This is the first of, I hope, a number of synchronicity and art related interviews I will be hosting in celebration of the Pietmond Art Crawl opening in December, 2010. Joining me today is long time “syncher” friend, Mike Casey, whose artwork is now displayed in what is presently the largest of the Pietmond galleries: SoSo West. (round of applause from the audience).
Mike, let’s start with your more traditional art such as exhibited in SoSo West, which can be found on the World Wide Web at
Can you talk about technique, philosophy, influences?
Thanks, Baker. It’s a pleasure to “be here”.
The common thread that runs through basically all of my art is that it’s done in an exploratory mode, rather than following intention.
To back up a little, before computer art was available, my art was mostly intentional. I worked with pencil and paper and focused on surrealistic montages or portraits from images where I attempted photorealism. For the surrealist drawings, Dali was the main influence to the limited extent that I was able to follow his lead. For the portraits, I was basically trying to transcribe photographs, or sometimes paused video, to paper and pencil drawings. At this point I saw refinements of photorealistic techniques and surrealism as my future goal.
Then computers started to show their potential for art. At first I was happy just to see different images displayed in increasing resolutions and numbers of colors. The first time I used photoshop, I was hooked. Distorting, filtering and otherwise modifying existing images was fun and interesting for me and seemed to have much more potential than traditional art. It didn’t take too long once I was free to manipulate photos to find that I was most excited about strange conjunctions of information where the original image was transformed into something unexpected and new. That’s when my intentional art efforts gave way to more unconscious explorations, guided by intuition.
So my basic formula is to start with an image or some noise and then start to manipulate it while only remaining vaguely aware of the process and watch for something interesting to happen. I didn’t have any direct influences for this approach, I just found it to be fun and satisfying. But recently I was reading Jung’s “Man and his Symbols” and found that it might have a similarity to Jackson Pollock’s method. He described approaching his art in a type of trance where he only finds out what he has been about after the painting starts to take form. Then he either stays connected to it and there is a harmony that makes it come out well, or he loses that connection and it turns into a mess. I follow a similar process and then it seems that the image either collapses into a mess or it suddenly transforms into something that is full of life and various images on many levels where the more I study it, the more I find.
Thanks for that answer. I can tell this is going to be a great interview where I’ll learn a lot.
When you mentioned making a connection with an abstract expressionist type piece in order to keep from turning it into a “mess”, I immediately thought of the complex black and white piece called “Messy World” on the second of two floors in SoSo West. As I understand, this is also a more recent work, along with the similar “Information Nibbler” hung beside it. Can you discuss a bit how this trance technique has evolved over the years, and perhaps how this plays a part in choosing either a grayscale or color palette for any certain work?
Yes, “Messy World” is a recent work and created using a method very similar to “Information Nibbler”. I think “Messy World” started with the same image of the sun that “His Solar Face” used as a starting point. I was thinking about the bizarre and unhealthy psychologies that seem to dominate human interaction and so when the image sort of exploded with sinister forms, I decided to stop and name it. “Information Nibbler” started with noise, and was one of the earliest experiments with a sort of algorithm that I stumbled on for finding some sweet spots in information space where there were plenty of faces and other forms to look at. Since then I have tried to make other images using the same technique, but it doesn’t work as well as it seemed to at first. Could be a sort of measure of how well I am connecting with my unconscious psyche.
With “Information Nibbler” I also went in after the initial creation and attempted to emphasize certain forms without changing the naturally occurring structure too much. That’s something that I enjoyed doing with images shortly after I started playing with photoshop. I remember an image of a tree where I saw several faces, including an orangutan’s face, so I gently emphasized certain features to try to make them pop a little more. I’ve done the same with clouds. So that’s one point of evolution of my “methods” that have evolved.
Speaking of methods reminds me of the lines from Apocalypse Now
Willard: They told me that you had gone totally insane, and that your methods were unsound.
Kurtz: Are my methods unsound?
Willard: I don’t see any method at all, sir.
But mostly my techniques evolved from my time spent doing mathematics of nonlinear systems. The basic idea in dynamics is to have a transformation and then to iterate that transformation and try to characterize how the state changes based on that fixed law. It’s kind of like repeating a word over and over until it doesn’t sound right. With many of my images in the SoSo gallery, I started with a minimal amount of information and then applied a distortion repeatedly to create the kind of fractal shapes. Sometimes it turns out well. If it falls apart at some point, I try again. It’s strange that it seems to be an all-or-nothing process.
Another method that I’ve practiced over the years for distorting images is to use layering and combining the layers in various ways. This is what I added to the repeated distortion process to get to images like “Messy World” and “Information Nibbler”.
As you probably know by now, I’m not much of a mathematician myself, but I am interested in some layman aspects of more fringe subjects like chaos math, especially as applied to physics. Do you see this relating to quantum physics by chance, perhaps like peering into a sub-atomic world where ordinary, Newtonian laws of cause and effect break down? At any rate there seems to be a blurring between real and imagined in your work, or that they are much closer together and more difficult to resolve apart.
Can you explain more the layering techniques used in pieces like “Messy World” and “Information Nibbler”? Are you referring to Photoshop layers?
I never thought of it as quantum vs. deterministic, but the way the images result from a “collapsing of a waveform” does seem much more like a quantum function than intentional Newtonian cause and effect. In fact, the main distortion involved is the wave filter. Once they are resolved it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to separate them again.
Yes, the layering techniques I refered to are Photoshop layers. So there are multiple images that are combined according to different functions that produce the final image. In these cases, the individual images are created through an iterative process, but the way that they work together gives the desired effect.
Thanks for this information; much to chew on here. A brief question about the always interesting and mysterious titles for your pieces. How do you come up with them? Then I would like to ask about a specific work, if I may bundle my questions again, called “Dr. F,” where an insectoid humanoid with wildly flowing hair seems to stare back at the viewer with two, round blue eyes. At least to *my* eyes. Do you see this particular piece as having anthropomorphic qualities as well? If so, how does this relate to the images you see and even highlight inside the surface “noise” of more recent pictures such as “Information Nibbler.”?
For the titles, I’m usually left with an impression during the process, or when the image reforms I see something that inspires the title. I think it would be fair to say that when an image inspires a name, that’s when I stop transforming it. Though I sometimes continue manipulating the same image afterwards to see if I reach a different stopping point/ a different name. Sometimes the name is inspired by something that’s mostly outside of the image, but has some vague connection to it.
I see “Dr. F” exactly the way you describe. I think I was exploring the liquify tool in photoshop, but the eyes were created by intentionally selecting the circles and recombining them with the rest of the image. I think the name was short for Dr. Funk, which is the character that the face seemed to suggest to me – sort of a cartoonish mad scientist, flying through a vision of “funky” reality. I have a difficult time creating images of scenery. I mostly focus on anthropomorphic subjects, especially faces. Similarly, “Information Nibbler” was named from the central character that I saw in that image, which reminded me of Nibbler from Futurama (wearing a Gilligan type hat), with the dual meaning of sort of nibbling on information until I could taste something in the noise.
I think “Dr. F” was created around the same time as the MikeCosm II, and shares a similarity to the being I see on Level 6 of that project, with lines flowing away from a central face with big round eyes.
I want to return to the Mikecosms very soon, but, going along with “Dr F” right now, I know that in real life you’re a research doctor who’s had success in his chosen profession. How do you see art plugging into a bigger, life picture, with the understanding that this has not been a primary career focus?
I have a PhD in mathematics, which many people see as diametrically opposed to doing art. From the general neuropsychological perspective, math is considered a left brain, logical, activity, while art relies more on the wholistically inclined right brain. My older brother is a very talented artist/graphic designer and a musician, an he had a lot of influence in those areas. As a child, it was natural for me to pursue art since it was in my environment, and I was lucky enough to have some ability. I was a good math student, but my path to really focusing on it started with an interest in philosophy that expressed itself as a love of science. In college, I got interested in artificial intelligence and neural networks and eventually found an adviser, Professor Arnold Mandell, who was trained as a psychiatrist and founded the psychiatry department at UC, San Diego, where I went to school. When I met him, Arnold was in the math department, applying nonlinear dynamics and chaos theory to understanding the mind. It took me months of effort to start to understand what he was talking about, but he was incredibly brilliant and had a lot of wild ideas that spanned many disciplines and convinced me to switch to mathematics for my degrees. Fortunately, I enjoy the process of doing math, so I’ve found a career in the gaming industry, mostly designing slot machines, including exact calculations of expected payouts.
While designing slots, having a background in and appreciation of art is useful. I work closely with artists to create the games and occasionally create some preliminary graphics myself.
More generally, for peace of mind, I think art as a hobby gives me a way to work both sides of my brain and hopefully strengthen the functioning of my mind as a whole.
Very interesting material Dr Casey (!) I didn’t know some of the details about your education and upbringing. Thanks for sharing. I would also add here that you are an excellent writer, and I think you would have had success in English studies as well.
We’re back with artist Mike Casey for second part of our interview, the first of perhaps several celebrating the opening of the Pietmond Art Crawl galleries virtually located within the the online game called Second Life. More information can be found at my Second Life art galleries page here:
Speaking of games, I’d now like to talk about a site much older than Second Life even, this being SITO, and found at http://www.sito.org. According to the wikipedia article on the subject, SITO opened in 1993, making it one of the oldest, Internet-based art organizations. Mike, I know you’ve been a SITO contributor for many years now, and it’s the place you’ve chosen to locate your online art gallery as well. Can you tell us how you got involved and about the magical qualities that keep you going back?
The Artkive is a massive collection that includes contributions from many artists that don’t participate in the collaborative projects, and some that do. As you have mentioned, I have an Artkive gallery, but it is a very small fraction of the images that I have created over the years. PANIC is a very open-ended callaborative project where someone uploads an image, someone downloads it, modifies it and uploads it again, and the process repeats. PANIC was great from the perspective that there weren’t any real rules, so it was easy to participate and fun to see the directions that people would take an image. The main downside was that the images were purged regularly since disk space wasn’t the abundant resource it is today. Even so, there were some very fun series of PANICs and I wish it had maintained its popularity.
Hygrid is a cool project that shares some features with Gridcosm, but I think it was ultimately too open-ended and difficult to grasp. Like Gridcosm, it is made of individual grids that were permanent additions to the project. The shape of the project is interesting, but difficult to visualize. Each 100×100 square grid has 4 neighbors that can be reserved. When an image is reserved, it can be made to connect to other points in the Hygrid, which is where the mind bending topology comes into play. So you could connect your new grid to the top of one grid and at the same time to the bottom of that same grid, making a loop that sits flat in the viewer as a repeating series. But rather than trying to explain all of the strange possibilities of Hygrid, here is a pointer to the project: http://www.sito.org/synergy/hygrid/
PANIC and Hygrid participation dropped off quickly once the Gridcosm came online. Unlike PANIC, gridcosm entries were to enjoy a more permanent existence on SITO, and the collaboration was more constrained than Hygrid. Briefly, there are 9 150×150 grids on each Gridcosm level that create the final image. The center grid is made from the previous level, and the 8 surrounding grids are available to be claimed by individual artists. The general idea is to blend with what exists when adding a new grid and to allow other artists to participate on each level rather than “hogging” a level by completing it as a solo effort, but there is only the potential wrath of the community to keep someone from violating these laws. Another fun aspect of the Gridcosm is that each grid offers the opportunity to contribute some text to a “random” poem that accompanies each level.
As far as what it is that keeps me going back, sometimes I have a bit of text that I want to put out there, sometimes I feel like trying to see what happens with some grid art. There are several levels of challenge on the art side. First, being able to blend visually can vary from easy to very difficult depending on what the other artists have left at their edges. Second, there is a challenge of trying to blend on a thematic and symbolic level with what exists – to try to continue the visual story and take it in a productive direction. Finally I would say that there is a challenge involved with fitting in on a social level. Creative group efforts generally run into all kinds of clashes, and with almost 13 years of collaboration on the grid, there have been many flame wars. So there is an effort to be part of the solution, not the problems.
Great, thanks. I was going to attempt a summary of what the Gridcosm is all about using a paraphrase of wikipedia’s information on the subject, but I think you did a considerably better job than the latter, even. Yeah, it’s easy to see how this SITO game became a focus the way you describe it, the basic design so simple and eloquent with the collapse of a 3×3 grid back into a 1×1 square to become the seed of a new 3×3 after its completion — 8 squares surrounding a central (seed) square at all times. And with *3498* levels so far!
I was personally unsuccessful at finding a full animation of the Gridcosm online, which it seems would work best with the ability to control the speed of the fly-through. What are your opinions about the various ways the Gridcosm can presently be experienced in parts and as a whole? It’s such a massive undertaking now that I can see those who are not directly involved easily getting bogged down in the complexity. Perhaps some stories about the dominant artists and their attempts to blend creative efforts would help.
There have been a few different tools developed for Gridcosm fly-throughs, I think the best of them was done in Flash a few years back. Trying to wrap your mind around the entire project seems like it would be a huge task at this point. Giving each level 30 seconds would mean about 29 hours of attention. Fly-throughs are cool, but I prefer to use the “random level” feature to explore, and then go up or down manually from there.
One of my favorite things about the Gridcosm is the potential for synchronicity. With the broad variety of inspiration that goes into it, and the losely connected jumps from one symbol to the next, there is a lot of potential for meaningful conjunctions with other parts of life. At times when the sync is strong, it has always been a fun source.
As far as the main artists over the years, there are several that have been at it since the beginning or near the beginning. I started on level 12 in April of 1997, and rank 2nd for number of grids added and number of levels worked on. Mark Sunshine (SNY) also started on level 12 and ranks 1st by a fair margin on both grids and levels, with a more consistent contribution. SNY and I butted heads several times, but there were many highlights of collaboration along the way as well. For example, the bottom row of level 194 http://www.sito.org/cgi-bin/gridcosm/gridcosm?level=194 shows a spot where I was impressed with SNY’s grid and made an effort to blend nicely with it. Afterwards he wrote me to say that he knew I would follow up on it and enjoyed what I had done. Other contributors that were more active early on include Ed Stastny (OED), the mastermind behind SITO, and Jon Van Oast
(UWI), whose programming genius has kept everything alive as the artists found new ways to break things. Another artist who has been at it since very early is JER (JER), who started on level 18 and is still going strong. JER is #4 on the list of contributors, with almost as many levels as I have, but behind a little on the number of grids contributed since he has stayed more true to the collaborative spirit over the years by avoiding “gridhogging” which is the act of reserving many grids on the same level.
JER did, however, create an alter-ego named Moxie who was an extreme gridhog and usually considered a “hostile” player according to his high “Hogfactor” a numerical measure of non-collaboration.
Gridhogging, also called hogging, has been one of the main incendiaries in the grid world. The only other issue that would compete for the dubious distinction for top point of contention is blending. When everyone blends their grids to their neighbors, the resulting levels appear to be a single effort. When they don’t, the grid looks “quilty” and the grids appear as discontinuities in the overall flow. When actively participating, hogging and non-blending can both feel like betrayals of the community spirit. It
is a real rush to see everyone working with a single mind, level after level, each artist rising to the challenge of those who have gone before and challenging the next. When someone comes along and starts plastering the grid with cheap and unrelated images, it’s always a disappointment that is usually felt strongly by one or more of the artists that have been making an effort.
But to counterbalance the difficulties, there are many playful characters and lighthearted individuals who keep things nice. I would include major contributors Eva Hochreutener (EHO) and Nata Lukas (NLT) in this category. I would say that EHO is most famous for her odd creatures and playful scenes painted from whatever colors and textures she was left to blend with. I feel like NLT and I share some artistic sensibility as he works in a broad range of styles that I sometimes confuse with my own. I don’t mean any
offense to NLT by that, since I think he is a more talented artist, but sometimes I look at a grid and have to double check whether he created it or I did. Any discussion like this is going to inevitably leave out artists that should be included, and for that I apologize, but before I wrap up this segment, I have to mention Thomas Armagost (TCA) who is ranked as the third
most prolific contributor and recently celebrated his 10 year mark as a gridhead. It’s appropriate to include him in this part of the discussion since he has always remained positive as he brought his unique contributions to the gridcosm. I think it would be safe to say that TCA is most famous for his political grids, but he often branches out into many different styles and topics.
And as you know, Baker, TCA also exists in Second Life as a character called Bacon, whom I hear you have run into on several occasions in different contexts. I recently visited his floating art gallery of line drawings in SL and enjoyed the trip 🙂
One of the things that struck me about what you just said is that many of the long term and high volume participants in the Gridcosm experience, started in 1997, were already locked in at a very early date: you/MKC, Mark Sunshine/SNY, and JER. About TCA, who came along a couple of years later, yeah, I’ve run into him a number of times now in Second Life. His chosen SL name, Bacon, use to be listed alphabetically right before mine (Baker there as well) in a long list of gallery owners found at avatar Sasun Steinbeck’s influential “Art Galleries of Second Life” blog http://sl-artgalleries.blogspot.com/. So, just practicing a bit of sideways logic myself, or synchronicity logic I suppose, I popped over to his gallery one day to see what my “next door neighbor” was up to. I remember the landmark was screwed up at the time, and we exchanged a couple of im-s on this subject. Then I went back later, maybe days maybe months — can’t remember — and Bacon was there this time and graciously showed me around his gallery and neighboring grounds. Even offered to sell me some land, as I recall. Then later on, our paths directly crossed not once but several times when I rented land near the spiffy Second Life community called Chilbo. And he also had a gallery in what I always called Yapland as well, headed by artist avatar extraordinaire Kelly Yap. a SL mentor of sorts for me. But it was only recently that I did enough digging to make the Bacon-TCA connection, and find his work on the Gridcosm. So I shot him an im — “Hey, you might know my old mate Mike Casey.” I still didn’t have any idea that you and he were the 2nd and 3rd most prolific contributors to the Gridcosm, a fact which Bacon/TCA relayed to me later on as well. I found it all quite peculiar.
Actually when you speak of the Gridcosm, there are several aspects that remind me of Second Life itself, like the idea of starting from an original square and working out and away — just like Second Life began in a 256 meter x 256 meter, original “sim” named DaBoom in 2002. There are now over 30,000 such sims on the Second Life grid.
Moving back for a moment to your SITO artwork currently displayed in the SoSo West gallery of Pietmond, I’m curious about the story behind “Spineprints in the Sand”, since it was the first picture of yours that sold after the opening. Bacon bought it. 🙂
That’s cool how things came together with the small worlds of SL and the gridcosm. I knew that you had a presence in Second Life, but I didn’t know that TCA was involved until you told me. To find out that the two of you were SL neighbors in a sense was strange coincidence, in a good way 🙂 The structural connections between SL and the gridcosm are also interesting now that you point them out. There must also be some effort to “blend” from one area to the next as the Second Life world expands.
“Spineprints in the Sand” is a little different than the other images in my collection, but also shares some similarities. I had some text that I had written for some other reason, and during some transformations the backwards GoD and sideways 8 became noticable as the result of random conjunctions. I thought that was interesting, so I created an image where I emphasized them. The original image was bright yellow, but as I was emphasizing the letters, I toned the color down to the leathery brown and noticed that the jacket seemed to form and GoD (still backwards) made it look like a kind of letter jacket. At first though, there was only a dark mass that looked like a crater where the head should be. I cut the jacket out as an object to be placed on different backgrounds and started experimenting with the background. In one of the early experiments, I saw a metallic shape starting to form as the head, so I went with that and refined it. The first sign of the metallic head was in an image I called RatGot.jpg, and I will include that.
So one similarity with the other images is that I didn’t start with the intention of creating anything in particular, I let my subconscious do the work. The main difference is that I broke the image up into several distinct pieces that I intentionally tried to construct into something. In this case, a kind of anthropomorphized image of God.
The first image, called BackwardsGodSideways8Made.jpg was saved at 11:17pm on 8/27/2000. The last image during this session, UsedToBeIDontKnowin.jpg was saved at 2:39am on 8/28/2000. I stopped, but I wasn’t totally happy with the background or overall presentation.
A couple of months later, I created an image called SphinxHadFirstHit.jpg. I’m not sure where that one came from, but it’s one of my favorites. Remembering the other image, I decided to try SphinxHadFirstHit as the background, and was happy with the results. I especially liked the way the shape that looked like a hand in a lazy salute matched up with the skull. So it looked like this image of GoD was standing in front of some graffiti in such a way that his “third hand” was apparent and matched the look of disdain he held towards an observer looking directly at him. To improve the overall balance I added the ghostly spine patterns flowing out of the top of the jacket and SpineprintsInTheSand.jpg was finished at 4:49am on 11/1/2000.
I incorporated this image into the gridcosm on level 583 later that day, quickly adding some leather pants and black feet, giving the impression that he was peeing on the graffiti wall. http://www.sito.org/cgi-bin/gridcosm/gridcosm?level=583 It’s crude, but life is sort of like that, I think.
Thanks for that answer. It sounds like for this particular piece the process is almost as important as the final product. Cool that it also found its way into the Gridcosm.
In checking Gridcosm stats, it seems you created more pieces for it in the early 2000s than any other, relative time period, if I’m interpreting this report correctly: http://www.sito.org/cgi-bin/gridcosm/cosmost?id=MKC “Spineprints in the Sand” comes from late 2000, near the heart of this intense, grid activity. I believe this was also the era that Mikecosm emerged from, which I find really fascinating — kind of a bite sized, personalized version of the Gridcosm. Can you tell us about Mikecosm, then, and how it came to be?
Yes, you are reading the report correctly. Early 2000 was the beginning of my time in Chicago (late 1999 to 2005) and I had a lot of free time and energy, and enough focus to try to do some art. My enthusiasm for contributing to the grid elicited cries of “gridhogging!” and that was probably the main inspiration to create Mikecosm. I wanted to try to create art in the gridcosm format, but I didn’t want to step on the collaborative nature of the gridcosm itself, so I did a little programming to create a basic framework for a gridcosm like project, without the ability to reserve grids, upload grids and all of that sort of thing.
I could have (and maybe should have) spent more time planning the content, but I let Mikecosm evolve in the same unconsciously inspired mindset that I employ for most of my gridcosm participation. There’s room to plan out multiple levels in advance, and have a lot more overall flow, but I generally let each level inspire the next and then dealt with the forms that I left myself with when I got to the following level. Mikecosm started with a copy of the original image for the gridcosm as an hommage to Ed Stastny, and made it to 24 levels before I felt that it was complete. Mikecosm II only made it to 6 levels before I stopped.
I should still have the code somewhere, so there could be other Mikecosms and I offered to share it with anyone who was interested in a *cosm of their own, though nobody took me up on that. I started a Mikecosm III, but haven’t worked on it in several years.
Thanks for that explanation. It’s a shame that no one took you up on your offer to create their own *cosm. Seems to me that projects like Mikecosm only add to the creative depth of the Gridcosm in the long run, and allow the creators of such to see the advantages, through contrast, of working within its shared framework as opposed to a separate, self created grid. And vice versa, of course.
I wish you much success in Gridcosm and SITO projects in general, Mike. Although I may never be a regular contributor myself, I’ll always be a supporter.
We now shift to what is probably the third and final section of our discussions with Dr. Mike Casey. Again, this the first of perhaps several interviews celebrating the opening of the Pietmond Art Crawl galleries virtually located within the the online game called Second Life. Mike’s exhibit is found in SoSo West, probably the largest gallery in this crawl currently and holding 26 representations of pieces from his SITO Artkive.
So Mike, we’ve finally arrived at the subject of what has most generally been called audiovisual synchronicity down through the years now, although other names for the creative field have and still are being suggested. Works created through audiovisual synchronicity techniques are themselves referred to as audiovisual synchronicities or synchronicities or just synchs or syncs, with the best known example still being “Dark Side of the Rainbow”, also one of the earliest if not *the* earliest. The wikipedia article on Dark Side of the Rainbow is found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_Side_of_the_Rainbow. In contrast, “audiovisual synchronicity” doesn’t have a specific wikipedia article written about it yet.
Mike, you’re a long time member of the “synching” community, as am I. What drew you to this small band of intrepid explorers?
Around 1997, my girlfriend read about Dark Side of the Rainbow somewhere and said that she wanted to check it out. As a scientist trained in a philosophical eliminative reductionist tradition, I was skeptical, but we watched it. Afterwards I wasn’t impressed enough with the amount of matching to feel like there was anything too special to explain, but I thought it was neat and enjoyed it as poetry. Mostly I enjoyed the way the song lyrics took on unexpected meanings when coinciding with the video. On additional viewings of DSotR, I came to appreciate it as a special creation and as a unique work of art.
Then in November of 1998 I started to experience intense synchronicity in the world without knowing what it was called or that anyone else might have those same types of perceptions. I was deeply confused about how my thoughts and meaningful impressions could seem to be recycled in my future experiences, but I was awestruck by the depth of intelligence that it would take to create a reality like that for me to experience. After a couple of days of these strange events, I decided to watch DSotR to see if there was anything different about it. About half way through the viewing, I felt inspired to change the music and I was amazed when they worked together.
Without having a word for the process, I continued to watch random video while listening to random music to watch for connections. A friend of mine called them “mind melds” and when I set up my VCR to be able to record what I was watching and started to make tapes, I called them “Melds.” I eventually stumbled on the term synchronicity and stopped calling them “melds”, but I continued to make tape after tape while creating and watching them for hours every day. I tried to get friends and my family interested in them, but met with limited success. So I checked the web to see what I could find. After mostly reading articles about DSotR for a while, I eventually found the syncboard and a community of fellow explorers with this strange hobby. The details are a little fuzzy, but you seemed to be doing a good job of directing the discussions and there were several other people around with interesting perspectives on synching and a lot of cool syncs to watch.
You’re talking about The Film/Album Synchronicity Board, then, which existed for a couple of years back in the early 2000s. This is probably as good a time as any to provide the URL for the new Interviews page I’ve concocted, attached once more to the Baker Blinker Blog: https://bakerblinker.wordpress.com/interviews/. Included on this page will be links to the three parts of this interview, plus some older interviews conducted primarily by Mike Johnston, former owner of what is presently the deactivated Synchronicity Arkive, always the mothership for synchronicity discussion except for those couple of years when the collective attention shifted more to my board. These older interviews, all from 2007, deal more exclusively with the subject of audiovisual synching.
I remember you had a site called “Yes, I’m Cake” during the time of my TF/ASB, and also devised your own synchronicity board and some other a/v synch related pages. Can you tell us about those, then, and how they helped establish your unique voice in the community?
Yes, the Film/Album Synchronicity Board was great. Nice, fast paced discussions with a lot of thoughtful contributors. As a mathematician, I’ve always hoped that there was a good way to abstractly quantify the amount of matching in a sync to be able to get a handle on the probability or improbability of events coinciding. The spin off synchronicity board that I created was aimed at this purpose. Rather than occasionally turning TF/ASB into a mathematical discussion, I created a board to focus on probabilistic calculations of real world events to try to answer skeptical responses to claims of synchronicity like Littlewood’s Law http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Littlewood’s_law that states that “miracles” should happen at the rate of about once per month without any need for special explanation. But it was difficult to find real life situations that could be precisely analyzed and after a few discussion threads, that board fell inactive.
“Yes, I’m Cake” is an anagram of Mike Casey, and was the name of my website that mostly focussed on film/album synchronicity, but also had some digital art. Apart from listing a number of films with album start points (sync recipes), it also included about a dozen digital sync clips and a couple of efforts to provide a kind of “Definitive List” of matches for syncs that I had listed, similar to Stegokitty’s DSotR Definitive List, but including screen grabs for added clarity. I still believe that digitized clips are the best way to share syncs, since there is a nontrivial problem with recreating a sync from a cue or multiple cues, and having a clip to watch that has been approved by the original discoverer can guarantee that you are at least watching the same sync they watched. The hope for my “definitive lists” was that a person would be able to decide from that description whether or not it was something that they wanted to watch, as long as they didn’t mind “spoilers”. Or, even if they didn’t watch it, they could get an idea of the rate and types of matches. Or at the very least, they would help keep me honest about how strong a sync is. If I only had a vague match once every few minutes, then it probably wasn’t going to be entertaining for anyone else to watch, even if I had fun with it.
Thanks for that answer; more great stuff. Mike, a couple of months ago I finally managed to sort through about 6 years worth of backlogged emails in my home inbox, and was amazed at the positive response from old syncher friends and acquaintances as I sent out messages basically checking to see whether this or that email address was still active. Yes, I could tell these people had been truly impacted by discussions from the Syncboard and Film/Album board, and felt the void left by the Synchronicity Arkive going offline about a year and a half ago. There was even some progress by myself and another syncher who I didn’t really know that well toward the creation of a new discussion board, but in the end it seems I had to settle on the idea of a golden age of synching, centered by the now almost decade old work called “Shared Fantasia.” One impediment for future growth, always the elephant in the room when discussing the ability to fix synchronicities in a digital medium for dissemination to others, is the copyright problem. Simply put, the great majority of popular movie and music selections cannot be reused in commercial or even most non-commercial ways according to present, legal limitations.
I’ll just lump all these topics together, Mike, and let you pick and choose what you wish to talk about: Shared Fantasia; perceived “golden age” of synching; copyright issues.
‘ll start with copyright issues since I don’t have too much to say about them, and many other synchers have more detailed and informed opinions. Generally, I don’t think it’s right to make money from syncs. Ideally the artists are the most entitled to be compensated for their effort (to encourage them to make more when they are good at it), then you could make an argument that the film and music industry people deserve a cut. It’s possible that a sync could create something that’s so much greater than the parts that the syncher should be monetarily encouraged (if that would motivate them to make similar efforts). But to take a great film and a great album and stick them together and it creates something that’s somewhat enjoyable doesn’t seem to justify the right to resell the copyrighted originals. But I also think that rendered syncs shouldn’t be treated as a form of piracy as long as there is some merit to the pairing. I don’t know what the history of copyright protection is, but it seems like it is rare that someone is prosecuted for giving away copies of copyrighted material. So I think the best course would be to try to stay in this grey area and keep distribution limited and hope that the copyright owners either don’t take much notice, view it as a form of advertising or accept it as existing for educational purposes. I recently looked for Rich Aucoin’s intentional sync with “The Grinch That Stole Christmas,” but wasn’t able to find a rendered copy. I think that’s unfortunate.
The “golden age” of synching is another topic that I think others have spoken about more eloquently than I could, but I am happy to give my perspective. For me, the “golden age” started with DSotR and ended sometime around the rise of the mash-up. On the positive side, I think this was a time where there was a group of people with good intentions that created some very cool works of sync art. A sync from this period that I enjoyed enough to make into a DVD was “Alice in the Wall.” As far as I know, Andrew Wendland discovered it, and I wouldn’t try to take that credit, but I like to show it to people that are skeptical about syncs because I think it has some really great and relatively long sequences with a high rate of matches in addition to having some startling and poignant single event matches. A few scenes that stand out in my mind are Alice falling down the rabbit hole, the catepillar transformation scene and the mad hatter’s tea party. There are prerendered versions of this sync that can be found on the web right now, but the few I’ve checked are different from the version I have. This points out on of the negatives I see with the golden age of synching – the difficultly in recreating syncs. The often vague “sync recipes” do little to ensure that someone who is watching a sync is seeing the same thing that was originally discovered. This problem first showed up with DSotR. After watching it many times using a VHS tape and the CD, I tried to watch it using the DVD version. But as you pointed out for me, Baker, the DVD is slightly different from the pre-89 Wizard of Oz movie, which led to an unsatisfying match while watching the DVD based version of DSotR. This problem with recreating syncs became even more apparent when I tried to render sync entries for the Stairway to Oz contest, where the idea was to find the best sync between “Stairway to Heaven” and “The Wizard of Oz.” There were four entries, and I think they all ended up using different versions of “Stairway to Heaven.” After the Stairway to Oz contest, I accepted the challenge of rendering “Shared Fantasia” and avoided some of this problem by having each person submit the mp3s of the songs they used in their segment, but even with that being done, there were problems. The most obvious being that sometimes the precise alignment couldn’t be determined from cue points that were too vague, but this was usually solved with a couple of iterations of sending a rendered segment to the author for approval or further refinement. But there was a less obvious problem with one segment: TL’s sync for The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. The problem there turned out to be that his CD player was playing the music at about 103% of the normal speed. Fortunately, I was able to recreate the faster song speed in the software and the excellent sync for that segment was saved, but TL was upset to find that all of the syncs that he had tried to recreate while using that CD player were flawed. Since then, I have been less of a fan of “sync recipes” and have greatly preferred prerendered syncs.
But returning to the “golden age” of synching, I hope that we can find several other syncs from this period that gain consensus as highly entertaining specifically as potential examples of Jungian synchronicity. As you know, Baker, you and I have talked at length about Jung and synchronicity, but for reference it is roughly defined as the coming together of the inner states of an observer and meaningful outer states of the world in a way that is not accounted for by normal considerations of cause an effect. So events that simply coincide do not qualify as synchronicity, there must be a deeper connection. For example, if you are reading a credit card bill that you received in the mail and turn on the television to find a news report about a plane crash, there is no obvious connection and no synchronicity. If, however, you received a model airplane in the mail that was mysteriously broken during transit and then turn on the television to find a news report about a plane crash, then this is a better candidate for synchronicity. With audio/video pairings, there is a two-way interplay between the meaning of the song and the meaning of the video that allows for these causally unrelated streams of information to create coincidences that seem like synchronicity when they are put together. For me, one of the most interesting aspects of syncs is finding a way to separate entertaining pairings from examples of Jungian synchronicity. Intuitively, it seems that a sustained and high rate of matches where intentional synchronization between the two sources has been ruled out would be the thing to look for to locate Jungian synchronicity, but there are many subtle issues involved in calculating the probabilities. And even if the probabilities could be exactly calculated or accurately approximated, there is another philosophical question of how unlikely an event would have to be in a world of pure cause an effect before a synchronicity type theory would be a better explanation of why it happened. With that being said, I prefer single cue point film/album syncs, with the hope of finding one or more that are so consistent and powerful that it is relatively easy to show that the level of coincidence is something that would be astronomically unlikely to happen. On the other end of the audio/video pairing synchronicity spectrum are the “music videos” that people have created by taking a song and then splicing together bits of video (generally from a single source) that attempt to display or visually interpret each lyric as it happens. In the middle are what have been called tilings, where multiple songs are used to cover a single unedited video source, with the order of the songs are chosen to maximize the entertainment value of the sync. So with this definition, Shared Fantasia is an example of a tiling.