on gifs [ storifying the latent content of film/television narrative media ]

Gifs do so many things, I’m not even going to list all of those things! Right now I’m thinking about gifs as amplifiers of particular moments from narrative media. In these pieces, they strip moments from narrative, expanding the gesture used to tell a story while erasing the original context.

a moment from Tarkovsky’s “Ivan’s Childhood”

This eternal moment, stripped from narrative, reminds me of tween frames in the animation process. As an artist who has learned how to make in many kinds of media, I often think of the making process while looking at an art object (or other thing). Tweening is the frame-by-frame drawing that carries the image from moment a to moment b. Its where animation really happens. Skilled animators’ tweens inform how the story is told.

But-and-also – gifs operate with a more cinematic set of visual references, thanks to copy/remix culture. They often inhabit the vocabulary of filler moments.  The embellishments in a televised or film-presented narrative used to allow time to pass, allow the viewer to update their story, create rhythm or pace for the narrative. These moments, over time, become the vocabulary of unconscious narrative of a film/television-presented story.

unconscious narrative the consistant (or inconsistant, depending on the skill of the filmmaker) backdrop woven of actors’ gestures, filler shots, setting, shot framing, color, mood, tone. The assemblage of choices related to non-verbal or not-plot content that provides a consistant ground for the ‘plot’ / cause-and-effect narrative / story, which is spoken or explicit. The language of film that operates outside of verbal story, the elements that make film/television an art form discrete from other storytelling media.

The gif can particularize moments from this unconscious language. The elements which we recognize as part of the assembly of a particular story.

Ryan Seslow has been developing discrete elements in gif form for quite some time. His characters and repeated making-gestures arrive on the screen-canvas of his website & other internet feeds. Recently he assembled several into a sequence.

 

Telling Stories : a gif by Ryan Seslow

Ryan steps into the space of a story. Its liminal – it is not yet a story – it is a projection field for a story of my invention. It invites me to create relationships between jump-cut moments. We automatically work to create relationships, as storifying machines, as viewers. Like we discover the Virgin Mary’s face in a waterstain or a fried tortilla.

Looking, looking back. The screen looking back at us – the portraited pretty lady winks (usually she’s the object in the gallery) its the gaze of the inhabited object – and then the gaze of others looking back –

something about the importance of frank zappa

I might be movin’ to Montana soon
Just to raise me up a crop of Dental Floss Raisin’ it up
Waxen it down
In a little white box
I can sell uptown

 

I met him through his daughter, Moon Unit, who had a pop song that did really well in the early 80’s. I loved him for the kind of music that he made that was all squiggly (for the lack of a better word) that had lyrics like the ones to Montana, which run through this little essay.

Later he became Seriously Important. His testimony at the PMRC labeling hearings before Congress were aired on TV. His testimony declared creative freedom, defended personal liberty to create.

 

Part 1 – Frank Zappa at PMRC Senate Hearing on Rock Lyrics

 

Frank’s testimony provides astute insight into the gap between performer and audience. His description of audience as ‘consumers’ back then touches the contemporary audience identity of those who now get their music without paying for it.

 

Movin’ to Montana soon
Gonna be a Dental Floss tycoon
(yes I am)

 

Revisiting his testimony, I reflect on his discussion of ‘the music industry’. Record labels mediated the relationship between composer (Zappa’s language) and audience. Music was a product, to the audience. For the composer, music is an activity. The industry itself transformed music from activity to product. Congress was acting to regulate that – the way that music as a product was marketed to the audience. Zappa was testifying to how that regulation would affect the creator.

 

I’m ridin’ a small tiny hoss
(His name is MIGHTY LITTLE)
He’s a good hoss
Even though He’s a bit dinky to strap a big saddle or
Blanket on anyway

 

Zappa’s core message has been ignored. Why regulate music, declaring it good or bad? Why not provide music education in the public education systems funded by the government, so that people can decide for themselves what is good or bad? I mean, that’s the function of the constitution, right? To provide us with the liberty to enjoy our deciding of good and bad in our own lives.

 

He’s a bit dinky to strap a big saddle or
Blanket on anyway
Any way I’m pluckin’ the ol’ Dennil Floss
Even if you think it is a little silly, folks
I don’t care if you think it’s silly, folks
I don’t care if you think it’s silly, folks

 

His loopy, scribbly music. He talks about finding musical lines from the cadences of ordinary speech. Music as conversation. I’ve been learning how to write a fugue, more recently, with all of Bach’s etiquette. And here, in the fugue, is the process of conversation – a musical idea is passed back and forth between voices, evolving through slight shifts in notes and presentation. The vocabulary for the techniques of the fugue is a vocabulary of conversation.

Zappa takes that conversation from music theory to include the waveform. He talks about that in a wonderful documentary made after he was diagnosed with cancer.

 

Frank Zappa – Peefeeyatko

 

Peefeeyatko contains the transition from instrumental music to the computer as performance tool. Today’s software puts Zappa’s programmable synthesizer into ordinary computers anyone can walk into a store and buy. This is important, and overlooked, I think, in the fight over who gets to better identify our discontent.

 

Every other wrangler would say
I was mighty grand
By myself I wouldn’t
Have no boss
But I’d be raisin’ my lonely Dental Floss
Raisin’ my lonely Dental Floss
Raisin’ my lonely Dental Floss

 

Our culture struggle with the problem of music-as-product vs. music-as-experience. The form by which the audience purchases it is so easy. Click a virtual button, a virtual thing downloads to an imaginary space inside a computer. Keep track of one’s sonic possessions by looking at lines of text on a screen. Keep track of those virtual possessions using a tool that you use to write email, read the internet, and do other things. Listen to that data file by clicking on it using a virtual tool, a mouse or trackpad.

The audio file is an invisible body. LP records, 8 tracks, cassette tapes, CDs are things, they give music physical weight. Does the iPod get heavier when I sync my music to it? The experience of listening is easily forgotten. The appreciation of value provided by the listening experience? Often overlooked, for it is our experience. American culture teaches the art of dissatisfaction, in order to fuel ongoing consumption.

Its so easy it makes people forget, or never learn, that the act of creating music takes a lot of work. Work which I need to return to – I want to learn how to write a fugue by writing a fugue, and writing this essay is a little bit of a distraction from that (I’m about a third of the way through that process).

Technology makes many things very easy for us. Technology makes it easy to consume. Remember to value what comes from us, what the tools themselves can’t do – like create the music, like play or speak from the stage.