Screenshots emerged in part by encountering the video clip "Widescreen vs. Pan & Scan," in which Sydney Pollack warns against reformatting widescreen films to four-by-three formats. Concurrently, a piece called Feel the Noise: Sound, Music, & Technology was published on the HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory) website. Michael Salvo, as a respondent to the piece, composed the text that is used in the video. On the evening of January 31, 2012 and the afternoon and evening of February 8, 2012, multiple improvisation and draft mixes were performed. A performance on February 8 recorded at 9:09 p.m. is the capture provided here.
The materials include multiple browser and media windows. Windows are arranged so that items are partially obscured for most of the performance. The piece challenges our ability to focus attention by mixing together spoken word content, an interview video with points about cinematic framing, a music video, a montage of painted surfing imagery, and excerpts from a film. There is very little explicit academic argument in the video; instead, the performance explores implicit concerns of control, commodification, and borders.
00:00 A video containing painted surfing imagery fills the screen. A web browser with a discussion forum posting is brought on screen. The cursor turns into a spotlight and slowly moves over the text in the posting. An audio player is brought on screen. The play button is selected, and a voice begins to read the text of the discussion forum posting: "Mealea warned me. Over dinner, after a fabulous talk about the ways in which artifacts are not texts, or at least are not necessarily texts."
00:25 A web browser window appears on screen that contains a video hosted by YouTube titled "Butthole Surfers—Pepper." The cursor selects play on the video and the music video begins to play. The audio recording continues to play: "And the ways in which those of us who want everything to be a text can mess things up trying to make the world match what we want or even what we need it to be while not recognizing the world for what it is. We want to control the world, rather than be of the world." Steady percussion from the music video can be heard.
00:40 Another video hosted by YouTube appears on screen, next to the music video and above the surfing images, this one titled "Widescreen vs. Pan & Scan." The cursor selects play and a figure (Sydney Pollack) appears in the video and begins speaking, his voice overlapping with the reading of the discussion forum posting and the music: "All of the film I shot in the beginning of my career, I shot in widescreen." The cursor adjusts the materials on screen to partially block the discussion forum posting. The reading of the discussion forum posting continues: "And so Disney has its own cacophony, a unique soundscape that only is Disney. And I'm not only or necessarily talking about what may have popped into your brains: It's a Small World, or perhaps (if you are old enough) the Sunday night Disney show theme with Tinkerbell arriving to make the castle tip glow like a fallen star. No, I am talking about the incessant, relentless sales pitch of what else you can do at the world's happiest fucking place even though you just plunked down 200 bucks for a day of theme park tickets. And I think: damn! That's almost 27 hours at minimum wage!" The audio from the music video can be heard, loud guitars over the steady percussion.
01:30 The cursor turns down the volume on the clip with the figure speaking in the "Widescreen vs. Pan & Scan video." In the bottom right corner, footage from Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier is silently playing in a video hosted by YouTube. The audio recording of the blog posting continues to play, reciting lyrics: "Marky got with Sharon / And Sharon got Sharice / She was sharing Sharon's outlook / On the topic of disease / Mikey had a facial scar / And Bobby was a racist / They were all in love with dyin' / They were doing it in Texas." The vocals from the music video blend together with the spoken lines in the recording of the blog posting. The song moves into its chorus with intense guitars, vocals, and steady percussion.
01:50. The cursor turns up the volume on the "Widescreen vs. Pan & Scan" video. The chorus from the music video is audible. The audio recording continues: "So I'm in this fucking bus with two dozen English teachers. Not English Professors, who are bad enough, but grizzled boogery middle school and high school teachers with bad comb-overs and thematic holiday sweaters . . ."
02:00 The Davy Crockett video and painted surfing images are rearranged. The audio recording continues: "Who give you extra credit for bringing them cat food coupons, and double the credit if they're worth a free can of icky cat food and you hope to whatever you deem holy that they do indeed have fifteen cats. . . ."
02:15 The cursor rearranges the windows on screen to frame the text of the discussion forum posting, placing the "Widescreen" video and music video in the foreground at the top of the screen. The cursor turns into a spotlight that follows the text as the audio recording continues: "And the stories of Mister Whiskers padding across the new translation of Dostoevsky they are reading religiously evenings over earl grey, that there is a Mister Whiskers and this isn't a sad, quiet way of making ends meet because I live in a country that thinks teachers aren't professionals and its okay for the Jocks to get the girls and then take home all the money too because business administration is much more important than teaching zit-faced kids the importance of being . . . no, too easy a joke. But you get where that was going, right health class survivors?"
02:52 The cursor brings forward the audio player and presses pause. The reading of the discussion forum posting stops. The cursor brings a video player filled with painted surfing imagery mixed with other screen materials to the front of the screen, blocking out all other windows. The audio from the "Widescreen vs. Pan & Scan" video can be heard: "Now look what happens if we pan and scan this. There's nothing wrong with that as an image. But it's not the image that I as a filmmaker wanted you to see. If I wanted to work in this four-by-three format, I would choose to work in that and have, often, as many directors have. And directors do wonderful movies in that format, but they know they are working in that format, so they give you the information that they think you need in that format."
03:27 The cursor brings the audio player forward and selects play. The web browser windows return to the front of the screen. As the video playing the song "Pepper" moves into the chorus, the recording of the discussion forum posting continues, following the lyrics: "I don't mind the sun sometimes / The images it shows / I can taste you on my lips / And smell you in my clothes / Cinnamon and sugary / And softly spoken lies / You never know just how you look / Through other people's eyes."
03:49 In the video Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier, two white male figures on horseback cup their hands to their mouths and gesture toward an owl. Owl sounds are heard in the video. The surfing imagery moves in and out of the foreground. The audio reading of the discussion forum posting continues: "And the fucking relentless soundtrack is blaring in my ears, telling me how I have to get this and that attraction, and that even when I'm exhausted I can spend more to get rejuvenated to go out and spend yet more because the hype is all about maximizing the cash flow while you're in the park."
04:09 In the Davy Crockett video, figures in US cavalry uniforms are seen in battle with shirtless American Indian figures. The video is mostly blocked from sight by the painted surfing imagery. Gunshots are heard, as is the cry, "Everybody take cover!" The audio recording continues to play while, on screen, the text from the forum posting is occasionally spotlighted by the cursor: "And I'm sitting there thinking about and counting all the hours that it takes to make a two-day park-hopper pass at $7.75 an hour, listening to not just how much I've just flushed into the rich man's pockets, but how much more still there is in my pockets that he (some faceless he—worse to me than Winston's big man will ever be to me. . . ."
04:30 The cursor brings the Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier video forward and turns up the volume slider. Battle sounds and conversation can be heard. Steady guitars and drums can be heard from the music video. The audio recording continues, as the forum posting is brought forward again: "Because this dillwad's actually got his hands in my fucking pockets taking the cash out, one digit at a time) he, He has every right to do it, and in my own small way, I'm obligated to bend over and take the rogering because, well, it was my own damn free will that had me down here in Baudrillard's back yard, watching vultures (how appropriate) taking a rest on their commute to the Yucatan."
05:00 The cursor brings forward the "Pepper" music video and scrubs the backwards to the 02:15 mark. The video shows two figures acting out an Old West shooting scene. The audio recording of the discussion forum posting continues, parroting the lyrics: "Some will die in hot pursuit / And fiery auto crashes / Some will die in hot pursuit / While sifting through my ashes / Some will fall in love with life / And drink it from a fountain / That is pouring like an avalanche / Coming down the mountain."
05:15 The audio recording of the discussion forum posting stops. The music video becomes more audible, moving into the chorus. The figure speaking in the "Widescreen vs. Pan & Scan" video can be heard: "If a director chooses to tell a story for whatever reason in this ratio, because they want all this information, it's not fair for somebody else to tell you with our name on it, that this is what we shot."
05:30 Battle sounds and screaming can be heard in the Davy Crockett video. The figure in the "Widescreen vs. Pan & Scan" video continues, his face visible in a close-up: "I didn't shoot that." The cursor brings forward the Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier video. In the video, US cavalry figures and a figure on horseback point rifles at American Indians holding bows. Gunshots are heard. An American Indian figure falls from a cliff ledge as the cursor selects pause on the video. The cursor fades out the sound on the "Pepper" video. The cursor minimizes all the materials on screen. The video ends.
Jason Loan's " Tooling with Ambient Response" extends the boundaries of this video. Uploaded to Vimeo (Jan 28, 2012) three days before the initial experiments with Screenshots, Loan's piece itself is a crystallization of several months of video exchange between Loan and the author. Screenshots also includes the videos "Butthole Surfers—Pepper," "Widescreen vs. Pan & Scan," and "Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier," which were all played directly from the web during the live performance of the piece.
A discussion forum posting by Michael Salvo is also a core element of the video. Acting as a respondent to HASTAC's publication of a collection of materials on sound, Salvo experiments with the form of the academic response, weaving sound into the prose via lyrics and a tone that resonates with a song. This posting has been read aloud by the video author, and then incorporated into the performance as an audio file.
Butthole Surfers. "Butthole Surfers—Pepper." YouTube, uploaded by dandyshandy, September 16, 2007, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g4WUlNSx_Wk
Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier . Directed by Norman Foster, performances by Fess Parker, Buddy Ebsen, Basil Ruysdael. Disney, 1955.
Friedberg, Anne. The Virtual Window: From Alberti to Microsoft. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006.
Kristeva, Julia. “Revolution in Poetic Language.” In The Kristeva Reader, 89–136. Oxford: Blackwell, 1986.
Manning, Erin. Relationscapes: Movement, Art, Philosophy. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009.
Manning, Erin, and Brian Massumi. Thought in the Act: Passages in the Ecology of Experience. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014.
Rickert, Thomas J. Ambient Rhetoric: The Attunements of Rhetorical Being. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013.
salvo7 [Michael Salvo]. "Making Your Own Soundtrack." Comment on "Feel the Noise: Sound, Music & Technology." HASTAC Scholars Program, November 6, 2010, https://www.hastac.org/initiatives/hastac-scholars/scholars-forums/feel-noise-sound-music-technology
Shaviro, Steven. Post Cinematic Affect. Winchester: Zero Books, 2010.
"Tooling with Ambient Response." Vimeo, uploaded by Jason Loan, January 28, 2012, http://vimeo.com/35816842
"Widescreen vs. Pan & Scan," featuring Sydney Pollack. YouTube, uploaded by SkywalkerBRA, March 31, 2006, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tEPAgNrvZaw
Julia Kristeva outlines a signifying process through which we move inseparably between two modalities, the semiotic and the symbolic. Signifying systems we might study—like languages—evoke this movement as figuration, a process where marks or signs meet "a ‘layer' of semiosis" (91) that extends toward the symbolic. Kristeva adds that "no signifying system can be either 'exclusively' semiotic or 'exclusively' symbolic, and is instead marked by an indebtedness to both" (93). Rather than exclusivity, we find in materials and our symbolic layers coprocesses that move through articulations, "and then [start] over, again, and again" (94). This process of movement and stasis leads Kristeva to the concept (extended from Plato) of chora, a totality of energies and semiotic processes linked with selves and social contexts that follows from and returns to presymbolic figurations through a Möbius series of "rupture[s] and articulations (rhythm)" (94).
Thomas Rickert highlights these moving rhythms, emphasizing the role of place in chora and pointing out that "the boundaries between brain and body, self and world, language and thought, beginning and end, are permeable" (100). In this formulation, place is not a call for "presence" but a way of engaging the material world. "It includes the background by means of which things show up as what they are" (55). The boundaries are fluid, so the "background recedes, or withdraws, even as it generates." This sense of place is not fully commensurate with familiar modes of representation. Following Jacques Derrida, Rickert notes that the concept "disrupts representation itself (and hence rhetoric, too, if it is conceived in terms of symbolicity) even while it remains fundamental for the passage of representation" (55). The boundaries shift, Rickert tells us, "as spatial or choric knowledge has a performative dimension . . . that replaces (or, better, reworks) the fixed places of topic invention" (71).
Screenshots includes a video in which film director Sydney Pollack notes differing compositional strategies depending on screen format. A wide format, for instance, shifts aspects of film time, since the director "can tell much more story faster with all of that space to use." Pollack seeks to regain control of film information. Screenshots works with and against this impulse as it mixes materials. Here, in addition to the frame of the screen, we find multiple windows. Ann Friedburg notes the fundamental shift from cinema with its "single image within a single frame" (2) to computer desktop where "a text or image in one 'window' meets other texts or images in other 'windows'" (2). The computer's "overlay of 'windows' . . . transforms the screen surface into a page with deep virtual reach to archives and databases, indexed and accessible with barely the stroke of a finger" (19). Pollack worries that the film story slips beyond control as one cinematic aspect ratio is exchanged for another. Within the frame of the computer screen, already, control slips away as concerns like opacity, arrangement, and duration play out in material (and symbolic) layers and the structures of signifying systems shift through the windowed connections to the networked world.
Erin Manning and Brian Massumi consider framing and invention as they articulate scholarship as "research-creation." Traditional research "functions predictably in a bounded frame and lends itself to reproduction." Research-creation, they suggest, develops through an "emergent process, dedicated to the singular occurrence of the new, [that] agitates inventively in an open field" (93). Research-creation calls for paradigms of conditioning that "[bring] co-causes into interaction" (93). Rather than rigid frames, Manning explains further, we find conditions of possibility such that "technical objects are co-constitutive of experimental process" (88).
Switching to "conditioning, rather than framing" offers an alternative way of understanding something like control. At moments in the performance, the playhead on the Butthole Surfers "Pepper" music video is randomly scrubbed backwards. As the video concludes, a scene depicting Davy Crocket shooting an American Indian appears in the lower right. At the same time, the music video mixes band members, cowboy costumes, and riot police on stage. Who knows what might happen next? The scholarship is shaped in "an associated milieu of body-movement-machine whereby new conditions for experimentation are invented" (Manning, 88). The frame that keeps information in or out gives way to conditioning that enables (and constrains) composers as they bring screen materials together. At 04:54, Sydney Pollack says of film with a modified aspect ratio, "You're not seeing what story we tried to tell you." Research-creation wrought through screen performance recognizes Pollack's concern, then lets go, knowing that occurrences are singular all along.