All entries for December 2006
December 22, 2006
Le Web 3 Conference
Despite the scepticism noted in earlier postings on Second Life there was a large conference in Paris discussing ideas about Web 3 (Maybe 3.0) but I quite like the idea of Le Web Trois :-).
No time to check this out at present but there are plenty of links from this site. I notice there are some venture capital firms there, so Web 3 means business.
Follow-up to New Media. Second Life: the Virtual World is Taking Off from Kinoeye
More on Second Life
Currently it seems that Second Life is attracting more and more attention not only from the Web Savvy world but from research psychologists ever keener to get in on the act. Also Thursday’s technology Guardian was sceptical about the numbers of people using Second Life. Whatever else Second Life appears to be keeping up with Oscar Wilde’s dictum about being talked about or not!
Another interested Blogger in New Media also has his doubts about the popularity of Second Life. As with everything it will take time. My suspicion is that with all frontiers it will attract more and more creative people. Adam from Reuters has noticed that many corporate parts of the virtual real estate are empty however they are covering themselves for the future. If real estate and the exchange rate remains cheap it is a miniscule expense. If – as I suspect it will over a decade – Second Life takes off for millions of users on a regular basis then the big corporations have alreadsy got thier claijms staked!
Below: Flights of Fantasy an avatar in Second Life
Academic researchers are certainly interested. Links will be added to the bottom of this piece as they are discovered / emerge. There is littel doubt that it will be a delight for Deluezian inspired cultural studies people. Presumably there will be a spate of Research Methods in Virtual Environments in the next couple of years.
What’s out there Now?
Yesterday morning Radio 4’s news programme Today had interviews with two Pschologists about how they were looking into Second Life as a viable environment in which they could run experiements on people’s reactions in certain circumstances. These are experiments that could not be run in the ‘real world’ for ethical reasons.
Much of the discussion circled around the famous experiment of ordering volunteers to adminster what they thought were powerful electric shocks to people who were in fact actors. Despite severe doubts from many of the experimentees they ended up giving ‘electric shocks that could knock people out’ or even kill them.
The radio 4 presenter John Humphreys displayed a certain aversion to -Second Life_ as well. his attitude was a bit scornful to say the least.
If you happen to become a user of Second Life just be aware that if you come across something which is pushing your reactions in surprising ways perhaps conflicting with your real life persona. Just ask yourself the question – is this a bunch of psychologists behind this.
Link here to the BBC ‘Listen Again’ site to download this discussion. Scroll down to the 8.30 am slot: Agony and Ecstasy of Living in the Virtual World
If you seriously interested download it to your hard drive. I’m hoping they will archive it on the server somewhere so that it will be available permanently. I think that there is going to be a lot more discussion emerging around Second Life.
PS: Just discovered the Today Programme Audio Archive Pages. This interview on Second Life will turn up here after Xams 2006.
Added Extra: Short Rant on Psychologists
Things to remember about psychologists are:
- They need to persuade people they are useful
- The hisory of early psychology linked to perception was about making the workforce more effective / productive in the early part of the 19th century. See Jonathan Carey ‘Techniques of the Observer’ MIT Press for more on this. This has gone on ever since in business and industry.
- Psychologists (or some I talked to many years ago) have often been concerned with making people ‘normal’. Ther ones I had in mind were defending the prospect of giving gay people electric-shock aversion therapy to ‘cure them’
- Psychologists are the people behind putting sweeties under kids noses in supermarkets thus contributing to obesity and general toothlessness
amongst the population
- Psychologists love watching ‘Big Brother’, one wonders whether it wasn’t dreamt up by psychologists in the first place
- Psychologists bear a heavy responsibility for turning the whole education system into the reductionist, positivistic, quantitive, prescriptive managerialist anti-educationalist affair it is today. Why else is Britian’s functiona l illiteracy so bad despite going to school earlier than on the continent and being forever tested?
- Psychology has shown how socially progressive it is as the ‘discipline’ has expanded exponentially since the Thatcher regime and has remained an extremly popular subject under the Blair regime
- Perhaps there is a case for social research into the popularity of Psychology in relation to the prescriptivness on governments of the time?
TV Interview With Second Life Guru
Getting back to the point here is a link to the Click.com Second Life Interview
Research Projects into Second Life
Aleks Krotoski one of the Guardian’s technology correspondents is also doing a PhD.
December 21, 2006
The British Heritage Film: Part 1
It is argued by several leading critics that the idea of the ‘heritage film’ has been identified by critics themselves and that the tendency to create and market these films targets and reinforces a from of right-wing nostalgia. It does this by creating a mythical past using very select and romanticised mise en scene of costume, architecture and transport for example. Thus these films function as an escape from the political and social issues of the present
What is meant by ‘Heritage Film and Heritage?
The 1980s saw the growth of a cultural phenomenon which has often been described as the heritage industry. The description can be applied to a range of creative and cultural industries which provide a powerful link between tourism, the past and the film and television industries. Here Andrew Higson who did much to develop this as a critical category in relation to British cinema explains how he and others identified this shift in cultural consciousness as they saw it.
The past is differentiated from history which as a discipline has a range of methods attached to an academic discipline based upon the priciple of gathering evidence of events, opinions etc from a previous period. The past is understood as a more mythological construction which is much more culturally subjective.
The English costume dramas of the last two decades seem from one point of view a vital part of this industry. For this reason, I and others have labelled them heritage films, though that is not a term that their producers or indeed many of their audiences would be familiar with or even approve of… (Higson, 2003 : p1).
As will be seen below the genre of the ‘heritage film’ has provided Britain with some of its greatest commercial successes of the 1990s as well as the 1980s. This is now being repeated in the new millennium. Some have dismissed these films as very conservative. They can certainly be viewed as extremely nostalgic and very selective in their presentation of the past. But they could be viewed in a more complex way.
It is argued by some critics that the cinematic treatment which was given to the books they are named after was far less critical of the status quo than the original books were. Here it is possible to point to the novels of E. M. Forster which were far more attuned to the social tensions that were arising in Edwardian Britain than the filmic treatment.
Certainly Edwardian Britain wasn’t as rosy as some would like to paint it. Britain’s place in the world was being challenged industrially by both Germany and the USA. In terms of foreign policy even during the Boer war taking place at the beginning of the century Germany had been supportive of the Boer rebels. Tensions continued to build up with the ‘Anglo-German Naval race’ which started in earnest after 1907.
On the home front the Liberal government was faced with a serious constitutional crisis over the passing of Lloyd George’s famous budget. The rise of suffragism part of far greater social movement for votes for women and an ever increasing polarisation in Ireland between nationalists and unionists were all significant political and social features of the period which is better seen as one of transition with all the uncertainties which that term implies. Certainly it was not all halcyon days.
Alternative takes on Heritage
Stuart Hall has made a useful analysis of the notion of ‘heritage’ arguing that it functions to exclude social and cultural issues of the present by creating mythical visions of the past.
As a country, since World War Two Britain has undergone a significant re-composition of its population. Huge demographic changes were brought about by the massive growth of immigration fuelled by the long post-war industrial boom which saw Britain create a period of full employment and better working and social conditions under a welfare state.
Hall agrees that the Heritage film is a form of construction by the critical community which has spread much further than the corridors of the academic world.
It has come to signal not just a particular group, or cluster of interrelated groups, of films, but a particular attitude to those films, and indeed to the audiences presumed to frequent them. Heritage cinema is very largely a critical construct but its currency in academic debates …has subsequently been extended into journalistic and even popular usage. (My emphasis: Hall, Sheldon. 2001: p 191)
Howard’s End: The first of the 1990s heritage films
Some of the critiques depend upon whether a narrow or a wide definition of heritage is used. Merchant-Ivory produced and directed Howard’s End (1991) was the first ‘heritage film’ of the decade. The treatment of Forster’s original text relies on a country house aesthetic with the camera feasting upon the haute bourgeois interiors. This palpable pleasure in parading the visual splendour of the past undermines the social criticism of Forster’s novel. argues Gibson (2000: 116). Looking at some of the romanticised images Gibson certainly has a point.
Higson (2003) in his case study on Howard’s End also expresses a concern that this film is a particularly good example of films which choose a deliberately liberal canonical text upholding in a reasonable ‘authentic’ way the liberal notions expressed within the book. Nevertheless director and producer undermine that liberalism by constructing a stylistic mode which, by focusing on the mise en scene, allows a conservative sensibility to become prioritised.
It is important to bear in mind Stuart Hall’s comments cited above. Although the texts can be read by critics as a reactionary construction of British heritage in fact the arguments are not based upon actual audience research. It is not unreasonable to assume in the tradition of deconstruction which argues that meaning of a text is not fixed that the American audiences for Howard’s End made very different readings of the film. It should not be forgotten that many of the English viewers of the film were far more likely than American audiences to have some familiarity with the British history of the period. Much deeper social and political readings of the off-screen concerns of the film by members of the audience were very likely.
Criticism without audience analysis: How useful is it?
The above points highlight the weakness of constructing criticism of texts with having a research relationship. Higson and other critics were making a critical ‘leap of faith’ by creating their perfectly reasonable interpretations based upon the prevalence of the right-wing mood of the nation at the time. The film of Howard’s End was made at the end of the Thatcher period. However there is no clear evidence how British audiences understood and experienced this film; what Hall described as attitude towards these films.
Hall however does make an important point about the lack of representation of many features of contemporary British society which is a part of the country’s heritage in the fullest sense of the term. Hall here was discussing the lack of representation of Afro-Caribbeans and the contribution of the Slave trade in all manner of ways to Britain today. This is a part of British ‘heritage’ which demands ‘recognition’. In this sense much of the heritage industry is very isolated from social and cultural reality.
The doyen of English Heritage was enaged enough to represent an evil episode in British history. Follow this link for Simon Schama on the historical episode being represented. When will British cinema can stop making romanticist cinema for an American market which appears to view Britain as quaint and face up to the bad bits of history as well as the proud bits. Turner was more honest about 150 years ago it seems. Art isn’t just ‘beautiful’!
Link to official site with a trailer available
Link here for the Guardian review by Derek Malcolm
Web Design and Public Service Broadcasting (PSB)
One of the core issues concerning the production units at A2 level when it comes to designing new media content particularly website design is the issue of accessibility.
This link takes you to the area where the BBC clearly defines its commisssioning policies. These should be taken by students as the benchmark by which thier work is judged. For ant web design both in terms of content and the accessibility of the web pages themselves you should judge your work against the standards laid out here.
The BBC commissioing guidlines for interactive programming. This page functions as brief history about how this element of BBC Programming has changed since 2001.
December 20, 2006
The links on this page are to show what kind of work is being created within the broad media field as new media technologies emerge and new ways of thinking and doing also emerge.
This link is to the main BBC new media commisssioning page describing the genereral principles of how the organisation works with regard to developing new media content.
Perhaps one of the most exciting New Media arenas to be working within today is for Linden Labs the creators of the Second Life virtual environment. Linden Labs Recruitment page is here.
Audio Editing Software
Of course one of the big advantages for recording in the digital domain is that you can edit your work on screen. Initially the editing functions that you are most likely to want are very straightforward.
They may be little gaps in the recording, perhaps a cough. Maybe you discovered you moved away from the microphone and the original sound was uneven. All these little things can be put right.
The best place to start with all this is probably a freeware programme called Audacity. It is a small programme and can easily be downloded onto your computer. You will also need another small programme called Lame. Both can be downloaded via this online overview of freeware and software for sound editing from Sound on Sound Magazine.
I suggest you make this programme your first port of call.
There are commercial programmes out there from the likes of Adobe and Sony and also very sophisticated music software. At least Audacity is free and will give you more of an idea of what you need.
As I’m not very good with all these tides of technology a kind visitor has pointed out that the Liux open source software operating system has gained the support of independent Audio software developers. The programme is called Jokosher and can be viewed here. As it allows for multitracking it looks like a good option for those developing their skills.
BBC Interview with Alex Donelly outgoing head of music at Radio 1.
OK I’m prejudiced because I’m a bit of a fan of this programme. (In fact, by coincidence I’m listening to it now on my computer through the Listen Again facility on the web :-).
Update on Equipment and Links to Training Videos
The use of podcasting / audio equipment for educational and other communication purposes looks set to grow as the technical barriers are overcome with simpler more effective, less fiddly products.
Below I round up a couple of the latest products on the market which can link straight into your computer with a USB connection without the need for much equipment. You will need some sort of microphone stand for a stand alone mike and of course some shielded cable to reduce potential interference.
As the equipment gets simpler more people are likely to start doing thier own audio recording. Most of us just want to get going rather than turn into equipment junkies circumnavigating large amounts of technical information.
The Rode Podcaster site below is also offering a service of publishing your podcasts on the web if you are one of their clients.
The growth of USB connected podcasting equipment
For very basic equipment to get started, what seems to be a very popular product is the Beyerdynamic MMX-1 headset. By ‘headset’ I mean integrated headphones with a microphone. I have just ordered one of these (Xmas 2006) and there seems to be a wait. I need a headset to complete a course I’m taking on ‘innovations in educational technology’.
The fact that I need them for a course is indicative of the way things are going. I will now be asking my students to consider making podcasts. These may be discussions about particular directors or reviews of films.
I’ve owned a set of hi-fi Beyer headphones in the past and I loved the quality. They were over £40-00 at the end of the 1970s (a lot then). The MMX-1s are ordered via the internet – with packaging about £65-00. RRP in shops is a lot more. Loigitech make cheaper ones but inevitably quality will be compromised. ‘Good value’ isn’t always the cheapest!
I’m certainly expecting pretty decent quality although the microphone isn’t going to be great at this kind of price. What makes this particular headset very special is the fact that it has a
USB connection. This means that it can plug straight into the USB ports on my computer.
Something that will be interesting to experiment with is linking three or 4 of these to a computer via a powered USB Hub. In theory at least it should be possible to hold a conversation, interview or record a play very cheaply. Whilst the sound quality is unlikely to be great it is a good way of starting to familiarise yourself with the technology. clearly there would need to be plenty of post production editing but for educational purposes this new type of equipment maximises what individual or mainstream institutions will already have.
Rode is an Australian electronics firm with a good range of microphones and a good reputation. Making a move from the headset to a proper microphone plus a set of headphones which eliminate outside sound is the next big step.
Rode have just introduced a microphone aimed specifically at podcasters. In the UK it appears to be retailing at around £150 on the internet. This is another piece of equipment which has a USB connection straight into your computer. This avoids having microphone preamps and things like that. Another advantage is that it has an high quality (XLR) socket on the side of the microphone body to which you can attach your headphones.
As you can see from the images above you can get going with a very straightforward set of equipment. Listening to the Rode broadcast on their marketing site with a professional broadcaster using the microphone shows that this mike delivers very good quality sound. (Listened to on my computer through a set of Sennheiser £30-00 headphones for iPods).
As an aside one shouldn’t get too hung up about superlative quality. The whole point of iPods is that they are listened to in mobile situations quite frequently and the MP3 file format is a compressed sound so is by its very nature of limited quality. A good voice microphone should nevertheless impart a warm natural quality to the voice. Institutions such as the BBC Radio 3 renowned for their quality will be using very expensive Neumann microphones for example, but aiming for the highest possible sound quality isn’t the point here. It should be natural, comfortable to listen to, and distortion free otherwise people won’t bother listening.
A quick scan of the blogs on podcasting it isn’t registering much yet however it looks set to become very popular.
Here is a link to the Rode posdcaster marketing. There is a well known Australian broadcaster giving some sound advice (gerrit) on how to use microphones effectively. This is well worth watching and listening to even if you decide not to go for this product.
Choosing microphones requires a little time to think about what sort of applications you want it for. It you are going to want to recors a range of different activities in a wide rangfe internal an external conditions you will probably end up with a collection of them.
Here is a link to Sound on Sound Magazine guide to microphones.
Here is link to the Audio Technica guide to microphones which gives you some useful ideas.
Here is a link to a microphone terms glossary from MixGuides keep it open when you are browsing through products with lots of teccie terms.
December 19, 2006
The Road To Guantanamo. (2006)
Film Network page with link to an extract of the film
Channel 4 interview with Michael Winterbottom on The Road to Guantanamo
Review from online Reel.com
Film Education online resource pack for key stage 3 & 4 and AS / A2 Media Students
December 17, 2006
24 Hour Party People (2001), dir: Michael Winterbottom
Above: Michael Winterbottom
Michael Winterbottom is one of Britain’s most interesting film directors working today. A director like Ken Loach has developed a certain typical ‘feel’ to his films. Loach combines this with an underlying politics linking in to his filmmaking methods. By comparison Winterbottom maintains a political edge to his films which is less didactic than that of Loach. Perhaps that is unsurprising as he cites Lindsay Anderson as a strong influence. Winterbottom frequently gains the title of being ‘eclectic’ or a ‘genre-hopper’ which seems to be a negative criticism.
Not a Genre Monkey
It should by now be clear to reviewers that Winterbottom isn’t a genre filmmaker and if his films touch upon genres, just as this one touches on the rock movie genre, then it is because there is a deeper project at stake. He takes up projects and he is usually giving them a political twist. This twist may be within the aesthetic approach of the film itself rather than a direct aspect of the content. The latter approach based directlu upon content is more in the nature of the social realist approach. This is the kind of approach espoused by directors like Loach.
Above: Steve Coogan as Tony Wilson founder of Factory Records
Ignoring the aesthetic and intellectual influences
It is interesting that none of the reviews this article has linked to below comment upon his aesthetic approach even though these are from the more ‘intellectual’ end of the media. Perhaps this is unsurprising because a seemingly recurrent theme in Winterbottom’s films is the media. The way Winterbottom deals with the question of ‘point of view’ is also interesting. In 24 Hour Party People there is little in the way of point of view from a subjective perspective. Although the story is told by Steve Coogan, who’s character Tony Wilson is the founder of Factory Records, the cinematic narrative moves around. Not only does Coogan / Wilson break the ‘fourth wall’ by frequently addressing the audience directly, often the narrative comes from a Coogan who suddenly speaks from the future about the on-screen diegesis.
Winterbottom and the Media
Welcome to Sarajevo is one of Winterbottom’s films that effectively acts a critique of the media. Through the finding of a small boy in the chaos that was war-torn Sarajevo a TV reporter breaks through the professional patina of the media. The reporter starts to take a personal interest in what he is reporting thus the irony of presenting viewers with the spectacle of News which is inherently voyeuristic is highlighted. The voyeurism of ‘Bad News’ is reliant upon spectacle in war footage or else the aftermath of natural disaster.
Increasingly of course, the rise of ‘citizen reporting’ by amateurs with digital video is creating a different news aesthetic. Perhaps Winterbottom will return to that aspect of media in a future film project.
A Brechtian Aesthetic
Whilst Welcome to Sarajevo was in more of a humanistic mode 24 Hour Party People creates a more Brechtian approach. The distanciation effect or verfremdungseffekt through the breaking of the fourth wall by directly addressing the audience isn’t just a ‘postmodern’ vanity – indeed the film adds layers of irony by effectively critiquing postmodern irony itself. It enables the audience to take a more critical stance in considering the content of the film.
Rather than being an uncritical sycophantic or hagiographic film about pop and rock heroes being ‘done down’ in some dramatic way, the film carefully eschews drama and personal point of view to take a more detached view. Here Steve Coogan becomes an excellent casting choice. How much Coogan represents the ‘real’ Tony Wilson is entirely irrelevant. His irony and quick wittedness are perfect for a film which is constructed as a critique, not of Factory Records or the Hacienda Club or even youth culture in general, rather it leads the more critical mind to be analysing the workings of the system itself.
The Rock Movie Genre
The rock movie genre really took off in the 1960s. There were of course films about Elvis Presley first of all. But the rock movie really took of with A Hard Days Night by Richard Lester with the free flowing camera work that came to characterise the MTV pop-video. Sid and Nancy by Alex Cox was more of a standard biopic although it was hard hitting and critical. Not least of the kind of entrepreneurial opportunism of a character like Malcolm Maclaren. MacLaren is the sort of character who is implicitly critiqued off-screen in 24 Hour Party People, precisely because the whole of the Manchester (Madchester) scene was set in motion by the raw energy of the Sex Pistols, the band which brought Maclaren fame and fortune.
What Winterbottom’s film seems to be examining among other things is the inevitable tensions between the creation of a youth culture which is dependent upon naivety combined with lashings of energy and enthusiasm and the workings of industry and business. Here, as we see, Factory Records and the Hacienda Club cannot sell out. There is quite literally nothing to sell, instead the idealism is eroded and eventually heavily compromised by the real forces of chaos and anarchy in society the ‘lumpen’ criminal classes.
There is no such thing as a utopian 24 Hour Party in which the workings of the system can somehow be ignored in some utopian space. The criminal classes eventually come to control the door and the massive drug fuelled scene in the Hacienda. The drug scene itself can be seen as a part of the reaction of young people to a ‘no future’ type’ of a culture in which the living is done for today not tomorrow.
Tony Wilson and Factory Records
The story is based upon Tony Wilson who is a young ex-Cambridge graduate who has found a post in Granada TV. He is a part of the regional magazine programme doing cheesy features on various aspects of the region.
Wilson is incredibly frustrated and eventually manages to get a music programme on the TV devoted to the ‘New Wave’ punk music. From here he eventually manages to get some bands to agree to start a record label with no contract. They are free to walk away at any time. The success of this leads to the establishing of the Hacienda Club. As a cultural space it was fantastic for a time, as a business it was a flop and running it bled Factory records dry.
When Factory Records was seeking an injection of new capital to produce a new record the entrepreneurs from London Records offered Factory Records £5 million. It was then that the audience really find out the meaning of the agreement not to have a contract. There is nothing to sell and of course Factory Records becomes history.
Exposed underlying contradictions in society
But this film isn’t so much about the nasty music business. On the contrary it is represented as a straight business like anything else. If anything, it is the drug gangs who are most in line for Winterbottom’s critical eye. But even they are seen as a certain kind of response to the post-industrial crisis of Manchester.
Nevertheless a telling critique of them comes in the ironical explanation provided by Coogan who explains that the cycle of capital has broken down precisely because they are parasites and don’t reinvest in the business they are bleeding. Instead they spend it on drink, guns, houses, fashion and women.
Winterbottom places the audience in a triangular frame. Idealist youth / business / anarchic lumpen criminal elements make up the sides of the frame. Winterbottom doesn’t give the audience any kind of didactic answer. He has posed a question of whether this will always be the case. It is up to us as audience to come up with a solution to the dilemma.
An Analysis of History
Winterbottom’s position here shouldn’t be confused with the cyclical version of history which keeps surfacing within the film. W. B. Yeats is frequently referenced and he was a believer in this idea. In brief it is the notion that what arises will be sucked back down as his famous line Things fall apart the centre cannot hold elaborates.
Winterbottom poses us with a more complex dialectical situation. Either the synthesis of the contradiction will move forward onto a higher plane or there will be a negation. In this case the idealism of Factory records and the cultural movement around it fades away. It goes down as a cultural moment, a fascinating experiment. Perhaps if Walter Benjamin were written about it he would describe it as a rupture or fissure within capitalism providing an opportunity to envisage another kind of society. In its heyday Factory and the Hacienda were remarkably free and utopian but it became a victim of its own success, unable to move forward.
Although Winterbottom’s critique is about a period long gone, the question is posed with every youth ‘New Wave’, will it sell out or will it collapse under its own internal contradictions? With the continuing hype around the Web with business and utopian discourse continuously clashing it is an ever present question.
Overall it is a film worth seeing for a range of reasons, and on the linked reviews below it is a clear that the film has been considerably underrated by the critics and reviewers with its theoretical and critical influences and antecedents carefully ignored – but then many of the best films are underrated. It happened with Lindsay Anderson’s films too.
I just loved the ridiculously priced office table :-).
Who’s Who in the Film. Helpful to track down the role an various characters portrayed in the film
British Council Brit Film pages on Winterbottom
Seen the film, read all this and the above links, seen the film again? Now you can contribute in a really informed way to this BBC discussion page on the film.
Here is a link to a Realplayer interview with Steve Coogan on Channel 4. Currently I can’t get it to play but you might have better luck (technical ability).
Link to the official Cannes site. A press conference with Winterbottom be accessed here.
Alternatively you can contribute to discussion in the comments box below.