Thursday, June 12, 2008

Day Four - The Hypermedia System for "The What's Left Over After"

A note written at the end: This is LONG. I'm sorry. It's as much for me to have a record and reflect on the process as for you, but for both of us i wanted to be thurough. Read at will.

Hello from New York!
It's so beautiful today, and nice to be back among the hipsters, artists, strangers, and SLCers.
(But i digress.)

SO. I made my claims for why Hypermedia was not only valid, but nessecary for those who wish to adopt it as a format, and I designed the theoretical components of what a hypermedia system might entail. Then it was time to actually put my money where my mouth was and make the damn thing.

To give a quick background on the timeline: I had started work on what eventually became "The What's Left Over After" the summer before my senior year with the A.O. Movement Collective in DC. From the bat, i labled the summer as "research" for the next semster's piece, working on material, ideas, and exercizes through the summer to eventually come up with five short pieces. These pieces were presented seperately throughout our program (which featured three other pieces) but accmopanied by a program note that described their "research" nature and how they would be used the following semester. While i had proposed and outlined a skeleton of my hypermedia thesis weeks before i had left SLC for the summer, I didn't start really developing the theoey, researching, and designing the components until i returned to Sarah Lawrence my senior year. We began work on the new (SLC) version of the piece right away. This is all to say: becuase i was making the piece as i was making the hypermedia (in fact, always a little bit ahead of the hypermedia) sometimes designs or advances in the hypermedia were not created in time to incorperate them into this hypermedia system. For example, one of the ideas of the project was to film everything associated with the making of the dance. However, over the summer i didn't have my camera yet, so i only have footage from three or four out of the forty or so rehearsals we had.

Starting last fall (my senior year) we filmed everything associated with the dance. Studio times where i would work alone, the audition, rehearsals, showings, feedback, etc. Everything. Working with my tireless film crew (the amazing Rafi Gamboa and Dylan Morgan) we were able to cover just about everything, missing only about 10% (my estimation - just the making of the Venn Diagrams section) of the rehearsals.

We made sure that the AV department was filming both performances (so that we would have historical records of the performance from a still tripod) and then also orchestrated a few shoots to get the footage we needed for the film. We filmed the dress rehearsal with two cameras - one from the bridge/catwalk directly above and in front of the stage, and one from the top left diagonal of the upper level of the PAC (by the sound booth for those of you who are familiar). We additionally blocked off a six hour shoot the day after the performances (when everyne was, of course, exhausted) to shoot the rest of the footage - a still camera in front and from either diagonal (so 3 seperate cameras total) and then an extensive list of close, medium, and moving shots from a number of different perspecitves. Editing the film of the piece together (in a first rough cut) took somewhere around 30 hours, and i was able to have it done by the time we got back from winter break. Damani (one of my two advisors, a teacher in the film department and all around genius) and i continued to edit it for the rest of the year. This was the extent of the movement footage that we took.

Additionally, at the time of the performance, we had set up an "audience talkback" interface to get impressions and questions for audience members after they exited the performance. This interface contained four mac laptops (the kind with the isight camera built in) each with a prompt for the audience member to respond to, as well as directions about how to record your video clip. Questions:
- What images did you see in the peice? Did they remind you of anything you have seen before?"
- Ask the dancers or the choreogrpaher a question
- Was the piece "about" anything to you? If so, what?
- If you have seen showings or versions of this piece before, how did your previous veiwings affect your veiwing of the performance, and your understanding of the piece as a whole?
Audience members were also instructed (i had some wonderful volunteers helping me at each show) that they could disregard the questions and say whatever they wanted. This system proved an interesting expirement, if not 100% sucessful. Problems with the setup included that only about 10% of the audience felt inclined to (or comfortable enough to) leave a video, as well as the fact that the questions themselves still need much tinkering, in terms of finding questions that give the audience member enough of an impulse to speak, but aren't too leading or limiting. I think the crafting of these questions was one of the hardest parts of the process for me.

Moving on. We then got into the interview process, where i filmed interviews with each of my dancers (Michael Charles Foote, Rowan Magee, Larissa Sheldon, Ilona Bito, and Emily Sharp, and from the summer Connor Voss, Vivi Amranand, and Lillie DeArmon) and collaborators (Theo Wilson and Gabe Aronson), as well as had Rafi film an interview of myself (questions written by me, submitted via Audience Talkback, and posed by my dancers, namley Larissa who offered the most interesting questions of the entire project). These interviews ranged in length from 20 minutes to 2 hours. Each dancer and collaborator respectievly were asked the same questions, but with follow up questions of course leading in different directions. Editing these down took a combined total of somewhere around 50 or 60 hours. So that was all the interview footage.

I then spent a short time gathering artifacts - scanning my journals and notebooks from other classes with doodles pertaining to the piece in the margins, video of other pieces, etc. About five hours there - easy brezzy.

The next big step was outlining the dance and the hypermedia. Let me (for a breif moment) describe how hard this was. I remember reading a book that talked about how humankind's biggest evolution wasn't moving to being bipedal, but making the transfer from storing all of one's knowladge in thier head to writing it down and forming a collective human knowladge. The hypermedia, in many ways, feels like the same thing. It would be impossible to hold, at the front of one's attention, ALL the information about the piece (the steps, the choreography, the music, notes for each dance, how each movement was made, what an audience member said about it, what the dancer said about it, where it was made from, what studio we were in etc etc) all the time, all at the same time. The hypermedia is a tool that can contain all of that information, so that the veiwer and the choreographer can look specifically and with great detail at any of these singular aspects of the dance, and the ways that they link up. HOWEVER. To build the system, i did have to reckon with as many of these things as possible at once, holding as much as i could in my head in order to reason out what the clearest way to program it would be. I really do believe that, in working on this project, i've expanded my ability to hold information at least threefold. It's really amazing, but was extrely excruciating at the time - Darla and Ej can attest to finding me with my head in my hands, yelling at the computer screen, muttering that i just couldn't think about everything at the same time.

That being said, outlining it consisted of notating (in my own outline-like way) every movement that happened in the piece (in order, from each dancer) and then priortizing which of these movements were "important" in terms of the meaning or narrative associated with them (meaning that they would, in the hypermedia, be the ones that were "linked"). I ended up breaking down the piece into "Sections" (such as the letter duet "LD2" or "Beekeeper Solo"), "Phrases" (such as "Sarah's Phrase", "Ilona's Exhaustion Phrase", or "Venn Diagrams Accumulation") and "Movements" (such as "Antique", "hard fall", and "the awkard thing"). From this outline, I then cross referenced, seeing how many of these "important" sections, phrases, and movements we had - basically, how many links there would be.

I then went through ALL the footage (rehearsals, studio time, showings, talkback, performances, interviews, other pieces, etc.) and pulled relevant material for each link, crafting them into short films. Some of these films were short little nuggets of a rehearsal interaction or idea, and others were longer "shorts" that combined different types of footage to make a longer exposition of the idea or point at hand.

We then set it up (the outline/framework, i mean. None of this was actually being programed yet) so that each "link" (ie: important movement, phrase, or section that one could click on in the film) to lead to a screen with five sections:

1. Process/Evolution (clips that showed how something was made, the way it changed, the moment we found it, etc.)
2. Interpretations (clips with audience, dancers, collaborators, and myself talking about our interpretations of the final product)
3. Meaning(s) (the plural is important - interviews where myself and dancers revealed the origonal - often conflicting - sources and ideas of where the base material started from)
4. Questions (from audience, dancers,collaborators, etc.)
5. Media (relevant media such as an earlier version of the music or another piece that was influential to the link at hand)

and sorted all the films that we had into one of these five sections. Exceptions to the sections were material that we decided (due to the small size of a DVD and fear that all the material wouldn't fit on one) would be "bonus material" offered on a seperate DVD. This included information about the lights, set, and score, as well as shorts about general topics, such as my creative process, or typical rehearsals.

At the end, we were left with a mass of material: outlined, organized, and waiting to be linked.
We had (and i'm sorry, these are aproximations, becuase i'm working off of a friend's computer):

One twenty-minute dance film which contained:
9 linked Sections
25 linked Phrases
29 linked Movements
a whopping 234 Shorts, ranging from twenty seconds to seven minutes
232 Artifacts (journal pages, photos, interviews, etc.) and
27 pieces of additional media (including audio files, films of other dances, and films of this piece's performance and summer performances)

This, my friends, is a lot of material.

So then, the downfall.

Initally, we knew that we wouldn't be able to create a real hypermedia system, in the sense that my ideal program is both structured in a unique way (much like the internet with each link linking to a location rather than each having a unique file) utilizing yet-to-be-programed structures, as well as flash animation, which is expensive. So instead we had set out to make a mock-up of this system, a DVD which would look to the used like it functioned in the way we wanted it to, but instead of actually being programed correctly, would utilize lots of tricks and shortcuts - more of a sample to gereate interest and support than the actual media itself.

However, when we began programing, it became clear that (for some reason) DVD Maker Pro (the program we intended to use) wasn't going to work as it would not accept the amount of files. We then moved on to attempting this through iMovie, where we found we could place the links, but not time when they showed up, the result being that every one of the 100+ links would be onscreen - overlaping and in the way of other links - the whole film. Not acceptable.
So we came to a standstill.

I know what i want to do is possible and logically feasible. As Damani put it - when big move execs understand that they can start to make DVDs where, as the kid sits at home watching Transformers, he can click on Shai LeBouf's shoes and immediatly buy them, that's when the techonolgy will start getting developed. So i have to wait for them to make something to further their sweatshop labor before i can use it for my art. How frustrating.
But it is actually possible (and i mean without the sweatshop labor - i don't have time to wait for them anways).
All it takes is a team of programers, a flash designer, and a ton of grant money.

So that's where i stand and, coincidentally, why I was always working this year.
That is a (very) detailed account of the first hypermedia project to come out of A.O. PRO(+ductions) - i'm sure i've missed things and i'm sure parts are unclear, but questions and reminders are always welcome.

Once i'm home i'll start posting vids as samples of these sections and types of media - the good stuff.
Thanks for bearing with me!


Simon said...


Sarah A.O. Rosner/The AOMC said...

Welcome Simon,
thanks for the link!

Tony said...

I am curious of what constitutes hypermedia. Questions: Need it be digital? Need it be a DVD? Can it be a website, installation or magazine? Since tools and media are changing so fast it seems that preservation is still an issue. Coding standards change. Hardware changes. I imagine DVDs will go the the way of the dodo by midcentury.

Whats left over after the dance?

A decaying body.

So are you looking to embalm the body or add new orifices and organs? Rather than looking at the parts themselves give a hint on the functionality you would like them to offer.

Tony said...

And keep up the good work.

Sarah A.O. Rosner/The AOMC said...

Hi Tony,
To start, i don't think that the hypermedia nessisarily needs to be a specific form or set of capabilities, as long as it holds up basic principles. My understanding of the term Hypermedia is a media that, in the way it is designed and programs, nessitates interaction between itself and the user/veiwer. For example, video games, DVD menus, installations, etc. I think a magazine could be one, as long as it somehow garnered response or interaction from those who read it. The larger point for me though is what you point to - artifact.

Currently i am trying to figure out why artifact is so important to me (especially through and in my dance work). This leads me to two major questions: Who is the artifact for? and How much (if at all) do they need to understand it? Part of the aesthetic draw of artifact for me (as shown in the What's Left Over After) is in fact the oldness and outdatedness of newly diuscovered antiques. How can we get the information from this DVD-based hypermedia when stores stopped selling DVD players 300 years ago and it's now 2308? But of course, then this cuts down the understandibility and clarity of the artifact, minimizing it's use, and making it a thing of aesthetics, memory, and imagination. Maybe (if this is possible. It is.) I am interested in hypermedia as a means of marketing, awarness, knowladge, and preservation for my work BUT i am also simultaneously interested in the aesthetic/artistic/emotional expereince of what it may be like to find it as an artifact of my work and ideas one it is no longer clear or relevant. Does that make sense?

Sarah A.O. Rosner/The AOMC said...

I'm a little unclear on your second point/metaphor, but i really like the question of "are you looking to embalm the body or add new orifices and organs?" so i'm going to take a stab at it, and you can tell me if i got anywhere close to a satisfying anwser.

I think both. I think that by changing the "rules" or "program" of how dance is presented, we can begin to do different things with dance as an art form. To me (and this is where people REALLY start disagreeing with me, so here goes) one of the major draws of something like this is that it would allow the choreogrpaher to begin to make more and more complex (and conversley less and less understandable/enjoyable in a performance setting as we know it) works, and really evolve their form in a new way. So, yes, hypermedia (for me) adds a new orifice/organ to dance in that it builds the expectation of STUDY and posibility of EPIC NATURE that, to me, feels lacking in modern dance.

However, I think that the result of this ability is an artifact that also serves to embalm, for how can we study without first attempting to solidify and preserve the ephemeral?

Maybe the conclusion that I'm coming to as i type this is that while embalment is clearly needed so we might figure out how to evolve new organs, we won't be able to embalm dance without first developing a new set of tools (organs?) with which to speak to it.