Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Locus Novus

I was looking at that video Miss-Cellany linked to (although the post seems to have disappeared now). The one where small children viewing their lives through fake TV cameras they'd all made led to real violence. I liked it. I wondered if it had been animated by Chris Ware - he wrote/drew Jimmy Corrigan, which I also liked. At the end of the video it said This American Life, so I googled it. And, yep, it was Chris Ware. Which led to more googling, which led to a blog, which... well, it's the final destination that's important here, not the journey (contrary to the usual adage). I ended up at a new place entirely, somewhere I'd never been before: Locus Novus. Literally, and literarily a "New Place". And I love it. What a brilliant idea. And done so well.

How to describe it? In their words:

  • A synthesis of text and image
  • A synthesis of text and motion
  • A synthesis of text and sound
Yep, it's a writing site. But one where the presentation of the writing, the context, the medium, is as integral to the pieces as the words. Many of the pieces I've watched/listened to/read tonight (all three at once, in many cases) I would have enjoyed even simply as words on a page. What amazed me, though, was the effect seeing these words presented with especially chosen music, sounds, and images had on the way I appreciated them; how much it enhanced and even changed them. It was like an additional level of punctuation had been employed; one that worked on the emotions. In fact, I don't think it would be an exaggeration to say that they've created a new literary form (erm, unless someone else created it ages ago and they're just copying it - I wouldn't really know).

People have experimented with the layout and appearance of text before, of course, to create differing effects and emphases. BS Johnson, for instance - he would have loved Locus Novus. But here it's taken a step further. Images and music can change at appropriate points in the text. That word 'appropriate' might sound unlikely, given that everyone reads at different speeds, but that's the point: you can only read what's on the screen. In some pieces the words/sentences/paragraphs appear then dissolve to be replaced by new ones (don't worry, soon enough they'll appear again and remain elsewhere on the screen in case you missed them or need to re-read), in some they scroll, in others you click for more when you're ready. It really does make a difference.

For instance, if a sentence appears on the screen, you really don't know whether it's about to be contradicted or agreed with - your eyes haven't already scanned what's coming next; they haven't been able to. In other words, there are real dramatic and comic pauses. In effect, you can almost copy the rhythms of speech. And as for the images and music, well it's obvious from movies/TV/etc. that these have an effect on how you perceive things. What is more surprising, though, is how unintrusive it all is - enhancing, rather than distracting. Like I said, it's been done well. And not just in terms of the design, and the technology behind it all.

What shows most that they've thought about things is that none of the pieces is more than 1000 words long. That's right, short and manageable. Unlike hypertext novels, for instance - those are just annoying: similarly reliant on internet technology, but you never know how much more of them you're going to have to read. True, you might not ever know exactly what you're going to get on Locus Novus either - the element of surprise is something else to recommend the site, by the way, in my view - but you do know how much time you're going to have to invest: not much, really. Which given the potential reward on offer, can't be bad.

Anyway, it certainly brightened up my day and got me excited about writing. Indeed, maybe it's the future of writing? Whatever, it's worth a look.

So, go look:
Oh, yeah. I didn't spot them at first, so I should probably mention, for the 'Recent' section there are up/down scrolly arrows way over on the right.

Right, I'm off to read some more... well, it's more than reading, really... it's... erm... watching? Well, not exactly...

Ok, so if this catches on, we're all going to need a new verb. Still, the old ones have been around for years - they could probably do with a nice rest.


miss-cellany said...

Wow! That's all pretty amazing, not least for your perceptive and articulate commentary on it all:) I loved it, and wonder too if that might be where the futures going. Wonder too if we can get anything similar going with bloc?

Glad you liked the cardboard box camera link, it's back on again (took it off whilst trying to figure out how to link properly; still can't.)

What is it to read/watch? Wreading? Reathing? not sure, but sure there's a new verb out there for it...

Occasional Poster of Comments said...

Like the verb wreading - could be a relative of writing and wronging.

I just found a new favourite piece on that site: The City Without Memory by Stephanie Hammer. Just utterly, utterly beautiful. Wonder what else she's done - back on the google trail for me, I think...

miss-cellany said...

Oh gosh, how gorgeous is that. Really moving and so beautifully simple, let me know where the trail leads you to any of her other stuff...

Occasional Poster of Comments said...

Well, the trail led me to some interesting sites, but it looks like that piece might have been a bit of a one-off. Sadly.

Still, I've added a post below this one with some links.

Taiga the Fox said...

Sorry, I couldn't comment anything yesterday. My work computer suddenly has lost it's voice, my home computer lost it's hard drive and I was mainly stuck on the field of dust.

I loved The history of the Universe in Seven Snoozes, but far more than that I liked the way you were writing about it all.