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March 18, 2005

Lev Manovich Lecture: Software > Culture

I'm attending a lecture given by New Media scholar Lev Manovich. He's perhaps best known for his book, The Language of New Media.

Notes:
- the man introducing lev just used the word "interpenetration"

- lev's "powerpoint" is just a text file... which he uses because ideas come to him in his lectures, and he wants to be able to capture them

- connectivity as a response to modernity ... modernity fractured culture/society, connectivity brings it back together

- talking about his projects... in trying to figure out connecting themes, he decided to use "software" and "culture"

- the culture of software is here, it's not just equally distributed

- in order to invent new media, in order to invent alternatives to the mainstream/commercial formats, new media artists and programmers need all the help they can get

- need help from the humanities to understand cultural forms

- new media texts often didn't directly refer to "software", so he and a colleague decided to put software on the agenda

- for academics, the concept of software as a cultural force is still invisible

- you can't understand "new media," "internet," etc., if you don't address software - he's developed a DVD on "soft cinema"

- large commercial websites portray/utilize culture in a way that's software-driven... algorithms determining what content is shown to you

- overlapping windows have become an essential quality of our visual culture

- he steps through these four concepts of form:

1. "Algorithmic Cinema." Using a script and a system of rules defined by the authors, the software controls the screen layout, the number of windows and their content. The authors can choose to exercise minimal control leaving most choices to the software; alternatively they can specify exactly what the viewer will see in a particular moment in time. Regardless, since the actual editing is performed in real time by the program, the movies can run infinitely without ever exactly repeating the same edits.

2. "Macro-cinema." If a computer user employs windows of different proportions and sizes, why not adopt the similar aesthetics for cinema?

3. "Multimedia cinema." In Soft Cinema, video is used as only one type of representation among others: 2D animation, motion graphics, 3D scenes, diagrams, maps, etc.

4. "Database Cinema." The media elements are selected from a large database to construct a potentially unlimited number of different narrative films, or different versions of the same film. We also approach database as a new representational form in its own right. Accordingly, we investigate different ways to visualise Soft Cinema databases.

- using principles to generate aesthetics across different media, and in different contexts

- we see some clips from the soft cinema dvd... in particular, a bit about a woman who loves going through auto car washes

- lev seems very much in the russian constructivist tradition. the video he is showing reminds me of jessica helfand's essay, "De Stijl, New Media, and the Lessons of Geometry".

- he now talks about the new journal Version (the website is a series of massive jpegs. blech.)

- now talking info-aesthetics, the relationship between information and form in contemporary society

- 1. you could start with: we don't need radically new forms, software allows us to reconfigure existing media in new ways

- 2. but that's not really satisfactory (missed why)

- 3. how do people in different fields use computers and software to translate information to new forms that humans can receive and comprehend

- get beyond the old media/new media dichotomy; include bits and atoms, design, industrial design, architecture, etc.; see the tension in the translation of information into form and how it's drives aesthetics in the new media landscape.

Q&A
q. the lineage of constructivist, the aesthetic from the earlier 20th century, as opposed to art nouveau -- why is that the dominant layout convention?

a. a key logic driving modernity is the logic of efficiency. 1860-1940, engineer is an expert in efficiency. the aesthetics that emerged (bauhaus, constructivists, etc.) at that time were also driven by efficiency. you can use taylorism to make production efficient. minimum material for maximum effect --> minimalism.
what's the notion of efficiency in information culture.
compares OS 9 and OS X.
in OS 9, the interface is supposed to disappear.
In OS X, the interface itself is aestheticized, a baroque aesthetic experience. It's not longer about efficiency... it's about experience... experience design and other things.
the only way to build big-scale systems is to have lots of processes... that talk to each other... it's not efficient, but the system develops an emergence...

q. if new and old media is the wrong dichotomy, what do we call ourselves? we're the center of "new media."

a. well, we must be practical. around the world "new media" is understood. i'm not saying the dichotomy doesn't make sense, i'm just trying to get beyond it. the most interesting work is not in strictly new media, but where new media intersects other fields, like architecture.

other questions were asked, but it got too esoteric even for me.

Posted by peterme at March 18, 2005 01:09 PM