Re: Lev Manovich’s ‘Understanding Hybrid Media’, or how our existing knowledge affects what we call ‘new’ and ‘hybrid’

‘Pure’ vs. ‘hybrid’

It was interesting for me to read Manovich’s article [doc file], because from my 22-year-old point of view, the paradigm is reverse: People from my generation need to find out what he calls ‘pure’ media is and study it in a historical perspective, because we only know the ‘hybrid’ media landscape. In comparison, theorists like Manovich and our tutors are in a position where they need to study the ‘hybrid’ media, because they know and understand only the ‘pure’ version – that is what they have grown up consuming and later, producing.

I want to attempt to offer a more in-depth and critical reply to Lev Manovich’s position.

In his article, Manovich writes about ‘pure’ moving image as opposed to hybrid media.

I do not agree with the assumptions in the article. One of the key words in the article is ‘integration’. Manovich even goes as far as calling today’s media language ‘metalanguage’, referring to ‘the numerous grammars and styles that are used within the same media text’ – ‘interacting in ways that could never have been predicted or even imagined previously’ – which simply means putting a time limit to differenciate between ‘pure’ and ‘hybrid’ media. For me, media producers from today are just adding new layers when new techniques are invented. When a technique becomes available, artists embrace it, start to play and experiment with it and make it part of their visual language.

We need to clarify that before moving image with colour and sound (which Manovich calls ‘pure’ media), the norm used to be black and white silent films. So calling something ‘pure’ has more to do with who the theorist is and what techniques they have known before the new ones arrived. From the perspective of a 1930’s film maker’s (the silent movie context), mixing moving image with colour and sound could be just as ‘hybrid’ (or, put in other words, a ‘special effect’) as today’s mixing film with 3D generated animation in Manovich’s examples. It is the same ‘simultaneous appearance of multiple media within the same frame’ that he is talking about.

Manovich emphasises on the multitrack mixer as one of the reasons for the immersion of ‘hybrid media’. But I think our mind is the ultimate multitrack mixer that all these devices try to mimic – we have 5 senses (some even claim there is a 6th sense), so we never really use just one medium. We use multiple media to receive information from the outside world.

Does technology make such a big difference?

The whole article emphasises on technology being the ultimate source of this ‘hybrid media’ phenomenon:

‘The software literally invites the designer to start animating various dimensions of each object in the scene’.

But most times, software is created to automate tasks invented outside the software piece. Technology is not an end in itself; it only facilitates the easier execution of ideas. This is something Manovich talks about, but then contradicts himself:

‘I believe that the hybrid visual language we see today
across moving-image culture and media design in general
is largely the outcome of this new compatibility among key media design software’
<-> ‘Software is usually created to fit into already existing production procedures, job roles, and familiar tasks.’

‘Remix culture’ is another term Manovich uses, referring to a new (for him) trend of fashion designers using mixed techniques and styles. But as Barthes puts it in ‘The Death of the Author’, ‘The text is a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of culture’. Authors remix ideas or text structures they know from other occurrences to fit their text’s theme. Today it is just easier to remix things, because knowledge is better connected than it used to be, say, 15 years ago, so artists have access to more stuff to remix. Visual media has always been about remixing available visual and sonic languages.

Conclusion

I think the author is trying to keep up with the whole visual media concept by analysing, theorising and adding layers of complex terms, but he is only describing and trying to understand how stuff works.

This reminds me of the reaction I witnessed of ‘classic’ photographers (who only knew the process in the dark room for producing images) when introduced to image editing software such as Photoshop – playing with image parameters just because they can, and they are excited of how much easier it is than the way they used to achieve the same effects before.

Human imagination is limited by knowledge: Give a PhD student a problem and they will give you a scientific explaination of its limits; give it to elementary school students and they will start searching for creative solutions, because their mind is not yet limited by knowledge.

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3 thoughts on “Re: Lev Manovich’s ‘Understanding Hybrid Media’, or how our existing knowledge affects what we call ‘new’ and ‘hybrid’

  1. …Thursday we will be discussing Manovichs The Language of New Media you should focus your reading on the Intro Chp. After a brief mention in the earlier part of the book in chapter two he kept pointing out that the new media are not really that new.

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  2. …Thursday we will be discussing Manovichs The Language of New Media you should focus your reading on the Intro Chp. After a brief mention in the earlier part of the book in chapter two he kept pointing out that the new media are not really that new.

    Like

  3. Hello , im spanish so will try to explain it correctly in english. Sorry for that.
    When manovich speaks about hibryds he says that those mediums make a “profound remix” that change their propeties, this remix is not only the sum of the diferent mediums, sound+color+video in black and white=actual digital video. It is only the sum of those mediums , they have to do a profound remix to change propieties between them. When you mix 3D image with video, you could give 3d propieties to that video that are going to change it creating a new medium, Cheers.

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