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click opera - Television goes ambient
February 2010
 
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Fri, Mar. 30th, 2007 07:36 am
Television goes ambient

Over the last month, I've developed a new hobby. I've started making DVDs of ambient television. It started when I visited the Kreuzberg children's zoo in late February and videoed a beautiful roaring log fire they had there. I loved how it warmed the room. I videoed the fire for a minute or so. When I got home I dropped the file into iMovie, took out the original soundtrack (noisy Turkish kids' voices, the clatter of waffle plates) and added a library crackle sound effect. The whole thing took thirty minutes, max. When I dropped the resulting looping DVD into the player, our TV set became a log fire, crackling away peacefully in the background as Hisae and I surfed.



It became highly addictive. "Shall we put on the fire?" we'd say when we came home. "Yes, let's put on the fire." The dry sparky crackle of burning wood filled the room, mixing soothingly with the sound of fingers rattling keyboards. A flickering orange light glowed in the "hearth". Even the rabbit came to bask in the glow. All that was missing was the heat, the smell, the smoke and the mess of a real fire.

This was so much better than television, with its incessant chatter! I decided to branch out, expand our options. Ambient DVD 2 was another fire, which turned out to be slightly less successful because it was less orange, less heartwarming. DVD3 was a squiggle of light dancing on a wall, a projector installation I'd filmed at an exhibition at Kunsthaus Bethanien. It had a nice "projector motor" sound, but had too much going on. DVD4 was a response to a request from Hisae for something more springlike. I filmed a plant on the steps of our favourite Japanese cafe, Smart Deli. The plant flutters in the wind, and every so often a car passes. The motion subtly switches into reverse at one point, making cars and pedestrians glide backwards, and there's one glorious, mysterious moment when a black cat appears in a chink between leaves, pauses, looks around, and moves on.



I still occasionally use my TV for its original purpose. The world's pain and suffering might barge into my house via the news or a documentary on Nazism. I'm also renting DVDs -- early Miyazaki films, or art and design tapes from the American Library. Yesterday I checked out seven tapes (VHS tends to have older, and therefore more interestingly weird, material than the library's DVD stock). One was a documentary about Finnish functionalist architecture (I made this sound piece from a section about Alvar Aalto), but my favourite was a weird tape about Nobuyoshi Araki which just put a succession of his flower photos on the screen, with romantic piano music (I cut that out). The uncompromising minimalism was admirable; here was TV that knew its place: sois belle et tais-toi!

You can tell which media have been replaced or displaced -- stoned or dethroned -- by the speed you want them to go at. Lately I've been wanting my television and my music to go slow. By "slow" I mean that they should have as few beats or edits as possible, and no vocals or talking heads. I have a new contract with my television set, a verbal contract which goes something like: "Look, you used to be king, a window on the world. But now I give that sort of attention to my computer. I even watch television on my computer. So you need a new role. I've decided to make you a sort of lava lamp or screensaver. On the off-chance that I'm going to glance at you, please be showing something peaceful and attractive."

Let's talk gestalt. My television has become ambient -- its new job is to be ground, not figure; to provide a backdrop, a field. What I play on it is essentially visual field recordings. The same thing has happened to my music tastes: the two records I play most are so ultra-minimalistic they make the latest offerings by Alejandra and Aeron or Lullatone seem baroque. They're "The Mountain Record" by Yuichiro Fujimoto and Toshiya Tsunoda's air-in-bottle recordings. "What's that sound?" Hisae asks as a low, throbbing air vibration colours the room. "It's music. Well, field recordings of air in a bottle. It's Toshiya Tsunoda."

The reason that television and music have become "ground" or "field" in this way is that only the internet can be figure. The internet is a "pull medium" -- you have to go fishing there. What you find is information, your friends, ideas, colours, music, video, reality, life (but, as yet, no smells or heat or food). Television was a "push medium" -- someone's job was to decide what to push at you, and you had the choice to zap or lap it up.

Now it's been displaced, television can do one of several things. It can try to become a pull medium itself -- by offering hundreds of channels, and allowing you to watch in whatever sequence you like. But it can never quite be the internet, so that's pretty much doomed. It can become an ultra-minimalist ambient medium, as mine has done. Or it can try and kick against the pricks, rage against the other machine, raise its voice, shout, bully and chide, or bang and crash at us like a Hollywood trailer (good luck with those tinny speakers, television!).

The thing about shouting, though, when you're a jilted lover, is that it seduces no-one. It just gets you jilted even quicker. The people you're trying to seduce just block you out and get on with their lives. And, you know, I've noticed an odd thing. That minimalism and maximalism (the noisy, aggressive approach) boil down to the same thing in the end. They both lead to ambience. If you look at Japanese TV, you'll see that it's very information rich. Text covers the screen, to get you up to speed on the theme of the show, what's been happening. Little inset boxes of reaction shots help you muster and master your own reactions. At first I thought this was something to do with a Japanese love of complexity, but then the penny dropped. This is television that's designed to be on in the background, on in the corner of a room. It's TV that knows you're not watching, and knows it may well have the sound turned down. So it adds captions, and allows you to catch up if you're just casting the odd glance its way. This, too, is ambient television.

Fast or slow, quiet or loud, it all boils down to the same thing in the end. Television has slipped into the background. In my house, at least, it's made the transition to a shimmering ambient field humbly -- and beautifully.

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slipmesomething
slipmesomething
slipmesomething
Fri, Mar. 30th, 2007 06:39 am (UTC)

What a brilliant idea, I should probably start making ambient DVDs. I had intented to stop watching TV altogether, I de-tuned it and removed my aerial, in the hopes it's absence would lead me to read more. Yet somehow, rather than sitting though hours of programming on channel 4 I ended up watching and re-watching my small collection on TV shows on DVD.

Perhaps if I took a page out of your book, I might find myself nicely wrapped up in bed, curled up in front of the 'fire' reading a book.


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Mar. 30th, 2007 07:37 am (UTC)

I'm sure the fact that you were born in 1985 has nothing to do with your relationship to television. As with Momus it's a pure lifestyle choice at any age.


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Mar. 30th, 2007 06:43 am (UTC)

You're just having Mistaken Memories of Mediaeval Manhattan Nick!

M


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Mar. 30th, 2007 06:58 am (UTC)

Yeah, and like old Brian I was thinking I should actually sell my ambient television tapes. I could do a "roaring" trade with the fire one!


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grzeg
grzeg
grzeg
Fri, Mar. 30th, 2007 07:47 am (UTC)

You have, by and large, defanged the spectacle -- that thing that unifies everyone under a common banality and gives us the illusion of community, yet separates us into our respective homes and rooms, that gives us no dialogue or feedback, that is just a medium for the authority and the corporations to force the mass consumption of a commodity culture, that forwards a reality of falsification.

But of course, what you did is just deferred one spectacle for another, another technology and media that gives the illusion of more control over the content and your world around you; the television is now only the backdrop to the theatricality of the Internet. Of course, I’d think we’d all prefer an environment that is more engaging, promoting interaction rather to an environment that serves as a backdrop, setting a mood or feeling but otherwise not encouraging or requiring engagement. At least now, your backdrop can truly be a means to set that perfect ambience.

But, that virtual fire is also forwarding a reality of falsification. It seems at all levels of our life we seem to live more and more with the thing deprived of its substance.

On another note, I agree that things need to slow down: we need that moment of reflection, the negating action to the action… by applying Occam’s razor – reducing things to the necessary and the sufficient, we might just allow the chance for a gap where we are allowed to appear as ourselves.


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Mar. 30th, 2007 08:06 am (UTC)
bathist party

Momus, if people here had ever heard the Tender Pervert album, or just noted your penchant for bathing, they wouldn't be so surprised that you are usually willing to throw out the baby so you can take another bath.


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Mar. 30th, 2007 07:48 am (UTC)
dear john

Look, you used to be king, a window on the world. But now I give that sort of attention to my computer.

I guess you sat your discography down for that talk too?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Mar. 30th, 2007 08:28 am (UTC)
Re: dear john

And your discography, Hieronymous Anonymous, how's that holding up?


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Re: dear john - (Anonymous) Expand
saikoutron
saikoutron
Teikasaurus Howl
Fri, Mar. 30th, 2007 08:40 am (UTC)

I almost think that the viewer has to be in that certain state of mind for ambient television - lovely term by the way - to work. I`d go to my girlfriend`s home and yes, just as you explained, the TV`s always on, and nobody watches it directly, it`s just in the background all the time, no one that is, except for me. I`ve been built such that when the TV`s on, it`s so that I can watch it, and it`s off when I don`t(maybe it`s just because I wasn`t brought up the same way as my girlfriend`s family).

I swear, I can`t hold a conversation with the tele on, it`s like another person`s there talking and it`s just rude to interrupt(and of course it never shuts up!).


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Mar. 30th, 2007 10:20 am (UTC)

I too have way too much human feeling towards my television. I cannot switch channels until the people finished their sentence. Even then it feels rude. In a "you are not wanted, needed or loved" way. It's probably a reason why I usually only watch cartoons.


Robert


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Mar. 30th, 2007 09:54 am (UTC)
Ambient TV

Now that's what I call feeble.

I remember back in the Eighties sitting in Genesis P. Orridge's living room in Beck Rd, Hackney, while he explained to me that if you de-tune your TV and gaze at the interference long enough you are able to see into the future. Right enough I tried this, and was able to see far enough into the future to realise that if I kept it up for another hour, I would have a stinking headache.

The best place to put your TV is in a skip.


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Mar. 30th, 2007 10:03 am (UTC)
Old flames

Isn't the TV set as (b)log fire an old idea, I recall it was done way back in the 1970's as a piece of video art (though I can't recall by whom at the moment) and you can currently get on amazon some similar stuff
http://www.amazon.com/Ambient-Fire-3rd-Ultimate-Fireplace/dp/B00069OWWW
psouper-partypooper


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Mar. 30th, 2007 10:46 am (UTC)
Re: Old flames

Yes it was Belshazzar's Feast 1983-4 by Susan Hiller

http://www.susanhiller.org/Info/artworks/artworks-BFeast.html

Professor Cheese


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niddrie_edge
niddrie_edge
raymond
Fri, Mar. 30th, 2007 10:29 am (UTC)
ambient name droppings in the field

..three old Minidisc recorders lie lonely in my drawer..

I remember seeing Sachiko M a few years back in the Arches, Glasgow. Maybe I was a bit fragile after a Whitehouse set and anticipating the aural ear syringe that was Merzbow but it was odd to hear quiet sounds in that environment. The rest of the building was a hubbub of Glasgow elite chatter. The girl in front constantly chatted to her silent bf. Someone stepped on a plastic cup once or twice. Meanwhile Sachiko M breathed and scratched and intoned. In its way it was moving.

A year later I believe the same strange couple muttered all the way through Philip Jeck and his turntables and the Dundee CAC 5 quid Japanese beer swilling crew ruined a Steve Roden set. No one can scrape a discarded bush over a mic like that man.

A year previously Francisco Lopez sealed eveyone in a soundproofed room and manned the doors before the sound of hissing gas started up. He was taking no prisoners.

Have they found a way to hook up phonecams to huge pub screens yet? The distortion must be interesting.


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niddrie_edge
niddrie_edge
raymond
Fri, Mar. 30th, 2007 10:41 am (UTC)

It was Sachiko M's Cosmos so it was and Lopez blindfolded us. Stopped short of the orange boiler suits though.

ambient damp


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Mar. 30th, 2007 12:15 pm (UTC)
Old Flames

No fraid Susan Hillier is not the fisrt with the fire as video art. It was our old friend Jan Dibbets who in 1969 made «TV as a Fireplace»
http://www.medienkunstnetz.de/works/tv-as-a-fireplace/
Interestingly the piece was broadcast...

www.psouper.co.uk


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Mar. 30th, 2007 02:02 pm (UTC)
Re: Old Flames

Well I think we've made the point which is that it's a recurring - and rather hackneyed - idea.
Prof Cheese


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Mar. 30th, 2007 02:09 pm (UTC)
Old Flames

No no, must go on until we find a hand tinted log fire film made in the 1890's


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freesurfboards
freesurfboards
freesurfboards
Fri, Mar. 30th, 2007 02:21 pm (UTC)

i like the idea that TV is like the british royal family.


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dailyrave
dailyrave
dailyrave
Fri, Mar. 30th, 2007 02:28 pm (UTC)

I took your idea and I filmed 50 minutes of footage out my dorm room window during twilight. It seems to be a still image, save for when people go walking across the screen, their images digitalized like tiny lego people :)
Thus, I've turned my TV into a second window.


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Mar. 30th, 2007 02:33 pm (UTC)
ambient

I'm with you on this, although I might like to sometimes look with
great concentration at the video of a wind-blown plant.

Took a video course last summer and dropped out because I wasn't
interested in editing my videos of shadows on the wall...


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zzberlin
zzberlin
hh
Fri, Mar. 30th, 2007 03:08 pm (UTC)
shadows on the wall

One of my problems with video is that, after I shoot it, I'm too impatient to edit it. It takes to long too go through and pick out the uninteresting bits. So I have video sitting around that I'd like to do something with, but first I'd have to go through and make it tight, and that just takes to long for someone of my impatience


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lord_whimsy
lord_whimsy
whimsy
Fri, Mar. 30th, 2007 02:46 pm (UTC)

Sometimes I just play Attenborough's nature programming, sans sound--the blues and greens go with the decor, and becomes the 'hearth' of the den (the main room has a fireplace). I especially like the time-lapse sequences of tidal pools and plants.


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cheapsurrealist
cheapsurrealist
Dave Nold
Fri, Mar. 30th, 2007 03:08 pm (UTC)

I still occasionally use my TV for its original purpose.

The original purpose of television was to sell televisions and the content that television manufacturers provided. Always nice to see someone deviating from the original purpose.

20) The Law of Conduits and Content

This law comes in the form of a commandment to divorce content from conduit. The less content a network owns the more content flows through it. If you are a content company, you want your content to travel on all networks, not just your own. If you are a conduit company, you want to carry everyone's content, not restrict yourself to your own. Companies that violate this rule (AU, AOL Time Warner) tear themselves apart. The dumber the network the more intelligence it can carry.


from The Twenty Laws of the Telecosm, by George Gilder.


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zzberlin
zzberlin
hh
Fri, Mar. 30th, 2007 03:13 pm (UTC)
making art from TV

What I've wanted to do for a long time is make video mashups, well, that's not the right term. I want to make video collage of stuff I've seen on TV, or from DVDs. For example, I'm a weapons hobbyist, and there are some scenes I'd love to juxtapose, for example, the hotel/suitcase/gun scene in Taxi Driver where Robert Deniro is buying his gun. The street guy has a suitcase full of firearms that he puts on the hotel bed for examination. The scene is maybe five minutes long(?) and I would like to grab thirty seconds of it, but don't know how. Then I'd like to grab the scene from the Matrix where they're loading up on weapons in preparation to bust out Morpheus. And there are many more! One day I will figure out how to put all these images together in a stream, and I will be happy


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spin_the_blade
KILL YR INTERNET
Fri, Mar. 30th, 2007 03:47 pm (UTC)

A friend of mine has an old VHS tape marketed as such, ambeint tv. I think it turns your tv into a fish bowl.


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akabe
akabe
alin huma
Fri, Mar. 30th, 2007 05:07 pm (UTC)

there was a device sold in japan about 6-7 years ago that was exactly that a giant TV screen playing only a recording?/rendering? of fish in a tank. It was selling at such a ridiculous price (10-15 times the cost of a tv & vcr/dvd deck) that i was sure the fish had to be 'intelligent', like the ones at MIT at the same time. they weren't.


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dr__ben
dr__ben
Fri, Mar. 30th, 2007 04:05 pm (UTC)
brrr

could you post the fireplace file? it's really chilly in here at the moment and i haven't got time to go out with the camera to get a light.


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dr__ben
dr__ben
Fri, Mar. 30th, 2007 04:09 pm (UTC)
Re: brrr

seriously. this one just makes me feel colder.

http://youtube.com/watch?v=nUp9gkjpwEg


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Mar. 30th, 2007 05:31 pm (UTC)

Eno films made an impression? The fairly recent re-release to dvd is/was an influence perhaps? Ambient video to me is even more compelling, beyond the digital it introduces more noise and the imperfections every time it is played...and into 16mm film, all the better.
-John FF


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cityramica
cityramica
cityramica
Fri, Mar. 30th, 2007 06:18 pm (UTC)

did you ever see James Turrell's Meeting at PS1 when you were in NY? I would like ambient television that feels like that.


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niddrie_edge
niddrie_edge
raymond
Fri, Mar. 30th, 2007 07:42 pm (UTC)

There are DVD players which will play back avi files on a Tv. Standalone friendly I think is the term. I often pause my movies and leave the image on the screen. The player thinks it is playing so it doesn't collapse into screensaver mode. Old silent films at quarter speed can be good too. Sometimes a scan of a cd or lp cover can look nice in jpeg mode. Saves sticking them to the walls with blutak or drawing pins.

I am also thinking about when people used to stand and watch tv's in shops.

The Scottish Executive is considering opening up the possibilities of giant tv screens in major cities playing not just big sport events and state and civic occasions but. perhaps, plain old prime time tv.

I think this has been tried out in London and Manchester already.


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morning_jacket
morning_jacket
Graham
Fri, Mar. 30th, 2007 08:39 pm (UTC)

Oh Momus you trendsetter, you're on BuzzFeed!


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intergalactim
intergalactim
intergalactim
Fri, Mar. 30th, 2007 08:52 pm (UTC)

i was going to try and say something clever regarding this book, "Ambient Television" By Anna McCarthy
http://www.dukeupress.edu/books.php3?isbn=2692-2 , but it's been years since i read it. now it is just sitting on my book shelves, as an ambient book maybe?

what tsunoda album is that? i know he does some bottles on the lucky kitchen album, but it sounds like you've got the first one on hapna, which is way out of print - lucky!


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intergalactim
intergalactim
intergalactim
Fri, Mar. 30th, 2007 09:03 pm (UTC)

glad to see you are keeping the old cathode ray...

http://environment.guardian.co.uk/energy/story/0,,1848140,00.html


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charleshatcher
charleshatcher
charleshatcher
Sat, Mar. 31st, 2007 12:25 am (UTC)
Goy vey!

Who's a clever goy, then?


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