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Disconnecting the larynx

Mike Leggett on Being Connected at the AFC’s multimedia conference

Mike Leggett acknowledges financial assistance from the NSW Film and Television Office to attend the conference.

The fourth of the Australian Film Commission’s (almost) annual multimedia conferences, mounted in chilly Melbourne, was the cleverly phrased Being Connected—the Studio in the Networked Age, a label that managed to be interpreted through most of the 35 presentations in the assertive, hypothetical or simply descriptive senses.

The focus at the previous AFC conference, Multimedia Languages of Interactivity, had been on teamwork models from quite distinct production environments. The suggestion at Being Connected - the Studio in the Network Age, that producers were hyperlinking the production process was less convincingly projected. With so many more completed products and projects than earlier events to use for show and tell (multifarious websites being invaluable for this purpose), the tendency was to survey outcomes with little opportunity for formal interaction with the presenters, a shortcoming noted at previous events (seeking to amplify the interactive element within multimedia).

The notion of the integrated interactive production team, whilst not so strange to commercial producers, was less evidenced by the practitioners who composed the majority of the audience for this year’s event. Their informality was brought about, of course, by project-based budgets rather than the continuity experienced within the ‘virtual’ facility houses servicing Hollywood from London. Able to access extraordinary resources, it came as no surprise that whilst these companies were able to work in a wide-band virtual studio, the outcome seemed simply to improve their bottom line in relation to where they choose to live and work. Peter Webb’s demo reel of visual effects for Romeo+Juliet hypnotised us with so much digital manipulation and mentioned, almost in passing, the innovative ‘video fax’ ISDN network set-up linking Melbourne and the studio execs in LA.

John and Mark Lycette (‘The Lycette Bros’) described how they had collaborated using the humble email attachment back and forth between Melbourne and Vienna over a matter of hours to devise a prize-winning T-shirt design. Providing JPEG image attachments to ‘faceless’ clients in distant cities is now well practised—whiteboard websites to enable the clients to monitor a project’s progress via the web is standard.

“Technology changes at the speed of habits”, Clement Mok reassured us, as internet telesales boom in the USA. The corporate design guru and information architect suggested that we don’t need metaphors but relationships. “The net should improve the connections between families,” he said via the teleconference link from his Studio Archetype in the USA. (

For the 3% of world-wide families who are able to link there is also Victoria Vesna’s recent investigations into how to build “a virtual community of people with no time”. OPS:MEME (Online Public Spaces: Multidisciplinary Explorations In Multiuser Environments) follows the celebrated Bodies Inc project and likewise delves deeply into online space. “The primary mechanism for facilitating this goal will be the design and implementation of the Information Personae (IPersonae), a combination search engine, personally generated and maintained database of retrievable multimedia links, tool kit for collaboratively manipulating information, and pre-programmed intelligent agent …” The project is in its initial stages anticipating forums such as Being Connected, but, given the kind of patents that may result, raises nonetheless the spectre of the virtual meritocracy.

One Tree, expat Australian Natalie Jeremijenko’s cloned trees for the San Francisco Bay Area, combines, in a meta-project metaphor, symbol and material presence, using a website that will record the life of each real tree, and a CD-ROM that will algorithmically reproduce a tree within a host computer. Here the geographical community and the community of interest are brought together by being connected with nature and into the biological virtual organism.

The AFC-funded ”enables good voice”, and will connect Indigenous people globally around land issues into a documentary form that, under the management of Jo Lane, will ‘live’ for the next two years. Writer and filmmaker Richard Frankland, a man from the Kilkurt Kilgar clan of the Gournditch-Mara nation in western Victoria, spoke eloquently about this opportunity for interaction to occur between all those who see the Land as the focus of our survival rather than our extinction, culturally “in many forms, not one generic form—generalisation is not an option.” (

Hypermedia futures were intriguingly projected by the mercurial Andrew Pam, Technology Vice-President of Xanadu (Australia), the research group assembled by Ted Nelson, one of the definers of online media. As the world wide web begins to stretch at the seams under the incursion of non-standard mark-up and bundled browsers, Project Xanadu—as the ideological conscience of the World Wide Web Consortium—works to encourage standards whilst developing further enhancements and extensions of the phenomena: OSMIC, a versioning tool that will identify original sources; scalability standards to prevent fragmentation across different browsers; replacement of the URL with the URI (Identifier) such that a page can be located regardless of which server it sits on; and transpublishing, transcopyright and micropayments as a means of making media more freely available for minimal cost to the end user. (

Hypertext achievements featured strongly. Katherine Phelps gave us a thorough “History of Digitally Based Storytelling”, 1960s to the present. Kathy Mueller, developing her work in interactive drama and game play (“the web will give us the opportunity of making better relationships.”) outlined a theoretical basis for online serials with which she is currently working. (

The more recently completed “…waiting for a stranger” is also the verbal metaphor for Perth writer Josephine Wilson’s “stumble from printed page to screen”, which in collaboration with Brisbane artist and writer Linda Carroli, was an online writing project hosted by ANAT, *water always writes in *plural. (

Flightpaths: Writing Journeys, a meta-project involving CD-ROM, installation and radio was directed and described by berni m. janssen. Utilising the talents of many other writers who contributed via email from across the country to the process, a CD-ROM anthologised the outcomes.

Flightpaths was one of an impressive group of 13 recently completed CD-ROM projects which were exhibited in the conference foyer. Artists who spoke about their work included Michael Buckley. His The Good Cook integrated words and images as a poetic whole (the production was completed in Dublin town aftr’all), addressing the contemporary urban condition through the (hypermediated) loops and repetitions of the hopelessly insomniac cook. The city and its culture was explored by Sally Pryor in her multi-faceted CD-ROM Postcard from Tunis. Part travel diary and part language coach, Postcard … won the prestigious Gold Medal at the 97 NewMedia InVision Awards, and secured a French distributor.

Troy Innocent’s continuing adventures with artificial life systems delivers Iconica, which combines the multimedia capacity of the CD-ROM with the dynamic interconnectivity of the web, whereby the capacity of the software to evolve its Icons, Forms, Entities, Spaces and Language is extended through interaction with other evolving copies of the system loaded onto other computers also connected to the internet.

Such a metaphor (for the conference as a whole perhaps) produced a rare moment of humour as it became more difficult for the demonstrator to locate one of the ‘beings’ resident within Iconica: “No it’s not there…or there…ah there’s one, no it’s gone…” Observing artificial life, it seems, is to be as elusive and misleading as observing one’s neighbours through the curtains. Quite distinct from the observations made by the keynote speaker Darren Tofts on the issue of memory, the further we immerse ourselves in the networked world, the more technology is able to “remember it for you wholesale”, atrophying the oral tradition of knowing what you can recall. At this stage of the game, “are we ready for the evolutionary loss of the larynx?”

Australian Film Commission Conference, Being Connected: the Studio in the Networked Age, RMIT, Melbourne, July 9 - 11. Conference papers and artists’ and speakers’ URLs will be available for a limited time at: [expired]

Mike Leggett acknowledges financial assistance from the NSW Film and Television Office to attend the conference.

RealTime issue #26 Aug-Sept 1998 pg. 32

© Mike Leggett; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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