Culture Intercom Redux

[beginPage: Intro]


Audiovisual media in a network culture
door Stoffel Debuysere

Translated from Dutch
Published by Creative Commons licence

Stoffel Debuysere works mostly as a freelancer in the field of audiovisual arts, for the argos center for audiovisual arts (Brussels, Belgium) and the Flemish cultural foundations IAK (Initiatief Audiovisuele Kunsten) and IBK (Initiatief Beeldende Kunsten), and others. His subjects include the conservation/archiving of media art and the role of art in the new media landscape.

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[beginPage: Dreams and visions]
It is 1965. Stan Vanderbeek, already recognized as one of the leading figures in the American underground film movement, is in New York, putting the finishing touches on his Movie Drome, a theatre space with various projectors and screens that he will develop into an organic biosphere for a wide panorama of performance and moving images (1). It is a gigantic first step in the realization of his dreams, which will later lead to extensive experimentation with computer animation, holography and telematics. Disappointed by the regularity and 'cardboard cut-out poetry' of Hollywood, Vanderbeek wants the potential to take his exploration of cinematic art ever further, beyond the physical and mental limitations of the screen. With the aid of all possible media and technologies, 'cinema' must be freed from its straightjacket.

The mind, eye and heart of the artist will find a way through the dilemma: the making of private art that can be made public, rather than the public art we know, which cannot be made private.

The Movie Drome is the focus of his Culture-Intercom manifesto (1965), in which he anticipates a worldwide distribution network of theatres and image libraries that will connect various audience venues. In his vision, new telecommunications technologies will make possible a far-reaching dialogue of sound and image, resulting in a new audiovisual language, 'a newsreel of ideas, of dreams, a movie-mural. An image library, a cultural decompression chamber, a culture inter-com.'(3)

It is now 1970. In his article 'Global Groove and the Video Common Market Economy',(4) Nam June Paik argues for an open economy for the creation and interchange of video. In his first performances and video installations, such as Participation TV (1963), Paik had already provided evidence of his fascination with the idea of participation and interaction, primarily through the 'détournement'(5) of broadcast media such as television and radio. Television had just begun insinuating itself into both our worldview and living room, but it was very quickly obvious that the medium would not fulfil the hope many artists had: hope for a platform and network that could reach far beyond the closed art world. 'Participation rather than consumption' became the motto of artists such as Vanderbeek and Paik, who regarded the linear and claustrophobic communication of mass media as a missed chance. They drew their inspiration from Bertolt Brecht's 1932 manifesto Der Rundfunk als Kommunikationsapparat,(6) in which he argued for not employing radio (and by extension, all broadcast media) as an instrument for distribution, but for public and interactive communication.

Now the wide availability of video would afford new perspectives. In 1973 Paik introduced his video Global Groove with the statement,

This is a glimpse of the video landscape of tomorrow, when you will be able to switch to any TV station on Earth, and TV Guide will be as fat as the Manhattan telephone book. (7)

With its mixture of diverse images and sounds, the work, which was broadcast once on American television, is a pastiche of the language of television in its day, and at the same time a prefiguration of the zap- and MTV culture. But most important, with his spectacle, the first of a series in which he combined his own work with diverse contributions from artists, filmmakers, dancers and musicians among his friends, Paik was able to point to the necessity for a virtual community and new educational channels. In his paper Expanded Education for the Paperless Society,8 he calls for the construction of a global 'broadband telecommunications infrastructure', an 'electronic superhighway' that would make possible the exchange of image and sound. Several years later, in 1974, in a collage he directed a provocation toward the television world, which at the same time was also a tribute to his friend Ray Johnson, the father of correspondence art. Paik used an advertisement which after WW II had preached television as the great reconciler, with its headline 'How long will it take before all Americans have their own television sets?', responding smartly with a further question of his own:

How long will it take before all artists have their own television channels?

Perhaps it is all too simple to situate these visionary ideals within our world. The 1960s and early 1970s were the Indian summer of the great utopias, particularly in the United States. After the moon landing, suddenly everything seemed achievable, thanks to science and technology. Postwar pragmatism appeared to be not only a suitable seedbed for industrial development, but also for various exploratory art movements: boundaries were pushed back and transcended, traditions disputed and challenged, the concept of art itself was eroded and expanded. Inspired by the theories of Buckmaster Fuller and Marshall McLuhan, there was a vital determinist faith that new technologies and media would spread a new culture of art production and distribution around the world. Along with John Cage, Billy Kluver, Robert Rauschenberg and others, Paik and Vanderbeek were not by chance the first to seek a rapprochement between art and technology, between artists and engineers. They did not see their role as only producers, but also as pioneers in a humanization of technology. After all, it was said, art is information, and can play an important role in global social and economic mechanisms. There were thus a lot of activities initiated in that period around the intersection of art and technology, practices and theories which however frequently enough got tangled up in techno-formalism, generalizations and, particularly, cultural frictions. The dreams were, in many cases, the same, but the intentions were not. Perhaps Paik and Vanderbeek did not yet know it, but their dreams had first taken shape in ARPANET, heralded by Joseph Licklider of the MIT lab in 1962 as a 'galactic network' of computers. The network, the first predecessor of the internet, served anything but emancipatory purposes, having been developed during the Cold War as a military communications network.

It is perhaps easy to have 20/20 vision in retrospect, now that technology has sprouted like weeds all around us and the internet protocol has made a new world of communication possible; now, that the availability of software and hardware, digital cameras and recording equipment has broken down the barriers to multi-media production; now that the connectivity that both Vanderbeek and Paik foresaw has become commonplace. Yet it is not obvious that their optimism should be shared. In the meantime we have learned that as a mass medium cable television, following broadcasting by the ether and satellite, has not brought about the hoped-for revolution, and despite the multiplication of channels, has provided little or no profound expansion in the field of content and interaction.Initiatives which sought to unite art with the medium of television, such as Gerry Schum's Fernesehgalerie, 'Medium Is the Medium' on WHGB-TV, 'Guerilla Television' by Radical Software, Artist's 'Television Network' (ATN), Van Gogh TV, Kunstkanal, the arts channel of RTL, or Brian Singer's 'Home Video Theater' were never blessed with long lives, and collided head on with the rigidity and social ideology of the television industry.

Satellite projects such as Douglas Davis's 1976 'Seven Thoughts' and Paik's 1984 'Good Morning, Mr. Orwell', or the experiments with slow-scan television, in which video is converted to radio signals and sent via the telephone line, also ultimately had only a symbolic resonance, and provided only a band-aid for the cancer. With the passage of time the radical promises that television and video initially offered began to blur. Video art survived and thrived, but turned in on itself, took on other forms (projective, interactive, three-dimensional), received a place in museums and galleries, at festivals, art fairs and on the mantelpiece. Today we look to the internet to fulfill all these earlier dreams, and the revolutionary slogans are echoing around again. For the first time, the tools for both the production and distribution of video appear to be within our reach. But will this lead to the social utopia toward which Vanderbeek and Paik strove?

1 See
2 Vanderbeek, S., 'Cinema Delimina: Films from the Underground', Film Quarterly, Volume 14 (4) Summer 1961.
3 Vanderbeek, S., 'Culture Intercom, A Proposal and Manifesto', Film Culture , nr. 40, 1966. Cited in Youngblood, G., Expanded Cinema, New York, 1970, p. 387. ( See also
4 Herzogenrath, W., Nam June Paik-Fluxus/Video, Kunsthalle Bremen, 1999, p. 113.
5 A concept introduced by the situationists Guy Débord and Gil Wolman as 'the placement of contemporary and historic art projects in the construction of a new environment'. However, even before the formation of situationism, détournement had already been one of the main principles of various avant-garde movements - and it still is. It rests on two concepts: the loss of significance by the original autonomous elements, at the same time as the creation of new perspectives and meanings through the distortion and disjunction of these elements.
6 Brecht, B., 'Der Rundfunk als Kommunikationsapparat', Blätter des Hessischen Landestheaters, Darmstadt, No. 16, juli 1932. See
7 See
8 Paik, Nam June, 'Expanded Education for the Paperless Society', Radical Software, nr. 8, 1970.
The Internet as platform for distribution]
December, 2004. A dream is fulfilled, for some at least. Through a non-public broad-band network of fiber optical cable, data was sent over a distance of 430 kilometers at a record speed of 1.28 Terabits, about 160 Gbit/s per channel. As a comparison: 160 Gbit/s means that the content of four DVDs is pumped through every second.

Does that make your imagination run wild? It sounds like something from a novel by Philip K. Dick, but is closer at hand than most of us realize. It seems so far away, now that video appears to have just found its place on the Internet. While previously what was called 'download and play mode' (which can be used independent of band width) was commonly employed; now, in part because of the expansion of broadband networks, the focus is primarily on streaming media. With streaming media, a media file is not stored locally on the hard disc, but only a small portion of the data stream is stored in a buffer. The buffer serves as a cushion for interruptions in the data flow, so that - in the ideal case - you receive an uninterrupted whole. The quality depends primarily on the band width available and the data traffic in the vicinity of the network.

The first streaming radio projects surfaced in the 1990s, such as the online experiments by Austrian 'Kunstradio'(9) and the international XChange group.(10) The liberating character of streaming became clear during the NATO bombardments of Belgrade, when the Serbian radio station B92 continued to broadcast by internet after their transmissions were broken off, and as a result set in motion a flood of international reactions and remixes. Chiefly because of the size of the data files and the lack of band width, the streaming of video has not been able to take root as deeply, but still, by now it is impossible to imagine internet without moving images: various commercial and cultural sites attract visitors with streams (live and otherwise), broadcasters offer the chance to still catch programs which one missed, or have developed parallel web channels (as MTV has recently done too), and initiatives such as Moving Images Collections (MIC),(11) British Pathé,(12) the Open Video project(13) and the Internet Archive(14) offer access to gigantic picture archives, opening them to the public domain. Moreover, increasingly more video is being distributed via the net on an individual basis or through communities such as The Showcase(15) or Ourmedia.(16) Images of important events (such as the tsunami) sometimes reach the viewer more quickly through one of the recently surfaced 'vlogs' (video blogs) than they do by television. The optimization of telematica and compression technologies also make possible a new dynamic in the area of production: not only are online games growing in popularity and imaginativeness, but short films made especially for the internet through initiatives such as iFilm(17) and Atomfilms(18) are assured of a market. The internet is becoming a window on the history of video, audio and media art. Museums such as the Centre Pompidou and distributors of video and film art such as Montevideo(19) and Lux(20) offer a part of their catalog as reference material in streaming format. Web archives such as EAI (Electronic Arts Intermix),(21) the Vasulkas(22), Ubuweb(23) or MediaArtNet(24) afford a previously unprecedented insight into the history and context of media art in text, image, audio and video.

Until recently video streaming was associated with an aesthetic experience that left a lot to be desired: low resolution, slow transfers... By now the applications, subject to rapid innovation and competition, have slowly but surely evolved from small video windows in postage stamp format to high resolution formats, wireless applications and ultimately to the commercial distribution market, such as digital television (IPTV - Tv over Internet Protocol) and cinema. Yet the technology is more complex than it appears at first sight: various formats and codecs exist alongside one another, and the apparent ease with which sound and pictures stream in is only made possible by advanced compression and streaming techniques. The three most important commercial formats, RealVideo (RealNetworks), Windows Media (Microsoft) and Quicktime (Apple) each make use of their own codecs, streaming server software and players. Parallel with this, ever more Open Source streaming applications are being developed, such as OGG Vorbis, Mpeg4IP, VideoLAN, the Darwin Streaming server software or FFmpeg. The rise of digital television and High Definition formats have led to fierce competition in recent years, primarily between Windows Media 9 and MPEG4.

While Windows Media, although technically superior in various areas, is inseparably linked with Microsoft, MPEG4, used by Apple's Quicktime and others, offers an open standard for multimedia applications. For instance, the codecs Xvid (open source) or DivX (commercial), derived from MPEG4/AVC and surfacing ever more frequently on the internet, can reduce a High Definition video file of 20 Gigabytes to one tenth of that size. Over the last decade, the necessary band width for video has been cut in half every three years. With MPEG4, standard television quality can be achieved with a speed of under 2Mbps. Such compression ratios also offer a lot of perspective for mobile streaming,(25) allowing us to now look forward eagerly and with curiosity to the deployment of DVB-H, a standard for digital broadcasting via handheld apparatus, as well as the third generation of mobile telephones and new portable media apparatus. Depending on the broadband networks - both DSL (via telephone lines), cable and wireless (WiFi, WiMax UMTS...) - constant evolution, and greater download and upload speeds becoming available, the application possibilities of video and multimedia through the PC, television or portable apparatus will increase sharply, with stronger visual and interactive experience as a result. At this moment the average broadband connection in the consumer market in Europe permits a download speed of 3 to 4 Mbps. In Japan and South Korea, where the speeds easily reach 100 Mbps, the use of video has already completely permeated various facets of telecommunication, through various networks, be they in stationary, mobile or nomadic situations.

As a consequence of this, the DVD and other physical vehicles will lose their importance as formats for distributing video. Subject to the implementation of a safe and suitable DRM (Digital Rights Management) system, video works can now be rented via the internet. In the United States large online film distributors tied with Hollywood, like CinemaNow and Movielink, have already captured a considerable part of the distribution market, and in Europe too it appears the online Video-On-Demand system is getting its feet on the ground. Thus at first sight it would appear that there are all sorts of suitable solutions and new practices presenting themselves for independent video distributors too, although several alternative models could provide benefits for increases in scale in various areas.

25 Through the 3GPP standard, a streaming format for mobile apparatus, based on MPEG4.
Alternative models: multicast and P2P]
For lovers of the American series '24' who either cannot or will not wait patiently until the series is available on European television stations or DVD releases, the Internet provides all kinds of solutions. It appears from research by the monitoring firm Envisonal(26) that during the first months of 2005 every new episode was illegally downloaded almost 100,000 times, often mere hours after the broadcast on American networks, and that this was in High Definition format. In the meantime, on a Usenet forum more than 60 GB in DVD rips are posted per day, according to NewsAdmin. (27)

Despite the great achievements and rapid technical evolution, the methods that are in standard use for transporting large amounts of data via the internet are still rather inefficient, particularly in the area of simultaneous traffic. As it happens, every audio or visual stream takes up a considerable part of the available band width, which rises linearly with the number of receivers. Called the Unicast principle, this means that an audio or video file must repeatedly be sent in its entirety point-to-point all over again to each person requesting it, which also means an enormous load on servers, particularly in the case of high quality streaming and live video applications. This absence of scalability can be partially compensated for by 'Content Delivery Network providers', through which the content is essentially copied to surrogate servers in the vicinity of the receivers. This presents a solution, but also considerable costs, and a certain dependence on external service providers. A much better option is multicasting, which comes down to an audio or video stream being sent only one time from the provider to multiple simultaneous users. Although the various users are spread all over the world, the stream can often still use the same route to some extent.

At the point where there is a parting of the ways, a copy is made, so that from there on the package can choose its own route. The network's capacity is taxed less, and smaller investments in hardware are required. Most access technologies and guidance systems are already equipped for multicasting, but in practice access is limited at this moment to the networked islands in the academic and industrial sectors (Internet2 in the U.S., Canarie in Canada, Surfnet in The Netherlands, etc.). After all, in a certain sense multicast is a threat to the 'end-to-end' principle, which means that all networks must be adapted - and that will require massive investment. This comes while the development philosophy of the network managers is instead focused on adjustments at the edge of the network, leaving the network itself unaffected as long as possible. Thus the possibility for multicasting in the future will primarily be dependent on the manifest interest, both from providers and receivers.(28) Since multicasting actually offers a perfect model for broadcasting, many television networks and content producers are presently carrying out experiments in collaboration with internet providers. Recently the BBC broadcast the Olympic Games and the funeral of the Pope, among other events, via multicast - although only within the UK because of the ever-present questions about legal rights.

Peer-to-peer technologies also offer considerable possibilities for distribution.(29) Already the sharing of files by means of P2P programs has brought about important changes in the ways - legal and illegal - in which internet users find and exchange information. In the traditional client/server model, as is used for streaming, access to information and services is realized through interaction between clients and servers. The P2P model enables users who want to to be in direct contact with each other to interact and share information, often without the moderation of a server, through which a form of 'file sharing' becomes possible. It was no accident that 2004 was the first year that more video than audio traffic was detected. To a very considerable degree this is the consequence of the BitTorrent protocol, which, unlike KaZaA or eDonkey, for instance, focuses primarily on the direct storage of large quantities of information for distribution, by making use of the collective storage capacity of networked PCs. The technology automatically brings up and download speeds into balance with each other. Thus the more people use it, the faster the whole system functions. Furthermore, the burden on the provider remains small, so that an unlimited increase in scale is possible at fixed costs. This advantage was also recently acknowledged by the BBC, which is going to employ a similar technology to distribute its programs by internet. Independently produced video works are increasingly being distributed in this way too, including the series The Strand (by Dan Myrick, co-conceiver of the Blair Witch Project)(30) and the parodic Star Wars Revelations.(31) In contrast to traditional models, through P2P a broadcaster can reach millions of viewers and listeners in a flexible manner. Moreover, new distribution systems that are increasingly faster and more difficult to control are constantly being developed within various network cultures, as illustrated by the explosion of NZB files on Usenet news groups.(32)

28 The implementation of IPv6 in place of IPv4 will also play an important role in this. For the rest, the 'tunneling procedure' can be a temporary solution for still offering multicasting. The VUB in Brussels developed its Castgate technology to that end. See
29 See, among others, Gavidia, D., Szymaniak, M., Streaming Content Delivery In Peer-to-Peer Network, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, 2004.
32 NZB is an open-source technology, in essence an XML format that permits the various fragments of a post to be automatically assembled on Usenet. This new format, in combination with the rise of commercial high band-width Usenet services such as and, has been the immediate impetus for a revival of Usenet. Moreover, the speed is greater than with most P2P networks.
[beginPage: From distribution to creativity]

'The Scene',(33) a fictional 'home-brew' series about a number of internet pirates, is also legally distributed by various P2P networks. All episodes are released in accord with a Creative Commons license, which permits them to be freely shown, distributed and adapted. As a consequence, in no time at all an alternative version was created, 'T3H Scene'.(34)
The sitcom 'The Strangerhood'(35) is in turn based on the game 'Sims2', which was created by Rooster Teeth Productions, which had previously made the hotly applauded series 'Red vs. Blue', with the characters from the HALO video game. These are fine examples of what is being called 'machinma', which makes use of the possibility that game engines offer to animate in real time.

Creative Commons and other Open Content licenses provide a way out of the stranglehold of copyright and undoubtedly are a step toward realizing Paik's idea of a 'Common Market Economy'. These licenses are based on the idea that innovation and new ideas, in the context of an on-demand culture and individualized access, are always elaborations on existing ideas and that sampling - reuse and reconfiguration - is an elementary building block in contemporary cultural production. Most artists and producers still place their works in a classic framework of object thinking and copyright, but belief in a distributional rather than centralized aesthetic is gaining increasing support. Especially within certain constituencies of the media community the free exchange and transformation of video, audio and code via the internet has therefore become quite common. In their view, media productions cannot survive without reproduction, mutilation and circulation and are increasingly often (as in the case of 'The Scene') the result of collaborations. The traditional concept of creative works as stable and finished products is being exchanged for the ideal of a process of continual mutation and variation, something which has for some time now been expressed in the Open Source philosophy, but which also has its roots in the world of literature. For instance, as early as in the 19th century, Lautrémont has this to say about the importance of 'plagiarism':

Le plagiat est nécessaire. Le progrès l'implique. Il serre de près la phrase d'un auteur, se sert de ses expressions, efface une idée fausse, la remplace par l'idée juste. Une maxime, pour être bien faite, ne demande pas à être corrigée. Elle demande à être développée. (36)

The idea is inherent in the creation of music, from the constant reconfigurations of jazz and folk music, through the sampling ideology of Coldcut and company,(37) the countless variations on John Oswald's 'plunderphonics' concept,(38) the D.I.Y. mash-ups by Richard X, DJ Dangermouse and so many others,(39) to the exchange (legal or illegal) of MP3s and the collective composition of electronic music on the internet - but quotes, sampling and reworking are also to be found in the audiovisual environment (cinema, games...) with steadily increasing frequency. To the extent that the obstacles to the distribution of video decrease, internet is becoming a multimedia platform for countless streams, video logs, surveillance videos and broadcast material which can serve as raw material for new work. An example of this is the Template Cinema initiative by the British artists Thomson & Craighead, which in turn makes its own low-tech films, assembled in real-time on the web, available online.(40) All of the content on aggregate websites such as Ourmedia and the 'Internet Archive' is freely available. In this manner the internet becomes a dynamic mosaic of data, always growing and changing, interweaving production and consumption, an inexhaustible ocean of images, sounds and other data which in turn becomes source material for online forms of creativity. This is also of importance for archives: once the countless treasures of audiovisual material are placed in the dynamic context of the internet, they merge into a new paradigm for the archive - virtual, stretching out over time and space, and open to reconfiguration. This is also the point of departure for the Creative Archive project of the BBC, Channel 4, the British Film Institute (BFI) and the Open University, in which archive material is released for free to
internet users on CC licenses to be downloaded, distributed or modified.

This poses the question of whether these licenses indeed are an adequate answer, within a juridical framework that is not adapted to the digital reality, and in many cases hinders rather than protects artistic imagination and creativity. Especially the issue of retroactive force is severely problematic: television networks and others are confronted with geographic and technical limits on distribution rights which hinder their releasing their archives through the internet - assuming they would wish to do so. Recent years have also seen the copyright framework become more rigid and Digital Rights Management has been implemented, and the writing is rather clearly on the wall, now that content is becoming ever more commercialized, that international and European lawmakers are wishing to restrict the use of the internet, and will further tighten copyright.(41) The media industry, confronted with massive piracy, swoops down on small users and the P2P networks,(42) and is undertaking massive lobbying efforts to retain complete control of content.(43) Indeed, there is a tensive relationship between the public interest and financial profitability. That is why the often posed question about making publicly financed works available for non-commercial purposes runs into considerable opposition - a question that becomes still more pertinent within the wide twilight zone of works that are semi-public, or entirely unsubsidized. After all, open economy for the exchange and creation of media also implies a need for alternative income and business models and, particularly, a meta-legal intervention.

The question is simple, the answer is not: how can a balance be found between the two fundamental purposes of copyright - on the one hand, a proportional economic/social instrument, on the other as the provision of a continuing production and public notice for creative and original material? Perhaps a part of the answer is to be gathered in the music world, where at the moment all sorts of new practices and alternative models are being advanced, from Apple's iTunes to podcasting,(44) from the Honor System(45) to ArtistShare,(46) and musicians such as Chuck D, Jeff Tweedy, DJ Spooky and Brian Eno are promoting the new developments as evidence of an opportunity, not as a danger. Already in his 1983 article 'A proposal for a system to replace ordinary record merchandizing', Frank Zappa had written about the nonsense of the traditional mechanisms of the music industry and the 'positive aspects of a negative trend - hometaping'.(47) As always the case with visionaries, time has ultimately proved him right, something in which Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth concurs wholeheartedly in an article in Wired magazine:

Trying to control music sharing - by shutting down P2P sites or MP3 blogs or BitTorrent or whatever other technology comes along - is like trying to control an affair of the heart. Nothing will stop it. (48)

The convergence of PC and TV culture
Broadcatching, Podcasting, BroadSnatching, Torrents, PSPcasting... these are terms that are being used with increasing frequency in the downloading communities on the internet. They are the new lingua franca of a generation that actively rallies around the intersection of radio, TV and PC culture. According to a poll by the British research bureau Strategy Analytics,(49) today more than half of all Europeans are spending less time in front of their television, now that they have access to broadband.

The expansion of broadband networks has rolled out the red carpet for digital television - and the opposite is equally true. While in many European countries digital television signals are already being sent out through the ether and by satellite, now the cable and telephone lines are also being used as vehicles. This had led to a number of convergences in the area of networks, services and use. While traditionally telephone companies were only concerned with telephone connections for speech and cable operators delivered (analog) television signals by cable, both now want to expand their offerings and diversify to a 'triple play' of telephone, data, and digital video. The traditional media - particularly television and radio - are thus suddenly confronted with an impasse. Multimedial access, consumption and control has now become the stake in a battle between industrial players from various realms, among others the IT industry, the producers of consumer electronics, telecommunications firms, broadcasting networks and the entertainment world. Their attention is primarily focused on the various media platforms that are found in most households at present: television, radio, PC and game consoles, and with the advent of digital television further expanded with set-top boxes, multimedia PCs and digital video recorders. In time these different platforms will undoubtedly flow together into interoperational digital home networks, completely integrated into the domestic environment.

With the rise of new, powerful wireless broadband technologies (particularly WiMax(50) and UMTS(51)) there will be many facets added, not in the least because ever more private and public wireless networks are being constructed and an expanded assortment of mobile media apparatus and portable multimedial telephones are being brought on the market. All these producers and providers want a piece of the digital action and are searching for a manner of differentiating their offerings and finding a wider consumer base through new applications and interactive services.
The traditional boundaries between 'radio', 'television' and 'print media' are blurring, with the convergence of PC and TV culture as the most obvious evolution. PCs and mobile apparatus are increasingly taking on the attributes of TV, while much of the new equipment in the realm of television --digital video recorders and game consoles, for instance - is provided with an Internet connection, so that it is possible to also look at e-mail and internet sites while watching television programs.

Two worlds are thus coming closer to one another: the world of television --traditionally a central part of a 'lean back' environment - and that of the internet, a medium with completely different user expectations and characteristics. An 'on demand' paradigm dominates the internet: users themselves decide what, where, when and how they will use data, video or audio; they assemble their own program, free from prescribed time slots and stationary locations; they choose their own virtual/social environment, far from centralization and control. This becomes clear in practices such as 'broadcatching', in fact a variant of 'Podcasting' but in relation to video and other media files, by which with the aid of RSS feeds digital image fragments can be called up and downloaded via BitTorrent. Independently developed software such as the video download program Videora(52) and open source build-it-yourself internetTV applications such as MythTV(53) demonstrate that the restraints built in by the industry can be gotten around or overcome with little difficulty. Recently various communities launched a call to hack and modify the PSP (a new apparatus from Sony, actually a sort of iPod for video and games), which resulted in countless brilliant hybrid applications.(54) Within the internet ecosystem television, previously left to the tender mercies and arrogance of broadcast networks, is redefined as a flexible and often free instrument. Furthermore, a trend toward interaction and participation is rising to prominence.

Via the internet, initiatives such as the Dutch Submarine Channel,(55) and Superchannel, from the Danish collective Superflex(56) are exploring new relations among narrativity, interactivity and visual media techniques, in the form of Flashmovies, for instance, or game models, products of what Lev Manovich calls the Flash-generation.(57) Whether the television and film industry - an amalgam of copyright holders, content producers and amalgamators - can breathe new life into television with its VOD (Video-on-demand) and iTV (interactive television - what's in a name?) and can muster the courage to change over from a television paradigm (media consumer = couch potato with zapper) to a true network paradigm (media consumer = active player) remains to be seen.

In various experiments such as the Video Letters project in the Balkan countries,(58) Video Nation on BBC,(59) Community Channel on Telecom Italia and RAI Uno,(60) or, the blogbroadcaster proposed by Al Gore,(61) several hoary or new content assemblers are indeed seeking to offer fill in Paik's idea of 'Participation TV' in a contemporary way. But most of the signals lead one to suspect that, in the light of the present neo-liberal broadcasting ideology, most networks and producers are concentrating on their competition position and have no immediate plans to acknowledge the dynamic changes created in media consciousness and realities by the internet. Here too there is something to be learned from the music industry, which in past years stubbornly continued to defend its traditional control of distribution and consumption and promptly turned its nose up at the new models that were offered by the internet. Their protectionist regulations and legal wrangling has somewhat suppressed the piracy, but has done nothing to resolve the core questions. In the meantime, the industry's grip on the consumer has weakened enormously, and with the introduction of iTunes and the iPod Apple - nota bene, an IT developer - has become one of the most important player in music distribution.

36 Lautréamont, Poésies, 1870. ( For more info about the 'copyculture', see, among others, Schwartz, H., The Culture of the Copy: Striking Likenesses, Unreasonable Fascimiles, New York, Zone Books, 1996, p. 248.
37 Coldcut is a British media collective, known chiefly for their sampling-based music and video creations. See also their Vjam software, and projects such as
38 Oswald himself defines his style of sound collage as 'audio piracy as a compositional prerogative'. Other adepts are Negativland, who was fined $90,000 for the publication of a single with parodies of a number by U2. One finds the same attitude with the label 'Illegal Art', which has assembled albums including Deconstructing Beck (with remixes of songs by Beck) and distributed them via the net, and the internet project 'Dictionaraoke', where you can find MPG3s of more than 100 pop classics, 'sung' by pronunciation tools from internet encyclopedias such as Microsoft's Encarta.
39 With The Grey Album, DJ Dangermouse produced a successful mix of The White Album by the Beatles and The Black Album by Jay-Z. Among Richard X's projects was a mix of Gary Numan's 'Are Friends Electric' with Adina Howard's 'Freak Like Me', which was later made into a hit by The Sugababes. Inspired by the success of DJ Dangermouse, a 'Jay-Z Construction Set' has also been developed, a took kit with the necessary software and source material to make a new remix of Jay-Z's Black Album ( Actually, this movement had been on the rise in the underground and mainstream for quite some time: witness the worldwide success of 2ManyDJs and David Bowie's 'Mash-Up Contest'.
41 See software patents, among other things.
42 As of this writing, a case which can set important precedents, MGM vs. Grokster, is pending in the United States.
43 The United States has the 'Broadcast Flag' regulation, which states that all consumer apparatus which can receive television signals sold after July 1, 2005, must be able to read what are called 'broadcast flags' - a code in the television signal that limits how consumers use their media. In Europe, Asia, Australia and Latin America 'DVB Copy Protection Content Management' is in the assent.
44 From the Wikipedia: In the strictest sense, podcasting stands for a system in which podcasters make audio (MP3) files with discussions, radio shows and music programs available on the Internet, and at the same time create a news feed in RSS format that contains a reference to the MP3 files, which can automatically be processed by podcast aggregators or podcatchers. The latter automatically begin to pick up the audio files, and they either immediately copy them to a MP3 player, or let the user know that he can listen to them on the PC.
45 The Honor System is primarily from the Open Source world. Juliana Hatfield has applied it to her website, by making all kinds of new material available for free and asking for freewill contributions.
46 At one reads, 'The philosophy is simple. The digital age has devalued the traditional product to the point where the only thing which cannot be stolen or pirated is the artists themselves - their creative process. At ArtistShare the 'product' is the creative process.' The site permits direct communication with fans, who get insight into new material, can follow the recording process, etc. A fixed payment is asked in return. ArtistShare artist Maria Schneider recently won a Grammy for Concert in the Garden (ArtistShare release 0001), which was completely financed by ArtistShare. The band Wilco also employs a similar system, which is primarily oriented to the creation of a direct relation with music lovers.
47 Frank Zappa, A Proposal for a system to replace ordinary record merchandising, 1983.
48 Moore, T, 'The Best 90 Minutes of My Life', Wired, April 13, 2005. (
50 WiMax (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access) is a new standard (IEEE 802.16a) for wireless networks. With a theoretical range of 50 km and a data speed up to 70 Mbit/s, WiMax considerably surpasses the present Wi-fi standards. Because of its remarkable range, WiMax is also seen as an alternative for cable networks.
51 UMTS (Universal Mobile Telephone System) is seen as the successor for GPRS (General Packet Radio Services) and like GSM is a package-linked communications service. UMTS is being called the third generation (3G) in mobile communications and promises speeds of up to 2Mbs.
57 Or perhaps the Post-Godard generation? Manovich, L., Generation Flash, 2002.
( and Manovich, L, Abstraction and Complexity, 2004
58 Video Letters is an attempt to restore the relations among the Balkan countries and their inhabitants that were destroyed by the wars there. It began in 1999, when the Dutch documentary makers Katarina Rejger and Eric van den Broek went in search of people who wanted to send a video letter to acquaintances they knew from before the war. The reaction was also filmed. The results were sent out weekly by public broadcasters in Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Croatia, Bosnia, Slovenia and Macedonia. Webcams, blogs and other means are being used to build up social networks through the website
59 Video recordings are being collected, edited and placed online at the BBC site so that 'Video Nation reflects everyday life across the UK in all its rich diversity'.
60 One of the components of the broadband portal of Telecom Italia is a non-stop videochat community. In the live programs viewers with a webcam or videophone can interact with the host. The image of the caller is visible on the screen, in a Flash-produced studio. From the end of April the procedure will also be used in several shows on RAI Uno.
61 In collaboration with Google, Al Gore is seeking to start up a cable television sender with a non-stop program of short videos created for and by young people.
Quality as paradox]
The Sundance Festival - the bastion of the so-called 'indie' film industry in the U.S. - had several thematic show-stoppers on its program this year. One of them was the extensive selection of internet films, linear narrative and interactive works developed specially for the net, shown free online during the festival. The focus rested on the growing use and many faces of High Definition, now approaching the quality of film in various areas, and less expensive. The most successful HD preachers are undoubtedly directors George Lucas (Do ignore his latest Star Wars flicks) and Robert Rodriguez (But check out his excellent Sin City, shot in HD). Without blushing, the latter predicts the end of the film era: 'It's been dead since Technicolor came in - that was the peak - and its been going downhill ever since, stinking up Hollywood. And good riddance, you know?'(62)

The festival was also the backdrop for a pioneering experiment in the field of film distribution. The HD production Rize by director David LaChapelle was the first to be distributed by wireless technology. Through a WiMax network with a speed of 24Mbps, the work was delivered to the theatre where it was then projected.

The difference between internet and TV/cinema culture can be seen primarily in the idea of 'quality': while internet users often equate 'quality' with availability, accessibility and user-friendliness, in the audiovisual industry they feverishly chase after achieving the qualitative value of 'High Definition', with considerably higher image and sound resolution than the present television standards. For filmmakers, who construct their work around various parameters such as photography, lighting, scenography and sound dynamics, the streaming of video at this moment is a real nightmare. For many of them, a still therefore affords a more representative picture of their work than a severely compressed video fragment.

This is a problem with which the distributors of video art are also confronted, although aspects of spatial and contextual integrity also play a large role there. It is a paradoxical situation: for film and video works which are not obtainable in the neighborhood video rental shop and are almost never shown, the possibility of availability on the internet is presently both a blessing and a curse - although the same can be said of VHS and DVD copies from films and (let us not forget) showings on our beloved television, for which films were and are still always mercilessly cut, compressed, and otherwise mutilated. Anyone who followed the ruckus around the publication of a part of the work of Stan Brakhage on DVD knows that there are continual heated discussions in progress about the analog/digital and film/video oppositions. In that specific case Fred Camper, a life-long friend and associate of Brakhage, ultimately was able to somewhat calm the emotions. Despite the almost obsessional care Brakhage devoted to the cinematographic aesthetic of his work, for him the idea of individual availability was apparently also a desideratum:

All his life Brakhage wanted his films to be owned by individuals and seen in the home. He had a lifelong anti-institutional bias, and always thought his films were best seen in residences. (63)

One of the implications of digitization is greater availability. On the other hand, Steven Spielberg also poses pertinent questions, when he talks about the quest for the ultimate 'true to life' rendering of pictures and sound:

Do we want to evolve things to a clarity that is indistinguishable from real life? Movies suspend reality - suspend and extend reality. We're interpreters. If things get too clear, it won't look like there's an interpreter.(64)


Although up to now the idea of 'High Definition' has not had any unequivocal definition,(65) it is generally assumed that in time HD will perhaps become a new standard, both for production, broadcasting and streaming (once the broadband networks generate sufficient band width) and for distribution by physical vehicles (presently the subject of a fierce competition between the Blu-Ray disc, the HD-DVD ((or AOD - Advanced Optical Disc)) and PDD ((Professional Disc for Data)), among others). In any case, as a result of developments in the field of digital acquisition, distribution and projection, the gap between film and video is becoming considerably smaller. There is no doubt that the introduction of HD and plasma screens getting larger and larger is going to have a great impact on the experience of video, and thus also on the future aesthetic of video art (what's in a name?), which will perhaps in turn begin to look more like that of cinema, through the use of 'wide shots' for instance. Once again this is a mixed blessing: for the re-presentation of older video works this will cause major problems, but the new technologies will nevertheless provide unprecedented opportunities.

This question gets a new dimension with the expansion of mobile broadband networks and the rise of mobile video, with apparatus such as Sony's PSP (for the rest, Sony will shortly begin with a video service) and multimedia telephones. What works will stand up to being watched on screens that are barely two fingers high and wide? That is a question that occupies a lot of media firms and artists. Both Nokia and Siemens, desperately searching for content for their smartphones, have sponsored competitions in the past years for short videos with and for mobile telephones. The big media firms in the United States are experimenting with short 'mobisodes' as teasers-cum-supplements for TV series like 24. The first specially made serials for mobile apparatus are surfacing here and there, such as the Australian low-budget light comedy 'Girl Friday'.(66) At the Microcinema International festival this year there's even an exhibition organized around mobile video, curated by Patrick Lichty, who posed some interesting questions:

To paraphrase Antin, what are the distinctive qualities of Mobile Video, and how do narratives from this technological set differ from its predecessors? Does the intimacy and mobility of the video-enabled cell phone create a change in perspective? Does it represent a culture of universal surveillance where there is a universal intimacy but a complete lack of private space? How does the mobile perspective shift our perception in the way the mediated image of the cellular/network individual is represented? Does its low-resolution somehow challenge the aesthetics, 'truthfulness', or technofetishism of the increasingly filmic nature of video? (67)

Is it chance, then, that Nam Jun Paik did a reworking of his 'Global Groove' for mobile telephones for Nokia's 'Connect to art'(68) project - in a time in which everyone is mobilly connected, in which the viewing and sending of video and audio is an everyday occurrence for young people in places like South Korea and Japan, in which video is freeing itself from its artificial environment, into an online, public world that is more connected to the real world than ever before? Or as William Wegeman, who like Paik has created new work for Nokia, puts it:

We are a mobile society. Man is doing all he can to push the boundaries that contain us and make us conform to obsolete norms. Today everything is push button... Unlike painting and sculpture, the video medium doesn't need to claim space on the wall or the floor to cast its spell. It can go anywhere. Use your imagination.

62 Savlov, M., 'Will Video Kill the Celluloid Star?', Austin Chronicle, June 21,.2002. (
64 Rose, F., 'Close Encounters of the Worst Kind', Wired, June 13, 2005.
65 Because of the various possible formats, both for the recording (the cameras) and the playing (the television sets and projectors).

[beginPage: The necessity for contextualization]

A citation from Francis Ford Coppola, from 1991: 'To me the great hope is that now these little video recorders are around and people who normally wouldn't make movies are going to be making them. And suddenly, one day some little fat girl in Ohio is going to be the new Mozart and make a beautiful film with her father's camcorder and for once, the so-called professionalism about movies will be destroyed, forever, and it will really become an art form.'

Coming from a director with several Oscars in his pocket, who in recent years has primarily hung around in vineyards and tropical paradises, a statement like this at the very least sounds somewhat ambiguous. Although we may not forget the rebel in Coppola either, who in the 1960s and 1970s stubbornly rowed against the Hollywood currents with his firm American Zoetrope, towing a load of filmmakers, writers and actors along behind him as he did so. We should also not forget that the industrial interference during production of films such as 'The Rain People', 'THX 1138' (by his then partner George Lucas) and 'Apocalypse Now' nearly finished off his firm - and in the last case almost finished him off too. His dream cannot immediately be called visionary; judged against the wealth of extraordinary experimental films and video works from the whole 20th century. What is however new is the idea of what philosopher Ivan Illich once termed 'conviviality': the idea of a maximizing of creativity, imagination and diversity as a social chain of processes of individual significance, rather than of the hegemony of standardized industrial productions. Now that the possibilities for access to instruments for production and distribution are more symmetrical than ever before, the dream appears to be becoming reality. The introduction of portable video cameras vitalized the hope that television would become a 'convivial' medium, that viewer conduct would be defined by viewers making productions themselves. Now that almost 'everybody' has access to means for recording video or audio, television seems however more popular and more shameless than ever. The internet has once again vitalized the conviviality concept, certainly now that the new broadband technologies (among them SDSL, VDSL and Eurodocsis 2.0) promise just as much upload as download capacity. Thus the traditional bottlenecks of media distribution are falling by the wayside one by one, resulting in an explosion of availability and variety. A growing acceptance of non-authorized and non-institutional sources is perceptible, resulting in a social commodification of content. Information sources are increasingly abstract: depending on the demand, data, video, audio and multimedia are drawn from a wide spectrum of virtual environments, through established or new television or radio channels, private or public networks on the internet, or the home network. The importance of contextualization and mediazation becomes incontrovertible, both for large media firms and small producers and aggregators. Broadcast networks such as BBC and commercial enterprises such as Yahoo and Google increasingly profile themselves as 'gateways', creating search machines for video, developing social and cultural contexts for interaction and participation.(69) Parallel work is ongoing on metadata systems and tools for speech and image recognition, which will make possible non-linear forms of video use, something to which Nam June Paik was already looking forward in 1980:

The only reason why videotape is so boring and television so bad is that they are time-based information. Human beings have not really learned how to structure time-based information in recording and retrieval very well, because it is new. No one says that the Encyclopedia Brittanica is boring, although it has lots of information, because you can go to any page of the encyclopedia, to A or B or C or M or X, whereas when you watch videotapes or television, you have to go A, B, C, D, E, F, G. While the comparison is simple, the difference is very big. That is why the book is alive and will be alive until electronic information conquers the random access problem. (70)

New formats organize video and multimedia in a structured manner and offer huge possibilities for interaction. For instance, with SMIL (Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language)(71) video and audio can be embedded in a dynamic environment to which animation, graphics and hyperlinks to other media files can also be added. With MPEG4, not only is interaction possible on the basis of shots or scenes, but also on the basis of objects within the image. Programs such as Max/MSP and Jitter permit a composition aesthetic at the granular level of pixels, making new real-time relations possible between image and sound, object and space. New forms of audiovisual creation, such as 'machinima', are being developed in real-time, 3D spaces. Video is being resurrected in new digital environments, susceptible to algorithmic, generative or spatial processes, assumes hybrid narrative and interactive forms, is produced and exchanged within decentralized social networks that unite production with annotation and distribution. The social fabric of the internet will only become tighter. Broadband networks have generated a culture which no longer revolves around only broadcasting, band width, streaming or video-on-demand services, but around cultural and social experience of what a network means, entering into relationships and linkages that resonate in the cultural community.(72)

It is ultimately not just the pure collection and distribution of data, video and audio, but the vital contexts, the interchange and interaction, that makes the difference. Media like internet and digital television cannot and must not be red