Exploring Collaboration Through Videography


I’m really happy that I recently accepted an offer from the Arts Council of Greater New Haven to do videography work for them on Reintegrate: Enhancing Collaborations in the Arts & Sciences. Reintegrate is a pretty neat project, about not only looking at the arts community in New Haven, but seeing how the scientific and academic community can work with them on projects and share the strengths of two different styles of thinking. In its own words, the project

celebrates and showcases the region’s creativity in both the arts and sciences by facilitating collaboration between artists and scientists, showcasing innovative arts and science projects, and inviting the public to share the arts/science connection through events and resources.

Essentially, there are several teams of artists and scientists working together on projects related to geography and literature, stem-cell research and dance, citizen science and sculpture, and so on. This is really exciting to me because of my experience working with civic and tactical media through the Remember Me project. Coincidentally, I’m TAing a course in Interventionist Aesthetics this semester, in which we

examine the ways in which art, design, and technology can be leveraged to develop creative and tactical responses to critical political issues in the public sphere. We study the role of artistic interventions, social media, and tactical tools to support civic agency and participatory action, as well as transform changing political conditions in critical ways. We will investigate how aesthetic principles such as the gaze, spectacle and détournement help to contextualize interventionist practices and inform the creation of new work.

To me, videography is a process of documentation, presented through stylistic choices and a structure that mimics a popular visual aesthetic. People typically understand the language of interview, editing, and video sequences as a compact mode of storytelling. But the subject of Reintegrate is interesting because it deals with collaboration in a way very similar to my thesis work on hackathons. People are coming together from disparate backgrounds sharing similar goals, exercising their skills in a temporary collective effort to make something for others.

I’m also excited because it finally justified me getting a proper camera and gear to do the shoot right. Those tools will definitely come in handy if I decide to incorporate multimedia elements into my thesis work, or on some other project.

YRM Summer Institute and Ideas

Interns from Youth Rights Media participating in team-building exercises

When I first heard that Youth Rights Media would have 28 teenagers participating in our summer institute program, my reaction was similar to the rest of the staff: “What. Wait, what?” 28 is a big number! But after the first week I have to say it’s going very well.

Youth Rights Media, as I’ve said before, is an non-profit organization that runs an after-school program for youth in New Haven to learn community organizing, media literacy and production skills. It was created with the intention of empowering youth to better understand their rights and raise awareness on those issues, specifically in encounters with police. In the past few years the youth in the program have produced documentaries on gun violence, the “school to prison pipeline,”  and youth jobs, as well as a host of other issues relevant to their community.

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Remember Me: Municipal Memorials Project

Remember Me” was born out of a set of inspirations and conditions that just happened to come together in the right time and place. For a while, I had been interested in Youth Rights Media, a New Haven non-profit that teaches media production and literacy to teenagers in an after-school program. I became involved around the same time that I started exploring the ideas behind civic media and tactical design, and I knew that I wanted to apply those principles to the organization, if possible. For a decade now, Youth Rights Media has been producing documentaries and public service announcements that deal with critical issues relating to urban youth and inner-city problems, such as the “school to prison pipeline,” school dropout rates, or “digital stories” of the youths themselves. At the time of this project, they were working on “Unspoken,” a film dealing with gun violence and the way it effects people whose stories and voices are seldom heard.

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Proslambanomenos: A Sound Construction/Assembly

I created this as a project for my Civic Media and Tactical Design class this semester – I’m reposting it here because it was an interesting exercise and I feel strongly about the issues it addresses. The following originally appeared at that class blog. I hesitate to call this a sound construction or a work of sound design, for the reasons you’ll be able to see in my explanation.

I’ve named my project after an archaic term for low notes, the lowest note in the Greek musical scale. The sounds are taken from NOAA’s Vents Program index of unidentified sounds, very low frequency recordings captured by autonomous hydrophone arrays throughout the Pacific Ocean, including SOSUS (which was designed to detect Soviet submarines during the cold war). Although a researcher speculates some of the sounds are the movements of ice, its also very likely they’re biological in origin. The original recordings were sped up to 16x and 20x their original speed to make them listenable – I have restored them to their original speed (for the most part). Nobody really knows what made these sounds.

To use music as a metaphor, proslambanomenos emerge from the bottom of the music scale. They are the drone, or “burden” of a composition. From this biocentric viewpoint, if the earth is a composition, then the rhythms and systems located in the lowest spatial realm of the deep sea would be our lowest bass notes.  As the sounds here are nearly subsonic, their realm is still associated with the Cambrian period, before the land was colonized, and today the ocean represents our subconscious. Exotic species have been found in ocean waters long after they were thought to be extinct.

My thought behind this involves intentionality and non-human agency, or biocentrism (as opposed to anthropocentrism). Noise is merely unwanted sound – but when we intentionally create sound constructions out of noise, we are approaching a totalizing order of music (or more generally, the art of sound), which envelopes and rationalizes our aesthetic decisions  in accordance with other works, even in experimental methods. From the avant-garde to electronic composers, noise is assimilated into human constructions through which we communicate some meaning or expression. When one creates a noise for the sake of noise, there is a puerile aspect to that minimal amount of intention. I wanted to explore truly unintentional sound which is not given over to anthropocentric classification, since we often use natural sounds as acoustic symbols (a volcano explosion is powerful, a dog howl is mournful, etc). How can we divorce the sign from the signified? It’s a good start if we don’t understand the sign.

These sounds are also related to a critical issue in several ways. From a “deep ecology” perspective against anthropocentrism, ocean life and sounds like these are threatened by overfishing, resource and noise pollution which upset the delicate ecologies supporting the origin of these sounds, whatever it may be. The “biophony” of the natural world is encroached upon by the alteration of adjoining systems and industrial/human activities. In 2002 Natural Geographic reported that 83% of land on Earth is directly influenced by human activities. There are two issues here: will we destroy the source of these sounds before we have the chance to learn what they are? Or will we exhaust the unknown for anthropocentrism?

Freeing Ourselves Through Network Ownership

This post is cross-posted at Civic Media + Tactical Design in Contested Spaces

Saturday afternoon I attended the Activist Demo Day at Eyebeam, along with other students in my Civic Media and Tactical Design class. A good number of people crammed into half of a gallery to talk about how technology can aid the goals of community organizers and activists in many ways. Some of what I saw was the application of existing tools for those goals, such as the General Assembly’s Tech Ops use of RSS aggregators and a “wishes” and “gifts” to allocate information and resources. There was also MyI,

a collaborative-collective front page based on the concept that the accumulation of constantly updating unedited images from a multitude of viewpoints more accurately depicts contemporary society and events. An app that allows users to instantaneously upload media from handheld devices to the Internet, MyI builds on the use of ubiquitous photography in modern technology as a key motivator and communicator for activism and information.

There were also some fairly innovative ideas. Protesting robots, essentially very low-tech sign holders and bullhorn mounts actually seemed to have some really interesting thought behind them. After all, how would you feel if you saw a little robot hoisting a sign at you? It reminded me of IAA’s Little Brother, something that’s over a decade old and I still haven’t seen used or mentioned anywhere.

I won’t go over everything, but I really wanted to see something that wasn’t essentially a “activist alternative” to an existing commercial tool or product. The Free Network Foundation had it.

So, there are several ideas going on here – free access, greater privacy, local data, and privately owned networks. This mesh topographical hardware has some pretty interesting applications if you think about it in the global terms FNF does – I asked Wilder about the range of the devices. One tower covered Zucotti/Liberty park, and they got up to a half mile in Dallas, but with multiple towers and more height, you could get a “bigger” networks across a larger physical area. And the signal can be boosted some as well. My idea (which he had thought about before and got pretty excited over) was to send the whole thing up in a tethered balloon, and provide access to a rural area where there’s a greater digital divide. There are some strict rules about the use of such balloons, but my guess is you could send out a signal pretty far with one less than 500 feet up, and others would just make it even better. The applications would be interesting – each unit costs $1300, and it wouldn’t take much to provide superb access for an entire remote community, so long as the unit’s global connection was stable. The main thought behind this was that “networks owned by the people make us free.” I could see the logic in that, even if I didn’t understand all the technology they were using to make it possible.

There was a high degree of civic ethic and practicality among the people at Activist Demo Day. I was struck by the thought that when society collapses (as most of us present are presumably motivated by the belief our culture is fundamentally unsustainable), these people are ready to pick up the pieces and rebuild. There is also this weird dichotomy between the reality of New York as the global center of capitalism, and activists living and breathing that culture while searching for an effective anti-capitalist dialect that doesn’t sound ridiculous or hypocritical. During the panel mini-debates emerged about things like Facebook, Twitter and the high tech tools we take for granted in a developed society, and how to reproduce those commercial mediums with tactical, pro-social intentions.

The crux of that nervous indecision came in the form of a question by Taeyoon Choi, a fellow at Eyebeam who also ran the robots. He asked, “Can we have democracy without money or capitalism?” One person commented on currency as technology itself, and a need to develop a better alternative. The unanswered questions of heterodox economics also had a lesser-acknowledged parallel which still had to be addressed: the problem of public opinion (“can we have democracy period”) and the issues general assemblies are confronted with in situations like the All-City Student Occupation or those discussed here. It’s helpful to go back to John Dewey’s The Public and it’s Problems:

The essential need, in other words, is the improvement of the methods and conditions of debate, discussion and persuasion. That is the problem of the public. We have asserted that this improvement depends essentially upon freeing and perfecting the process of inquiry and of dissemination of their conclusions. Inquiry, indeed, is a work which devolves the experts. But their expertness is not shown in framing and executing policies, but in discovering and making known the facts upon which the former depend. They are technical experts in the sense that scientific investigators and artists manifest expertise. It is not necessary that many should have the knowledge and skill to carry on the needed investigations; what is required is that they have the ability to judge the bearing of the knowledge supplied by others upon common concerns. (208-209)

Before we know whether or not we can have democracy, it will take the ideas and tools offered by these activists to create the necessary forum to discover an answer. What they’re building is a new infrastructure for “debate, discussion and persuasion” that the public desperately needs.

To see some more pics from the day, check out my photoset, and if you’d like to hear a little bit of that panel discussion (the audio was really bad as a warning) check out the following soundcloud uploads.

Dewey, John. The Public and Its Problems. Swallow Pr, 1954.