Database | Narrative | Archive (Montréal May 13-15 2011) Fri, 13 Jun 2014 20:18:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 D|N|A anthology just launched! Mon, 29 Apr 2013 22:07:35 +0000

We’re delighted to announce that we have just launched Database | Narrative | Archive, a collection of seven essays on nonlinear storytelling, edited by Monika Kin Gagnon and Matt Soar. D|N|A was built using Scalar, a brand new content management system for ‘multimedia scholarship’ currently under development at USC.

D|N|A features new writing by: Sharon Daniel, Monika Kin Gagnon, Suzanne Scott & Chris Hanson, Adrian Miles, Jennifer Proctor & Brigid Maher, Will Luers, and Amir Husak. Many of the contributions began as lightning talks delivered at the eponymous symposium held at Concordia University in May 2011.

Please take a look and let us know what you think!

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D|N|A Post-Symposium Publication now in production Mon, 14 Nov 2011 19:31:50 +0000

The deadline for our recent Call for Proposals for a D|N|A Post-Symposium Publication has passed. We’ve made a final selection and are now gearing up to create a collective, peer-reviewed, interactive Scalar ‘book’, featuring seven very exciting contributions. Each participant has been paired with an editor, whose job it will be to provide critical and creative support throughout the writing phase of the project. More news here as it happens.

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Call for Proposals for D|N|A Post-Symposium Publication Mon, 15 Aug 2011 21:12:38 +0000

Database | Narrative | Archive: An international symposium on nonlinear digital storytelling was held in Montréal, 13-15 May 2011. D|N|A attracted over sixty educators, artists, filmmakers, scholars and technologists from North America, Europe and Australia.

D|N|A was conceived in light of some emergent practices in the digital arts and humanities centring on interactivity, the web, documentary, and ‘new’ media. During what proved to be a highly successful gathering, almost forty of the participants gave lightning talks: highly condensed, 5-minute presentations focused on a ‘burning question’ they each wanted to open up for discussion.

As a way to further explore these questions, we invite expressions of interest for a post-Symposium, peer-reviewed web publication that will be produced in Scalar, a nonlinear experimental publishing platform. This open Call For Proposals is divided into seven separate calls, each one conceived and written by one of our contributing editors, drawing on some of the most pressing questions raised during D|N|A.

Responses can be in any medium suitable for publication on the web: linear scholarship; nonlinear creative writing; hypertext; photography; sound; video; film, or any combination of these media. The contributing editors will make their own editorial selections, which will be overseen by the project editors, Matt Soar and Monika Kin Gagnon.

Prospective contributors are asked to prepare an expression of interest (up to 300 words) responding to one of the seven questions, and send it in the body of an email to the respective contributing editor and cc the symposium organizers by Sept. 15th 2011. Full details here.

Questions (and editors) in brief

1. What new ethical considerations arise for producers/directors of nonlinear digital storytelling? (Sheila Schroeder)
2. What new inventions, tools and methods can be used for digital and database narrative? (Kim Sawchuk)
3. What about the Plot? (David Clark)
4. How do we give shape to a user’s cognitive and emotional engagement with database narratives? (Will Luers)
5. How do we think about the lifespan of a web-based project? (Dayna McLeod)
6. How might scholars explore interactive and digital technologies as forms of ‘procedural scholarship’? (Chris Hanson)
7. How do directors, audiences, and texts change as a consequence of database narrative? (Adrian Miles)

For the detailed Call for Proposals (pdf), click here.

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News and views on D|N|A (Updated 21/5) Thu, 19 May 2011 01:36:06 +0000

As the dust settles here at Concordia after the symposium, some of our participants have found the time to comment on the proceedings. We’ll add more as they surface.

Will Luers’ thoughtful blog entry. Example: “…the database narrative as a form is an orientation to the human world as a complex adaptive system rather than as a site of large and small “conflicts” centered around individual will and desire.” Like that.

Kat Cizek’s generous blog post about the Cabaret.

An extended and insightful set of observations from Adrian Miles, begun during the event.

Karen Herland’s short article ‘What is our D|N|A?’ in Concordia’s online news magazine Now.

David Dufresne’s blog post Out my Window, version cabaret.

The Goethe-Institut interviews Florian after D|N|A. (Also in German.)

And finally – our lo-fi Korsakow film documenting the lightning talks and the fishbowl is just about done (thanks Sean!).

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Collaborative notes from final afternoon (updated 21/5) Wed, 18 May 2011 19:56:16 +0000

We wrapped up the DNA symposium with an open conversation framed around four themes suggested by the participants: What next; How; Funding/grants; Academic outcomes. The notes were created on the fly and are pasted here more or less as written.

1. What next?
- Tools/resources for ‘DNA’ humanists: Processing, Twine, Celtx, (Scalar (not yet released), Vue (Tufts), Popcorn, WebGL, Will Luers’s HTML5/CSS/WebApp resource page, Sophie,, ubuweb, Vertov (cf Zotero), OVC (Open Video Conference), Korsakow, CombinInformation (Interface Ecology Lab)
- DNA2.0? Festival? Workshops?

2. How?
- Literature/references/citations including usability
- Skills: production, programming/computation, Google Analytics, APIs, RDF (backend for semantic web, eg tvtropes), Periodic Table of Storytelling,
- Methodologies – iteration, process, ideas, prototyping, usability, testing, metaphors,
- Borrowing from gaming – audience attention

3. Funding/Grants
- Examples: TFI New Media Fund, NEA, IDFA DocLab; Media (?); ITVS; Chicken & Egg; Bell New Media Fund; Creative Capital; Cine Reach
- big shift towards telcos as sources
- range of sources available + content/language of applications for grants
- Kickstarter (source of support for innovation), Indiegogo
- unusual, unexpected outside sources possible? ie. Canadian Wildlife Foundation; other non-profit agencies; not nec structured ‘grants,’ but available funds; sometimes related to partnering.
- Projects available nested within other existing digitization programs (pairings/partnering)
- new spaces of funding for web-based projects unrelated to broadcasting, ie. Arte; Radio-Canada; NFB;

4. Academic outcomes

- Self-publishing? Conference Proceedings (edited, standardized processes)
- Banff New Media Institute example: Bio Apparatus Project (750 word questions and pieces, interspersed w/ keynote essays). Or Video Vortex
- allow peer review credibility with innovative referee processes, using available software tools (ie. Scalar, supports multiple authors, etc)
- create working group (Matt, Monika, Kim, Will, David, Adrian, Abigail, Chris) to make proposal
- focus on key questions from L-talks as entry points, and pushing forward discussion of these.
- Use Scalar?

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(delayed) Liveblogging: Marsha Kinder, “Remixing DNA” Tue, 17 May 2011 00:47:51 +0000

Marsha Kinder Keynote

Marsha Kinder, founding director of The Labyrinth Project at the University of Southern California, opens the second keynote presentation of the weekend by asking, “What’s at stake?” Narrative, she states, is a cognitive mode in all human societies that we use to contextualize experiences. Cultures are kept alive through open-ended narratives. Each remix of a narrative opens space for the unknown, filters out the unimportant and determines new priorities. Marsha parallels this process with gene splicing – like editing, the remix generates new forms. The more aesthetically and emotionally compelling the narrative is, the better it functions in this cognitive purpose. Death occurs when the narrative reaches closure.

Marsha offers a distinction between ‘database’ and ‘archive.’ Drawing from Lev Manovich, she defines a database as a system enabling fast search and retrieval. An archive, in contrast, is a store of records structured for slow gathering and browsing. Both forms emphasize open narrative.

Citizen Kane, she proposes, can be understood as a database narrative, with the reporter as search engine. As he sorts through stories of Kane’s past, various representations of archives emerge – the Thatcher library and the jigsaw puzzle, for example. Through the film, identity and reality are always multiple, allowing for no singular truth. But at the end of the film, when the meaning of ‘Rosebud’ is revealed, the narrative closes and Kane’s story is locked in his death.

Though differing in style of execution, Chris Marker’s La jetée follows the same structure. Again, a character, the scientist, acts as search engine, and the narrative’s closure is embodied in death. Marsha’s third example is a film titled La niebla en las palmeras, built out of archival photos.

Marsha then introduces her own work with The Labyrinth Project at the University of Southern California. Bleeding Through: Layers of Los Angeles is a database narrative in the form of an interactive installation covering a sixty-six year long story of a fictionalized character named Molly and a possible murder. The database holds material on the ethnically diverse neighbourhood near downtown LA where Molly’s story takes place. Marsha points out that the database format emphasizes the process of selecting data and the implications of these choices. A viewer can choose to either focus on Molly’s story or go further into an ethnographic exploration of the urban environment. Material takes the form of still photos, then-and-now photo pairs, video clips and voice-over narration, shifting across temporal and spatial variables. Removing the constraints of linear storytelling allows the inclusion of characters unrelated to Molly’s story but no less essential in the representation of her neighbourhood. Marsha raises the question, “Who is left out when you create a narrative?”

Another Labyrinth work is Tracing the Decay of Fiction, an interactive exploration of the Hotel Ambassador, a now demolished Los Angeles landmark that played host to several Academy Awards ceremonies, the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy and many entertainment and political celebrities through the twentieth century. The project is structured around the architectural plan of the hotel, and houses about six hours of material. Multiple paths of entry are meant to give viewers the illusion of limitless content.

The third Labyrinth work that Marsha presents is Jewish Homegrown History: Immigration, Identity and Intermarriage, an interactive archive that grows through personal media contributed online by users. Metadata integrates uploaded personal histories with public records, enriching context in both directions and reinforcing known historical narratives, or revealing contradictions and deviations.

Borrowing words from media scholar Patricia Zimmerman, Marsha asserts that we must imagine archives as engines of difference and plurality that can drive us forward. Rather than endings, what we need are new beginnings.

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Not exactly “liveblogging,” not exactly “films” Mon, 16 May 2011 22:29:25 +0000

First, apologies for this delay. This was supposed to be a “live” blog. Second, congratulations to everyone involved – especially to all the members at CINER-G and for Matt Soar and Monika Kin Gagnon, co-organizers extraordinaire – but also to all the presenters, attendees and volunteers. Everyone’s efforts made this an incredibly memorable academic event. We all know there aren’t many events dealing with the intersections between database, archive, narrative and non-linearity in storytelling and this was surely a great one. Let’s not make it long between now and the next event. But until then, perhaps I can offer a few thoughts of reflection. Please note, these are purely antagonistic. They are not meant as judgments but rather as invitations for further exploration and as provocations for further discussion.

There was something strange going on in the symposium. Somewhat along the lines of what Sandy Carson pointed out as a theoretical short-sighting or lack of critical language existing to describe (or work through) the audience/user/spectator/browser. Puzzling was the choice of words used to describe the projects presented and discussed. Particularly interesting was the number of times database projects were referred to as “films.” The fact is, aside from Phil Hoffman’s piece, none of the projects presented at the symposium were films – as in, celluloid – but were instead made up of digital or electronic technologies. Conversely, the other term that was floating around was ‘DNA projects.’ As fitting as this term may sound, I don’t see it sticking throughout an internationally conducted dialogue. Certainly not any more than the term film would.

I am not proposing that the term film cannot evolve to include other types of media forms. I firmly believe this is a normal aspect of language and of media development. I simply want to raise concern and bring attention to the consensus that was evident throughout the symposium, and ask: why film and why not cinema, moving-images, motion-pictures, or movies? Is it because films stand in for a higher quality of moving-image projects, whereas movies stand in for a lower one, as in, by calling these “films” we raise their cultural value? Or is it because motion-pictures is reserved solely for celluloid? If this is the case, then why is film so easily transferable while motion-picture is not? Or is there a thinking-through process, involved in making these projects, that aligns them with celluloid usage and the use of this as a reference point to other techniques of moviemaking as predecessors? And if so, is the aim to maintain a relationship with celluloid and to define it as the parent of moving-image media? And if this is the case, does this then construct the history of these projects as a struggle against a dominant yet loving figure of mass-media format, setting up film as a mass-media and database projects as unmassed-media, thereby reanimating Andreas Huyssen’s “great divide,” separating mass-culture on the one side and avant-garde culture on the other?

If either of these reasons has some validity to them, then I would argue, following the spirit of database projects to rethink linearity, what we need is a different vocabulary, one that does not correspond so closely with other media types, and one that does not think of a linearity or hierarchy between media and social types; if only because some of the very aims, and (arguably) driving rational, behind many of these projects include the removal of hierarchical social structures, the “surrendering” of power, and the representation of non static cultural forms.

For example, instead of aligning these projects with the high-brow equivalent of cinema, why not align them with cinema’s low-brow equivalent? What is the need to situate these projects in culture’s higher end of the spectrum? Why not situate them in culture’s low or middle grounds? For example, if the term movies is slang for moving-images, why not create a slang equivalent to database projects and call them databasies? I know. It is a little strange to say “I am watching a databasie.” But isn’t this exactly what every practitioner who presented at the symposium is trying to accomplish – to get people to watch a database? Well perhaps not. Clearly not everyone thinks of these projects as necessarily being “watched,” but rather as browsed, experienced, or as Monika Wermuth thinks, as being strolled through in much the same way that a city is.

Not to abruptly stop, but is anyone up for a stroll through a databasie? Maybe we can continue this conversation while glancing at other ideas?

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Reflections on DNA Cabaret, May 14 Mon, 16 May 2011 02:43:45 +0000

Last night, symposium attendees filed into the Astral Theatre on Ste. Catherine to witness a special presentation (performance?) of Kat Cizek’s interactive docu-web project, Out My Window. Aided by the accompaniment of three talented musicians and a beautiful projection, Cizek’s project was artfully unfurled over the course of its 45 minute exhibition.

At a symposium where much attention was devoted to the significance of video as an essential tool in crafting compelling interactive documentary works, it was interesting to note the extent to which Cizek’s project relied much more heavily on photography, mapping, text, and audio testimony from her subjects. Cizek’s use of video was spare, carefully interwoven, and thus very effective.

Observing Cizek on stage, poised at her computer, carefully dragging her mouse cursor through the beautiful digitextual landscape of her site offered a compelling invitation into this work. The functionality of the site’s structure and its various modes of access were also well featured in the presentation. It is encouraging to see the National Film Board of Canada producing such innovative interactive work–very reminiscent of the NFB’s formidable animation pioneering during the Norman McLaren years.

In the cabaret that followed Out My Window, symposium attendees were treated to a diverse collection of performances by local artists. Genres included folk music, spoken word, standup comedy, modern dance, opera, and burlesque. Only the inclusion of a circus act could have possibly made this event “more” patently Montreal.

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Sixteen questions about digital nonlinear storytelling Mon, 16 May 2011 00:19:05 +0000

As promised, here are the questions derived from Saturday morning’s lightning talks. These were whittled down to six from sixteen by the participants on Sunday morning. Compare with the fifteen questions from Friday, below.

DNA data visualization here (updated after second round of lightning talks – thanks Jacquie).
Korsakow film with all lightning talks here. (thanks Sean and Azra).

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Liveblogging: Phil Hoffman’s Opening Series 2 and 3 Sun, 15 May 2011 06:46:21 +0000

Over lunch, filmmaker Phil Hoffman asked symposium attendees to take time to rearrange two sets of painted boxes containing 16mm film reels to determine the ordering of clips in the afternoon screening of his two films, Opening Series 2 and 3. He framed this gesture as a transfer of authorial control – but not necessarily to the people rearranging the boxes, since the contents of each box are unidentifiable.



After a rapid splicing session, the two films are ready for projection. Monika Kin Gagnon introduces Phil’s screening as an opportunity to consider the continuum linking analogue and digital technologies – an evolutionary progression many of this weekend’s presenters urged us not to forget.

The first film, Opening Series 2, is a montage of trees, human faces, birds, windows and other soft, saturated moving images. The second film, Opening Series 3, the interactive version of the linear film Kokoro is for Heart, is a collaboration with poet Gerry Shikatani, who normally performs live spoken word alongside the projection. This iteration without Shikatani present is instead shown with a recording of his voice. A sequence of black and white shots of a human figure, shrubs and rock patterns in a gravel pit follow the staccato rhythm of Shikatani’s words repeated in English, French and Japanese.

Phil contextualizes his Opening Series films as a reaction to the emergence of nonlinear digital media in the early 1990s. He says that the audience’s participation in the editing process has also kept the project fresh for him over the many years he has seen it screened.

The showing of these 16mm films is a unique moment of analogue technology during the DNA Symposium. The switch in modality can be clearly felt in the substantial darkening of the room. The extra projectors that had been showing the presentation timer and symposium twitter feed are turned off, and audience members have put away the laptops and ipads that had stayed active through previous sessions. The 16mm projector also provides a more localized illumination than the digital projectors. This move away from multiple layers of simultaneous information sources brings a tangible change to the mood of the audience. With the interactive editing exercise complete, we now focus only on viewing.


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