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Ambient Video, Locative Audio, and Grounded Media Art

We're on to the second Monday session at PerthDAC. Jim Bizzocchi is the first speaker, and he began by showing us an example of ambient video during the set-up period - here consisting of an assemblage of nature shots of mountains and streams blended into a slow video collage which has landscapes change subtly before our eyes. Ambient video is an emergent form of video expression made possible by current and new video technologies; it should change, but not quickly, and the details of changes should not be critical. Jim focusses here on cinematic versions of such ambient video - made for larger screens (including home theatre); the philosophy behind such video echoes Brian Eno's views of ambient music: 'as ignorable as it is interesting'. Ambient video captures our glance much as a painting might, revealing rich imagery at a time of our choosing.

Ambient video is guided by an idea of flow, then, and interweaves with the flow of domestic life; it allows for intermittent attention alongside other focal points of everyday life, and in this is related to the fireplace (and Jim notes that many cable TV stations now even broadcast yule log footage as a form of televised fireplace, around Christmas time). Ambient video should be visually engaging, then, but not require attention; it should be visually engaging at any moment, and sustain that interest on repeated viewing. Jim contrasts this with the immediate, foreground experience of cinema (and the hypermediacy of very early cinema which made the overt process of mediation itself an attraction). Ambient video is fundamentally inconsistent with the cinema of narrative, it does not command attention by offering such narrative; it is consistent, on the other hand, with the early cinema of attraction and provides immediate or hypermediated pleasure, as well as an opportunity for immersion.

Ambient video may variously be algorithmic, playing with pure graphics or colour organs, use personal or photographic kitsch, or utilise representational, visual, and non-narrative content. Jim notes the early programming adoption of nature channels in high definition digital television broadcasting, and broadcasters like the Discovery Channel have offered much content which could be considered ambient video. There is a significant creative role for cinematographers and other video artists in ambient video, especially in the role of the cinematographer's eye, the treatment of time (slowing down, speeding up), and the manipulation of images - like other film and video artists before them, they reject mainstream narrative and develop their own cinematographic conventions instead. Many artists focus on slowness, and stop or suspend time (and in the process, time and attention are intermingled). Ambient video links to photography, cinema, fine art, and video, and therefore occupies an intermedia space.

The next speaker is Nick Mariette from the Audio Nomad project at the University of New South Wales; his focus is on personal location aware spatial audio (PLASA). PLASA is a special form of locative audio which provides a personal spatial audioscape that may be realistic or non-realistic to the listener, based on their current location; a further, more special form of this is realistic, physically modelled spatial audio. A PLASA system involves a number of components including content authoring software, an audio library, a location-based content document, run-time management software, and an audio playback, specialisation and effects engine on the server side, and a position sensor and orientation sensor for the listener. Applications for this include sound art, navigation and location guides, assistance for the visually impaired (in the form of a Personal Guidance System), spatialised two-way communications, and entertainment.

Some of the work done by Nick and Audio Nomad include ship-based works in Sydney Harbour as well as pedestrian works such as a campus navigator prototype, and a work about the Berlin Wall to be deployed in the centre of Berlin. What such projects may be able to achieve is what may be described as augmented audio reality, and they are closely linked to the emerging range of GPS-based art. Projects which provide more than a merely personal audio experience could also be described as locative audio, and constitute a social media form; others provide personal sonic landscapes, sonically augmenting the immediate physical environment for the listener; yet others allow for the sharing of audio content created and attached to specific locations by one participant with others using the same technology. There remains a great need for further perceptual evaluation of these and other projects, exploring the perceptual factors for this motion-interactive, multimodal media experience. This could contribute to the development of a fluid, sculptural, truly new location-sensitive spatial audio medium, which ideally would be platform-independent and maximise immersion and realism.

Finally on to my colleague Keith Armstrong. His work is concerned with the current ecological crisis, which he describes as a cultural and ontological one - a crisis of relationship which stems from a blindness and perceptual separation from the systems upon which we depend. It manifests in more than the biophysical dimension, and is fundamentally our problem rather than just one for scientists, politicians, and other specialist groups. Ecological arts practices often focus mainly on the biophysical dimension, however, while Keith's approach of grounded media emerges from an ecosophical praxis and focusses on location, interaction, participative and performative strategies, allowing participants to experience place and role in a series of emerging relationships. Foundational principles include groundedness and connection, the diversity of relationships, cyclical time, embodied ways of knowing, and conversation and reflection; these provide a looking glass to see a place in greater depth. Keith now shows us some of this work - Grounded Light, Shifting Intimacies, and In_Step. Such projects aim to expand the reach of ecological art practices in order to address current crises and create change.

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