20 September 2009

Quantinuity: Towards a Theory of Continuity for Hypercubist Cinema

Updated 20 September 2009: an excerpt of the lecture is now available!

This is a summary and expansion of ideas originally delivered as a lecture at Perestroika
12 November 2008 – Porto Alegre, Brazil


Hypercubism is an attempt to define a movement that can encompass and surpass postmodernist theory by demanding a new language for describing the zeitgeist of contemporary media. It is in recognition of a new constructive tendency which unites the particles created in postmodernist deconstructionist analysis. In this sense hypercubism can be said to be a synthetic, associative movement. It is a movement for the 21st century although its roots can be traced back to the early 20th century.

We can see the new structure of knowledge as the primary driving force behind the need for this new language. The continuum which passed through agriculture and books in the form of an ever-broader branching Tree of Knowledge is slowly coming to an end, as the internet reshapes human knowledge into a Data Cloud. This restructuring of knowledge has profound ramifications, from the way people learn to the way governments govern and companies conduct business. The principle transformation is from hierarchies which favor a single vantage points to a plurality which favors the wisdom of crowds. [1]

The Dawn of the Cloud Era

For a long time it made sense to model the world in tree-based structures. The tendency of tree-based thought is to divide things into smaller and smaller pieces, creating a branching structure.

When this vector of inquiry reached its peak, humans split the atom. This development literally blew apart most people's notions of the world of human knowledge when atom-splitting technology manifested itself in the massive, cataclysmic destruction of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

This marked the first visualization on a global scale of the new cloud of human knowledge and symbolized the beginning of a new era of human civilization. Incidentally, to this day we are not sure how far you can go in splitting matter into tiny bits. Just this year CERN inaugurated the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest and most complex scientific instrument. So the search for smaller particles is still alive and well.

Incidentally, CERN would be the site of the technological innovation that actually transformed the cloud into a metaphor with positive potential: the internet. With the birth of the internet, humanity embraced knowledge as a data cloud, unbounded by the physical world of books.

This new cloud of knowledge is ever-changing. With smug certainty we can already predict that the internet as we know it today in 2008 will be radically different in another five to ten years. Evidence comes in the rapid spread of phenomenon like Wikipedia, YouTube, Skype and Facebook; services which are simultaneously extremely new and yet need no introduction due to their immense popularity and widespread mass adoption.

With the advent of mobile internet the cloud based consciousness is starting to transform not only the spaces of offices and bedrooms, but also the public commons. Many of us walk around with radical spacetime portals capable of siphoning knowledge from the data cloud right in our pockets – smart phones. The 1990s critique that surfing the internet made people lazy and detached from society is giving way to the present critique that people are more and more distracted when you meet them in person. An individual constantly being interrupted by their smart phone is a person caught between various conflicting spacetimes.

Ostensibly the physical interface of smart phones will ultimately implode so that our access to the data cloud is a seamless part of everyday reality. Perhaps one step forward will be miniature displays embedded onto the surfaces of contact lenses.

The internet may not be worth calling the internet in the future; it might indeed be better to call it the Metaverse. As reality changes and accquires this layer of metadata, our day to day lives change. One way to think of it is that the rate of coincidence is on the rise. With more access to metadata our decisions will be better informed in regard to naturally occurring patterns in our social, professional, creative and civic spheres. Patterns that used to be invisible. Instead of making plans with your friends you might prefer to have your proximity-based services module alert you when your friends are in your vacinity. A natural result of this changes in reality will be a change in how we tell stories.


Splitting the Pixel

Quantinuity (quantum + continuity) is a theory which attempts to create grammar of a particlized cinema much like the dueling theories of Hollywood Continuity and Soviet Montage attempted to describe the grammar of celluloid cinema. Cinema has followed the same progression that matter has undertaken in the world of particle physics. We have seen a medium born in transparent plastics evolve into a magnetic signal to eventually become pixels.

Finally, in this year of 2008, new efforts to "split the pixel" have finally resulted in the cinematic equivalent of splitting the atom: Radiohead's groundbreaking music video "House of Cards" created together with Google using 3D laser plotting technologies; instruments normally used to study car crashes or rainfall from satellites. This collaboration is of fundamental significance because of the stature of the band and the technology company and their combined undeniable influence on popular culture and technology respectively.

The effect of "splitting the pixel" has not been particularly dramatic or intense, and it could very well be because "House of Cards" does not surpass the aesthetics of the signal based analog video medium; the Rutt Etra video synthesizer produced similar visual results with waves. As recently as 2004, New York band TV on the Radio has revived the Rutt Etra ghost in its music video "Staring at the Sun".

It will take a fully rendered, photo-realistic 3D holographic feature-length movie to drop the cinematic atom bomb. It will take a hypercubist narrative that surpasses the tired tropes of singers, landscapes and party scenes of music videos and proves that you can do more with all this particlization than just nifty special effects, for instance Trinity's jumpkick in the first Matrix movie. Despite this shot being composed of many shots, it is wholly insufficient to describe the process as "photo stitching" or special effects. The characteristic quality of such a cinematic moment is the particlization of the celluloid frame and the resulting simultaneous visualization of multiple spacetimes. It is adding dimension and depth to the frame and creating a hypercube.

Recognizing the hypercube as the new unit of cinematic reality – as the particle left behind after the "splitting of the pixel" – demands a new terminology to describe the process formerly called editing or cutting. As a hypercube can also be called a Tesseract (its mathematical name) we arrive at the term tesseracting – manipulating the new spacetime of hypercubist cinema.

Standard moving image technologies do not capture depth because of an inherent celluloid bias towards flatness. Furthermore, these same technologies tend towards low frame rates which hover around multiples of 24 due to the high expense of celluloid and the engineering challenge of projecting film at high speeds at low cost (even IMAX HD only runs at 48 frames per second). Meanwhile we have amazing multi-channel surround sound systems and the capacity to sample audio at incredibly high resolutions of 48,000 samples (and significantly higher) per second. Surely our visual perception is not at the same degree of resolution as our hearing, but it is in the hypercubist reality of video games, which accelerate frame rates into the hundreds for high speed animations of gunfire and race cars, where we can finally find a commercially viable precedent for higher temporal resolution in moving images.

Marketplace pressure will also spur the development of affordable holographic systems. Evidence can already be found at MIT's Center for Future Storytelling in its Holographic TV project, as well as the Musion Eyeliner holographic projection system.


Until now this discussion has been focused on the hypercube, the microscopic level of Quantinuity. As we take a broader perspective we can observe in the postmodern deconstruction of the narrative a universe consisting of larger chunks of information; characters, scenes, episodes and sequels.

At this level of Quantinuity we again find a lack of adequate terminology to describe contemporary cultural phenomena. This time the problem stems primarily from the critical postmodernist vocabulary of samples, remixes, mashups, remakes and fakes – techniques which had their roots in Dada that gained widespread acceptance due to the influence of Hiphop, eventually reaching their summit in micro house and glitch pop via the work of musicians such as Akufen and Girl Talk. The expression in moving images takes the form of narrative mashups in which characters serve as the linking element (a trailer for Titanic 2 hinges on a myriad of Leonard DiCaprio performances) or mere titles of pieces clash worlds (Fellini's "8 ½" and Eminem's "8 Mile" converge to become "8 ½ Mile").

The work of these artists addresses all of the content of pop culture as a cloud of data; of influence. Like the surrealists, this work is associative. You surf Wikipedia in a similar manner, jumping subjects from Africa to South America to Japanese to Pets to Protests. The process conjures a series of associated forms that haunt a Dalí painting.

Postmodernist sampling is the "lumberjacking" of narrative trees and the re-contextualization of the samples (lumber) into other structures. It is taking pieces of discrete narrative works and combining them in a time-based collage process. How then can we reconcile the characters who appear in the Weezer music video for "Pork and Beans" – a video which the Süddeutsche Zeitung inaccurately described as the "ultimate mashup" – since they are transported into Weezer's story world wholly intact. These characters are not references to other media, they are the other media, exhibiting a friendly alliance or association with Weezer in which they have "re-contextualized" themselves into another reality on their own, sans lumberjack.

These characters are a subset of the growing pantheon of hyperheros; certain members of the first global generation who have achieved fame by transcending the monopoly of the major media outlets through their own perseverance. They have successfully imprinted themselves on our global culture as memes, often using very simple humor to transcend nationality. Weezer's video represents an instance of the metanarrative cloud discharging a lightning bolt of charged story quanta.

As the network grows and interconnects, the metanarrative cloud gets more and more dense. The likelihood of associative coincidence increases and global culture materializes around these "lightning bolts" the more we tag, link, wiki and blog. This is something that could not happen in traditional libraries; books would collect dust – they wouldn’t get progressively more cross-referenced. Knowledge is getting more integrated and refined than ever before in the history of human civilization, and as regular people acquire more knowledge (not to mention ever-cheaper means of digital video production) they exhibit a growing desire to participate in the creation of cinema.

Participatory Cinema

Lightning is "an atmospheric discharge of electricity". Metanarrative lightning can in this way be viewed as the spontaneous result of the right story elements overflowing together. For these manifestations of culture to take on forms which resemble cinema, certain people (we'll call them Tesseractors) are stepping forward to channel this energy into the form of specific narrative projects. We can think of these participatory cinematic projects as lightning rods; engineered structures specially designed to attract these discharges of metanarrative culture.

Some of the more successful participatory cinematic projects have tapped into this lightning rod tendency; Matt Hanson's project A Swarm of Angels uses the power of crowdsourcing to write, crew, cast, produce and finance an entirely emergent £1 million movie. Big Buck Bunny is an open source 3D animated short movie produced entirely by volunteers at the Blender Foundation on free software via collaborations enabled over the internet. Artists Arin Crumley and Susan Buice document their romantic relationship via podcasts and their experimental feature "Four Eyed Monsters" while using a customized Google Map to enable fans to request local theater screenings.

These are just a few examples of a rapidly increasing trend of hypercubist cinema to incorporate social networks which accelerate the implosion of the entire celluloid film making apparatus, from writing through production all the way to distribution and merchandising.


Quantinuity and Hypercubism are works in progress. I am eager for all feedback and comments, recommended readings and new sources, refutations and alternate terminologies.


[1] Many of my ideas about the structure of knowledge are inspired by David Weinberger. View his presentation on why Everything is Miscellaneous to better understand where our views intersect.


mikehedge said...

great post

Shelley Noble said...

You are onto something. Thank you for the Four-Eye clip, very illuminating in terms of the value of social objects*.

(See Hugh MacLeod http://www.gapingvoid.com/Moveable_Type/archives/004705.html)

Gabriel Shalom said...

Hi Shelley! Thanks for the link to Hugh MacLeod's article. His "social objects" are interesting to consider in the context of "object oriented" approaches to cinema. It also explains the success of certain tried and true marketing phenomenon; like why animated films sell plush toy merchandise of the main characters of their films.

Arin Crumley said...

Long live Quantinuity, Hypercubism & Meta narratives.

You should check out the Four Eyed Monsters follow up film we are doing called 'As The Dust Settles.


Make sure to also check out all the videos here:


Keep on rocking in the feed world...

Arin Crumley

Gabriel Shalom said...

Hey Arin, As The Dust Settles looks awesome! What an adventure! (by the way dear readers, Arin's link is not broken, it just has a small typo. See: http://asthedustsettles.com/)

I will be including Four Eyed Monsters as the final film in a class I am teaching starting this April at the Berliner Technische Kunsthochschule - a private design academy here in Berlin - http://www.btk-fh.de/.

I would be honored to have you as a guest lecturer if you are interested. Please be in touch via email if this sounds good to you: gabe@thegoblins.com

Thanks for reading Quantum Cinema and for being such a big inspiration to so many digital filmmakers (including myself)