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Monthly Archives: October 2011

I’ve rather belatedly discovered that what I have been calling ‘the cognitive moment’ (meaning the amount of time it takes to recognise – and put a name or descriptor to an image), is labelled by psychologists as ‘the perceptual moment’. Such moments are also interestingly, called ‘frames’ – how convenient for film makers!

A frame of reality – the amount of time necessary for light signals from the object to travel the distance to the eye, to impact on the sensory system, for the cascade of electro-chemical signals to travel from neurone to neurone, being sifted as to the degree of life-threatening attention required, being filtered through pattern recognition and long term memory, then the nanoseconds necessary to retrieve that memory -that word, number, date -and to say to oneself ‘that’s a Rodchenko’! This remarkable process, according to cognitive psychologists, takes somewhere between 20 and 200 milliseconds. My film Zeiteye creates 7 frames of images a second, that is each image is projected for c 143 milliseconds -enough time you would think to see a frame of video, to re-cognise the image, and to say Rodchenko (or whoever it is).

But this is not just a single image you are seeing, it is a rapid montage – a succession of images, each viewed for 143 ┬ámilliseconds… The brain is pushed to it’s cognitive limits. .

A sample strip of frames from ZeitEYE for 1964-1968

Context helps, as does chronology – the more you know of media history the more you can infill with logical interpolation. And how fast is the logical interpolation?

The story of Zeiteye is not a conventional narrative, but it is a chronological progression, one way of telling a story. the depth you need to round-out the story -to make a proper story – will come from interactive control over the frame-rate and the ‘book’ element of the film-book form -the contextual images and texts that appear around the video frame…

sample strip from 1964-1968 ZeitEYE eyes

So Zeiteye has an internal, content-driven narrative. It has an algorithmic narrative, driven by it’s look-ahead codec (MPEG4), and it has a procedural narrative – it’s database form of collected and archived images tracing the history of media innovation . . Cognitively, it relies on image-recognition, on reading the inter titles, and on ones stored knowledge of media history -your cognitive context of personal memories, learned facts, remembered images, faces, and facts.

images from 1966-68 ZeitEYE eyes

Are words more iconographic than images? You can read a single word say TURING as quickly as you might recognise a photograph of Turing, but with the word the abstraction is already done – it’s a word of memory already, you don’t have to ‘say’ it to yourself – to verbalised the thought, as you do with an image. A word is its own label, a picture requires a word of recognition. Is this true for everyone?

I realised this when I decided to introduce inter titles into Zeiteye in order to clarify some of the more obscure images. The inter titles came to provide another reading of Zeiteye, to supplement the images and the decade subtitles and dates.

The iconographic, instantaneous inter titles help ‘frame’ the more obscure images, as do images with identifying words and graphics embodied in them, such as film posters, illustrated book jackets, record sleeves. This framing of less easily identifiable images, together with the chronological context, helps the brain decipher and decode the stream of information in the film.

You have clues. The more knowledge you have of media history, the more you can ‘logically interpolate’ or simply guess the identification of unknown or unfamiliar images.

The logical interpolation process consists of the perceptual frame or cognitive moment (the 20 to 200 milliseconds) PLUS the time it takes for the interpolation. In short-term or ‘working’ memory, most of us can store some 6 or 7 bits of information – a phone number – while some of us enjoy a larger working memory of maybe 20 or 30 variables. Some programmers have this facility – a useful skill in developing a complex algorithm or the plotline of a novel or film.

But the onslaught of mutiple film frames per second stretches short-term memory to its limits. The brain has just decoded or recognised an image, and already another image and another is demanding attention. Quite soon, you realise that its an impossible task and the brain relaxes into a cognitive flow that can be immensely enjoyable, the images wash over the attentive consciousness, and you bathe in the almost hypnagogic trance of iconic media memories and memory triggers.

frames from The Natural History of Alamogordo

The new film pulls tiny images from the database of media inspirations, and expands them to full screen in a kind of exponential zoom. Intermittently, fragments of remembered media, scraps of media-memes are flashed on the screen, superimposing the staccato and seemingly endless repetitive zooms through the zeit-eyes of the last 100 years.

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