Sara Tarby Susana Tosca Digital Aesthetics 12.12.12 We Used to Wait for HTML5 Introduction: I live in Copenhagen and I have lived here for more or less five years. I moved from Silkeborg, a medium large city in eastern Jutland, when I was 18 years old and hated everything about my birthplace like I imagine so many other teenagers do in that age. I wanted to live in the big city of Copenhagen, where I would find my call and where life would show itself in all it’s bright colors and twisted characters in the night. In writing, I’m homesick and all I want to do is to get on the next train to Jutland and find my way to my fathers house, the place where I grew up, and just be there in the surroundings I know so well and the surroundings that somewhat witnessed me developing more than I ever will or so it sure feels. No matter what, the place where I grew up, has great value to me for many reasons. It still, even though I have lived in the same apartment for five years, is the only place I call ”home”. I get nostalgic when experiencing something, that reminds me of home and then I try to dig up some old memories in my head and try to see life as it was for my inner eye, but my memory has it that only scattered images and short ”clips” of sound are to find in wholeness. Everything else is just a pond if impressions and strange feelings, that do not have real shape, sound, taste or feel anymore. This essay is about a music video that awakened homesickness and nostalgia in me. The paper will by using literature on nostalgia as an aesthetic, the HTML5 format that the video is build on, on spatial montages and city symphonies and how to create space in motion pictures. It is a very interesting field, because I have read about many genres in motion pictures that are to make people feel something in particular. An example is the horror genre that is to scare people and startle people that practices the use of particular movie formats, angles, sounds, clipping technique, color correction and so on to do so. But I, when experiencing the video being explored in this paper, felt a deep sense of nostalgia and that, making people nostalgic, is something interesting. One can only imaging how we, viewers of motion pictures, have same ways of reacting on horror movies, comedies and so on, but we might not have the same base, when it comes to showing ”home”. What is home to me has never been home to you, so how is it possible to make one video
about mine and your past, when we are not sharing the same past and upbringing like we share the fright of sudden shocks and murderers in clown suits? Arcade Fire: Arcade Fire is an indie rock band from Montreal, Quebec, Canada. They where formed in 2003 and consists of Win Butler, who is main vocalist, plays the guitar and piano, Régine Chassagne, who is singing secondary vocals and plays hurdy gurdy, drums and keyboards, Richard Reed Parry who is on the bass guitar and guitar, William Butler who is on keyboards and guitar, Tim Kingsbury on bass guitar, Sara Neufeld who is playing violin and finally Jeremy Gara on drums. These are the consistent members of the band, there are several other musicians who play on their tours on many other instruments (LastFM).
Figure 1 (LastFM) The Suburbs: On their debut album, Funeral, 2004 the band already begun exploring the theme of ”neighborhoods”, and in 2009 Win Butler, the lead singer of the band, received a mail from an old friend he grew up with in the suburbs of Houston, Texas. "He sent us a picture of him with his daughter on his shoulders at the mall around the corner from where we lived," says Win, "and the combination of seeing this familiar place and seeing my friend with his child brought back a lot of feeling from that time. I found myself trying to remember the town that we grew up in and trying to retrace as much as I could remember." (Merge Records). The other band
members also tried to go back to the places, where they grew up and in some cases, they found there was nothing left. Merge Records states: ”buildings were boarded up, if they still existed at all; new roads and rivers had magically appeared, altering the landscape that now only existed in faded photographs. When they reconvened, the first song they wrote was The Suburbs' title track.” (1) Themes such as scarcity, of generations past and future, responsibility and maturity ended up filling the entire album also with a ”hope that something pure can last” (1). The band has a mission with the suburbs and in nostalgia and the thought of something being good in the past. We can by this assume that the song ”We Used To Wait” is somehow connected to the feeling of being nostalgic. Holbrook and Schindler are describing literature on nostalgia and mention several big historical works, including the bible and how Adam and Eve are condemned to forever be missing paradise. This state of longing for the lost innocence of the past is being described as ”true romanticism”, but more on that later. The Wilderness Downtown: The Wilderness Downtown is the title of an online video HMTL5 experience. It is a hybrid mash up of video footage, geo-‐imaginary, 3D animation and Google’s ”street view” function (Dragon, 4). It is functioning as a music video for the song ”We Used to Wait” on Arcade Fire’s album The Suburbs from 2010. The viewer/listener is experiencing The Wilderness Downtown by firstly typing the address of his/her birthplace or the place where he/she grew up in a search field. The algorithm in the program searches for the coordinates and assembles a personalized show, where the plot of the picture is looking like it is happening there. Dragon is nicely stating how this ”In a curious act of digital flânerie, the user gets multiple points of view shots of video and street-‐view imagery stitched together, adjusted to the movement of the faceless protagonist of the clip, using several, dynamically changing browser windows as a multiplication of screens within the screen” (4).
Figure 2 (The Wilderness Downtown) These screens or pop up videos firstly show a video clip of a faceless and androgynous character who is running down an anonymous road. Another pop up window shows another video of black birds flying in a yellow sky and when the music changes settings, they dive down and flies over the satellite image of the address the viewer/listener has typed in. You can see an animation of the tiny character down on the road on the image, making the image look less static and makes the viewer/listener aware of the fact that the person running is actually running down there, in your old neighborhood. Memory and spatial montage. This is where defining the video as one video is difficult because in some extent The Wilderness Downtown is a cluster of videos played in order. The windows pops up here and there and there are only few features but the fact that you have no control over the videos appearance, like black birds flying from one ”screen” to another in the HTML5 construction and some of the colors that somehow fit together. The question is if this particular way if telling a story or showing something, is something that a person can comprehend or if it is a medium of use, that is going to confuse the viewer. On ”Kaleidoscopic narratives and spatial mapping” Prager is mentioning Moholy’s idea of something called ”Pylocinema” and his installation peace that focused on the use
of more than one video clip at the same time within one bigger round screen, where these clips, as it is with The Wilderness Downtown, clips appeared and disappeared with different timing and different places (196). Janet Murray, mentioned in same paper, describes a ”kaleidoscopic story with multiple points of view.” which in our case is interesting since the ”plot”, the person running down the streets, are ”filmed” from many varies of angles and views and with different formats. In one particular scene, the anonymous character stops. The next scene is seen by satellite, regular film footage and images from Google Street View. You see one window or frame that shows video from his/her feet, when he/she starts turning around himself/herself.
Figure 3 (The Wilderness Downtown) I am going to stop here and say ”she” from now on, since she is running down my neighborhood and I can relate to her running. I am after all the only person I have known, who has ever been running down that street, so the surroundings are making me remember the various reasons I had to run at the time. While watching the video of the character running it feels like witnessing happenings that has been already. You see another frame showing the satellite photography with her in the middle, this picture is turning as well, and finally Google Street View images put together in an order that makes it look like her point of view, when she is turning the same way as if you would turn around with a video camera in your hand. This scene is seen
from three different angels and views, which is an odd thing compared to, what one formally has learned about the film language and usage of angels and point of views. This is not necessarily confusing. Prager is stating how both Moholy, Manovich and Murray has been exploring this usage of spatial cinema and they are all agreeing on the fact, that the modern human is capable of comprehending such practice of spatial montage: Janet Murray states that ”the kaleidoscopic power of the computer allows us to tell stories that more truly reflect our turn-‐of-‐the-‐century sensibility. We no longer believe in a single reality, a single integrating view of the world, or even the reliability of a single angle of perception.” (Prager, 197). Maybe the satellite images are manifesting ”the bigger picture” for the viewer/listener, who in this sense is being aware of her tiny neighborhood while in the same time actually is turning around herself in the streets in front of her old home being young of age while looking at herself from the outside as the adult she is today. And maybe the viewer/listener will in fact be able to experience all of this at once and the different angles contribute to the sense of the world being presented realistic. By this it is also said, that the viewer is sensing being here, now, and being there when. She is both experiencing the present and the past. I can relate to this statement since I, after experiencing the video, felt the time as a ripping and destructive force and watching the past made me really think about how my old neighborhood is falling apart. In writing, I am convinced that the people behind The Wilderness Downtown wanted me to experience what the band experienced when they explored and visited their old neighborhoods. Manovich is mentioning memory and how humans perceive time when it comes to spatial imaging and this is most certainly the very reason why The Wilderness Downtown should be considered a very interesting case: ”The logic of replacement, characteristic of cinema, gives way to the logic of addition and co-‐existence. Time becomes spatialized, distributed over the surface of the screen. Nothing is forgotten, nothing is erased. Just as we use computers to accumulate endless texts, messages, notes and data (and just as a person, going through life, accumulates more and more memories, with the past slowly acquiring more weight than the future), "Spatial Montage" accumulates events and images as it progresses through its narrative. In contrast to cinema's screen, which primarily functioned as a record of perception, here computer screen functions as a record of memory.” This is very relevant since I experienced both a plot of a narrative continuous storyline and also felt the sensation of memory. My own mind is reflecting through several pictures, images, sounds and so
on, so by this anonymous yet relevant material I’m witnessing on screen, I’m visualizing my own memory. At least one can argument that the HTML5 format and spatial cinema (before mentioned kaleidoscopic cinema) has resemblance with how one associates and remembers. Where there in Pragers text is a focus on how we in modern society have been pushed into this matter of sensing our surroundings and impulses in bits and pieces put together, Dragon (4) has an interesting saying on The Wilderness Downtown, that might lead us into a new direction of creating nostalgia with HTML5 video(s): “A nostalgic gesture indeed, the clip in fact utilizes the spatial memory of the user-‐subject, connecting the psychological factors with an algorithmic rendition of space. It dynamically, in a procedural manner, repositions the subject through the interface of the mash-‐up to recreate the once visited spatial coordinates that allow the subject not only the recollection of psychic, but also of bodily engagement within the given spatio-‐temporal setting. The subject’s spatial memory thus comes to be aligned (and overseen) by digital and performative cartography”. Nostalgia: One thing is to witness ones memory and to experience the video that is in actuality videos put together, as a whole. Another thing is to remember and feel nostalgia. Memory is somewhat a neutral ground while nostalgia is subjective and colored in a way that makes the memory of a certain time in ones or others time seem positive. Holbrook and Schindler is defining nostalgia as being an extension of Fred Davis’ saying: Nostalgia is ”yearning for yesterday”. The longing for the past is defined as a preference (general liking, positive attitude, or favorable affect) toward objects (people, places, or things) that were more common (popular, fashionable, or widely circulated) when one was younger (in early adulthood, in adolescence, in childhood, or even before birth. It is difficult to say, that this video will make an impact on the viewer/listener, and the viewer/listener will because of these uses become favorable on his/her upbringing. People have, as said, not had the same upbringing as I had, maybe better or worse. But there are several factors in the experience that indicates a positive view on the past. As said in the review of Suicide Virgins, a movie by Sofia Coppola, reviewed by Bill Rendall, yellowish color filters on movie screen makes things look older and worn by time. The sky is yellow in the entire film, that is
one thing, but in one scene, when a chorus of the song is reaching its climax, the satellite image is making a zooming out motion, making you see more and more of your past neighborhood as you go further and further up in the air. In the same pace as you go up, the area is fading into yellowish colors, making it look and feel like this place is getting centuries older in just a few seconds. It looks beautiful and the yellow colors are, as Rendall said, it has a nostalgic feel to it. Nothing in the movie, but the images in Google Street View is indicating what time is being shown, making it possible for people in all ages to become nostalgic. The members of the band Arcade Fire where children in the 1970’s but I, without having seen or experienced the 70’s, feel the history of the place being presented in The Wilderness Downtown. When Holbrook and Schinder are arguing, that the sense of nostalgia has always inextricably infused our consciousness of the basic human condition, The Wilderness Downtown has presented to me pictures of my childhood neighborhood in a way that triggers emotions and a state that is difficult to avoid, since the sense of here and now, in my case Copenhagen, December 2012, is undesirable compared to the time and place represented in The Wilderness Downtown. All in spite of the fact that I remember how I hated my last year in Silkeborg, when I was yearning for going to Copenhagen and start my life there as an adult. Maybe it is a common condition, nostalgia, no matter how true it is, that the 90’s where better or not or whether it always snowed in December back in the 70’s. History and human memory will maybe always boil past down to the gems when being presented with such images as seen in The Wilderness Downtown. A word on City Symphonies and Zeitgeist Capturing and expressing the spirit of a time and what can be called zeitgeist or ”feel” of a particular area is somehow been characterized in City Symphonies, that in some extend has similarities with The Wilderness Downtown. Good representatives for this genre in cinema is Rien Que Les Heures by Alberto Cavalcanti from 1926, Berlin, Symphonie of a Great City by Walter Ruttman from 1927 and Man With a Movie Camera by Dziga Vertov from 1929. (Thomas and Penz, 144). Using montage, these three motion pictures created a new genre in cinema. Now, if putting the fact aside, that the character in The Wilderness Downtown is actually running, the music video is carried by same ideas as City Symphony’s by showing a certain place observantly and through several channels. City Symphonies are carried out with the idea of experiencing cities when strolling, idling, watching and observing (145). The montage is an attempt to philosophically move away from the
fictional narrative tradition, and one sees the montage like style in The Wilderness Downtown, observing the bits of clip a long part of the way is not per se pushing the plot forward. I would rather characterize two montages in one film: The first act, where the girl is running and the environment is shown through montage. The second act, where the viewer/listener is encouraged to write a post card to herself while machineries are moving to the rhythm of the viewer/listeners actions on the computer keyboard. And a third act of the environment being ”destroyed” by trees popping up from the ground, which also has no actual plot but the trees appearing. The use of montage is, when looking at the tradition on City Symphonies, a good way of experiencing city space -‐ this being suburban space with its characteristics. And it might be a good use, since it might be important for the experience to see the place in small non-‐connected clips, so the ”feel” and the zeitgeist of the place is remembered. Steampunk. Manifesting nostalgia in objects. I am going to shortly demonstrate how some of the objects in the project of The Wilderness Downtown is adding on to the sense of nostalgia in the experience of the interactive music video. Some of the aesthetics ar (Prager) (Prager)e resembling steampunk, which is a genre generated from inter alia nostalgia (Perschon). On one scene in particular, where the viewer/listener is asked to write a letter to her old self, who lived there before, in the neighborhood portrayed, writing on her keyboard or drawing with her mouse. When dragging the courser or writing letters, three other windows in the HTML5 spatial video are showing machinery moving with the tempo of the writing, making it look and feel more like a mechanized practice than a electronic practice, hence under the paradigm of steampunk, that idealizes the mechanical from the digital and electronic (Perschon). Technology is within steampunk also in its right to be visible and not become something, that humans does not see, like clock gear being visible instead of just showing the interface of the clock (Perschon). It shall be said, that The Wilderness Downtown should not be characterized as a steampunk video, neither should Arcade Fire be characterized as a steampunk band, but it is noticeable how some of the aesthetics in the bands objects and fashion seems historical and looks like objects from the nineteenth century. This does not make them fall under the category necessarily, but the fact that they use some of the same objects as steampunk makes them seem nostalgic in a way. The look and feel of the steampunk bits in the music video makes one associate the nostalgia and the romantic look on the past. The big different lie in the time period being idealized, which is also one of the reasons one should only look at the steampunk
materials as associative and not idealistic statements. The romanticism and the ”yearning for yesterday” is somewhat manifested in the mechanical objects in the second act.
Figure 4 (The Wilderness Downtown) Final words. The true romantic statement ”hope for something pure to last” is not only said by Win Butler in an interview it is also part of the lyrics to the song ”We Used to Wait” that also tells the story about how ”We used to wait. We used to write letters. I used to sign my name. I used to sleep at night.”. This tells a story about the time, where we used to wait for growing up and our lives could start. We have explored how the video for the song reminds us of our memory in its HTML5 format and spatial, kaleidoscopic, cinema and some of both the filters, movements and objects are adding on to our positive view on the past while we watch it and observe it, while comprehending it with todays eyes. It sure is a sentimental and moving experience. There is one thing though, that I cannot help but noticing. The album, the Suburbs, the song, We Used to Wait, and the video The Wilderness Downtown are all trying to comprehend the struggles of missing time and place long since past and watching the surroundings around ones former neighborhood disappear and the romantic view is somewhat making me being stuck in presence in an inadequate world, that no longer is, as it should, and all the innocence is gone in modern technology and society. But the video for the song from the album is made with cutting edge technology, the HTML5 format. It is very interesting, that in order to make people travel back to the good old days, where there was no Internet, you have to use internet, 3D animation and satellite images. It is a paradox, that is difficult to ignore, and it is ironic how Arcade Fire in corporation with Chris Milk, has made
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