Abstract and Keywords
This article appears in the Oxford Handbook of Sound and Image in Digital Media edited by Carol Vernallis, Amy Herzog, and John Richardson. This collection examines the rapidly shifting landscape of audiovisual media in the digital age. The volume initiates a dynamic, transdisciplinary dialogue between and among scholars, and takes up a range of media texts including blockbuster cinema, music videos, video games, amateur video compilations, documentaries, immersive theater, visualization technologies, and video art. One resonant theme is the ways sound and image can exist in myriad relations. Alongside harmonic convergences and ecstatic audiovisual mélanges, we find glitches, noise, rupture, and uncanny vestiges of outmoded practices. Our own mélange of scholarly approaches attempts to capture the texture and feel of this diverse media field.
Through investigations of what we’ll call the “media swirl” and the “audiovisual turn,” this handbook charts new territory. Our contemporary media terrain is voluble and intermedial. We are immersed in a dizzying audiovisual archive, accessible via dynamic, proliferating platforms. The socioeconomic, cultural, and technological forces at work in this environment change at different rates. While phenomena like YouTube, haptic-interactive modalities (such as touch- and motion-based interfaces), and high definition-three-dimensional (HD-3D) formats have emerged rapidly, older media, like serial television, immersive video games, and postclassical cinema, have continued to evolve and to cross media, platforms, and technologies; they too become strange. Within this landscape, the intensified, accelerated, piercing qualities of sound and image are amplified. The emergent relations between sound and image, especially, call for new interdisciplinary approaches and modes of analysis.
Several collections have already been devoted to these developments, including the Oxford Handbook of New Audiovisual Aesthetics (OHNAA), the Oxford Handbook of Sound and Mobile Media, the Oxford Handbook of the American Musical, and the Oxford Handbook of Film Music. OHNAA, co-edited by Carol Vernallis, John Richardson, and Claudia Gorbman, provides a context for audiovisual scholars to engage with current media; it might be thought of as foundational, drawing on some of the most respected scholars in the field to revisit long-term debates in audiovisual studies in light of digital technologies and corresponding social changes. The Oxford Handbook of Sound and Image in Digital Media commits itself to this same project, but it also pushes the endeavor in new directions. It distinguishes itself through its transdisciplinary methodology and its experiments with form; it is committed to building bridges across disciplines as well as fostering dialogue between senior and emerging scholars.
At present, there is not yet a recognized group of scholars skilled in both audiovisual studies and digital/new technologies, though such a cohort is essential to describe today’s media landscape. Could our handbook jump-start a discipline and support the emergence of a new, interdisciplinary field? To achieve such ends, we as co-editors (p. 2) scoured the fields of sound, music, new media, film studies, performance studies, cultural studies, and theater, in search of senior and junior scholars who had a grounding in at least two and hopefully even three areas—sound/music, moving visual media, and digital technologies. We sought out those whom we believed would work outside their comfort zone and would push boundaries, or were keen to collaborate across disciplines. We believe our terrific mix of scholars have produced a balanced, robust, wide-ranging group of essays that give a strong account of today’s media.
The themes of sound, image, audiovisual relations, and digital technologies underwrite the volume. While we remain agnostic on the question of what most drives stylistic change, we recognize that audio and visual practices call for a fuller accounting. New forms of sound compression, 5.1 surround-sound, Pro-Tools, Avid editing, computer-generated imagery (CGI), digital intermediate color and image processing, previsualization, high-speed information data transfer and data storage all can contribute to one of today’s central strands—a painterly, capture-oriented aesthetic. In today’s blockbuster films, for example, a host of technicians finely calibrate sound and image, drawing on new forms of sound compression, immense sound libraries, and audio software. These technologies can help place sound in relation to images that have already been transformed and colorized through CGI and digital intermediaries. Experimental filmmakers, on the other hand, often opt for self-imposed limits: Michel Gondry’s handmade animations; Dogma’s techno-primitivism; Guy Maddin’s “return” to silent film; Johnny To’s, Tsai Ming-liang’s, and Olivier Assayas’s valorization of the long take. At the other end of the spectrum, we find millions of YouTube users producing mashups, home movies, and amateur music videos, drawing on DVD extras rather than formal training. Telegraphic, iconic, and reiterative, the amateur clips garnering the most hits—of animals, dancing, religious rants, stunts, laughing babies—are partly shaped by iMovie editing software and YouTube bandwidth technologies. Into the mix enters interactive, haptic, and immersive technologies—those linked to virtual reality (VR), 3D, Kinect, video games, and apps. These forms of sound–image coordination are all worthy of consideration. But it’s also true that technology is only one of many forces shaping today’s media landscapes. Equally important is the role of conglomerates that have sought profits from music and image rights, a savvy and restless public wanting to post their own work, as well as independent film and media strains. All these stakeholders are helping to force a new emphasis on intensified audiovisual aesthetics.
Our handbook uncovers a great deal about contemporary sound and image, and our findings depart in some striking ways from traditional approaches to audiovisual studies. Most often sounds and images are configured by audiovisual scholars as comprising some sort of marriage, occasionally felicitous, but at least to some extent interpretable, with relations falling into recognizable categories, such as those of conformance, contrast, and contest.1 In other words, whatever the audiovisual relation is, it is legible and open to exegesis. Yet when scholars from divergent fields take up the problems of sound and image, they gravitate to different texts and bring different relations to light. The contributors to this volume have sometimes taken up media that would not lend themselves to traditional analysis; rather than a union of image and sound, these works are messy, (p. 3) contested, and redolent with noise and disarray. A film scholar who has included sound as part of her teaching, but for the first time chooses to write about it with a slant on politics and technology, discovers new dynamics. When we as co-editors place a piece on a new sound technology (like Auto-Tune) against a visual one (like digital intermediary), the audiovisual contract looks different: it suddenly seems bewildering that the puffed-up, overachieving aims of both technologies might coexist within the same work. In other cases our authors may find so much interference and delay between sound and image that barely anything gets through, as if each were locked in an echo chamber, where one hardly meets the other. One resonant theme in this volume is the ways sound and image can exist in myriad relations. Alongside harmonic convergences and ecstatic audiovisual mélanges, we find glitches, noise, rupture, and uncanny vestiges of outmoded practices. Our own mélange of scholarly approaches attempts to capture the texture and feel of this diverse media field.2
One of our primary objectives for this volume is to forge a dialogue between sound and image scholars. Our contributors bring to the table an impressive range of disciplinary expertise, from film studies, philosophy, musicology, composition, experimental art, experimental music, pornography, digital gaming, documentary, and media studies. The interplay among their diverse approaches provides the structure for the collection. The essays are organized according to shared thematic and theoretical concerns and include contributors whose primary focus is sometimes geared more toward concerns of image whereas others are more focused on sound. While each essay can, of course, be read in isolation, we are most excited about the productive resonances generated among texts. In certain instances, we put groups of authors in direct conversation with one another; they then wrote short response chapters on shared topics or contributed to case studies. These dialogues have continued to generate conversation among the participants, conversations we hope will extend via continued collaborations across our fields.
The first section of the collection, Cinema in the Realm of the Digital: Foundational Approaches, theorizes the broader shift of cinematic discourses through the transition to digital production and distribution. Thomas Elsaesser seeks a definition of “digital cinema,” reading the phenomenon both through discourses of media convergence and in terms of digital cinema’s ontological contradictions. It is precisely this set of contradictions, Elsaesser posits, that makes a medium like digital cinema “a motor for change”: “it carries the old forward while incubating the new, by a move that acknowledges the past’s existence but de-fangs and transforms it in the very act of perpetuating it.” J. P. Geuens presents a dizzying survey of lighting techniques and technologies used by DPs and colorists from the turn of the past century through our present digital era. Via the digital intermediate, Geuens argues, a new field of labor has opened in the gap between camera acquisition and finished image. And while the malleability of light within this realm allows for perfection of control, Geuens makes a compelling case for earlier approaches to photography that were open to indeterminacy, attuned “to the immanence that permeates a shared moment that will never be again.” Echoing these concerns with the overlapping of technology, labor, and aesthetics, William Whittington argues that developments in sound practices have played an undervalued role in shaping (p. 4) the widely touted digital revolution in cinema. Sound and image technologies don’t necessarily develop in synchrony; rather, they can possess their own trajectories. He draws on the example of Pixar’s early attempts at CGI with the short film Tin Toy, in which surfaces were poorly rendered, especially skin and hair, but, at the same time, existed alongside highly sophisticated sound practices. With Tin Toy, sound designer Gary Rydstrom struggled to coordinate media that seemed to some extent at odds because they were at different stages of development. For a discerning audience this historical moment lays bare the arbitrariness of the audiovisual contract. Today’s “hyperrealist” digital aesthetics are achieved, and in many ways enabled, by the sophisticated soundscapes that subtly guide and transform our relationship to the image, building densely layered audiovisual environments in which the spectator is immersed. At certain moments, and perhaps today is one of them, sound and image can form fragile, temporary relations of proportion and equilibrium.
In the first “dialogue” of the volume, Screens and Spaces, Sean Cubitt and Will Straw explore transformations in the relations between screens and public space. Cubitt provides a political economy of both large-scale public screens and individualized small screens, utilizing the concrete example of screen technology as a means of grappling with broader questions of technological innovation. The commercialization of public space via small and large screens can seem totalizing, yet there remain openings for local, contingent interventions that have the potential to forge new kinds of public assemblages. Straw’s response to Cubitt contextualizes the history of screen technology within urban environments, focusing on the illumination of city streets. The differential in scale between small and large screens manifests itself in variable modes of perception and mobility for city dwellers. And in most instances, Straw notes, the visual noise created by screens used in public exist in direct tension with sound media.
Glitches, Noise, and Interruption: Materiality and Digital Media delves into the shifting nature of noise within our digital ecosystems. Laura Marks explores the category of noise in relation to systems of perception and encounters with the infinite. The infinite lies beyond perception and, as such, is experienced as noise. Our senses work to “unfold” select aspects of the infinite, often in tandem with informational systems such as digital and other technologies, transforming unmediated noise into something perceptible. While commodity culture tends to unfold the world into “a smooth surface of seamless information,” art attuned to the noisy, the ugly, the forgotten, can make us aware of alternative means of perceiving and unfolding the deafening realm of the infinite. Her discussion of Brilliant Noise (2009), by Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt, perfectly illustrates the artistic potential of “sonification” discussed in Lev Manovich and Jake Smith’s dialogue in later chapters of this volume.
Lisa Coulthard takes up noise, droning, and silence as recurring themes within European New Extremist films. Drones, which tend to occur within moments of relative silence, dirty “the purity and quiet of digital technology,” filling the void with organic and visceral noise, a sonic parallel to the violent and corporeal address of the image. Caetlin Benson-Allott performs a playfully “glitched” engagement with Lady Gaga’s stuttering video image. The telerotics of the electronic glitch, for Benson-Allott, reanimate and (p. 5) complicate debates about feminine performance, desire, and “to-be-looked-at-ness” in audiovisual media (her essay engages in a productive debate about questions of agency and openness with McCarthy and Zuazu’s reading of Gaga, also in this volume). Joanna Demers similarly identifies stuttering and failures of signification as potent political tools in the hands of media artists such as Ryan Trecartin, Paul McCarthy, Animal Charm, and Sean Griffin. Through “discursive accents,” Demers argues, these artists offer inflections of genre and style that destabilize meaning and foster critical, often uncomfortable modes of listening and engagement. Melissa Ragona surveys various technologies used to “clean up” vocal recordings, noting that these attempts to “dope the voice” enabled experimental artists such as Yoko Ono, Hollis Frampton, and Charlemagne Palestine to flesh out the voice’s dirt, grit, and grain, released from the binds of narrative or psychological interiority.
Temporal and generic anomalies haunt the essays in Uncanny Spaces and Acousmatic Voices. Will Cheng immerses us in the horrific, industrial soundscape of the Silent Hill video game series, linking the strategic use of sound to larger “economies of fear.” Engaging with discourses of monstrosity, Cheng maps the semiautonomous trajectories of sounds in the game space, with a particular focus on their visceral impact on the player’s own sense of corporeal control. Amy Herzog is similarly interested in questions of space, body, sound, and structures of play. She navigates the performance/installation Sleep No More, marking the ways in which its architectures of sound set in motion and reanimate a range of fragmentary references from Shakespeare and Herrmann through digital games. Textual and environmental resonances also drive George Toles study of Deanimated, a 2002 installation by Martin Arnold. Arnold digitally transforms a Bela Lugosi horror film, Invisible Ghost (Joseph Lewis, 1941), systematically removing the images and sounds of the characters. The attachments and operations of rooms, objects, figures, and score come unhinged, Toles argues, rendering the viewer/listener a ghost within the film’s defamiliarized walls. And structures of meaning prove central to Warren Buckland as he works through the poetics of David Lynch’s Inland Empire. Rather than a symbolic-allegorical analysis of meaning, Buckland traces the surface-level construction of the film, locating at its heart strategies of metalepsis and mise en abyme, further embedded and confused by the shifting presence of the acousmatic voice.
Our second dialogue, Visualization and Sonification, pairs Lev Manovich with Jake Smith, discussing the translation of information into visual and audio media. Manovich details his research at the Software Studies Initiative at the University of California, San Diego, where his lab deployed a range of approaches for analyzing and visualizing large datasets. Alongside a history of computational visualization strategies, Manovich provides insights into the creative and artistic potentials for visualizations, as well as the productive ways in which visualization can challenge our codified systems of organizing and conceptualizing information. In response, Smith takes up a number of terms from Manovich’s history to provide a corollary study of representations of cultural data in sonic forms. “Sonification,” Smith demonstrates, suggests a new field of research in sound studies, one that might reveal previously unheard connections and clusters within the growing archive of digitized sound.
(p. 6) In the section Virtual Worlds, Paranoid Structures, and States of War, authors examine the fraught ways in which music has both shaped and become embedded within the aesthetic culture of political conflict. Music can convey the distilled temporality of the state of exception, argues Dale Chapman, a state “in which the sovereign, in response to crisis, suspends the efficacy of the rule of law.” Chapman explores these chilling implications via Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men, a dystopian narrative film that has a great deal to say about the unexamined costs of, and our need to respond to, contemporary state violence. Music, sound, and power inform Matthew Sumera’s study of amateur videos crafted from US armed forces combat footage. Typically edited and set to “nu metal” soundtracks (a hardcore subgenre of heavy metal), these amateur shorts are created by both military personnel and civilians and circulated online. These videos, which have become an integral part of the audiovisual culture of war for many service personnel, coincide with the weaponization of nu metal by the military in their antiterror initiatives, literalizing the notion of the “theater of war.” We must recognize, Sumera insists, that such examples are not representations of war, but in fact an integral component of the actualities of military conflict.
James Buhler and Alex Newton engage in a close reading of image and soundtrack through the Bourne trilogy, centered on the current of cultural trauma coursing through these films. Throughout the series, Jason Bourne emerges as a deeply divided figure, marked by a duality born from recurring personal and political trauma. Buhler and Newton map this duality through the audiovisual aesthetics of the films, particularly the music, which elevates trauma to the realm of myth. Questions of rendering and the digital reverberate on multiple registers here, and the frenetic visualizations of Bourne Ultimatum foreground the political, psychic, and representational crises bound up in the paranoid logic that pervades narratives of action. Eleftheria Thanouli and Theo Cateforis close out the section with a dialogue on Barry Levinson’s Wag the Dog (1997). For Thanouli, Wag the Dog marks the coincidence of a range of cultural, technological, and historical trajectories, resulting in a striking public forum for debates about the relationship between cinema and reality. Representations of state violence become particularly charged in this context. Cateforis responds with a reading of two musical sequences from the film, looking at the ways in which music contributes to constructions of authenticity within the film and, by extension, within our own highly mediated reality.
The shifting landscape of the transmedia blockbuster provides fodder for Blockbusters! Franchises, Remakes, and Intertextual Practices. Jessica Aldred takes on the Beowulf franchise to explore the paths of cross-media consumption that are encouraged when characters and narratives shift between cinematic and digital gaming platforms. Aldred questions the rhetoric of convergence that circulates around synergistic marketing plans through a case study of digital human characters as they move between media. She chronicles the difficulties of faithfully translating original cinematic texts to synthetic characters in a user-controlled gaming world. Corporate sponsors and video game designers, in particular, seemed to fail to fully understand the needs and expectations of gaming audiences as they tried to further monetize blockbuster (p. 7) franchise products. Carol Donelan and Rod Rodman turn to the Twilight Saga, mapping the negotiations between film industry and target audience that have ensued throughout the cycle. The Twilight films present an opportunity for the industry to woo a typically neglected demographic, females under twenty-five years of age, via the erotically charged yet ultimately defanged figure of the teen vampire. The soundtrack, both of scored music and compiled pop songs, contributes to the uncanny duality of these fantasy worlds, a vista of forbidden possibilities couched within a familiar, and highly marketable, formula.
Contradiction and balance surface in a new context in Aylish Wood’s reading of sound–image relations in the time-shifting, multilayered blockbusters Watchman (Snyder, 2009) and Inception (Nolan, 2010). Here, sound bridges and carefully calibrated mixes convey key knowledge about the intricate architectures of these films, allowing viewers to navigate the complexes of space, time, and subjectivity contained within their nonunified and unstable storyscapes. Miguel Mera also explores the aesthetics of combination, here via Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, which is driven, he argues, by the principles of the mashup. Mashup culture, for Mera, is spurred not by pastiche or ironic parallelism, but rather by a pluralistic modality. The mélange of audiovisual tropes deployed in this work engage and challenge audience expectations, fabricating a liminal space in which history and cinematic representation are productively upended.
De-Coding Source Code, our third dialogue section, provides a forum for engaging with questions of sound, temporality, and audiovisual virtuality through sustained readings of the 2011 science fiction thriller Source Code (dir. Duncan Jones). Source Code is a cryptically nonlinear, postclassical puzzle film that engages both its protagonist and audience in a perpetually looping fragment of time: Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) awakes repeatedly inside the body of another man aboard a Chicago commuter train 8 minutes before a bomb is detonated. Stevens’s postmortem investigation into the source of the violence becomes more frantic with each replay. He becomes attached to his avatar’s doomed love interest on the train, at the same time that his own deeply compromised corporeal reality is revealed to the viewer: Stevens is an Army helicopter pilot who has been horribly maimed while serving in Afghanistan, and his entire cognitive existence is sustained via a virtual reality computer simulation.
Garrett Stewart begins the dialogue by taking up Source Code as a dystopian coda to his Framed Time: Toward a Postfilmic Cinema (University of Chicago Press, 2007). For Stewart, the voice here serves as a disembodied, vexed palimpsest of a historical moment in which narratological and aesthetic traditions fold in on themselves, reflecting on their own organizational logic. Sean Cubitt’s response recasts this narrative within the emerging field of eco-criticism. Cubitt finds within the looped, coded world of the film an alternative environment in which questions of agency, subjectivity, representation, and information are upended and redeployed within a transformed and seemingly pliable reality. Source Code is ultimately a pseudo-utopia, he argues, gesturing toward a posthuman future that is then recast into individualist master narratives. Yet the gesture itself suggests possible, as-yet-unrealized paths for eco-critical hermeneutics. James Buhler picks up on these threads through an inspired study of the opening and closing (p. 8) sequences of the film. Music and sound construct a mythology of origins that builds, in the first frames of the film, through a genesis of light, dark, water, and sky, culminating in the appearance of the corporate logos in the film’s title sequence, a “gap in the image that marks the real of capital.”
The chapters that comprise Rethinking Audiovisual Embodiment theorize the body using divergent methodologies, in equally diverse media forums. The musical performance games Guitar Hero, Rock Band, and DJ Hero, for Kiri Miller, present a model of kinesthetic engagement unlike digital games that rely on the construction of an on-screen virtual world. In these musical performance games, the controller-as-instrument works with the body of the player in a direct and physical way, building on personal and cultural musical histories. David McCarthy and María E. Zuazu, in a counterpoint to Benson-Allott’s chapter on Lady Gaga and the glitch, critique the operative modality of the Gaga-World phenomenon. At the heart of Lady Gaga’s media extravaganza, McCarthy and Zuazu identify a remix aesthetic, a “tendency to mask unity with a set of digital practices that seem to tear and stitch.” Indeed, the assemblage of music, image, persona, and networked fans that comprise Gaga are defined by their contradictions, contradictions that can be at once thrilling, regressive, disquieting, and unfinished. Media scholar Susanna Paasonen collaborates with pornography producer Paul Morris in a dialogue about gay porn, affect, politics, and digital technology. Focusing on gay bareback pornography, Paasonen and Morris look at the visceral interplay between bodies and spaces set into motion by pornographic media, with a particular focus on the ways in which sound mediates and creates corporeal intensity.
Sounds and Images of the New Digital Documentary grapples with the contested and evolving nature of “realism” in relation to new audiovisual media networks. John Belton maps shifts in documentary modes of representation read in relation to technological developments. Focusing on recent work by Agnes Varda and Trinh T. Minh-ha, Belton points to the increasingly reflexive approaches these filmmakers adopt, enabled in many ways by lightweight digital cameras. Mutability and cinécriture become means of highlighting the labor of the apparatus and weaving fictions and fabrications that nevertheless bring us closer to an understanding of our material conditions. Selmin Kara unearths the surprising directions in which filmmakers such as Abbas Kiarostami and Aleksandr Sokurov have channeled their experiments with digital documentary. Against the currents of connectivity and networked participation so often associated with the digital, these filmmakers have turned instead to contemplative meditations on the relations among nature, humans, and technology. Kara finds resonance here between the “cosmic indifference” of the dense and highly structured soundscapes found in these works and a recent metaphysical turn toward speculative materialism and object-oriented philosophy; in each instance, an ecology of the world is rendered that decentralizes the human. The operational aesthetics identified in these first two chapters reassert themselves in Jennifer Peterson’s study of four recent works that document the changing face of labor in an age of global finance capital. She identifies the emergence of a “digitally informed observational aesthetic,” one marked by stationary long takes that simultaneously assert and destabilize notions of objectivity, knowledge, (p. 9) and truth. Once again, mediation, fabrication, and observation fold into one another while, at the same time, remaining highly attuned to the materiality of the world being rendered and to their own technological practices.
Modes of Composition: Digital Convergence and Sound Production incorporates the perspectives of media practitioners and composers. Eric Lyon begins with the separation of image and sound performed by the first audio recording technologies. Subsequent developments in the field gave rise to experiments in the phenomenology of pure “aurality,” enabled by electronic technology. More recent digital audiovisual practices have enacted more fluid, even playful bridges between sound and image relations (and, indeed, Lyon’s own experiments with spatial sound structure resonate with Jake Smith’s discussion of “sonification” in this volume). The transformation of image to sound also guides Jann Pasler’s study of Hugues Dufort’s spectral compositions inspired by the frescos of Tiepolo. Inspired both by the dynamics of cinema and the psychoacoustics of computer music, Dufort moves toward a “consonant inharmonicity,” which, as Pasler demonstrates through her deft reading of L’Afrique d’après Tiepolo, offers an engaged critique of Western constructions of time and space. Ron Sadoff looks at recent transformations in the crafting of scores for Hollywood feature films and video games. Digital technologies have shifted artistic and labor practices, encouraging collaboration and cross-pollination both within and between media fields. Drawing from interviews with composers, Sadoff points to shifts in creative approaches in film and game sound and raises critical questions about the future of the field in light of these developments. Nicola Dibben uses her own work on the mobile app for Björk’s Biophilia album to explore the broader ways in which digitalization has impacted musical composition and experience. Music visualization, Dibben argues, engenders immersive and multimodal engagement; in this way, mobile apps bring the consumption of music closer to the realm of interactive video and gaming technologies.
Kicking off Digital Aesthetics Across Platform and Genre, Carol Vernallis thinks through the accelerated aesthetics of our networked mediascape and their potential correlations with the rhythms of contemporary labor and global capitalism. Through a whirlwind survey of music videos, blockbuster films, and promotional shorts, Vernallis suggests several adaptive strategies we might experiment with in order to negotiate this modulating terrain. Jay Beck tackles developments in new transnational art cinema from the perspective of sound studies. Beck identifies several sonic tropes that have emerged across the work of filmmakers from diverse points of origin, each crafting a personal sound aesthetics that up-ends image–sound relations typically associated with mainstream cinema. Alongside new approaches to subjectivity, architectural acoustics, and vocal culture, Beck locates changing renderings of ethics, epistemology, and the sublime in cinematic uses of sound, signaling a significant challenge to the audiovisual status quo. And Allan Cameron examines the prevalence of technological instrumentality in the discourses and visualizations associated with electronic music. Rather than representing a blind embrace or a reflexive repudiation of instrumentality, many electronic visualizations, Cameron finds, make use of architectural and environmental interfaces that critically question the material impact of technology on contemporary experience.
(p. 10) A number of our contributors, while writing about diverse digital phenomenon, pose challenges to media makers that strike a similar chord. In the face of media products that offer smooth, hermetically intact audiovisual environments (typically those most easily assimilated into broader capitalist narratives), our authors call for works that remain open to the outside, that stutter and generate noise, that move in unpredictable ways. This is not merely a question of aesthetics, but of political and historical positioning. Difference, materiality, and the pressures of the local assert themselves in many of the works these essays highlight. Questions of agency and interactivity are of critical interest, particularly when users’ engagement with digital media can be constricted to a surface-level interface, with little substantive input into the meaning, structure, or broader impact of the work. Of equal concern are the vast troves of media artifacts that are often appropriated and recontextualized within contemporary digital media practices. What kinds of new histories do new media practitioners imagine in their work: teleologies of technological mastery, media archaeologies that read the present and future in relation to the material past, or monstrous combinations of approaches, collectively assembled and set into motion? These formal and political tensions consistently surface throughout the varied essays of this collection, and, in many ways, speak to our core objectives in studying the changing landscape of audiovisual media. We are delighted to initiate this noisy, productive, groundbreaking conversation, and are indebted to the incredible efforts of the talented collective that made it possible.
(1) . For a seminal description of these categories, see Nicholas Cook, Analysing Musical Multimedia (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 81–84.
(2) . One of our co-editors, in a fanciful mood, wondered if a cooking metaphor might help capture the myriad ways sound and image work together in this volume: with sound and image you can bake, poach, sauté, fry, boil, freeze, marinate, truss, mince, fricassée, braise. Then you can fold it all in together and start again.