Notes Toward a Definition of Blipmedia
Where We Are
The first thing Louis Lumiere filmed with the Cinématographe he just invented in 1895 was the arrival of the express train at Ciotat. When the first audiences saw it they ran away thinking the train would leap from the screen and impale them. George Melies, a stage magician acquired a camera shortly after the first public Lumiere show in Paris.Perhaps because of the sewing machine mechanism it used, once when filming his camera jammed. When he looked at the resulting discontinuous sequence he saw that shots placed next to each other in a continuum could form a narrative. Editing was born.
The sexual primal scene of cinematic man was the simple tripod shot of a man kissing a woman. It was not so much the sexual explicitness or lack of it, but rather the fact that the audience were instantly made a collective of voyeurs. Each secretly enjoyed an intimacy between those observed who were unable and unwilling to look back, and more strangely with one another. Such delicious pleasure.
We have come along way since then. Now we can read the most discontinuous sequence of fleeting glimpses with consummate ease. The camera is now as fluid as language weaving where it will. Sound now whirls around us enveloping us in an aural world just as important and unreal as the visual. Early narratives needed excessive signposting and time to unfold. Now we follow the most convoluted and elliptical of plots that jump in and out of time as they please. Taboos have been regularly broken. Cinematic fantasy, sex and violence have made the imagery of our unconscious redundant and lame.
Cinema is now fond of its own history, quoting itself like any other postmodern medium. This history can be seen as the continued acceleration of that first train at Ciotat; its momentum now a quickening blur.
But whatever the changes we still sit through a predetermined sequence from beginning to end. We are the visual prisoner of that curious compromise of director, producer, editor and censor, a sophisticated design by committee that is cultural as well as creative and prohibitive.
Raw film footage itself has manifold possibilities. Editing, sound and above all a chosen narrative path and emphasis all the fashion the final product. The film we see is this: a discrete set of design choices made permanent. Each film product is a denial of these alternate possibilities, these differing and innumerable cuts. Blipmedia is a design form that allows for all permutations of a given narrative to exist at once without preference or hindrance. It does so by working on the abstract substrate of the binary, or simply the computer.
There are other computer or computer related substrates, namely the computer game and DVD. Neither, however, are Blipmedia.
Computer Games and DVD
Computer games are interactive. Player performance acts as a stop or catalyst to the storyline, which is often threadbare. Sometimes the player can act as judge in choosing a particular path the narrative can follow with a fixed number of alternate endings hard coded into the game. The primary interest here is playability with narrative segments given as a reward in set cut scenes that move the story forward. They are a 'lean forward' medium where the user must actively engage in the onscreen dynamics.
DVD like video, cinema or blipmedia is a 'lean back' medium. The viewer sits back, relaxes while following what is presented to him or her. DVD, or rather DVD compliant MPEG 2, offers improved picture quality, better scene to scene navigation, alternate languages, camera angles, bonus features and not much else besides. It does not as a substrate demand a reinvention of moving image narrative itself.
Blipmedia is a predominantly 'lean back' medium. However, it could still incorporate some of the 'lean forward' and participatory features found in computer games. These could be the ability to save or edit a particular version of a Blipmedia, for example. This could let the player become a scenario operator, crafting his or her own versions to share with others. Blipmedia is a lean back medium that lets you lean forward to let you or others lean back.
Substrates for Blipmedia
At present, there is no single clear substrate for Blipmedia. The new generation of game consoles such as the Xbox or Playstation 2, with their hybrid ability to play DVD and computer games together with their increased disk capacity could be ideal platforms to develop Blipmedia on. Television can also show Blipmedia provided either the requisite Broadcasting source or interactive television platform utilises binary code at transmission. The same applies to mobile phone video streaming. Cinema could also conceivably adopt Blipmedia if digital projectors capable of showing it were developed and made readily available. Blipmedia then can be assimilated into the mainstream and probably will in time.
Here at blipstation.com, we have chosen broadband internet with Flash 6 as our vehicle for Blipmedia. Given the data requirements to send video through the internet, this is a low resolution format eerily reminiscent of early cinema. It is likely that the internet will be where Blipmedia at least initially will have its experimental laboratory. This phase of exploration is particularly important if Blipmedia is not to fall into trap of aping the content of moving image narrative to date.
According to Marshall McLulan, the content of any new media is the content of the old. Thus the content of film was theatre, the content of radio, newspapers. Each media finds its own unique content in time as indeed will Blipmedia. It might be pertinent then to describe the nature of Blipmedia to understand the type of content it can express. To this end we will use two images borrowed from chaos theory: the Lorentz attractor and the Koch curve.
The Lorentz Attractor
Edward Lorentz was a hybrid of talents and therefore primed for innovation. He was a meteorologist with a penchant for mathematics. In the sixties he turned his attention to that fairytale image of mechanical physics, the waterwheel ; a circle of leaky buckets turning from a stream of water pouring down from twelve o'clock. You might think that given a steady flow of water the waterwheel would settle down to a regular pattern of behaviour. But waterwheels inexplicably reverse, speed up or slow down at differing intervals.
To investigate this, Lorentz used the mathematical runes of algebra, more specially three non-linear equations.
1. dx/dt = 10(y-z)
2. dy/dt = xz+28x-y
3. dz/d t= xy-(8/3)z
He mapped the results of their operation in three dimensional space. It created the elaborate figure of eight known as the Lorentz attractor where each path or cycle follows the same basic shape or form of behaviour but never exactly replicates another.
In the same way, ‘Hackney Girl’ follows a recognisable narrative trajectory: the protagonists are in Hackney, London before one leaves for Turkey, leaving the other alone before they are reunited in Istanbul. However, the chances of any variant repeating itself exactly might as well be taken as infinite. This is based on the exponential rise of probabilities produced by the three variables of blipmedia.
1. The fluid form of its presentation
2. The number of alternates for each shot
3. The ordering of these shots
To illustrate these, I will give a simple somewhat diagrammatic example of a blipmedia. The first variable, its presentation layer, similar to ‘Hackney Girl’, is a three by three grid, but where only one movie clip can occupy any of the nine positions at a given time. The second variable, the number of alternates per shot, we will put at five. For the sake of simplicity each alternate will last 10 seconds. The third variable, their ordering, we will make free. This means that it makes no difference whether a shot precedes or follows another. All combinations are possible.
One shot: 45 possibilities, 1 min 45 secs to play them all
Two shots: 4050 possibilities, 22 hours 30 mins to play then all
Three shots: 546 750 possibilities, 230 days to play them all
Four shots: 131 220 000 possibilities, 166 years 160 days to play them
Five shots: 14,762,250,000 possibilities, 23, 405 years 144 days to play them
Thus within a finite resource we have virtually endless variations. From this, we can say blipmedia resembles a Koch curve. This is where a triangle is subdivided in its middle third by attaching a new triangle of the same proportions but one-third its size. Because a Koch curve is a nested structure repeating the same transformation, the resulting Star of David is then divided again in the same way. And so on ad infinitum . You could surround this form in a circle and it would never extend beyond it. Thus you have the apparent paradox of a line of infinite length within a finite area.
Blipmedia is not haphazard though. The simplified mathematical example above is purely theoretical assuming for one, that all the shots, or groups of them, can be freely re-ordered whilst retaining narrative sense. Stories will not go away, nor should they. When the Spanish director Luis Bunuel was in Hollywood in 1931 he said he devised a ‘synoptic table of the American cinema’. It was a kind of narrative machine with moveable columns for things like epoch, ambience, and basic characterisation. You could feed into it any given premise of a Hollywood movie and it would infallibly come up with the correct plot from beginning to end. He claims that his neighbour upstairs knew every combination by heart.
It could be said that we have done the same in our cinematic minds, which since childhood have been constantly absorbing film-based narratives. When watching a film we play with our own expectations of what will or will not happen and in fact films themselves play on this. And we can’t lose. Either we predict the outcome and feel self-satisfied, or we are surprised and feel entertained. Each film and new twist adds to the narrative vocabulary we bring to the next film. Blipmedia is the complete recognition of this.
Thus there is a need within blipmedia for narrative modelling where the rules for recombinant storytelling will produce diversity yet coherence. But what stories blipmedia can successfully tell still remains to be seen. I am pondering that very question and have come up with some formulas of my own through applying various cabbalistic techniques to the work of the french anthropologist, Claude Levi-Strauss.
Blipmedia will require, however, a lightness of directorial touch where he or she can still create but not wholly enforce. They need to surrender a part of their will to the technology they serve. As a reward, their creation will speak to them in ways they could not foresee. It is Adam speaking back exercising his free will. Editors will become micro-editors, working on individual sequences. The overarching architecture of the narrative structure will be left to the binary mechanics as they operate through the narrative model.
The Reconstructed Viewer
Blipmedia requires a lightness of directorial touch where he or she can still create but not wholly enforce. They need to surrender a part of their will to the technology they serve. As a reward, their creation will speak to them in ways they could not foresee. It is Adam speaking back exercising his free will. Editors will become micro-editors, working on individual sequences. The overarching architecture of the narrative structure will be left to the binary mechanics as they operate through the narrative model.
Blipmedia also reconstructs the viewer. They read the work both horizontally and vertically. Horizontally in that they read any new version as it appears as a sum of individual parts in a coherent whole. Vertically in that they simultaneously compare it to previous versions they seen or rather witnessed since each play is a unique event. How many times can you play your favourite DVD before it bores you to death? With blipmedia, you sit back and see what it comes up with.
It is like listening to that Heraclitus of the Jazz Age, Thelonious Monk. He knew you couldn’t step into the same river twice. When he played ‘Smoke Gets In Your Eyes’ his genius prevented him from playing it in the same way. He improvised on what his audience had learnt to recognise. He created a tension between the expected and the felicitous mistake, the unforeseen juxtaposition, the pleasurable pain in the discordant note.
Blipmedia is the music remix immediately made and made visible. Pattern recognition will become an aesthetic pleasure. We will have Nietzche’s finger for nuances. Difference will be celebrated.
Ephemeral, brilliantly fragile like us.