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The effect of digital technology on late 20th century and early 21st century culture
h [electronic resource] /
by Jennifer Clarke.
[Tampa, Fla.] :
University of South Florida,
Thesis (M.L.A.)--University of South Florida, 2003.
Includes bibliographical references.
Text (Electronic thesis) in PDF format.
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Mode of access: World Wide Web.
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ABSTRACT: Recently, artists have begun using digital technology to create new cultural forms in the fields of art, literature, and music, and a new cultural form known as interactive digital multimedia has emerged, which combines elements from the new artistic, literary, and musical forms. Many of these artists have produced works that explore the interactive capabilities of digital technology. These interactive digital cultural forms have encouraged collaborative efforts that would have otherwise been difficult or even impossible to achieve before the advent of digital technology. In addition, this element of interactivity has redefined the traditional relationship between artist and audience. As the line between creator and consumer becomes increasingly blurred in interactive digital cultural forms, it becomes necessary to use terms such as "source artist" and "mix artist" to better define this new artist/audience relationship. Postmodern theorists such as Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault anticipate this new artist/audience relationship in their writings. More recent theorists, such as Margot Lovejoy, George Landow, and Paul Thberge, writing after the advent of digital technology, have suggested that interactive digital cultural forms and the changing nature of the artist/audience relationship present opportunities for cultural creation and participation that extend the opportunities afforded by traditional artistic production and consumption. Works such as the As Worlds Collide website, Stuart Moulthrop's Victory Garden, the music of the Chemical Brothers, and Peter Gabriel's multimedia CD-ROM EVE are examples of these new interactive digital cultural forms. These works present navigable constructs (often incorporating elements culled from other source artists) that can be experienced and "re-mixed" by subsequent mix artists who choose to interact with these works. The increased agency provided by these interactive works brings with it new responsibilities for both the source artist and the mix artist. By encouraging collaboration and experimentation, redefining the artist/audience relationship, and expanding the responsibilities of the source artist and the mix artist, interactive digital media extend the possibilities for cultural creation and participation. As digital technology develops, so do the opportunities for cultural development among society as a whole.
Adviser: Gaggi, Silvio
Art and technology.
t USF Electronic Theses and Dissertations.
THE EFFECT OF DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY ON LATE 20TH AND EARLY 21ST CENTURY CULTURE by JENNIFER CLARKE A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of M a s t e r o f L i b e r a l A r t s Department of Humanities and American Studies College of Arts and Sciences University of South Florida Major Professor: Silvio Gaggi, P h D Bruce L. Marsh, M.A. Sape A. Zylstra, Ph.D. Date of Approval: April 4, 2003 Keywords: computers, hypertext, online art, electronic music, interactive multimedia Copyright 2003 Jennifer Clarke
i Table of Contents Abstract ii Chapter One Introduction 1 Chapter Two Effects of Digital Technology 7 Cultural Forms 7 Visual Art 7 Literature 9 Music 11 Interactive Multimedia 13 Artist/Audience 14 Theory of Artist/Audience 15 Roles and Responsibilities of Artist/Audience 20 Chapter Three Examples of Digital Cultural Forms 26 As Worlds Collide 28 Victory Garden 32 Chemical Brothers 42 Eve 49 Chapter Four Conclusion 56 References 59
ii The Effect of Digital Technology on Late 20 th and Early 21 st Century Culture Jennifer Clarke ABSTRACT Recently, artists have begun using digital technology to create new cultural forms in the fields of art, literature, and music, and a new cultural form known as interactive digital multimedia has emerged, which combines elements from the new artistic, literary, and musical forms. Many of these artists have produced works that explore the interactive capabilities of digital technology. These interactive digital cultural forms have encouraged collaborative efforts that would have otherwise been difficult or even impossible to achieve before the advent of digital technology. In addition, this element of interactivity has redefined the traditional relationship between artist and audience. As the line between creator and consumer becomes increasingly blurred in interactive digital cultural forms, it becomes necessary to use terms such as source artist and mix artist to better define this new artist/audience relationship. Postmodern theorists such as Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault anticipate this new artist/audience relationship in their writings. More recent theorists, such as Margot Lovejoy, George Landow, and Paul Thberge, writing after the advent of digital technology, have suggested that interactive digital cultural forms and the changing nature of the artist/audience relationship present opportunities for cultural creation and
iii participation that extend the opportunities afforded by traditional artistic production and consumption. Works such as the As Worlds Collide website, Stuart Moulthrops Victory Garden the music of the Chemical Brothers, and Peter Gabriels multimedia CD-ROM EVE are examples of these new interactive digital cultural forms. These works present navigable constructs (often incorporating elements culled from other source artists) that can be experienced and re-mixed by subsequent mix artists who choose to interact with these works. The increased agency provided by these interactive works brings with it new responsibilities for both the source artist and the mix artist. By encouraging collaboration and experimentation, redefining the artist/audience relationship, and expanding the responsibilities of the source artist and the mix artist, interactive digital media extend the possibilities for cultural creation and participation. As digital technology develops, so do the opportunities for cultural development among society as a whole.
1 Chapter One Introduction Whenever a new means of creative expression is introduced, whether it be in visual art, literature, or music, it challenges previously held notions concerning the art form it affects. It often forces students of an art form to redefine their ideas and decide how this new means of expression will fit into their concept of what art, literature, or music is. Those who create within the affected art form, whether they choose to work with the new medium or not, will usually find their work affected as well. For example, when photography was introduced and artists began to use it to express themselves, painters like Marcel Duchamp also found themselves influenced by the possibilities of the new medium. Duchamp attempted to give his paintings the feel of the multipleexposure photographic images of Etienne-Jules Marey and the photographic motion studies of Eadweard Muybridge by painting his figures in several stages of motion that appear to occur simultaneously, as he did in Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 (1912). If visual artists, writers, or musicians choose to work within the new medium, they often find themselves able to express creative visions that might not have been possible otherwise. New creative media come into cultural use in several ways. Sometimes a tool or technique from an unrelated field, such as engineering or the military, will be appropriated by artists and used in a completely new way. Often though, if an artist has a specific goal or vision that can only be expressed through the use of a tool that does not
2 yet exist, he or she must create that tool. Other artists may then find new uses for that tool as well. Recently, artists working in visual art, literature, and music have begun using the computer as a tool for creative expression. Not only have artists using this digital technology produced new works within each individual field, but they have also used the computer as a means of combining aspects of these fields into a new cultural form known as digital multimedia. In addition, digital technology is also affecting the audience. In fact, in certain works, the very notion of who is the artist and who is the audience is often unclear. Both creators and consumers of digital culture find themselves having to reconsider their role in the production and development of culture. Initially conceived in the early part of the 19th century by Charles Babbage and Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, the modern computer has quickly evolved into a small, high-speed device that is capable of digitally processing input and subsequently outputting data in the manner for which it has been programmed. At first, the computer was seen as belonging exclusively to the realm of science and math, since it could process equations and statistics in a fraction of the time it would take a human. However, as creative scientists and mathematicians began to experiment with the computers possibilities, it became clear that this machine could find applications in a wide range of disciplines. In the arts, visual artists, writers, and musicians found the computer to be a useful tool for creative expression, and many even began to write their own programs for the computer in order to accomplish specific creative goals. In this way, digital technology has begun to blur the traditional division between the arts and sciences, as described by C.P. Snow in The Two Cultures (1959). In doing so, it has called into
3 question the traditional concepts of "scientist" and "artist (Sommerer & Mignonneau, Introduction 13). As the potential of digital technology was further explored, it was found that one could create interactive art forms that allowed the consumer/audience to make choices and have a hand in determining the form and function of a piece. The first group of visual artists to focus specifically on the interactive capabilities of the computer in the creative process was centered around the Stdelschule Institute for New Media in Frankfurt (also known as The Frankfurt School) in the early 1990s (Sommerer & Mignonneau, Introduction 11). The nature of these interactive digital works has caused the line between creator and consumer to become blurred, much like the line between artist and scientist. Paul Thberge observes that with the introduction of digital technologies and their attendant uses, the distinction between production and consumption has become increasingly blurred and, to a certain degree, meaningless (242). Other critics espouse similar views (Bolter 114; Fleischmann & Strauss 138; Gaggi 103; Landow & Delaney 29; Levy 366). Also, it was found that computers allowed one to have a "virtual presence," especially with the introduction of the World Wide Web. Jeffrey Shaw notes: One of the pertinent issues in this immaterial cyberspace of forms and ideas is the telepresent extension of our bodies through space and time that these technologies afford us. The technological deconstruction and artistic reconstruction of our identities in the digital ether is an almost meta-physical enterprise. (164-65) While an artist may physically be in the studio while working on a digital piece online, he or she is also "present," in a sense, in the virtual space of the computer as the piece is created. The viewers (especially if they are interacting with the work) are also both
4 physically present in front of their computers as well as virtually present in the digital space. Artist/scientist, creator/consumer, presence/absence each of these notions is challenged by the digital revolution. It becomes difficult to even use terms like "creator" when discussing digital art forms, since there is no longer one specific entity responsible for the entire piece (Gaggi 139; Lovejoy 9). In this way, the concept of ownership of a piece is also challenged. If a work is altered every time someone interacts with it, then how can any one person claim exclusive ownership of the work? Rather, the art of involvement . places us in a creative cycle, in a living environment in which we are always already co-authors . It is an art that bears no signature (Levy 367). Artists who choose to work in the digital realm must accept this inevitability if they are to exploit the medium successfully. This thesis will examine new digital cultural creations in art, literature, and music, as well as the composite form of digital multimedia. While there are myriad new cultural forms spawned by the digital revolution, this thesis will focus on those forms that can be defined as "interactive," since the roles of artist and audience are most in flux in interactive digital works. Specifically, the areas explored will include interactive art on the World Wide Web, hypertext fiction, digital music, and the interactive multimedia CD-ROM. In each case, the roles and responsibilities of the artist and audience will be examined in relation to the changes brought about by the new digital cultural form. New cultural forms often demand new terminology as concepts are redefined. In the case of the interactive digital cultural forms explored in this thesis, the terms "creator" and "consumer" no longer apply in the traditional sense. Instead, the terms "source artist"
5 and "mix artist" will be used to delineate particular roles within the creative process. These roles and their attendant responsibilities will be discussed in detail later. The link between these new cultural forms (besides the fact that they are digitallybased in some way) is a common structure and flow in the way they are produced (Thberge 254). Web art, hypertext, digital music, and multimedia CD-ROMs all begin with a source artist of some kind. The source artist provides the "blocks" of data (be they images, text blocks, or sampled music) that the mix artist will utilize to produce the work. Also, a framework within which these blocks will be arranged must be designed. In some cases, such as multimedia CD-ROMs, the source artist decides on the framework. In other cases, such as digital music, the mix artist determines the framework. Once the framework and blocks are in place, the mix artist then makes choices among the blocks, based on his or her perception of what should be accomplished. Then, the computer digitally processes the mix artists choices and outputs the product. At this point in traditional culture, one would say the piece was "finished"; however, in digital culture works are rarely "finished" or "complete." Instead, they often become new source blocks from which another mix artist can draw. Artists have found that these new digital forms encourage collaboration. As stated previously, interactive digital works discourage the traditional notion of a discrete work with a single author. A source artist working in interactive digital media cannot claim to be the sole author of a work, since anyone who interacts with the work is necessarily in collaboration with the source artist. Many artists find that this aspect of interactive digital media frees them to be able to work with other artists without the usual constraints of jealousy and rivalry. On the other hand, many artists (most often those who are source
6 artists without their knowledge or permission, as in the case of samples of previously recorded songs in digital music) do not embrace this collaborative spirit, and lawsuits are not uncommon. Landow and Delaney recognize this, noting that collaboration . invokes a deep suspicion of working with others, something both aesthetically as well as emotionally ingrained since the advent of romanticism, but they argue that critics of collaboration fail to recognize or even suppress the fact that artists and writers work collaboratively with texts created by others (15). This viewpoint echoes the postmodern theories of Roland Barthes, who observes that the text is a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of culture ( Image 146). In digital culture, artists who are willing to give up their exclusive rights to a work are often rewarded by a collaborative piece that would have been otherwise impossible.
7 Chapter Two Effects of Digital Technology Cultural Forms Artists working in visual art, literature, and music have begun to incorporate digital technology into their creations. In each case, they have either appropriated existing technology or created new technology to suit their particular needs. The result has been new cultural forms that have called into question the nature of the fields within which they are created, as well as the nature of the artists themselves and the roles and responsibilities of their audience. Visual Art In the field of visual art, new forms have included both twoand threedimensional works produced on computer, collaborative online art, and World Wide Web or CD-ROM-based galleries. Many artists have chosen to use the computer as merely another tool in their creative toolbox; these artists often combine traditional and digital techniques in their work, such as scanning a traditionally created watercolor and then manipulating it digitally. Many of these works are retained digitally, but often they are printed to paper (or another support, such as canvas or vinyl) and displayed like traditional artwork. Other artists maintain a similar approach, but produce threedimensional instead of two-dimensional images, and these must necessarily remain digital. Three-dimensional images are technically "interactive" in that viewers can rotate
8 the image to see it from different angles or zoom in and out on details, but viewers often cannot make any lasting changes to the image. Artists working in twoand three-dimensional digital art have found online collaboration to be a useful tool. An artist can upload the beginning of a piece to a common server (often the World Wide Web is used), and then other artists are able to access the piece and add to it (Lovejoy 223). While artistic collaboration has certainly existed since the beginning of art itself, online collaboration gives artists physically located vast distances from one another the ability to work together as if they were in the same studio. And in a sense, they are; its simply that the studio they are occupying is virtual, rather than physical. This has provided opportunities for collaboration that might never have occurred due to physical logistics. Both digital and traditional art can now be found in virtual galleries on the World Wide Web and in CD-ROM format. These galleries may or may not have a corresponding traditional presence in the material world. For example, one can view selected works of art from the Louvre in Paris either in person or virtually on the World Wide Web. On the other hand, the daweb site on the World Wide Web has no corresponding physical presence in the material world; it exists solely in virtual space. Some of these virtual galleries, such as the previously mentioned daweb site, focus on interactive digital art. It is within this arena that digital technology can be most fully exploited. Interactive digital art installations have appeared in museums for several years, but only a small fraction of the populace has been able to experience these installations in person. In contrast, interactive art on the World Wide Web can be experienced by anyone with a computer and an Internet connection. While it is true that
9 the "wired" still comprise only a small fraction of the populace, it is certainly a far greater number than those who have the means to travel halfway around the world to view an interactive installation in person. Even if Web-accessible galleries held only traditional art that existed physically in museums somewhere, they would still be a great boon to those unable to travel to those museums. With the addition of interactive art, however, the viewer can now easily become involved in the creative process, even if he or she is physically many miles away from the work. Toshiharu Itoh, discussing the ICC website, states, This new site contains the potential to do away with geographical boundaries and cultural differences, as well as the momentum to transcend the limitations heretofore posed by material physicality. In other words, it possesses the potential to re-materialize and re-describe human beings (202). Literature In literature, the involvement of digital technology has produced the cultural forms of word processing and hypertext. Word processing is, quite literally, the processing of words, in that the user inputs his or her choice of letters in order to form words and sentences. Today, users have a great deal of control over the processing of their words; they can change fonts, type size, style, and even the layout of the page if they are so inclined. These changes can be quickly applied to the entire document and modified at will. Also, entire blocks of text can be rearranged to suit the authors purpose. Word processing has changed the way literature is written. Fragments of ideas can be quickly input as the author thinks of them, and then later expanded and moved around with a few mouse clicks. An author no longer needs to interrupt his or her train of thought
10 in order to deal with the structure or mechanics of the writing; changes can always easily be made later. However, while digital technology does allow the author to compose his or her thoughts in a non-linear manner, the final document, whether printed to paper or retained in digital form, almost always assumes the linear format of traditional written or printed text. There is a definite beginning and end, and the document is designed to be read linearly. Hypertext, unlike word processing, is a completely non-linear format. It requires the reader to navigate through linked blocks of text, creating a unique path that may or may not be retraced during subsequent experiences with the work. Often the reader is also able to add his or her own links to the existing hypertext structure. Other readers can then incorporate those links into their own paths if they so choose. The World Wide Web, in itself an important piece of digital technology, is essentially a gigantic hypertext. In its initial incarnation, the Web was solely text-based. It wasnt until the introduction of Mosaic, the first Web browser able to process graphics as well as text, that Web pages began to include images, sound, and other non-textual data. Although the proprietary language of the Web is referred to as Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), the content presented on the Web is better described as "hypermedia," since links are not strictly limited to text blocks and may lead to images, video clips, program files, or any of a growing number of other types of data. The traditional novels digital counterpart is hypertext fiction. Authors such as Stuart Moulthrop, creator of Victory Garden (1991), have used hypertext to produce fictional works that allow readers to choose their own path through the story, starting at any of a number of entrance points, and encountering a different story line each time they
11 experience the work. Readers find themselves empowered in a way never before possible. In hypertext there is no primary axis, no clear road in or out, no coordinates that have priority over any other coordinates except as the reader determines. Thus lacking an authority or guide, the reader is thrust back onto his or her self (Gaggi 103). By empowering their readers in such a manner, these authors have expanded the possibilities for literary creation. Music Musicians have been working with digital technology since its inception, and have found the computer to be a useful tool for everything from generating random sounds to controlling a sophisticated digital symphony. In recent years, a new musical genre, called "techno" (or more broadly, "electronica"), has emerged. Essentially, techno music can be defined as music that consists of mostly digitally created and sampled sounds and beats, or grooves, arranged in a repetitive, rhythmic manner and usually played at clubs and parties for the purpose of dancing. While there are myriad subgenres in the broad category of techno (drum n bass, jungle, ambient, and trance, to name only a few), they all share one common element: the involvement of digital technology in their production (hence the name techno). Techno music is created by mixing together clips of sound, known as samples. These sound clips can be culled from existing sources, such as a music CD, or they can be created from scratch using specialized computer software. Also, mixing can be done in the studio or live at an event such as a rave. Artists who mix in the studio often burn their creations to CD for distribution purposes, but many are turning to the popular MP3 format, which allows music to be compressed into a small file with virtually no loss of
12 quality. The artist can then distribute these files via the Internet and reach a much larger audience. Mixing sound samples together is not a new technique exclusive to digital technology; hip-hop artists have been manually mixing beats for years using only two turntables and a mixing board. In fact, many techno DJs today still rely exclusively on analog equipment. While vinyl, for the average person, has all but disappeared in deference to the CD, in the specialized world of the DJ one finds entire stores devoted exclusively to vinyl, and most techno artists (as well as a surprising number of artists from other musical genres) release their albums in both CD and vinyl format. Despite the ubiquity of analog equipment in DJ culture, most techno artists who produce their music in the studio do use digital technology at some point. Herein lies the essential difference between a techno artist and a techno DJ. Techno DJs, equipped with only two turntables and a mixing board, are limited to mixing only two samples at once (or three, if they use a microphone to incorporate voiceovers into the mix), and since they must mix in real time at live events, their options for experimentation are somewhat limited. The DJs emphasis is on performance, and DJs are judged by their skill in seamlessly mixing one song into the next, as well as their ability to match the music to the changing moods of the crowd. A good DJ is constantly engaged in a musical conversation with the crowd. Sometimes the DJ senses that the crowd wants a particular type of music and obliges them; other times the DJ decides what to play and the crowd adjusts accordingly. It can be argued that this encourages a sort of interactivity, but not in quite the same manner as in other interactive digital media.
13 Techno artists, on the other hand, usually produce their music in a studio full of digital equipment. The most common pieces of equipment in these studios (besides a computer, of course) are MIDI sequencers and drum machines. The MIDI sequencer is a device that digitally processes sound samples through a keyboard interface. The techno artist can collect these sound samples individually, or packages of pre-recorded samples can be purchased for input into the MIDI sequencer (Thberge 4). Drum machines, programmed with preset rhythmic patterns, or grooves, are used to create the rhythm track. The output from the MIDI sequencer and the drum machine can then be mixed on the computer using specialized software. Thberge states, computers allow for random access of material stored in memory, thus facilitating the block, cut and paste style of editing familiar to word-processing and other kinds of computer applications (229). Because techno artists working in the studio are not subject to the limitations experienced by the DJ, their opportunities for experimentation are expanded, and they can produce music that is more complex than that of the techno DJ. Interactive Multimedia In addition to affecting the cultural fields of visual art, literature, and music, digital technology has also produced a hybrid cultural form known as digital multimedia. While multimedia did exist before the advent of digital technology, digital multimedia is quite different from its predecessor. One major difference is that most digital multimedia works exploit the interactive aspect of digital technology. Viewers are able to travel through virtual space and interact with the digital forms they encounter, thereby creating new forms and pathways that they and other viewers can experience. Interactive digital multimedia is most often encountered in CD-ROM format, since the bandwidth issues of
14 the Internet in its current state make Web-based interactive multimedia impractical for all but the most high-end user. However, new technologies are currently being developed in both file compression (i.e. Flash for animations and MPEG for streaming video) and bandwidth delivery (i.e. cable modems and DSL) that promise to greatly improve the capabilities of the Internet and make Web-based interactive digital multimedia commonplace in the near future. It is within interactive digital multimedia that one finds the traditional roles of artist and audience most in question. One is no longer strictly a visual artist, writer, or musician, but rather a critical cultivator, first searching to comprehend the possible meanings that emerge from this accumulation of nanocircuitry and indeterminate layers of code, then trying to reconstitute those emergent phenomena in such a way that they can become part of an evolving cultural discourse (Shaw 165). Even the genre-neutral terms "producer" and "creator" are troublesome, since the aspect of interactivity in digital multimedia makes the audience as important an influence on the development of the work as the so-called "creator." While these issues do occur in other digital cultural forms as well, the very nature of interactive digital multimedia provides the most fertile environment for the exploration of these issues by both artist and audience. Artist/Audience Postmodern theorists such as Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault anticipated digital culture in their writings with concepts such as the readerly vs. the writerly text and the loss of the authoritative voice of the artist. These concepts are being realized in interactive digital media, and this has necessitated a redefinition of the roles of artists and audiences and the responsibilities demanded of them by digital culture.
15 Theory of Artist/Audience The traditional concept of the artist since the Renaissance has been that of an individual genius who produces a specific work, and thus the artist retains certain rights as the creator of that work. The work, once declared finished by the artist, is rarely altered. Also, there is a definite distinction between artist and audience, with the artist occupying a rarefied realm that is unattainable for the average person (Levy 366-367). The traditional audience is relatively passive, and while some individuals may come away from works of art with different messages than others, they are not usually allowed to effect any changes on the work, and thus their experience does not alter the work itself. Postmodern theories concerning the artist and audience show a marked shift from traditional ideas. The artist as individual genius no longer exists (Barthes, Image 143148), and the usually passive audience has become intimately involved in its experience with works of art (Fleischmann & Strauss 138). As the audiences and artists roles have changed, so have their responsibilities. An artist working in interactive digital media must be willing to relax his or her hold on a work and allow it to be transformed as audiences interact with it. In return, an audience experiencing an interactive digital work must be willing to "get involved" with the work in order to fully experience what it has to offer. In fact, some postmodern theorists hold that a work does not even exist until it is experienced by an audience (Sommerer & Mignonneau, Living System 148-149). Even though many postmodern theorists wrote before the advent of digital culture, it is clear that their ideas anticipate the manner in which the roles of artist and audience would be changed by digital culture. Roland Barthes espouses a number of theories that can be directly related to digital culture. He foreshadows the loss of the
16 voice of the author in interactive digital media, stating that writing is the destruction of every voice, of every point of origin. Writing is that neutral, composite, oblique space where our subject slips away, the negative where all identity is lost, starting with the very identity of the body writing ( Image 142). He also sees all texts as mere amalgamations of already existent cultural texts; to him, the author never produces an original work, and instead his only power is to mix writings, to counter the ones with the others, in such a way as never to rest on any one of them (146). Interactive digital works are excellent examples of this sort of amalgamated text, and both source and mix artists working in interactive digital media select and mix texts, much like Barthes postmodern author. Barthes also postulates that there are two types of texts: the readerly and the writerly. He defines the readerly text as a classic text, one in which the reader is plunged into a kind of idleness . he is left with no more than the poor freedom either to accept or reject the text ( S/Z 4). Conversely, the writerly text is one in which the reader can actively participate; the writerly text is not passively consumed, but rather encourages the reader to become involved in the creative process. To Barthes, the goal of literary work (of literature as work) is to make the reader no longer a consumer, but a producer of the text (4). It is clear that interactive digital media is a realization of this writerly text. Barthes also discusses the idea of interpretation, which he defines as the appreciation of what plural constitutes the text being interpreted; in other words, an acknowledgement of the many ways in which a text can be grasped. He speaks of a triumphant plural, an ideal text in which the networks are many and interact, without any one of them being able to surpass the rest . it has no beginning; it is reversible; we gain access to it by several entrances, none of which can be authoritatively declared to be
17 the main one (5). Again, interactive digital media appears to be an embodiment of Barthes theory, since one of the major qualities of interactive digital media is its plurality, its ability to be approached and experienced differently by each person who encounters it, without any pre-determined entrance point or path to be followed. Michel Foucault also addresses issues pertinent to digital culture. He discusses the notion of the readers return to the text, seeking to resolve an omission by looking in the empty spaces. This concept is realized in the repeated interactions of a mix artist with an interactive digital work, attempting to experience different parts of the work that might have been missed in previous interactions. Foucault states, It follows naturally that this return . constantly introduces modifications (135), and indeed, an interactive digital work is modified every time a mix artist interacts with it. Foucault also notes that these returns . form a relationship between fundamental and mediate authors (136). These fundamental and mediate authors can be seen as analogous to digital cultures source and mix artists. It can be argued that these postmodern theories were ahead of their time, since it wasnt until the postmodern cultural forms of the digital revolution came into being that these theories could be fully realized. One could say that digital culture is the real-world embodiment of postmodern theories. Many postmodern theorists believe that the changing roles of artists and audiences (exemplified in digital culture) will produce a more culturally aware society that takes a greater role in the production and consumption of works of art (Mattei 36). In answer to those critics who claim that digital culture will destroy traditional culture as we know it, it can be argued that traditional culture will most likely remain, but its impact
18 may be diminished. Landow and Delaney note, The black and white photograph remains viable, but is no longer the absolute standard of representation that it was in the nineteenth century. Similarly, the printed book will remain a central element of culture even as the new ways of interacting with texts make their own claims on our attention (8). Another possibility is that some traditional cultural forms might be rediscovered (in slightly altered form) in digital culture. For example, a hypertext poem, which would produce a different variant each time it was experienced while retaining certain common elements through each transformation, can be seen as an extension of the ballad tradition, and each version of the poem becomes a sort of performance (Dickey 150). Others believe that as transmitters of information (communications), each new medium builds upon and extends the previous media . The residue of earlier forms of communication persists as integral moments in the whole configuration of a cultures communication network (Heim 66-67). For example, the In Memoriam Web (detailed in Landow 51-57) enhances and extends Tennysons original work by linking together related sections of the poem and establishing link paths that trace certain motifs throughout the poem. Links also lead to textual variants, graphic overviews, and critical commentary. According to Landow, these links map and hence reify a texts internal and external allusions and references its interand intra textuality (51). By bringing these allusions and references together with Tennysons work in a common space (albeit virtual space), and linking them to one another in a variety of ways, the In Memoriam Web allows the reader to explore the poem in a manner that would be difficult or nearly impossible to achieve in traditional print culture.
19 Another criticism of digital culture is that since the rarefied world of the artist is now apparently open to practically anyone with a computer, our culture will be overrun with bad works of art (Heim 210, 219). A radical viewpoint would argue that there is no such thing as "bad" art; since each person experiences a work differently (and even more so with interactive digital works), it is up to each individual to determine what he or she believes is "good" and "bad" art. Ultimately, according to this viewpoint, digital culture has the capacity to liberate individuals from an elitist system that determines what we experience culturally. Indeed, there are examples of this trend in digital culture today. The aforementioned MP3 technology, which has been criticized by some musicians who claim it violates their ownership rights, is used by many unsigned musicians who would probably never see commercial airplay in the current environment of corporate radio. While some of these artists produce computer-based techno music, many could be considered "traditional" musicians, in that they create music with non-digital instruments such as guitars and drums. Instead of being overshadowed by digital culture, these musicians have chosen to use it to their advantage. They circumvent the system by putting their music on the Internet to be freely downloaded and enjoyed by anyone. Problems do sometimes occur when traditional and postmodern notions clash. A notable example is the unauthorized sampling of a traditional artist who strongly believes in his or her rights to a work (as established by the traditional ideas of "artist" and "work") by a postmodern mix artist who feels no compulsion to uphold these rights. Usually, the mix artist is sued and then legally compelled to acknowledge the traditional artists contribution and pay royalties for the use of his or her material. As long as traditional notions of the artist remain entrenched in our culture, this trend will most
20 likely continue. However, as digital cultures impact on society grows, postmodern theories of the artist may become more influential. Indeed, it is nearly impossible to adhere to the traditional theories of artist and audience when dealing with digital culture. Margot Lovejoy states, Electronic tools and media have shattered the very paradigm of cognition and representation we have been operating under since the Renaissance (12). By their very nature, interactive digital works demand very different artists and audiences than traditional works. Traditional theories are simply inadequate for dealing with the types of artists and audiences required by digital culture. Postmodern theory, on the other hand, finds its best examples in digital culture. Roles & Responsibilities of Artist/Audience It is difficult to use the traditional terms artist and audience when discussing interactive digital art forms, because these terms, in their traditional sense, are inadequate for describing the roles and responsibilities demanded by interactive digital media. Postmodern theorists did continue to use the terms artist and audience, but they attempted to redefine them. I believe that the terms source artist and mix artist more accurately describe the roles of those involved in interactive digital media. The source artist and the mix artist are real-world examples of the postmodern artist and audience. As mentioned previously, the source artist determines the blocks of data (and often the framework in which these blocks are presented) that will form the basis of an interactive digital work, and the mix artist then chooses among those blocks in order to create an individualized version of the work. Other mix artists may also experience the
21 work, and they may choose either to build upon what previous mix artists have done with the work or to create a completely new path. The role of the source artist in the creative process has some similarities to the role of the traditional artist, but interactive digital media present unique challenges that require different responsibilities of the source artist. The traditional artist usually considers his or her audience while creating a work, but audience response is not necessarily the focus of the work. In fact, on rare occasions traditional works have been created without any regard for the audiences response whatsoever. On the other hand, the source artist of an interactive work must constantly focus on how mix artists will interact with the work and the most effective way to present blocks of data so as to encourage useful interaction. John Slatin observes that for the author, the difficulty at any given moment is to provide freedom of movement and interaction, while at the same time remaining able to predict where the reader/user will go next (161). The source artist must also be willing to let go of the lone genius image found in the traditional idea of the artist, and be open to collaboration with other source and mix artists. Interactive digital media provide opportunities for collaboration that were never possible before, and by allowing the work to be affected by other source and mix artists, source artists will encourage a more expanded creative environment, with input from a variety of viewpoints and backgrounds. Not only will this ostensibly create unique works of art, but it is also possible that through a cybernetic approach to art and a collective creative work project, it is possible to reach superior levels of knowledge (Mattei 36). This could lead to intellectual and creative growth in our society as a whole.
22 Finally, a source artist must accept that an interactive work will never be complete. Interactive works are by definition open-ended, expandable, and incomplete. If a work that is conventionally considered complete, such as the Encyclopedia Britannica is put into a hypertext format, it would immediately become incomplete (Landow & Delaney 13). Therefore, if a source artist wishes to effectively participate in the creation of interactive digital art forms, he or she must focus on ensuring that the work remains as open and fluid as possible, rather than concentrating on producing a finished work. Like the source artist, the mix artist also resembles its traditional counterpart, the audience, in certain aspects. Once again, though, the mix artists role in the creative process is far different from that of the audience in traditional culture. In traditional theory, the audience was allowed to determine its own opinion about an artists intended message, but no changes could be made to the work itself. While criticism did afford audiences the opportunity to review other opinions about a particular work, this criticism did not physically alter the work itself in any manner. In digital interactive media, the mix artist is just as responsible as the source artist in determining the direction the work will take (Ascott 166). In an effectively designed framework, mix artists should be able to choose which blocks of data will be processed and alter the work according to their individual response. Also, successive mix artists should be able to incorporate other mix artists contributions into their own experience with the work. Ideally, we become our own authors, determining the structure of the text for the next reader, or perhaps for ourselves in our next reading (Bolter 116).
23 The responsibilities demanded of the mix artist by this expanded role are far greater than those of the traditional audience. First of all, mix artists should develop their cultural awareness in order to better fulfill their role in interactive digital media. According to Barthes, The text is a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of culture (146), and the reader [mix artist] is the space on which all the quotations that make up a writing are inscribed without any of them being lost (148). These quotations are analogous to the blocks of data in an interactive digital work, and they are drawn from the whole of culture, described by Barthes as an immense dictionary. By developing their cultural awareness, mix artists gain greater access to this dictionary. As a result, they will be better prepared to meaningfully interact with the blocks of data, or quotations, that they encounter in interactive digital media. Also, mix artists must be truly active in their experiences with interactive digital media and explore the possibilities they offer. The active involvement of the mix artist is essential for the interactive digital work to exist: the artist . only conceives the framework; it is the visitors who form the art work through their interaction with each other, with the system and the image processes of the work (Sommerer & Mignonneau, Living System 160). If a mix artist does not assume an active role in the creative process then the potential of the work is left unfulfilled. A well-informed mix artist will be better equipped for active participation, but by striving to get the most out of an interactive digital work, novice mix artists can expand their cultural awareness and become better informed themselves. Finally, and most importantly, a mix artist must abandon the notion of a right or wrong way to experience a work, and realize that all active interactions are valid. In
24 their experiences creating interactive digital installations, Sommerer and Mignonneau found that: only if the visitor agrees to become part of the system, will he comprehend that there are no pre-defined solutions to be found within the art work but that instead he himself essentially determines what he sees. Each visitor will hence create his own artwork that is essentially a reflection of his inner expression and expectations. (Living System 159) An effective interactive digital work should provide an open and fluid space that can be explored and experienced by mix artists with as few boundaries and limitations as possible. Obviously, interactive digital media have inherent limitations that can be difficult or impossible to transcend, but mix artists should not limit themselves simply because of misguided notions. If mix artists misunderstand their role as being that of the traditional audience, then they are likely to focus on choosing the right blocks that will produce the correct version of the work rather than exploring the works possibilities. Alternately, if mix artists believe they are assuming the role of the traditional artist (another misunderstanding), then it is likely that they will feel that their contribution must be something spectacular in order to be important, and may avoid interaction with a work completely if they feel they are not creative enough to produce something worthy. Successful mix artists should be open to all the possibilities a work has to offer, and should focus on their personal experience with the work, rather than whether they are doing it right. It is important to remember that source and mix artists are not rigidly separated categories, as in the traditional notion of artist and audience. When initially selecting and
25 arranging blocks of data, the source artist performs many of the same functions as the mix artist. Mix artists become source artists when a mix artist chooses to incorporate previous mix artists changes into his or her own experience of the work. The flexible nature of these roles is especially apparent in digital music, where popular musicians who use new technologies are not simply the producers of prerecorded patterns of sounds (music) consumed by particular audiences; they, too, are consumers consumers of technology, consumers of prerecorded sounds and patterns of sounds that they rework, transform, and arrange into new patterns (Thberge 3). Some members of these particular audiences may then choose to use this music they have consumed as a source in their mix. The result of this mix may then be used as a source by another mix artist, and so on. Openness and fluidity are essential elements of interactive digital media; therefore, source and mix artists must remain flexible in their roles if they are to participate effectively in the digital creative process.
26 Chapter Three Examples of Digital Cultural Forms Now that the roles and responsibilities of the modern artist and audience in digital culture have been defined, it becomes necessary to introduce real-world examples of interactive digital cultural forms in which these new roles and responsibilities can be most fully explored and developed. As mentioned previously, four specific cultural forms will be explored: interactive art on the World Wide Web, hypertext fiction, digital music, and the interactive multimedia CD-ROM. As Worlds Collide is an interactive online art project which allows viewers (at certain times) to download images from its website, manipulate them, and upload them back to the website to be viewed by others. Also, visitors to the site can browse through the submitted images, with each particular image linked to others versions of that image. Victory Garden is a hypertext novel written by Stuart Moulthrop. The main plot line (if such a thing can be said about a hypertext work) involves a group of university students as their lives criss-cross during the events surrounding the Gulf War of 19901991. Of course, each reader is free to choose his or her own path through the story, with each successive reading revealing new details previously undiscovered, and often resulting in a completely different story altogether. Each individual reading can be taken as a complete story in itself, and also used to help illuminate previous readings. In this way, the reader is able to form a unique, yet multi-dimensional impression of the novel.
27 The Chemical Brothers are a British techno duo, Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons, who produce digital music using both originally created beats as well as sampled bits of speech and music. They are well known for their particular style of techno, known as big beat. In addition to producing music in the studio, they often play out (perform live at a club), mixing music and beats in real-time using a complicated setup of computers, synthesizers, and turntables. During live performances, the Chemical Brothers remix both their own music and the music of others, providing a unique experience to the audience unavailable on any studio-produced recording. EVE is an interactive multimedia CD-ROM developed through the collaboration of musician Peter Gabriel and artists Helen Chadwick, Yayoi Kusama, Cathy de Monchaux, and Nils-Udo. The CD-ROM is presented in the style of an interactive video game, but it differs greatly from the typical shoot-em-up or adventure video games commonly available on CD-ROM. While there is a gaming element to EVE in that viewers are encouraged to solve riddles in order to find the return to Paradise, it is most effective as a virtual world which viewers can explore and interact with, experiencing and creating music and art. These examples of digital interactive cultural forms explore the relationships between source artists and mix artists and their respective roles and responsibilities. Also, these works experiment with the possibilities for creation and collaboration in their genre (and culture as a whole) through the use of digital technology. It is important to note that none of these examples exhibit every characteristic of a successful interactive digital work (as defined in this thesis), nor can any one of the examples by itself provide a complete picture of the theories that have been presented herein. However, this is not
28 unusual, considering that interactive digital culture is still in its infancy. As technology improves and artists gain more experience working in this new medium, interactive digital works should begin to approach the ideal discussed in this thesis. The examples presented have been chosen, not because of their perfection, but because they illustrate the current state of interactive digital culture and attempt to explore the full potential of the medium using available technology. As Worlds Collide As Worlds Collide is a collaborative, interactive art project on the World Wide Web. The project was developed by a group of faculty and students in the Department of Art Media Studies at Syracuse University in the fall of 1997, although the project itself is hosted on a Bowling Green State University server. The website explains that As Worlds Collide is an event-based project and was available for collaborative input during ISEA 97 and SIGGRAPH 98 (and may be available at future events, as well). The site currently allows only viewing of the pieces created during its active collaborative phase, but the viewing process is an interactive work in itself, allowing the viewer to choose his or her own path through the linked collaborative pieces. On the Concepts page of the project website, it is asserted that while interactive multimedia is touted as the melting pot for various forms of expression to come together and form a new mode of communication, the majority of supposed interactive multimedia falls far short of this vision. The impetus behind the As Worlds Collide project is to create a work that integrates the principles of 2D, 3D, and time-based expressive worlds ( As Worlds Collide ) into a truly interactive multimedia piece. Also, the developers of the project believe that one of the main benefits of interactive
29 multimedia is the encouragement of virtual communities that transcend cultural and geographical boundaries, allowing diverse groups of people to interact with one another in a meaningful way. Their hope is that by encouraging international collaboration without emphasizing any one particular medium, a shared creative vision will develop, and they ultimately believe that influence and inspiration coupled with individual visual style and conceptual realization provide building blocks for the manifestation of collective creative outcomes (Concepts). It is important to note that As Worlds Collide s idea of interactive multimedia is not the same as that in an interactive multimedia work such as EVE Instead of incorporating multiple artistic genres, As Worlds Collide instead makes use of primarily visual artistic media, such as 2D and 3D digital art. The project begins with a series of starter worlds, each created by an individual source artist. These starter worlds combine 2D and 3D artwork into a flat image, which is then converted into QuickTime VR format. QuickTime VR (or QTVR) technology causes a flat image to appear to panoramically surround the viewer; the viewer can use a mouse to look up and down, as well as rotate 360 within the image and see it as a seamless world. The viewer can also zoom in and out on portions of the image. During the collaborative phase, those wishing to participate (the mix artists) begin by selecting which of the starter worlds they would like to manipulate. After filling out a form on the website, the mix artist is able to download the image of the starter world from an FTP site. This image appears on the mix artists computer as a flat image, which can be added to, modified, or completely reworked as the mix artist sees fit. The mix artist then uploads his or her version of the image to the FTP site, and a script (a small portion of
30 programming code that automatically performs a specific action when certain conditions are fulfilled) converts the newly uploaded image to QTVR format. Another script then generates a new web page (which is linked to the original image the mix artist chose to manipulate) showing the new QTVR image. Finally, another script generates a web page listing the information provided by the mix artist on the website form, so future viewers can see a list of everyone who has contributed to the project so far. The list of contributors allows the viewer to click on the mix artists name to send that person an email, or the viewer can click on the title of the work submitted by the mix artist in order to view that work. The project is structured thusly: each starter world can be modified by two people, and each of the resulting images can be modified by two more people, and so on, creating a tree-like hierarchy among the images (the As Worlds Collide website describes it as a sophisticated circuit structure). When a viewer enters the website to browse through the images, the initial page of the project displays the twelve starter worlds and prompts the viewer to begin by selecting one of the starter worlds. A new page appears that shows the starter world image, along with one arrow pointing up and two arrows pointing down. This basic page layout is repeated with each new image. Clicking on one of the down arrows takes the viewer to a mix artists version of that image. If the viewer clicks on the up arrow, he or she is taken back to the previous source image. The viewer can continue through these linked images until he or she encounters a down arrow that states No Worlds To Explore, indicating that no mix artists have chosen to build upon that image. Because the project was only in its collaborative phase for a few days during each event, the number of images available for viewing is not immense (approximately 120
31 images to date), and the viewer, by retracing his or her steps several times, can eventually navigate through all of the images. However, the viewer is free to choose which of the two down arrows to click, and therefore can follow numerous paths through the project. In doing so, each viewer creates a personal experience of the project based on the series of images in the path he or she has chosen. Therefore, even if the viewer is unable to collaborate by uploading an image, he or she is still able to interactively participate with the project by determining which path to follow through the archived images. However, an additional element of interactivity could have been achieved by using the QTVR technology to create "hot spots" in the image that could be clicked to link to another image, possibly one of the mix artists' version of that image. As Worlds Collide is an excellent example of digital collaboration and the relationship between source artists and mix artists. While a distinction is made between the source artists who designed the starter worlds and the subsequent mix artists (for example, the web page with information about the source artists is far more detailed, while the contributor web page simply provides a list of names with links to email addresses), no one source artist claims to be the author of the project. An argument could be made that the source artists appear to be given higher status than their fellow contributing artists, but it should be realized that digital collaboration is still in its infancy, and it can be expected that the deeply entrenched idea of the separation of artist and audience, with the artist occupying a higher sphere, has not been completely erased yet in digital culture. Also, the website makes it clear that the intention of the As Worlds Collide project is to help shape a collective creative vision, not single out any individual artistic achievement.
32 Victory Garden Victory Garden is a hypertext novel developed by Stuart Moulthrop. Moulthrop uses digital technology to empower his readers to choose an individualized path through text blocks he has provided, thus creating their own unique versions of the story. In doing so, Moulthrop encourages his readers to become active and writerly (to use Barthes term). Rather than being restricted by a predetermined linear structure with a definite beginning and end (as in traditional books), readers are given the freedom to pursue their own motivations through the text, autonomously determining the path the story will take and when the story will end. While this freedom may initially seem chaotic to readers unaccustomed to the openness of hypertext, with practice the seemingly chaotic structure of hypertext becomes a powerful tool for experiencing literature in a manner not possible in traditional books. Readers are offered several options for navigating through the text. The reader can choose to press the
33 themselves in an infinite loop between the places Paths to Explore, Paths to Deplore, and Map Overview. Each of these places offers several paths for readers to follow, but they must make the decision about which one they will choose; simply pressing