Interference for Television with Metaphysical Re-Runs

(2005, 160 minutes, DVD, Color, Sound)

A DVD-based video object that re-organizes itself during playback. The DVD plays video content continuously, although the imagery neither loops nor is it random. A philosophical study of the distinctions between randomness, arbitrariness, complexity, and order; a political examination of the contemporary family as something “programmed;” an art-theoretical exploration of the relationship between an artwork and the critical statement; a medium-specific analysis of the DVD; and an artistic study in texture and the appropriation of imagery.

Detailed Synopsis

The flexibility of the DVD in terms of physical size, storage capacity, and interactivity affords filmmakers the ability to include with a film a number of alternate takes or endings. One consequence of this ability – most evident in commercial filmmaking – is a diminished responsibility on the part of filmmakers to make definitive choices about what to include in a final cut; in a sense, the DVD itself – by including alternate takes, endings, or other interactive components – becomes as much a work of art as the film it would contain.

Interference for Television with Metaphysical Re-Runs appropriates material from a commercial DVD release of The Beverly Hillbillies and presents it in a format such that the sequencing of video shots is determined (according to definite rules) by the DVD player during playback: every time a copy of the DVD is put into a DVD player, a different set of shots will be played in a different sequence. In effect, Interference for Television with Metaphysical Re-Runs is a DVD composed entirely alternate takes and alternate endings.

Artistic Process

To produce Interference for Television with Metaphysical Re-Runs, I limited myself to working with material appropriated from a single episode of The Beverly Hillbillies on DVD. I output the source video from my DVD player, through my VCR, and out onto a black and white television set via RF cable. I then videotaped the television screen, cropping the images selectively, while playing with the fast forward, rewind, and pause buttons on the DVD remote; furthermore, I manipulated the tuning knob on the television set to distress the image, and discovered that I could exert fairly accurate control over the interference patterns by combining the tuning knob on the television with the seek functions on the DVD player.

I then imported the video from my camcorder onto my computer, where I adjusted the color and contrast of the images, and edited the footage into eight sequences, each 10-20 minutes in length. Each of these sequences was then divided into 16 scenes; this specific ordering of video material is essential to the operation of the playback mechanism’s heuristic.

It was important to me to find a way of reordering the material during playback within the engineering specifications of consumer DVD players.

Aesthetics

Visually and thematically, Interference for Television with Metaphysical Re-Runs makes obvious reference to the work of Martin Arnold, and presents a similar deconstruction of a stereotypical American family life as Un Piece Touchee or Passage a l’Acte.

The aesthetic possibilities of noise have long been of interest to me (since reading John Cage’s book Silence). For some time I’ve also been playing with a set of visual motifs I’ll describe as “ambient television,” which is an extended meditation on Pavlovian conditioning and the ubiquity of television screens.

As a programmer, I view the combination of the DVD player and the instructions on the DVD disc as a computational system; as an artist, I am interested in using Interference for Television with Metaphysical Re-Runs to induce certain patterns of information in this system. The embedding of mathematic constructs in art has a long pedigree, from harmonies of simple ratios in cathedrals to geometric substructures in Islamic ornamentation, to the structure of various music scales. I’m particularly interested in certain mathematical patterns that have been identified by information science in the past 50 years or so.

Construction Details

The mechanism responsible for the sequencing of video during playback is not a randomizing function like one finds in CD players or iPods; at the heart of Interference for Television with Metaphysical Re-Runs is first a timer function, which keeps track of how much time has elapsed since the DVD was inserted into the player; and second, an algorithm that treats the number stored in the counter as a symbol, and which makes decisions about how to alter playback based on various formal properties of that symbol.

Ordinary numbers have many properties, such as being even or odd, prime, perfect, or the square root of some other number. The properties of numbers to which Interference for Television with Metaphysical Re-Runs is sensitive involve patterns in the binary representations of integer quantities (0=0000, 1=0001, 2=0010, 3=0011, 4=0100, 5=0101, etc.). The algorithm I designed uses combinations of bitwise Boolean and arithmetic operators to derive specific meanings from discrete sequences of binary values.

Binary Operations

This paragraph is the most difficult part and I’ll keep it brief; it’s not really that counter- intuitive once you wrap your brain around the terminology. A binary number (10001011) represents an integer quantity (139) as a sequence of binary values. Binary values can be expressed as 1’s and 0’s, TRUE and FALSE states, or YES and NO assertions; what is important is that they are binary (i.e., of two possible values). Each binary value is called a bit, which can either be ON or OFF. If a bit is OFF, it does not increase the size of the integer quantity which the binary number represents. If a bit is ON, it increases the size of the integer quantity according to the position of that bit in a sequence of binary values. When binary numbers are converted into integer quantities, the lowest bit can contribute 1, the second bit can contribute 2, the third bit can contribute 4, and the fourth bit can contribute 8. When one speaks of the size of a binary number, one refers not to the integer quantity (139) that the binary number represents, but rather to the quantity of possible binary values that can be used to represent an integer. Thus, a 1-bit binary number can represent 0 or 1, a 2-bit binary number can represent 0 or 1 or 2 or 3, a 3-bit binary number can represent 0 or 1 or 2 or 3 or 4 or 5 or 6 or 7, and so on. To convert a binary number into an integer, one simply adds together the positional values of all the ON bits, where each ON bit X represents the integer quantity 2X.

The DVD specification allows for 16-bit binary numbers, which can be used to represent any integer quantity between 0 and 65355:

 

Artistic Application of Binary Operations

Interference for Television with Metaphysical Re-Runs treats integers as symbols. The formal features of these symbols derive from the binary digit sequence used to represent the integer that corresponds to the number of seconds elapsed since the DVD is put into a DVD player. Time becomes a symbolic entity.

The lowest two bits in the integer quantity stored by the timer function instruct the DVD player how to behave every time the DVD player reaches the end of a scene on the disc. Because two bits can represent four possible values (the integers 0,1,2, or 3), this method of evaluating an integer can be thought of as behaving like a probability generator that will always instruct the DVD player to do one of four things during playback: skip to the next scene in the same sequence, skip to an arbitrary scene in the same sequence, skip to a scene with the same position in an arbitrary sequence, or skip to an arbitrary scene in an arbitrary sequence. If the DVD player is instructed to play the next scene in a sequence, but has just played the last scene (and hence, there is no next scene), the DVD player will wait for the probability function to tell it to do something useful.

Whenever the DVD player is instructed to skip to an arbitrary sequence, it finds the appropriate sequence to which it should skip by looking at the third, fourth, and fifth bits in the value stored by the timer. Because the third, fourth, and fifth bits can be used to represent eight possible integer values, and Interference for Television with Metaphysical Re-Runs is comprised of eight distinct sequences, this works out quite nicely mathematically.

Whenever the DVD player is instructed to skip to an arbitrary scene, it finds the appropriate scene to which it should skip by looking at the sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth bits in the value stored by the timer. Because these bits can be used to represent 16 possible integer values, and Interference for Television with Metaphysical Re-Runs is comprised of 16 distinct scenes per sequence, this also works out quite nicely.

Screenings of Interference for Television with Metaphysical Re-Runs