Archive for the rant Category

Pausing image; pausing sound

Posted in Film, rant with tags , , on July 11, 2008 by Lightborne

I was at a conference recently where a question was put to a speaker about the temporality of the paused film image. The question related roughly to Laura Mulvey’s work on the subject in Death 24x a Second, complicated by the issue of the impossibility of perceiving paused sound. We can see a paused image, but we can’t hear a paused sound. So how much authority over the minutiae of the film can we really gain from scrutinising the paused image? We may pore over a frozen frame in a cinephiliac way, but all we really have before us is a partial cross-section of the film – static image plus silence. The audiovisual experience of film here becomes the purely visual experience of the paused image.

The seemingly sensible decision returned to the audience was that the temporal perception of image and sound are simply different. But I’m not sure I agree with this.

When we pause a sound we get silence, a negation of sound. Here, the sound is stopped at a precise moment and can later be restarted from that point. Pausing a sound recording is something you do to allow for some other act in between (answering a phone, making tea, going to the bathroom). When we pause a film we get a still image. This is a negation of motion, but not of image. The purpose of this act may be the same as with sound (answering a phone, making tea etc.). The image remains on screen unlooked at. However, we may also pause the image to scrutinise it, to take pleasure in the unhurried examination of a frozen tableau, the lingering gaze at a petrified face. We gain this privilege at the expense of sound and movement.

But what would it be like to pause sound in the same way? To freeze an instant in a piece of music or dialogue to scrutinise its composition? How do you take a cross-section of sound? The intuitive answer, as evinced by the reply given at the conference, was that you simply can’t. The temporal perception of the visual and the sonic are just different. Now this may indeed be true, but not in the way that this difficulty in conceiving one and not the other immediately suggests.

The difference is less in the way we actually perceive sound and image, than in the way we think about these two kinds of perception. We find it difficult to imagine what it would be like to listen to a paused sound because we can’t think of sound outside of its temporality. Nevertheless we can quite readily accept the idea of pausing vision.

We can imagine a frozen moment, but that moment will always be silent. Notice how any hypothetical frozen moment we can think of is always deathly quiet. We see this in fictional representations of frozen time also, most representatively in the television series Heroes, wherein the character Hiro Nakamura (Masi Oka) has the power to freeze time. Hiro freezes time at several points throughout the series, to allow him to change the positions of objects or to stop a fatal action mid-execution. When he performs this trick everything around him, including other characters, freeze mid-motion, yet he continues to move. His movements take place within a landscape of suspended movement, presenting a surreal juxtaposition. The surreality is underlined by the silence of these scenes. Ambient sound drains away as time freezes, leaving only the sounds that Hiro himself makes. He can make sound because he still exists in duration, though everything around him has lost this characteristic. Without time, things can’t make sounds. But even without time, it would appear, things can still be seen….

So, we know what a frozen moment would look like, but not what it would sound like. Or, at least we seem to think that it would sound like silence, the absence of sound. Again, this is because sound seems to require temporal extension just to be sound, whereas vision seems to be able to exist independently of time. This conceptualisation of the frozen moment, or what it is to pause sound and moving image, can be refuted in two opposite, but connected, ways. Either paused sound (as we understand it) isn’t really paused sound, or a paused moving image is something other than a cross-section of the film, an instant frozen for enhanced scrutiny. In the first case, we might suggest that a paused sound, were it to be treated in a manner consistent with how we conceive of a paused image, would actually have to be represented by a continuous tone – a cross-section of the sound at the precise instant of the pause repeated at a frequency that would allow it to give the impression of continuous sound.

On the other hand, perhaps the difficulty in comprehending paused sound, and the intuitive reaction against the idea of a continuous tone as frozen time, should be extended to our idea of the paused image. Perhaps image cannot exist outside of time either…

The paused image is not frozen. It is not, like a photograph, a static object – it is a constantly refreshing image, functioning as it would if we were watching an unpaused action sequence. It just happens in this case that the image is constantly being replaced by a copy of itself. The impression that what we are seeing is a frozen moment, a cross-section of the film, is in fact a fallacy. The perception of image, moving or still, requires time just as much as the perception of sound does. To pause a DVD is to gain a certain kind of insight into the composition of the frame at a given moment, but it can only ever be a partial cross-section, an aberrant manipulation in itself of the audiovisual fabric of the film. Cinema is temporal in the way that sound is temporal, and outside of the persuasion strategy of the pause button we should really find the same kind of difficulty in thinking the frozen film moment.

Bullring Flashmob

Posted in personal, rant, video with tags , , , on March 9, 2008 by Lightborne

I took part in a flashmob yesterday – well Denise did and I dashed around with my camera. The idea was for a large group of people, dispersed throughout out the top floor of the Bullring and seemingly going about their business as normal, to suddenly freeze in motion at an appointed, synchronised time. They would maintain this statuesque pose for five minutes exactly and then all fall back into motion at the same time. The point is not to cause disruption and irritation, but rather wonder and amazement. The security of the Bullring however, seemed to think that the only purpose was to clog up the shopping lanes. Well, that and I think they just didn’t like it. From my own experience and what I’ve heard from others, the security don’t like crowds to gather, things that aren’t shopping to happen, or even people sitting down. As the General Manager explained very vigorously to one of the group afterwards, the Bullring is private property, not public property – so essentially shoppers are their guests and expected to behave in a manner appropriate to the situation. Anything else is just weird and a menace. While momentarily stopped to talk to someone outside of the Bullring (though not yet off of their property) I suddenly felt the muscular, weighty presence of one of the security men compelling my whole body (along with two others) away, explaining all the while that we couldn’t do it out here either. Apparently one must try to remain in constant motion while at the Bullring, otherwise one may unknowingly become a nuisance and a troublemaker.

Anyway, the security men themselves caused the greatest disruption and commotion by clustering around the freezers and shouting a lot. The freezers were intentionally spread out so as not to cause a blockage, but, and you can see this in the many videos many of the event, the security response caused crowds to gather around certain spots to see what was happening, thereby impeding one of the main thoroughfares. One of the funniest things from the whole day was the security men milling around shouting “Move along….. Start moving….”

Here’s the video I made, which unfortunately doesn’t have the biggest group of freezers (who were on the opposite side of the top floor) from the beginning. When I finally get there its difficult to see them for the crowd.

There’s also a BBC news story about the event.

And here’s another article about it.

Ice rinks, fluorescent soldiers, and bookshelves.

Posted in personal, rant with tags , on February 26, 2008 by Lightborne

On Saturday I was woken twice from a pretty vivid sleeping experience – once by the fire alarm at 4:30 am (a small percentage of the residents of our building pile out onto the street and grumble about being woken up while firemen dart around grumbling about being woken up – the majority apparently don’t fear a fiery, burny, melty and ultimately smoldery death), and once by the sound of a small temporary ice-rink erupting into life right below our first floor apartment at around 10:00am. The ice-rink was only small, so they only let small children on – and the noise they make by themselves is nowhere near enough to disturb me. But the operators of this passing (and slightly surreal) attraction believed that the kids couldn’t have the maximum possible amount of fun without a very big speaker thundering out dance music. Why? I’m sure the kids don’t care whether there’s music or not, and if the idea was to provide a soundtrack that would enhance their experience, even their memories, then I can think of a vast amount of more interesting music. The organisers seemed to have confused the needs and desires of the average 5 year old with those of an 18 year old hepped up on vodka and red bull. To someone reluctantly shocked from sleep it sounded like chaos/disorder/destruction out there, and it struck me that this might be the soundtrack to all future wars. In my half-awake state I started to imagine neon clad super-soldiers with glow-sticks strapped to the muzzles of their laser rifles like bayonets, all charging over mounds of brightly coloured nuclear sludge to the incessant dunf dunf dunf of a thousand bands who claim a common ancestry in the demonic aural flatulence of Scooter. I’m seldom moved to spite or aggression, but I had a real urge to point my own speakers out the window and hideously syncopate their rhythms with some Melt Banana. Then I thought it would be interesting to hear Harry Partch and his accordion wailing out all over the street on top of that inescapable beat. I didn’t do either. I just stayed in bed and grumbled.

Later, when the ruckus had died down and the beat finally stopped (around 5:00pm) we spent a fairly pleasant evening carefully stocking a new set of bookshelves – finally, some of the random piles dotted about the apartment find a semi-permanent home.