Dance of the Computer Lab, 2009, 1:18
At present, there are thousands of webcams or networked security cameras that broadcast publicly over the Internet. A simple Google search reveals countless results for these types of cameras, including many that may not intended for public scrutiny but are catalogued nonetheless by search bots. The ceaseless flow of images from these autonomous cameras is typically ephemeral and unremarked, but provides fertile material for artistic investigation.
In my project I harvest these ambient video streams, using a telematic practice of “sampling” the photographs from the virtual cameras, and transform them into video-music compositions and rhythmic micro-narratives. I meld the found images, which are often disassociated from any recognizable locality, into time-lapse videos, then use the minutiae of these tiny vignettes as a visual “score” for which I compose a tightly-synchronized musical accompaniment. These videos provide a means of visualizing temporary and fleeting moments that are ordinarily invisible in our experience of everyday life. The resulting rhythms of change, textures of image, patterns of human movement, and qualities of light are mirrored by musical motifs that form an expressive, subtle portrait of the original spaces, of which the exact identity remains unknown.
In addition to manifesting the specific, quotidian character of these spaces, both pastoral and urban, the works incorporate an implicit theme of surveillance. However, rather than being presented in a typically dystopian light, the depictions of the subjects are dreamlike, comical, sentimental, or maddeningly languorous. Further, the process by which the artworks are generated speaks to the ubiquitous culture of networked communication that characterizes so much of our present zeitgeist. They seek to restore a sense of wonder at the unbounded, global flow of information that is itself part of the daily experience of contemporary life.
Lastly, this project serves as an investigation of a compositional strategy that balances strong constraints (found source material, other people’s cameras, synchrony between sound and image) against the limitless, open-ended possibilities afforded by digital media production techniques. Further, the indeterminate/algorithmic aspects of the process form a contrast with the impressionistic quality of the compositions. The data stream is ultimately re-humanized.
TECHNIQUES AND PROCESSES
I have created a Unix shell script to automatically harvest images from the networked cameras at set intervals. The thousands of images amassed by this process are rendered into videos in QuickTime. The most evocative sequences are chosen for further development. They are edited together in iterations between Final Cut Pro and Ableton Live with temporal remixing, but no image processing occurs. All visual phenomena are artifacts of the original photographic processes. I compose the soundtrack, then perform it on a variety of acoustic, digital, and analog instruments, then record, and mix. All aspects of this process are performed by the artist alone, resulting in a total integration of sound and moving image.