Science is Art. Art is Science

pluto2

Thanks NASA for constantly doing research for me. With a steady flow of inspiration coming from the scientists of the world, all I have to do is do a quick google search and BOOM…super exciting news about the cosmos unfolds before me. Of course the scientists also employ artists to come up with lovely pictures that I can sit and stare at, waiting for my brain to sprout some exciting idea. This image was created by an artist called Karl Kofoed, famous for his sci-fi illustrations. He created this image of the snow fields of Pluto by using data collected by the New Horizons mission. This image struck me instantly since one of the alien worlds in my book was based on Pluto. It’s fantastic to have a visual reference to connect to the imaginary world that I created.

Where would I be with out you science?

This brings me to an issue that I ponder quite regularly. Science and art are closer related than many people think. Back in the early days of modern sceince, before photography, scientists relied on artists to draw anatomical and biological figures in order to document and learn. More often than not, the scientist was the artist. Remember the guy who did this? Da Vinci? Scientist or artist? Is there a difference?

leo

Well, sure I guess there are huge differences, but I think that it’s important to regularly reflect on the interconnected nature of our lives. No aspect of human culture can truly be separated from the rest. Politics, history, human relationships, religion, sport, everything is intertwined.

As Einstein says:

“All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man’s life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom.”

I couldn’t have said it better.

My brother is a research scientist, and while he loves art, he often says that he wishes that scientists got as much credit and notoriety for their work as artists do. I agree with this wholeheartedly, the sciences deserve much more support and praise than they often receive. However, so do the arts. And I’m being broad here, including anything from visual arts, films, and sculpture, through to books, music, dance, etc. I think that without art, the human race could not be what it is today. While I’m an artist, I know that nothing I create could be possible without the gifts of science. My computer agrees with me. What do you think? Are you a scientist or an artist?

 

http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/galleries/snow-fields-of-pluto-artists-concept

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Share a Story of Hope

 

It seems I can’t look at the internet at the moment without coming across some news about the global refugee crisis. It is a human exodus unlike anything we’ve seen since World War II. With social media as prevalent and powerful as it is these days, there is no shortage of horrors to be seen, from photos of suffering children, to YouTube videos of people desperate to find refuge. But there are moments of hope and kindness too, such as the welcome that Germany offered to many of these displaced people.

It is such a complex and harrowing situation, one that I am not going to get involved in discussing on this blog other than to say there is no shortage of inspiration for artists these days. Social media has brought the world in closer. We can see, hear and share our stories with just a few keystrokes. But it’s a system that encourages a short attention span too. It’s easy to become disassociated from the things we see on the internet. Over-saturated, inundated and bombarded. Sometimes I just want to unhook from this network. I want to unplug from all the updating, advertising and media mayhem and just switch off. But it is important not to give up on humanity. We all do what we can to help those in need. Whether it is through offering donations or simply sharing their stories.

We are all in this together. Each person on the planet who lives at this very moment has one thing in common — we are here. We have no where else to call home. In the face of every fellow human, I see my own face reflected. If one person suffers, we all suffer. It is easy to feel helpless, simply because the problem is so far away from where we might live. But we’re closer than we think.

Every person out there doing some good and lending a hand is depending on us to make sure their efforts are appreciated. So, if all you can do is read an article or share a post, you are still making a difference. Find a person who is making a positive change and share their story.

 

 

Writer’s Revolution

I just read yet another article about the future of publishing. It seems every where I look, every blogger, every writer’s site, every publisher’s page, there is article after article all about the same topic – what is the fall out of the self-publishing boom going to do to the industry?

I say, less than we fear and more than we hope.

We saw a similar scenario with the music industry when downloading music made the industry re-evaluate itself. Everyone was terrified that CD stores would shut down, that record labels would collapse and that the individual artists would suffer great financial losses.

Yes, the music industry has changed a lot and downloading has affected and shaped how we listen to music and how we share music with others. I realised the other day that I used to listen to a lot more music. I thought about it for a while and came to the conclusion that this was because the technology I use for music listening has changed dramatically in the last few years. I don’t own a CD player any more and all my CD’s are in another country where I had to leave them because of their ridiculous travel weight. So, I have a library of music on my computer and various drives, but my iPhone and iPod are older models and its too difficult for me to bother trying to get music on them. I feel like I have to upgrade all my gadgets all the time just to be able to listen to something I bought on a CD four years ago. I have to upgrade everything…my phone, my laptop, iTunes, constantly in order to simply play my music.

I can’t be bothered buying new CD’s because;

  1. I don’t have a CD player and
  2. Shopping on the street is so time consuming and shops are stocking less variety making it harder to find what I want. Often I will go into a store to find something, can’t find it and think…”Oh, I’ll just buy it online.”

We are being encouraged to work more hours, spend less time engaging in society, purchase everything possible online and stay at home.

We see it in the film industry too. Everyone is encouraged to update their home viewing system with giant televisions and 5.1 home surround stereos. Don’t go see it at the movies…download it, stream it, purchase the television series after it airs and then you can control when and how you watch things. Certainly not after you have done your extremely long hour day that prevented you from having the time to go out and see a film in the first place.

The focus of consumerism is shifting away from community, away from the public sphere and into the individual space. Also everything is shifting away from the accumulation of physical possessions and towards transitory ownership. Renting, streaming or purchasing something that is floating somewhere in a cloud of digital ether rather than being a tangible – in your hand – object.

I think that there will always be a certain percentage of the population that will reject this and want to own physical objects. Humans are collectors by nature. People want to feel the pages of a book, or to read through the dust-jacket of a vinyl record. Just as there will always be a percentage of the population that want to get everything for free, pay for nothing and cheat the system. Ultimately, most people want to do the right thing I think. Most people want to pay artists for their work in whatever format they offer it.

The online emphasis of our consumer marketplace can be seen as a threat to the old ways of doing things in person. There is less importance placed on the act of seeing a real live band of musicians, buying a book from a shop or going to the theater. However people seem to be sharing their thoughts ideas and creative experiences more than we used to. Because of social media, people are in many ways a lot more involved with introducing their friends and family to things that interest them. Science, current affairs, politics, art and culture are shared across the internet more now than ever before. So, we artists now have an opportunity to communicate directly with our audience, bypassing the old chain of command.

The old pathway to releasing a book was – Author>Agent>Editor>Publisher>Bookstore>Reader.

This is being replaced increasingly by a new model – Author>Internet>Reader.

The new model won’t immediately replace the old, nor should it, but it will certainly mean a period of adjustment for publishers, writers and readers.

We are seeing a shift away from the publishing houses having all the control over what gets published. The writers are taking the reins of their creations. Also, while self publishing will increase in popularity, so will work for freelance editors/ marketers/ proofreaders etc.  The publishing houses are already using the sales through Amazon and Kobo to look for their next publishing deal. The successful self-published author appears to the publishers as a marketable bet to make a deal with.

For people such as myself, living in far flung places such as New Zealand or Australia, it is even harder to enter the traditional publishing system since we are so far from that is seen as the cultural hub of the USA and Europe. Getting overseas to attend festivals, conventions and seminars is out of the question for most of us. It is extremely difficult for us to go and meet agents/ editors and publishers in person also and with the development of the online industry in recent years, it simply unrealistic to pretend that our small local market would be sufficient to sustain a writer’s career. We have to look globally and I think that the rise of independent publishing as an equal and respected avenue for authors to take will enable this. The previously unnoticed corners of our beautiful and diverse planet will start to have a voice in a global network of independent authors, where every writer now has a chance to let their work be seen.

The Magic of Sci-fi

Carrying on from my last post about working in film and how it helps me learn about the crafting of story through my experience with the editorial process, I thought I might take a moment to look at the film I worked on last year that has just come out, Elysium.

I mean, I’m not going to review it, since I worked on it, that would be a little self-serving. No, really, I just want to talk about how difficult and yet enticing it is to write sci-fi these days.

I have always loved science, but I feel that in the last few years so many changes and advances have been made in scientific fields of study that we are really in a very open and exploratory phase of human history. Fields of study that were at one time mocked or ridiculed are now openly accepted as legitimate research subjects or at least worthy of investigating.

I feel that a resurgence of interest in sci-fi films and novels somewhat reflects this shift. It’s an exciting time to be writing sci-fi and getting to work on one of this year’s biggest sci-fi films was a real honour. It was also an amazing opportunity to work with writer/director Neil Blomkamp, who is at the forefront of modern sci-fi story telling.

http://www.theguardian.com/film/2013/aug/17/elysium-neill-bloomkamp-interview

I loved working on this project and felt honoured to have been part of a team that was so talented and dedicated.

However, when it comes to writing my own sci-fi, I often I find myself daunted by the amount of research required to do the work justice. I find that I battle constantly with trying to…

  1. Create accurate and plausible technology and science for my universe without…
  2. Bogging down the text with too much jargon and at the same time…
  3. Keeping it fresh and exciting with ideas and concepts that perhaps haven’t been looked at before or at least are being dealt with in a new way. While…
  4. Being mindful of genre staples/ cliches/ paradigms .Knowing when to adhere to what is tradition and when to steer clear from what is old hat…and lastly
  5. Trying to figure out how a modern teen really would behave in the bizarre circumstances that they find themselves in.

 

All the while I’m conscious that sci-fi readers are among the most critical and scrutinizing of all genre fans. And they have every right to be! I know I’m critical of other sci-fi writers.

Sci-fi writers  suffer all the criticisms of ordinary fantasy. Both genres deal with forging something completely imaginary and trying to make it believable. Readers ask questions like…

  1. Is the world building seamless?
  2. Are the characters realistic for the world that they inhabit? and
  3. Is the social/economic/political structures within the world detailed and well balanced to convince the reader that its all real?

But unlike fantasty authors, sci-fi writers also have to deal with an audience who have a sophisticated understanding of modern science and technology. Every single reader/viewer has their own opinion on how they foresee humanity will fare in the future – for better or worse. This is the key to understanding the sci-fi genre…because sci-fi stories all have something in common. They deal with the concept of our use of science or technology getting out of hand. The classic Prometheus myth. Sci-fi tackles heavy issues dealing with the human thirst of conquering new horizons without taking heed of the consequences. It is a genre that is about looking to the possibilities of the future in order to take responsibility for the actions of the present.

In Blomkamp’s Elysium, for example, we see the dark side of that philosophy. Elysium offers a look at how our current world social and economic structure may lead to a future where social division between the rich and the poor are at extremes and the fate of humanity hangs in the balance. We see a scenario where sacrifices must be made on both sides of the social spectrum, in order for a balance to be re-established.

Without going into too much specific back-story about how the world ended up in this situation, Elysium makes the viewer think about the implications of our current world economic situation and do some hard evaluating.

The sci-fi author must always be looking to the horizon. I find that it is getting harder to keep up to date with the rapid advances in science. It is really difficult to stay ahead of the curb. You have to identify with modern science and project it forwards, to investigate how it may evolve and change in time and what implications it has for the future of humanity, both good and bad.

But if a book takes three years to write/publish then the modern sci-fi writer has to realise that in the time it takes to get the book out there, a whole gamut of scientific discoveries will emerge.

Two years ago when I began writing my book, the Higgs Boson particle had not been discovered…NASA’s Curiosity had not landed on Mars…numerous exo-planets hadn’t been discovered including one Earth-sized planet that orbits Alpha Centauri B. And that’s just scratching the surface of what’s been going on.

Now, having said all this, my story is heavily steeped in what can only be called magic. I worry about this at times, knowing that hard-core sci-fi readers might reject some of my more ethereal concepts. I try to reassure myself that magic is just as valid in sci-fi as physics, since at some point in our human history, they could be seen as one and the same thing.

I tend to think that only by incorporating things that seem utterly like magic to us, can I write sci-fi that is true to what I love about the mystery of science. Or perhaps, I’m just a dreamer who has my head too far up in the clouds? Sometimes I focus too hard on getting the facts right, (especially knowing that my nuclear chemist brother would not approve of my sloppy research). But sometimes, I find it particularly hard to be practical when it comes to some of the core scientific aspects of my work. I prefer to focus on a more philosophical and emotional side of things and sort of let the structural mechanics of the world fall into place around the characters. After all, it’s the character’s story that matters most to me.

So, yes, it’s a difficult and yet thrilling era to be working on sci-fi, I might even go so far as to say it’s magical.

 

 

 

The Sound of Storytelling

One of the great things about working on sound for films is the experience I get in learning how to shape and craft a story by examining how film-makers do it. The editorial process for films is similar to editing a novel, in many ways. The first cut we sound editors receive from the picture department, is almost always too long and in need of a major tidy up. Trimming shots and scenes the way we do in writing to cut out unnecessary detail or to speed up the pacing is a big part of the process. Sometimes it is the reverse also true, and a key scene slowly becomes longer as shots are extended to give more time to let poignant moments linger on the screen. Sometimes, the director even has to go back and shoot more footage adding more detail in the cut to explain things that are confusing or just didn’t work the way they had first imagined they would.

This is true of the novel editing process, sometimes you have to cut huge chunks of writing out in order to keep the story centered on the protagonist and their goals. Sometimes, you need to add more detail to flesh out an idea that needs more development in order to sell a critical theme or concept.

The main difference between film editing and novel editing, (other than the fact that they are completely different mediums), is in my mind, is the fact that from the very beginning, it is a process that involves the thoughts and creative input of not just one person, but many. Dozens or even hundreds of people, depending on how big the project is, put their creative energy into creating a film. Those people might only each have a very small part to play, but they contribute to the overall shape and tone of the film and constantly influence/ inspire or affect the decisions that the director makes as the project evolves.

Working in sound, you really notice this, since sound is the last step in the film creation chain. We get to see the picture edit change over and over and over again, refining the story day by day. With each new version, we alter and enhance our sounds that accompany the pictures in a process that can last weeks or even months. Sometimes you have to work very fast to get all the sound blocked out for temp screenings while other times you might be working on one scene that only lasts a few minutes for weeks on end.

Although the film started in it’s original form as a script written by a single person or handful of people, once it leaves their hands and enters the machine of the film-making world, it becomes a strange new beast. A conglomerate of creative talents. Sometimes this can be a very fruitful, smooth and rewarding process, but sometimes it can go on and on and become sterile or a confused tangle of competing ideas. At the end of the day it comes down to communication and team work.

How this relates back to my understanding of shaping a story is that this endless exposure to other peoples ideas, to the way they see things, affects how I create my sound. The visual effects (VFX) become more sophisticated and detailed, allowing me to think more about the world I’m looking at on screen. I try to make sounds that will immerse the audience in that space. I think about how the sound can affect the viewers emotions. I think about how the sound works with the music to achieve a cohesion between what is really being heard by the characters and what they are feeling. All the while, thinking about the main goal of the film which is – to tell a story.

When I’m writing by myself, I still think through the same process. I’m still thinking about the scene as though I can see it. Drawing on all the senses, to describe what pictures I see in my mind. The hardest part is getting that visceral emotion out into words in a way that is as effective as sound. So in a direct way, I’m always thinking about how the words I write, will sound.

Devices like onomatopoeia, alliteration and assonance, are all subconscious contributors to affecting how a piece of writing flows and how it draws us in. When I’m cutting sound, no matter how big or small the action on screen is, it could be a car chase or an explosion or simply opening a door, I’m always listening to the shape of the sounds and making sure that there is a flow. Every sound has a beginning a middle and and end, just like every story, every sentence every word. When you break everything down, you see that the process of a story unraveling is just like everything in life, breathing sleeping birth and death, all art is a reflection of this process of beginning middle and end. A three act play.

Sound is perhaps the most powerful and primal of our senses. It develops in the womb and is one of our earliest methods through which we can communicate and interact with out world. As a species, sound played an important role in our evolution, helping us to become better survivors in a world full of dangers. Our language sets us apart from other animals. It is through language and written word that we have learned to share our experience and our consciousness with each other.

It was the sound and the shape of words and the emotions that they can evoke that I think first drew me to the act of storytelling. I’m fascinated by the nature of how humans tell our stories and how we have done so since the beginning of human history.  A love of reading is completely connected to our childhood and our past. The stories that were shared with us from older generations, the histories of our ancestors become part of us when they are told to us. There is such an alluring mystery to the process of hearing about something that happened outside of our own experience. And by hearing an account of someone else’s story we are transported into their minds. It enchants me. I am in love with how the sound of words can evoke a world within our minds, a world that no two people can see the same.

This is what I think film is all about. People coming together, to try and take all those individual visions of a story and put them together to form a collective. A meeting point between the vision and imagination of artists working in all different fields. It is as close as technology has so far brought us to sharing a dream amongst others. That is why film is such an amazing force in the world of storytelling, because it’s not about replacing books, its about our desire to share our thoughts and dreams. Outside of people who claim they have telepathy, this is as good as it gets.

Would Phillip K. Dick Have a Blog?

Hmmm,

So it is Friday again and I have done no blogging all week. Bad bad bad. Well I have been rather busy trying to get s few short films/ a feature film set up so I can have work  for the next couple of months. We all need money.

Film is a very hard industry to work in when trying to maintain your own creative processes. When the standard day is 11 hours, 8:30-7:30, you are left very tired and often sore in the ears. You have just enough time to cook and eat or/ do some other activity and eat take out. So you only get to be creative or exercise when you are coupling that with eating leftovers or takeout. This is just not a great scenario. Most of the time you just are so tired all you have energy to do is watch a crappy film, even though you have been working on film all day, its just nice to watch a film that starts and ends in 2 hours rather than one that you watch in repeated 4 second loops.

AND…the crappier the film the better. Lets face it…who wants to think at the end of the day…give me ‘The Water Boy’ or something. (Just so you know the Water Boy is not actually crappy…some say it is up there with ‘Gone with The Wind’)

Anyway enough about film. Today I want to talk about Phillip K. Dick.

Would he have been an author who supported the idea of blogging? Well on the one hand he was very skeptical about social media and paranoid about the technological misappropriation of thoughts and memories by government agencies. So my initial reaction would be…No way! But at the same time he was also a very free thinker who was all about sharing his ideas and concerns with others.

As he said:

“Because today we live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups… So I ask, in my writing, What is real? Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudo-realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms. I do not distrust their motives; I distrust their power. They have a lot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind. I ought to know. I do the same thing.”
-Phillip K. Dick

I guess this is the double edged dilemma of all social media. To be involved and run the risk of exposure/ manipulation and subordination or sit back and let your fears go unannounced, thereby risking not having your voice heard.

When it comes to any technology that has a potential for misuse most people these days don’t really care too much about the negative implications, much less consider them. Most people now, when they hear about some new technology don’t worry at all about the ramifications of that technology being misused. We have become complacent, through a slow process of becoming accustomed to a certain level of progress. Concepts such as cloning have been around for so long now, that we just assume that ‘who ever is in charge will make sure it’s OK’

Daily life seems to churn along just fine, so it must be OK. We know now how quickly computer power is accelerating, it used to be so impressive, but we all know that in 18 months we will need to upgrade all our digital storage devices. Any computers we buy now will be near obsolete by then. We not only expect it, but we are starting to plan for it. making sure our purchasing choices are so cheap that it wont matter when we have to replace them. The microchips in our 10 dollar USB sticks will be next months garbage and that seems to be pretty acceptable.

After all, we aren’t the ones having to put the things together now are we.

Most of us carry on thinking that we don’t really have a choice anymore about stopping the mechanical revolution. The cogs are well and truly set in motion and for many of us the benefits are deeply ingrained in our daily experience of the world.

I remember when I didn’t own a mobile phone. I used to have to arrange to meet people at certain times, in certain places. If I turned up late I would have to do some ACTUAL thinking about where my friend might have gone wandering off to when they got bored with waiting for me. I would have to think, and then search.

Now, I don’t care about being late…I just text them on my way.

I think that it is rather irrelevant of me to even wonder if P.K.Dick would have maintained a blog. I mean really, the guy was a genius, a crazy genius and what I would rather know is what future predictions he would have for our current world.

I for one prefer to be an optimist. While contemplating all the really exciting, action packed, horror outcomes that are implied through ubiquitous computers, virtual realities and artificial intelligence – I like to believe that our prolonged interest in the ‘soul’ of humanity will perpetuate a general status of morality in our species existence.

However, who knows what is in store for us next…

BEWARE!….THE FUTURE COULD HAPPEN AT ANY MOMENT!