About An Uncommon Affair At Tooting Bec Common

An Uncommon Affair At Tooting Bec Common is an immersive cinematic work presented in the context of an interactive installation environment. The structure of the work is inspired by the combinatorial operations found in experimental literature, such as in Raymond Queneau’s Cent Mille Milliards de poèmes (Queneau 1961), and the exploratory game play practised by members the Surrealist movement, as described in Alastair Brotchie’s A book of Surrealist Games (Brotchie, Gooding, and Lamantia 1995). The story space of the interactive film is composed of four independent, tightly wound storylines, which were strategically written so that the plot points of the stories can be interleaved, and presented backwards or forwards in time.  Through an interactive interface the viewer can control the trajectory of the stories on four screens simultaneously. The interface is designed to engage the user through a sense of play and exploration as they discover an ever-mutating adaptive storyline, which is revealed as they guide the screens through the story space of the film.



Figure 1: Technical Description of the work

The Story Space

The story space of the four independent storylines of An Uncommon Affair At Tooting Bec Common are centered around events that take place in the lounge of a medium, named Rosemary Brown, who channels deceased composers and writes down their latest works. Each of the independent storylines is a subjective interpretation of the same events taken from a different story character’s perspective. The roles of the characters (i.e. protagonist or antagonist) and the unfolding of events of the story change depending on which storyline is being followed.

Structurally the story space is an intricate stratified narrative system analogous to the combinatorial swapping of sonnet lines in Raymond Queneau’s Cent Mille Milliards de poèmes (Queneau 1961), the branching navigation of a hypertext novel such as Michael Joyce’s afternoon, a story (Joyce 1993), and the cut-up style of novelist William S. Burroughs (Burroughs 1961). Each of the four storylines in the work are composed of 17 plot points, which can be interchanged with the other storyline’s plot points and then viewed in a sequence running backwards or forwards through time. Because the plot points of the storylines are designed to be interchangeable and comprehensible when presented forwards or backwards in time, it is possible to explore the story space nonlinearly. As the story space is explored character roles shift and their ambitions change, heroes become villains, villains become heroes, and the line that separates these distinctions becomes blurred.

 

Figure 2: One of the four screens presented in the work.

The intricacy of the presentation of the film is compounded in the context of the installation environment, which displays the film on four screens simultaneously. Each of the four screens in the installation environment (see Figure 2) presents a unique nonlinear trajectory through the story space of the film, further adding to the combinatorial possibilities of the presentation of the film. In total there are 4 storylines with 17 interchangeable plot points and 4 trajectories presented simultaneously on 4 screens, yielding 4*417 (or 68,719,476,736) possible combinations of the storylines within film.

Interaction

The concept for the interaction design was inspired by the operational processes of game play and chance that members of the Dadaist and Surrealist movements employed in the development of their works. The function of games in the Surrealist movement was to provide amusement and stimulate original thought.  The goal of playing Surrealist games was not about winning, but rather about arriving at an interesting outcome. In that sense, Surrealist games could be thought of as more than a game, they were a form of mental exercise, training, and an operation for the development of nonlinear works with unexpected results (Brotchie, Gooding, and Lamantia 1995).

As in Surrealist games, the intent of the interaction design of An Uncommon Affair At Tooting Bec Common is to arrive at unanticipated results. As described above, each of the four screens in the installation environment presents a unique nonlinear trajectory through the story space of the film. Viewers explore the story space on each screen by choosing the perspective and a (future or past) temporal direction that the story path will follow when changing scenes via a game-like interface presented on a touchscreen display. The touchscreen functions as an interactive electronic ouija board (see Figure 3), which is embedded in a table at the center of the four screens.

Figure 3: the Ouija board interface.

The choice of a ouija board is significant to the context of the story,  which is centered around a medium (as described above), because it provides an aesthetic and conceptual reference to the events unfolding in the story. The use of a ouija board is also an additional nod to the Surrealists, who were fascinated by the occult and often employed spiritualist techniques, such as automatic writing and ouija boards, for inspiration in their work.

As an interface, the interactive ouija board provides a viewer with the capacity to control the outcome of the four story trajectories simultaneously. Viewers interactively explore the story space on each screen by choosing the perspective and a (future or past) temporal flow that act as attractors that the story path follows when changing scenes. While users have direct influence over the path each story trajectory is following, it is not possible to predict the actual results of their choices and how they will unfold. The various combinatorial possibilities make selection a game of chance where the viewer can direct the flow and the story characteristics of the work, but not exactly how the story unfolds.

 

Visualization and feedback

Being a screen itself, the interactive ouija board provides visual feedback in the form of animations that indicate the unfolding of the selection process for each screen. Surrounding the ouija board are four bands of movies that correspond to a screen. For example, the band of movies at the top of the screen of Figure 1 corresponds to the band movies at the bottom of the Ouija interface shown on the right of Figure 2. A smoke-like cursor indicates which screen is currently being set (see the bottom of the Ouija interface, Figure 3).

Besides playing scenes as appropriate, the screens provide visual feedback to the viewers as well. The two wheels on opposing sides of the bottom of the screen on the left of Figure 1 are maps of the story space. Spokes on the maps indicate plot points, while the rings indicate perspective. The line indicates the trajectory through the story space with light to dark indicating the history from present to past.

The two bands of images at the top and bottom of the screen are pictorial indicators of the story history from present to past. The bottom band tracks the history of selected perspectives, while the top band (which as described above corresponds to the ouija board) tracks the scenes.

The tracking of the history of the story terrain is used for more than visual feedback. Behind the scenes of the dynamically changing story data is collected, and later replayed, analyzed, and ultimately used to optimize the overall behavior of the system. This gives rise to an adaptive system that submits to the will of the viewer, while presenting an unpredictably unique assemblage of the evolving storymind.

Software

Developed using OpenFrameworks and C++, the software environment is developed as a distributed system using a software architecture called Universe, designed for the development of interactive artworks. As described in the author’s Ph.D. dissertation, Nonlinear Media As Interactive Narrative (Hosale 2008), use of the Universe architecture enabled the organization of the work into a system of world logic, adaptable views, and dynamic transformations. These components support the rhizomatic structure of the work, which exhibits the emergent quality of the operations, structures, and characteristics found in a nonlinear narrative.

 

Conclusion

The story terrain and presentation of An Uncommon Affair At Tooting Bec Common is a stratified and bifurcated non-linear terrain of data knowledge. As described above, the presentation of the four storylines unfolding on the screens is simultaneous. The cumulative effect of this simultaneity results in an indeterminacy that forces the viewer to parse, interpret, and perceptually navigate the mass of rhizome-structured information encountered in the installation.

While a state of indeterminacy between the screens exists, the connection between the screens is not random. As the viewer directs the four storylines, the storylines interact with each other. Synchronous, asynchronous, convergent and divergent patterns occurring between the screens are highlighted as events that effect the presentation of the content across all of the screens as a whole, resulting in an ever changing information texture, which shifts as the combined story space unfolds.


Exhibitions

There was a preview showing of an early version of the work that premiered on 9 November 2007 in the Transvergence Lab, Media Arts and Technology, University of California, Santa Barbara.

International Conference on Advances in Computer Entertainment Technology 2009, Athens, Greece (ACE 2009), October 2009.

SPARK Festival of Electronic Music and Arts (2010), Regis Center for Art, The University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 28 - October 3, 2010

GA2010, XIII Generative Art Conference, Milan, Italy, December 15th-17th 2010

 

References

Brotchie, Alastair, Mel Gooding, and Philip Lamantia. 1995. A book of surrealist games : including the little surrealist dictionary. Boston: Shambhala Redstone Editions : Distributed in the United States by Random House.

Burroughs, William S. 1961. The Cut-up Method of Brion Gysin. In The new media reader, edited by N. Wardrip-Fruin and N. Montfort. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Hosale, MarkDavid. 2008. Nonlinear Media As Interactive Narrative. Santa Barbara: University of California, Santa Barbara.

Joyce, M. 1993. Afternoon, a story. Leonardo:79-80.

Queneau, Raymond. 1961. Cent mille milliards de poèmes. Postface de François Le Lionnais. Paris: Gallimard.

About MarkDavid Hosale

MarkDavid Hosale is a media artist and composer who has a Ph.D. in Media Arts and Technology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. MarkDavid's interests are interdisciplinary, but the connecting tissue comes from thinking of art and music as a narrative. Particularly, the kinds of narrative that are structured using non-linear representations of information, time and space. The final result of this production is based on his ideas and research in this area and has played a large part in his dissertation work.


If you have any questions about this production, or would likemore information, please contact me at: markdavid [AT] mdhosale [DOT] com