digi-noise

Posted by Rhizome | Mon May 5th 1997 1 a.m.

Nino Rodriguez wrote:

Perhaps I'm missing something, but there seems to me a fundamental
difference between analog and digital degradation.

If I have a videotape, and I pass a magnet over it, the video signal may
no longer be "legal" as the engineers like to say, but I can probably
still play the tape and view the results. If I do the same thing to a
PICT file on a floppy, the disk will most likely be unreadable. This is
the either/or nature of digital degradation I originally meant to get
at.

I don't really consider standard methods of digital signal processing,
or DSP, degradation. Applying a Photoshop filter to an image doesn't
actually corrupt the underlying information. The picture may look
corrupted, but it's *supposed* to look that way if you've been fiddling
with filters. Same goes for data compression. Your JPEG may have all
kinds of glitches and jaggies, but it's supposed to look like that if
you compress it too hard.

Similarly, digital video feedback -- like pointing your CUSeeMe camera
at its monitor -- is different from analog feedback, at least
theoretically, since there shouldn't be any way to introduce distorted
signals above 100% like there is in analog video.

Analog information bears a direct physical relationship to the real
world. You can introduce degradation into analog media because the
information has a physical presence.

This is why I see participants as the vital, degradable link in digital
culture.

Joseph Nechvatal replied:

Nino- Thanks for your comments. If one looks at the question of digital
degradation formally, than I surely see and uphold your distinction. I
tend to think of digital degradation as any type of "noise" in a
transformal way. This is no longer formal theory which speaks of a
sovereign object from the outside, but theory as a viral agent which
works according to the three biological viral rules: invasion of a host
organism; cloning of its master genetic code; and replication of the
virus using the dying energies of the organism.

The perceptual aspect of digi-noise involves visual detection problems
sometimes and communication problems all the time. Problems of detection
and communication include visibility, legibility and aesthetics. The
behavioral aspect has to do with the way in which noise communications
affect the attitudes and conduct of the audience. Advertising design is
expected to make people buy products or services, political or
ideological propaganda is expected to affect people's beliefs and
actions, regulatory signs on highways are expected to organize the flow
of traffic, teaching aids are expected to improve the learning
performance, bank notes are designed so as to make it difficult to forge
them and easy to distinguish one denomination from another. This is the
real measure of the performance of any and every piece of graphic
design, the proof that graphic design cannot be understood in isolation
but only within a communication system. Visual noise, to me, is any
degradation that does precisely the opposite. It raises the importance
of aesthetic approaches to a point where the communication link with the
common denominator they were addressing breaks down, ignoring the fact
that communication requires the sharing of codes. This is the frontier
that digital information technology opens up to us, I figure. There are
other frontiers enabled by digital science, of course; the exploration
of space, the study of the brain; but only our field of art will
continue to reveal unsuspected potentials in an important perceptual
phenomena: the relationships between human beings and their noise.

Very few artists have so far attempted to utilize a virtual reality
system as the interface between their creative energy and noise. It is
probable, however, that as virtual reality systems become more
sophisticated and accessible that more artists will introduce the extra
dimensions of immersion and interactive user participation into their
noise-tinged art works as it is likely, judging by the speed that the
industry has moved forward in recent years that virtual technology will
become relatively cheap and consequently more widely available before
the end of the century.

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