New Media & the Multiscope

How many screens surround you in a typical situation? How many windows within those screens? These may be obvious questions to ask as New Media educators and practitioners, but one day, teaching, as I oscillated between an iPad,a classroom computer, the big screen showing projection of either computer input or video, and sometimes other screens as well, looking out at my students with all of their laptop, tablet, and mobile screens, that the multiplication and range of new media screens and windows was an experience of both entering into a new embodiment of technics and also a profound alterity, a recognition of multiple positions of otherness in new media culture.

The Multiscope is the most recent manifestation of my experiments with New Media spectatorship.  As a sculpture-interface for viewing my New Media movies, it is inspired by early motion picture viewing devices like the Mutoscope and Kinetoscope, Nam June Paik's sculptures, discourses about windows and interface in New Media scholarship, and the postphenomenological approach to technics advanced by Don Ihde that considers the embodied, hermeneutic, and alterity relations we have with artifacts like iPads, televisions, and other screens. 

The spectator peered down and into Edison's Kinetoscope (1894), which moved a film loop in front of a light bulb.


The Mutoscope (also 1894) held rotating cards which created persistence of vision and the illusion of movement when the spectator looked inside.

The Multiscope at the NMC 2012 Summer Conference Art Show. Winner of Best of Show and People's Choice Awards!


The four screens of the Multiscope have different functions.  The big screen loops the movies, and pushes sound into the area.  One iPad displays web information about the movies, and the other two, with headphones, mimic the Mutoscope or Kinetoscope in the way you peer into the screen, but here you can choose which movie you watch.

The movies screened here at the New Media Consortium Summer Conference 2012 are seven of the more than forty movies I've made that use machinima--3D animation captured in real-time from a virtual world or 3D video game environment.  They represent a range of genres and experiments with the moviemaking affordances of a virtual world, but all of the employ humor to explore serious questions.

New Media does not only mean objects, but also ways of seeing, communicating, interacting. Today we have a plethora of windows, of screens, of different sizes, of different mobility; some we can control, and others we cannot. It is only fitting to watch New Media Movies on such a viewing device that exaggerates the multiple, just as the Mutoscope offered the individual viewer a brief moment separate from the crowd before projection on a screen won the day. In many ways, we have returned to the Mutoscope, to the Kinetoscope, individual viewers peering into screens held in our hands, part of our embodiment in the Age of New Media.


Domestic Technology, or Never Alone was made for Housebugs: Cyberfest 2010, and also as a kind of artistic and comic complement to my ideas about domesticity in my book on the television series I Love Lucy, which had just come out.  It  screened at Cyberfest in St. Petersburg, Russia and in the On the Wall Dance Film Series in Berlin, Germany, as well as on the web and in a Second Life virtual art installation.  It is, among the movies here, the most like video art or an art film, not really narrative, not only dance. As someone with a dance background who has published on dance in film, it was very interesting to me to "perform" dance with avatars--fodder for my phenomenological exploration of embodiment, performance, and technology.

Time Journey is both educational--it collects key moments in the history of early cinema--and silly, as a centaur journeys through cinema in a search for the secret to the perfect film.  For it, I created an imaginary object, the timeboard, which I've used in other new media pieces, including "Transformation: Virtual Art on the Brink."

Transformation: Virtual Art on the Brink is more in a documentary style, with live action footage blended with machinima to explore ideas about virtual art.  In it, I discuss several interactive virtual art installations, using machinima to document and showcase what might otherwise not be seen by anyone except virtual world participants; one piece is my own virtual art installations, "One and Four Timeboards," a piece in dialogue with conceptual artist Joseph Kosuth's 1965 piece "One and Three Chairs," that won First Prize, UWA 3D Art Challenge, May 2011. The movie received a Special Award for “Breaking the Barriers” in the MachinimUWA IV: Art of the Artists Competition and also the Mejor Obra de Investigación / Open This End Award of Excellence for “Investigative Film. ” It's on a path of serious critical engagement with virtual art and then takes a surprising turn, not just considering the idea of virtual art as foreshadowing augmented reality of the future, but turning the idea of mixed reality on its head. I used the generative music software Otomata for the soundtrack.

IceOpal: A Virtual Interpretation of Amy Lowell's "Opal" is a short documentation of my virtual installation. It makes manifest in the virtual world an experience that I find in one of my favorite short poems. I use it in my courses as a model for creative projects that interpret and create dialogue with a text or cultural object. I made the music with a reactive music app for the iPhone from a recording of drops of water melting from icicles in the Spring.

Open End: A Digital Silent Film Screwball Comedy about Irresolution stemmed from the way that all the text communication in a virtual world reminded me of silent films, and so, for my first movie made with machinima, I turned to the genre I know and love best, screwball comedy, but as a kind of silent film. The plots, and especially endings I came up with seemed so mismatched with the medium that I kept revising, and soon it felt like i would never end the movie. And that became the movie--multiple endings, multiple possibilities, a very appropriate movie for the Multiscope! The music was composed and performed by my former student Dan Gross, who discovered his knack for accompanying silent films live on the piano when suddenly the audio cut out of my copy of The Great Train Robbery and he volunteered when I half-kiddingly indicated the piano that is in every Berklee College of Music classroom.

CLICK: Immersive and Interactive Virtual Art is one of the movies of which I am most proud because educators around the world have used it to introduce virtual art to their students. I made the piece hoping it could help make people aware of the remarkable art being created in virtual worlds, and am delighted it serves that function, as well as contributing to the art history of new media art. It won 2nd place for Best Production in the Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education Machinima Contest in 2011, and was awarded a Special Award for Crossover Impact, University of Western Australia Machinima 2 Art of the Artists Contest, 2010.

Under the Sea is actually a learning object run amok. It began as an example to show my Digital Narrative Theory and Practice students the difference between still image/comics and moving image storytelling, but the fight choreography and the sound effects in the sound design became very interesting to me. Part of the fun was sparring with my friend and collaborator, Maya Paris, one of the most talented artists making new media art.


THANK YOU TO: Richard Cownie for actualizing my design for the Multiscope with the always clever use of power tools, Jerry Smith and the Professional Writing and Music Technology Division at Berklee College of Music for support for this project, the National Endowment for the Humanities for an Enduring Questions Grant during which I researched phenomenology and art, and the New Media Consortium for the opportunities to show my movies and the Multiscope.