by Sven Triloqvist
Sun Jan 9th, 2011 at 11:41:35 AM EST
I was playing with a little 28k app on my Xperia today, Pattern Generator: "a mix between a kinetic spirograph and a kaleidoscope - creates mesmerizing moving pattern on the screen." You can download it for androids here, for free.
Then I realised it's a little more than fifty years since John Whitney struggled with a World War II M-5 Antiaircraft Gun Director (a mechanical analogue computer), to create the same visual. Once his machine was refined, it was more than 12 ft (365.76 cms) high. To record one `pixel' took about 9 seconds.
I first saw Whitney's Mandala animation films aged around 16. They had quite an impact (along with some others from the Canadian National Film Board). I had to know how they were done. No Google then, so off to the library, talk to the physics master and a friend of my father's who ran a small cinema. And the result was an interest in the actual process of capturing light on film, as well as the possibilities of pixellation (shooting one frame of movie at a time, moving physical objects between frames). Take a bow, Nick Parks.
The first film I ever made, a couple of years later, on a Yashica T-3, bought from my earnings as a football coupon checker at weekends while in first year at art college, was called `Sleeping and Digging'. It featured my fellow surrealist, Robert Medhurst, in bed, intercut with him in the garden. In bed he slept as an assortment of magrittesque objects passed or crept over him - some by pixellation, some with back thread, and a bicycle that was handed across the frame. In the garden he was either tirelessly digging, in jump cuts, or floating around in the air on his knees. This we achieved by me shouting "1 2 3 jump" and taking a single frame of him at the height of his jump, using a shutter release cable. He was knackered when we finished that sequence. We thought our edited masterpiece quite advanced for its time. Mr Whitney would have been....well, shocked, probably.
So all those efforts to create motion visuals. Now a 28k app.
And that made me think how many bits of machinery I have once learned how to use, but now forgotten. I did not use the hand-cranked spirit duplicator my father had in his office - but I knew how it worked. Messy business. I was a dab hand with a Telex once. Before that I'd done printing layout using a huge IBM daisywheel to clean print text, cutting each bit out, and then using a back light with a grid on it to stick the text in alignment. The IBM also had a short memory (was it 256 characters?) so you could print a line, proofread it, and then go back and change letters, before printing it again clean and layout-paste-up ready.
Then there's double-declutching, Olivettis, the Mitchell 35mm movie camera sound blimp, and I'm sure you'll have your own obsolete technology to contribute. Am I sorry these technologies are no longer around? No, of course not. I am fascinated by the implications of all innovations. But I grew up with the phrase `labour-saving' and still have to ask, for what have we saved all this labour?
PS The slowest-evolving domestic machine would be the sewing machine, or would you agree?