Less cliches for the millennium

Nick Beames at a recent multimedia conference in Hawaii

If asked where the island of Kauai is, could you pinpoint its location at the centre of the circle we commonly describe as the Pacific Rim? If you could, then your geography is better than mine. In the last week of April I was fortunate to travel to the county of Kauai, northernmost island of Hawaii, to attend a conference and workshop series entitled Story Telling for the New Millennium. This conference was touted as focusing uniquely on the role of the artist in the new technology, drawing together strands from filmmaking, new media, graphic design, music and sound design, website publishing and ‘the story.’

I had only just absorbed the contents of the Australian Film Commission’s publication “Language and Interactivity,” and more than a year of multimedia gabfests. On the flight to Kauai I had to ask myself how many more multimedia clichés I could bear.

Surprisingly, Story Telling for the New Millennium was, as described in the advance publicity, indeed a unique occasion.

To start with, on offer was a series of hands-on workshops. One stream offered three-day intensive workshops in writing and assembling narrative for interactive media, while another offered a practical smorgasbord of insider tips on graphics, video and audio software, primarily for experienced new media artists and practitioners. Unable to secure a place in the first stream, I was more than compensated, taking five workshops from the second. What was so valuable about these hands-on sessions in Photoshop, After Effects and digital audio design was that we were shown secrets by the people who made the software. As a practitioner, I got inestimable value from techniques and features that ‘never made it into the manuals.’

Thanks to the ubiquitous web, speakers’ papers and interviews were made available almost the moment they were uttered. If you want an insight into some great new media minds the website is well worth a look.

Among the speakers who really shone was keynote Peter Bergman, whose Radio Free Oz website—‘the funny bone of the Internet’—makes the web seem as natural as radio.

Michael Nash and Rebekah Behrendt, pioneers of the interactive publisher INSCAPE (The Dark Eye, Bad Day on the Midway) told us how they preferred to work with artists, alternating story point-of-view and plot lines. CEO Nash was formerly a respected fine arts critic, and suggested that the reason so many multimedia titles suck is that too many are the products of solely market-driven business plans.

Linda Stone of Microsoft demonstrated that company’s foray into virtual worlds. V-Chat is unabashedly derivative of Neal Stephenson’s SF epic Snowcrash, where people connect on-line, meeting as avatars in the metaverse. V-Chat is, for now, a Microsoft Network-only service, with no projected release on the web. For those lucky enough to connect via V-Chat, the worlds are (for on-line chat environments) richly detailed and personalised.

Tom Reilly, founder of Digital Queers, is currently president of Plant Out, a network catering to gay and lesbian net users. Among its services, Planet Out operates a V-Chat world where users’ avatars can freely flirt and pick each other up.

Other memorable presentations came from former pop icon and now multimedia sound producer Thomas Dolby, and from the producer of From Alice to Ocean, Rick Smolan, whose 24 Hours in Cyberspace is perhaps the most visible community art event the net has yet seen. Many of the American audience were there from the film and television standpoint. The event was co-hosted by the American Film Institute and Kauai Institute for Communications Media. Judy Drost Director of KICM, showed how a four years young organisation can ably attract enormous support for a worthwhile event.

RealTime issue #14 Aug-Sept 1996 pg. 27

© Nic Bearnes; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 August 1996