been manifested in what he calls the spectacle. The spectacle, it seems is a shadowy image of the alienating processes of industrialized capitalist culture. Debord believes that the spectacle is the “false objectification” of the producers, I think, because the spectacle does not (as its producers falsely believe) reflect the objective individuality of their work, will and experience but rather is an image of the goals and processes of industrial capitalism.

The spectacle represents the unified voice of power consolidated in the State. This consolidation of power is not new; it is what Debord calls the “oldest specialization” (23). The spectacle demands passive acceptance obtained, says Debord, through the unidirectional mode of communicating the image (corporate or state-run television, print, radio, etc.)

As a consequence of separation and spectacular culture Debord outlines the “degradation of being into having” (or, the rise of consumerism) followed by “a generalized sliding of having into appearing” which demonstrates the increasing poverty of consumerist life and culture. I feel that models of ownership within the music industry can be taken as an exemplar: ownership of music by the consumer has eroded from the possession of a physical recording (albeit a mass-produced duplicate of a master which is but a representation of a live performance) to the possession of a digital copy of this physical object. It has further degenerated, through legal clauses and online services (take iTunes' End User License Agreement for example) to the simple appearance of having music through the licensing of limited access to the recording.

Our media culture has been changed by the rise of self-publishing via the internet and other means following the rise of cheap communication technologies. This has served as a sort of democratizing force in our media culture but, in many ways, this democratization has only served to benefit the wealthy or those who are already 'free'. However, in our user-generated media culture the principal of “that which appears is good, that which is good appears” still seems to hold sway. The lens of media can serve as a means of further separation.

This doesn't mean that all media production speaks as a conduit of the voice of the State but Debord believes that spectacular media extends far beyond “mass media”. Although he is critical he doesn't eliminate the possibility of subversive media or revolutionary thought and action.