This year the EmMA forum was held in the Arena Hotel, Amsterdam and hosted by HKU. Officially the theme was Old meets new: media, and aimed to both highlight the student activities throughout the centers across Europe, and the work of the event sponsors. Throughout the week the students were asked to keep a journal of the weeks forum.
Prior to traveling to Amsterdam we began a project which asked us to set up a knowledge network with students from HKU (Utrecht school of the arts), and to remotely investigate one area of Amsterdam. I was in a group with Dan Fox, Graeme Brimecombe, Pidge Hendrie and Stephen Hall with our area being Grimburgwal.
This work culminated in the creation of a web page to demonstrate our impressions of the area before traveling to see it for ourselves.
The Portsmouth group traveled from Heathrow Airport and arrived at Amsterdam airport, which is a train ride in order to get into the city itself.
Students arrived on Monday and initial impressions of Amsterdam were that all looked like the images that we have all seen before.This is even to the extent of coming out of the station itself, where we were confronted with both bikes, trams and canals.
Arrival at the Arena hotel was delayed by our group getting on the wrong tram, leaving us the other side of the Oosterpark. A short walk through this very picturesque park led us virtually to the door.
After a short break several members of the Grimburgwal team gathered and walked together to see the street itself, arriving at there at around 6pm.
After a welcome drink outside, and in the sun, we began our program of photographing the area with this mainly falling to Graeme as it is his profession. The three of us then continued our investigation of the bar and had our evening meal there, also spending our time interrogating the bar staff and local users of the bar.
From the bar staff we found that Grimburgwal apparently had the oldest original part of the Wall that once stood for the boundary for Amsterdam town. We were also told that residents with dogs that barked after a certain time at night could be fined.
We were asked to enroll for the forum, and in return were given hats, a forum guide and a pack about Amsterdam, which included a guide on buying drugs.
As we had little to do until 6 pm so we walked back to Grimburgwal, but also took a different route, so that we would experience different aspects of the city. Again we took photos but this time the entire group went there.
One of the elements that al the group found on the internet was information about a pancake house, called upstairs, that was above the hologram museum. As a result we spent our lunch there. There is a wide choice of pancake, with both savoury and sweet varieties. To our tastes they were either very sweet or very salty. It is a very small room, that is entered by a very steep staircase, and on the ceiling, a large collection of teapots add to the atmosphere. This day was extremely hot, however and the size of the place acted against it. We did discover that the street is much busier in the day than in the evening, but not just with students as we had thought. It revealed a great deal of traffic trying to force its way through what is a very narrow street. We were also exposed to a day of concrete mixers, which managed to get photographed a great deal during the day.
The opening speech by Ad Wisman was quite short, and we were then given an evening meal. At this point I managed to make some contacts, getting to know Jan, Guedo and Marten (all from HKU). However this proved to be the best occasion of the week, which I think is due in part to a lot of the students either watching the presentations on TV in there hotel rooms or dissipating to the park and other destinations during the breaks. It became evident that certain students and Guest speakers that I had hoped to talk to were not seen again!
Down to work.
First presentations were delayed due to a computer theft, and so David Garcia gave a talk in the Fresco Hall, filling us in on the history surrounding the ownership that residents of Amsterdam feel towards their cable network, chiefly due to the pirate broadcasters of the past eventually breaking down barriers. As a result the entire weeks forum was broadcast across the network.
Frank Alsema, from VPRO (Dutch public broadcasting) introduced the audience attending in the concert hall to his Typotoons (a weekly broadcasting, creative children's media event). This featured a 'game' that had three parts. The first was an Internet area that were children helped to write a story that was started and to some extents guided by an author. This led to a level of involvement that is rarely seen from children in this was, bringing the school playground and its imagination into the public arena.
The second level was an animation area were the story was transferred into letter forms. I didn't actually understand this area or how it worked but it still looked impressive. It was interesting to see how they had taken the characteristics of the letter forms and translated it to motion, splitting the alphabet into several groups such as the long talls and so on.
The final part of the game was with four children (picked from the story writer (some how)) who were taken to special set in a tv studio, where they could not see each other or hear each other except via electronic means. Again I lost the thread of how this worked, partly due to Frank not wishing to explain the rules.
A short questioning session ensued, where I asked how he saw this game being translated in an adult game, and did he see any problems?, He admitted it would be a great idea, but yes the story writing could be much harder to achieve (or words to that effect). I also expressed my concerns over the ownership of the story and materials that were developed, he chose not to tackle this issue directly (I was thinking about Linux and the way community's of programers contribute to make the whole but no single person has ownership of the product, but can freely use it).
After a much needed coffee break we returned to the hall to hear from Jan Willem Huisman, from IJsfontein. He emphasized the need to love your user and to not just design for your ego (see note). He was by far the most inspiring speaker of the day for me. He demonstrated several products and showed how just a little imagination could make something mundane, interesting.
He also made a controversial comment regarding two games, were the first was the girls game and the second the boys game. Obviously, if taken the wrong way this could be upsetting, however I am quite willing to believe that this was an language issue. After all it is hard to express this theme even when you have English as your first language. I took him to mean that they had set out to develop games that they felt would be more attractive to boys OR girls, but not exclusively. I also liked both game ideas. The boys game inevitably was kind of spacey and escapist, while the 'girls' game was about an interactive diary, with built in games... such as making up faces for their friend and paring them off with other friends. I have to admit I would have been drawn to the 'boys' game!.
Merz Academie, student presentations.
Language of Interface.
Architecture in space
I was really interested in the last of these presentations as she really seemed to be trying to say something, that was at least new to me. She expressed her concerns that modern architecture has little imagination, but demonstrated though her film of composite materials that the imagination could be found in science fiction films dating back to the 50's. She had grouped the film clips into sections such as portals (door ways), open spaces and so on, demonstrating a staggering amount of breadth in form and use of materials. It could equally be used to demonstrate how science fiction films have also become increasingly dark, desolate and uninviting places. I started to drift into this thought stream and missed some of her talk. I failed to get to talk to her afterwards.
Klaus Opperman (not sure of spelling, sorry), managed to extend the limits of the audience attention span. Unfortunately his work had been a very personal installation, so that only video footage of this could be shown. He also gained the nickname of spaceman, during the week or Beamerman. Beamerman relating to his constant use of this term for describing Video Projectors, which was new to our ears!. We were all thinking about BMW's. I think his work could have been interesting to experience, and I could understand how such a personal piece was hard to express.
Wednesday evening most of the group returned once more to Gimburgwal, and ate in the bar, which has soon become apparent as the focal point of the street. It was also colder this evening than the other few nights, and it seemed that it would have been hard to get anyone else in. All levels of the bar were in use, and we were shown to the top level. This proved to be a great vantage point to record sound and observe the locals and visitors alike. It was obvious that as well as our group there were also tourists using the bar. This was one of the nights that help form stronger bonds within the group with several members opeing up and stating there fealing. Most of which, I tried not to record!
Centre National de la Bande Dessinee et de L'image, Laboratoire d'imagerie numerique.
The academy chose to show the showreel from last year, which proved to be very interesting visually. I have produced some storyboards from their video, to give an impression (I hope they don't mind).
As I understood this, the turtle, is in a dry, hot place and a volcano erupts. The turtle is shot through space and into a 'pond' . Here it meats a small 'panda' who is stranded on a tree and is it seems unable to swim. The turtle gives the panda a lift and they swim back to the eruption, were they put out the volcano and make the land green and fertile.
I have strong hopes that I missed the point and that this was based in some Peruvian religious significance. I have deliberately not forced my impressions upon the piece as it is awaiting explanation.
Another animation's that I really enjoyed was untitled as far as I could see.
This was for me the most technically and visually accomplished piece, that should shame any other animation course's work. It truly was enjoyable, in a Disney kind of way, with humour (the hardest thing to animate) expressed brilliantly, well I could go on but I suggest you try to see the video (I have a copy).
Utrecht School of the Arts (HKU)
Terrasonica, a collaborate 'program' that attempted to make a game expressly for use by the visually impaired. The audience was appreciative of the work, concept and approach. The group then ran a workshop for interested parties to experience. I asked two students who did go what they thought. I was especially interested in Dan Fox's response. He found that it didn't really work, as the subtlety was not possible to reproduce accurately, given a feeling of suddenly rushing at things rather than a steady approach. I hope the group go on with this project though as I think it could lead to some interesting developments.
You can visit the team at:
The second presentation was another group project called 'Grounded', which again had a very interesting approach to the project. I also saw some parallel's to the way our group had been working. The approach they took was firstly to break down the finished product that they wanted into chunks, basing the project on a timeline deconstructed from a song. Each student then went out to get material, shoot footage etc. with the knowledge of the time period they needed to work too. They did not seem to decide the subject before hand, other than the projects outline (to make a movie about a story).
Excerpt from their web site....http://isca99.hku.nl/
'Grounded' features the journey of a single individual, captured in a decaying world. The only way out of this country is to cross the border, hoping to find a better future. Violeta hasn't lost her hope for freedom, food and safety yet. Will she be strong enough to make it? It represents a vision of a post-totalitarian state, a state falling and impossible to control. This is a place, governed by His Majesty the Chaos where human life has no value. Escape is the only hope.
The presenter, Alexandra Cichecki, proved to be one of the few participants in the forum to actively ask the audience to provide feedback. Her group was also one of the few that I managed to talk to afterwards, where I was able to ask why she thought of Belgium as being a wasted country, as she had put it. I think that she was referring to the variety of resources available, but not utilized, within Belgium. (The Dutch have a thing about Belgium though...)
The visual quality of the film, did remind me of many other students films, and of course the assumption is to think of 'Blair Witch' as this is one of the few main stream films to have used this kind of footage. I did however find on section that stood out from the rest, that Alexandra did. This featured the same kind of footage but split down the middle by a black bar occupying about one sixth of the screen. This had an effect of suggesting stereo footage, and in the black space they had placed text. However the text never overlapped the edges of the black bar but seemed to be behind it. This in turn generated a feeling of depth, that would not have worked if used in a still frame or on printing material. I have not seen this before, which is surprising as it is such a simple idea. I am sure we will all see it again in the future.
(This is a simulation not their imagery)
Towards an Interactive Collection of Standards from the Musics of the World
I really thought this was a great tool, although their web site may put of enquiries! I thought that they had answered the brief that I think they set for themselves with a client that they found, and what is more, I also think that they may well go beyond that brief in the future. Although I have little interest in music other than playing it, there work could open up doors to the tone deaf. I think they could benefit from some graphical imput as I can't honestly remember what the work looked like. I could suggest getting togther with Les Atelier (who presented on Friday).
The Beurs of Berlage
So I have to say that these guys made one crucial mistake in their presentation.. they didn't manage to convey to the unknowing non-Dutch, why the building was so significant, and therefore why it should require so much effort to be put into a presentation. I have visited their work on the Net and now have some idea.
The project is a multimedia CD-ROM for the Beurs Van Berlage located in Amsterdam. This architectural monument has a profound signature in the history of art and architecture. Built in 1903 by a contemporary anti-capitalist genius named Berlage, this monument exemplifies innovative simplicity of architecture and aesthetic unification of multiple art forms, all trapped in a romantic almost alive ambience, that is narrated along a very critical and influential timeline. The CD-ROM is meant to depict such an overwhelming ambience using several research material like books, archives, interviews, questionnaires, videos, and imagery.
So I suspect that this distracted me from the work itslef. I also gleaned from their website that the project was aimed at an older audience than my self and therefore the visual qualities of the piece or the subject were of interest to myself. I felt that it also may have suffered a little from having such good projects beofre it.
Unfortunatly this presentation also left me with more questions than it explained.. I think it was a web site that related to a magazine, but I was not sure if the guy had also done the magazine. Again I have now found that it was a redesign of an existing site, and that he was attempting to make it more appealing to the target audience (? up to 18 yrs old). I am affraid that if this audience was in the U.K. I would have to say that he failed, although I admit it may well be suitable for Dutch kids.
ZOOM Atlas Project
From their web site:
Our project will take place in a school environment. The people who created the Diane-project gave us information on the project, about schools participating in the project and some names of interesting contact-persons. The desired effect of the project is that children learn to tell a story by using new media and that they'll have fun while dealing with (our) educational issues. Our end-product will be used by children and their teachers in the school environment.
When I saw this presentation I didn't understand the brief or the aim but did find the interface very resfreshing, something at a professional level and I would have liked to have done this quality of work.
Day of reckoning was upon us as this was our turn.
First group was presented by Glen Mayer, who explained that their are had been the Museum Plain (Van Gogh museum area). It appeared that they had found quite a lot of information on the area and had had more success with networking than my group. This may have been that Glen could read Dutch, being an Afrikaans speaker. They showed a collection of work with each member of the group producing different ideas, on how to express what they had found. Each of these ideas could easily be worked up into a finished piece, but it was clear that they were not quite there yet.
Second group was presented by Lisa, and was of Bejinhof (umn), and again it seemed that each of the group members has worked on a different approach. There was a theme however that seemed to be, a deliberate reliance on memories of contacts who had visited the area before. One piece of imagery struck me as the strongest, relying on a form, created by the reflections in the windows of the (church?). It would have been even more effective if the images had had some motion... clouds moving for instance.
Third group was our own, with Stephen Hall volunteering to do the presentation. We chose deliberately not to disguise our work with words but simply to show the directions and changes that we had taken, in the end showing just five of the interfaces that we had done. The 'final' piece lacked interactivity and feed back, with the user able to move a boat along the canal, which showed elevations of the buildings, built up chiefly from images that had been found by the group and then laid out in the order we believed they existed in. I had then worked on this using a pressure sensitive pen in Painter to produce an image that looked old media but had never been outside of new media technology. On top of this image photographic stills of the are (also mostly from the net) showed how the street actually was. Stephen also explained some of the differences we had found when actually spending time in the street.
The final group was initially presented by Mike (Mullen) who represented one half of the group who had spent most of their efforts investigating and researching their area, which was New Markt. John Pratt then took over the presentation, with Matt Higson operating the computer. It seemed apparent that they were showing us some things they had found on the net, and also an interface that had already been used by John on an earlier project, but rejigged with a new image for this purpose. Having actually visited their area I didn't really see what the presented work had to do with the reality, but seemed more to do with stereotypical aspects of Amsterdam itself. They then went on to show some lingo that was written by Stephen Hall on there behalf. I look forward to their next presentation.
I haven't tracked down any of the presenters names I regret. It was perhaps a pity that not as many students attended these presentations, as I felt they were some of the best. The first was of Ship of Fools, a piece based on a French legend. I which I had understood more of this project but found it quite appealing visually although I did remark on a level of naivety at the time.
The second presentation, online E-puces (Flea Markets) and had a really good navigation system that easily enabled the user to search for items by Name, Date (of manufacture), Brand, Material (such as plastic), and location of manufacture (made in England). I really thought this was a very simple and easy to understand interface that did work on the Love the Users (Jan Willem Huisman) approach. I wanted to use this project!
Finally the main presenter showed her work, Freejaz. Actually this was a group project as I suspect all of them were, but what made this piece was the interface. This turned what would have basically been a boring and uninteresting project into something which was alive. It chiefly was a database of Jazz which enabled the user to listen to MP3 samples of styles of jazz from several artists, with a location system enabling you to choose via mood or artist, in a kind of living grid of lines that anyone could use. The mood was split into colour bands vertically, that I would have found interesting to find why she chose certain colours to represent certain moods. Unfortunately she was not able to stop to talk, even later after the Forum Panel Discussion.
Forum Panel Discussion.
That had concluded the presentations as the timetabled event didn't go ahead, due to lack of interest?. As a result the Forum Panel Discussion was brought forward. This seemed likely to be of great interest but ended up being a match between one guy (sorry, missed the name) from a broadcasting company and the rest of the assembled crowd. He made an early remark relating to what is art or something like this which has been asked by many great artists and some not so great for an awful long time. However it didn't seem to go down too well. Alexandra from HKU was also on this panel but didn't get much chance to join in. I had hoped that this would be a healthy debate on the state of new media, not just streaming and video technologies, and on one or two occasions it almost seemed to make it, but ultimately didn't. I had recorded this discussion but chose to erase it.
A party was organised and I had intended to return for it, but Stephen Hall and I decided to go on a walk about, in order to eat. We ended up having an interesting diner outside a French restaurant, with two Swiss nationals to my right and two Swede's on my left. This eventually ended up with four languages being spoken, with my translation indicating that the two Swedes were singers, but then my French really isn't that good!.
We also ended up walking through Grimburgwal, which had for a short while become our second home. Here we had some drinks and then set about interviewing some locals and recording some water noises. Despite the late hour there were still people moving through the street and on the water, although not as many as earlier in the week. We did however, through the interviews, find out that the end of the street is used by the local junkies to sell stolen bikes, and we were reliably informed that we should be able to get one for as little as 15 Guilders (which isn't much money at all).We eventually returned to the hotel at 3am and were not allowed into the party as the entry time was 11.30 at the latest!
Saturday we decided to visit the Van Gogh museum, which I found a little disappointing. I had hoped to see more of his work, but was still interested enough to see all that was there, despite now finally submitting to Glens cold, and too much walking, and too much drinking! Stephen and I then went to try to find a tour boat that would take us down Grimburgwal (dedicated weren't we), but despite visiting all of the operators, none of them admitted using it on there routes. This we found astounding as we had seen them using the canal all week. Also, on my return, I took the time to read a leaflet that I had picked up that explained that they did indeed use the canal as there route back to their starting point on Rokin.
We went out later with some of the others on a short tour, that took us to the harbour and around some of the canals. I was interested in the Golden corner, which gets its name from the fact that the merchants all had their houses on this one bend, and they were all significantly larger than the surrounding and normal 3 to 5m wide properties. Some of these houses having 14 rooms. We also saw 'the other side', which is the area outside of old Amsterdam, that has all the new developments, and most of the poorer housing (as explained by our friendly bar staff earlier).
Sunday we returned home, thankfully to no problems at the airport.
Oh, and why post-it notes? Well we were asked to make links between the presentations, for our journal. I had intended to use different sizde post-its and rearrange them to make connections. As I didn't find many this idea fell apart. Also another failing was that I had hoped to include images from professional sources in this window, such as images from Prosperos Books by Peter Greenaway, as I saw connections with come of the imagery he had used, even though this was back in 1991.