Master vs. Medium

When I was a child and my father read bedtime stories to me, he always finished with the same question: “And what is the moral of this story?” Then he usually answered the question himself. Suspiciously, the moral of the story was most often related to stuff that had been going on in our family, or in school: To succeed in life, one has to be nice to one’s brothers, do one’s math homework, or help one’s mother do the dishes.

I learned that the moral of the story is a trick the narrator uses to make the listener do something, or believe something, that he thinks is important. As a kid I felt like I wasn’t taken seriously by my father, and even today, when a film comes up with that moral thing, I feel like there is someone disrespecting my brain.

Later in life I became a story-teller myself.

I love to learn about people and I love image and sound. I became a documentary filmmaker. But I don’t want to share a moral, or tell people what thoughts they should have in their brains. Usually, as a documentary filmmaker, I end up in situations where, of all the people that are around, I am the most clueless. So why should I – the clueless one – be the one to explain to an audience how things work?

In 1997, around the time I discovered my interest in storytelling, I also found my fascination with computers. That led to the development of Korsakow. For the last three years I have been working together with Matt Soar and our programmer Dave Reisch who has rewritten the code of Korsakow from scratch, and built the foundation from where we can further develop the application.

For my own work, I almost exclusively use Korsakow and, depending on the way you count it, I have made (depending on how one counts) between 7 and 45 Korsakow-films. Last year, for the first time in my life, I also made a linear film (ie a film that is the very same every time you look at it). This film is called Planet Galata, a portrait of a bridge in Istanbul, and the people living on and around it. Planet Galata was made for French/German broadcaster ARTE, and there are two versions: a linear film and a Korsakow film. It was an amazing experience to make a linear film alongside a Korsakow-film. In a nutshell: The linear version of Planet Galata created some kind of moral, or message. I tried not to, but the film – the format of linear film – made me do it. It is the format of linear film that demands a moral, or a message. The author can fight it, and maybe some great masters of filmmaking sometimes succeed, but linear film is a monster and it demands moral.

An author can be either one or the other:

The master of the story. The author pre-defines, and pre-thinks the experience of the viewer. In a linear film, the author cannot avoid being the master of the story, because, in the end, a linear film has one – and only one – concrete order, and the author has to take full responsibility for it.

That said, also non-linear, multi-path and flexible-structured projects (I call them multi-linear) are usually made by authors who still take the role of masters of the story: The experience of the viewer, the order of things, has been per-thought by the master. The order is certainly more flexible than in a linear film, and these multi-path films do not always look the same, every time you look at them, but nothing happens that the author did not pre-think.

The medium of the story. Here the author prepares the material, the bits and pieces of the story; she can also be present as a voice; she can state her view, or her opinion, just like in any linear film. The difference is that the author creates the rules of the film, but does not pre-think the film. And that allows her to tell stories that are usually very, very difficult to tell in films, stories that are inspirational, but that don’t have a message or moral. – Korsakow is a tool that allows the author to be the medium of the story.

Korsakow allows to create stories – without a moral.

{ This text was originally written for a talk given at Visible Evidence in New York in August 2011. }

WEBDOKU – Interview mit Florian Thalhofer

„Ich würde mir wünschen, dass Erzählen durch den Computer menschlicher wird“, sagt Florian Thalhofer. 1997 hat er mit dem interaktiven Erzählen im Internet begonnen; mittlerweile gilt er als einer der Vorreiter in Deutschland. Seine Webdokus nennt Thalhofer Korsakow-Filme, das Programm zur Herstellung hat er selbst entwickelt. hat ihn in Berlin getroffen.

© 2011

Linear and Hyper Linear


Written text is linear(*). One word follows the other. One sentence follows the other. One argument follows the other. Most people think, that this is just like film. But it is not. The difference is obvious when you look at a page of written text. All the information is there at the same time (at least all the information that fits on the page). People sometimes argue that the way you take in text is nonetheless linear, but I doubt that. When I am reading, I do not take in one word after the other. I am aware of words that come later on the page, I cross-read text, and very often (especially when I read English texts, which is not my native tongue) I jump back, to read something again. When I am looking at a word I can see the word before and after, I see the words in context. But the most important difference to film is, that I am in control of the speed, I take in the information.

Film does not give me time to think, when I want it. It gives me time to think when the author wants it. If I start my own thoughts while watching a film, I miss out on the film. At least if I think thoughts that take longer than a few seconds. The flow of the film takes my thoughts away. This is why I usually do not enjoy watching linear films. I tend to get nervous, when I have a thought and I can’t follow it.

So clearly film is linear, but it is more linear than a written text. That is why I call it hyper linear.

Films are shown with more than 25 frames per second(*). Maybe one could say that a frame of a film is like a letter in a text. But nevertheless you can remember what you have seen previous you can not see the next letter, or word. And again, you can not get out of it. One letter follows the next, on word follows the other, no time for me to think, whenever I want. Intentions to think are not a strong signal, they start as weak signal somewhere in my brain. That part of my brain than has to convince other parts of my brain, that there should be focus on this particular thought. But watching a film, where all active senses are occupied with the next impression, the next scene, the next seductive thought of the author of film, my own little thought has no time to grow big and get attention. Very rarely while I watch a film a thought grows big enough that I become aware of its cry for attention. I might stop a film once or twice while watching it (and maybe I am even above average with this behavior).

Reading a text I slow down or stop while reading all the time.

(*) usually

Die Welt ist eine Wolke

Vor kurzem ist mir eingefallen, wie die Welt funktioniert. Es ist ganz einfach: Die Welt ist eine Wolke.

Bild: Jim Avignon

Die Welt ist eine Wolke, und um die Wolke herum ist nichts. Das Nichts ist schwarz. Doch das Nichts ist nicht nur nichts, es ist gleichzeitig alles. Das Nichts ist der unendliche See aller Möglichkeiten.

So wie eine Wolke am Himmel aus Wasser-Molekülen besteht, besteht die Wolke, die die Welt ist, aus Menschen. Es gibt eine Kraft, die die Moleküle beisammen hält, die verhindert, dass sie in alle Richtungen auseinander streben und sich im Nichts verlieren. Diese Kraft ist eine Art Klebstoff, der die Menschen beisammen hält. Der Klebstoff heißt Kommunikation. Die Menschen reden miteinander. Ununterbrochen und über nur ein Thema: Es geht um die Frage, was die Welt ist.

Die Welt ist die Wolke. Und die Wolke ist das, was alle Menschen miteinander verbindet. Teil der Wolke ist jeder Mensch, solange er nur in Verbindung zu mindestens einem anderen Menschen steht, der seinerseits Verbindung zur Wolke hat. Menschen, die ihren Kontakt zur Wolke verlieren, driften ins Nichts ab. Sie verlieren ihren Kontakt zur Welt. Sie sind verrückt, verrückt gegenüber der Welt.

Die meisten Menschen sind auf allen Seiten von anderen Menschen umgeben. Wie viele es sind, bestimmt die Dichte der Wolke an dieser Stelle. Neue Ideen entstehen am Rande der Wolke. Ideen, Erfindungen und Entdeckungen, die die Welt verändern.

Was passiert, wenn ein Mensch am Rande der Wolke einen Bewegung nach draußen macht? Ein kleines Stück, gerade so weit, dass er die Verbindung zur Wolke nicht verliert… Sie wird etwas entdecken, was es bisher noch nicht gab, etwas, das außerhalb der Wolke, außerhalb des Bewusstseins der Welt liegt. “Hey!” wird sie rufen “seht, was ich entdeckt habe!” Und wenn der Pionier andere überzeugen kann, nach sich ziehen kann, dann passiert etwas interessantes: Die Wolke verändert ihre Form. Die Welt verändert sich ein Stück und das, was gerade noch außerhalb der Welt lag ist plötzlich Teil von ihr.

Ständig entstehen neue Ideen. Ununterbrochen fliegen auf allen Seiten der Wolke Moleküle aus ihr heraus, doch nur die wenigsten schaffen es, andere Moleküle mitzureissen. Die meisten verlieren sich im Nichts, oder stürzen nach einem kurzen Ausflug wieder in die Welt zurück, ohne die Form der Wolke an dieser Stelle dauerhaft zu verändern.

Manchmal stellt die Welt auch fest, dass vor ihr schon jemand da war. Vincent van Gogh zum Beispiel. Ein besonders verrücktes Exemplar Molekül, ein Maler, der zu seinen Lebzeiten nie ein Bild verkaufte. Von Drogen wirr im Kopf, schnitt er sich ein Ohr ab. Ein Verrückter, kein Zweifel. Doch die Wolke hat sich in seine Richtung bewegt. Zufällig vielleicht, wer könnte das sagen? Die Welt hat sich verändert, hat seine Bilder entdeckt und plötzlich war Vincent van Gogh nicht mehr verrückt. Er war ein Genie, der Welt voraus.

Die Wolke ist in ständiger Veränderung begriffen. Zu keinem Zeitpunkt ist sie genau gleich. Doch sie verändert sich langsam, und sie hat ihre Zentren. Religionen sind solche Zentren zum Beispiel, oder politische Systeme. Und die Wolke hat viele Zentren. Die Zentren wirken wie innere Schwerpunkte, die bewirken, dass sich die Wolke nicht zu schnell bewegt.

Die Wolke breitet sich nicht nur aus, sie verschwindet auch aus Bereichen in denen sie schon war und überlässt diese wieder dem Nichts. Das Wissen und das Weltbild der Ägypter zum Beispiel. Wir sehen ihre Pyramiden, doch es bleibt uns völlig verschlossen, wie ihre Welt ausgesehen hat. Man kann sich aus unserer Welt heraus ein Bild davon machen. Verstehen kann man es nicht. Und das Bild ist geprägt von dem, was die Welt jetzt ist.

Sophie, einer Freundin von mir, hat eine Beobachtung gemacht. Merkwürdig, hat sie gesagt, dass man einem Film von 1950, der im Jahr 1850 spielen soll, viel eher das Jahr 1950 ansieht, als das Jahr, in dem es in dem Film geht; auch wenn man sich 1950 alle Mühe gegeben hat, die Zeit um das Jahr 1850 so authentisch wie möglich darzustellen. Ein historischer Film 20 Jahre später gedreht, würde ganz anders aussehen, und auch in ihm könnte man seine Entstehungszeit sofort ansehen. Offensichtlich ändert sich das Bild von dem was man sich von der Vergangenheit vorstellt, mit der Zeit.

Die Welt ist eine Wolke, die sich in ständiger Veränderung befindet. Man kann sie nicht begreifen, denn man kann, solange man Teil der Welt ist, nicht von der Seite auf sie blicken um ihre Form zu verstehen. Man könnte theoretisch alle Moleküle der Wolke untersuchen. Das bedürfte allerdings viel Zeit. Zeit in der sich die Welt bereits wieder verändert. Man müsste die Welt also einfrieren, dann könnte man alle Moleküle in Ruhe einzeln betrachten um auf diese Weise die Welt zu verstehen. Doch auch das kann man nicht. Die ganze Welt ist viel, viel zu groß. Man kann versuchen kleine Ausschnitte einzufrieren und zu verstehen. Und das ist es, was wir machen, wenn wir Bilder aufnehmen, Texte schreiben, Töne sammeln. Wir versuchen, kleine Ausschnitte der Welt einzufrieren um sie zu verstehen.

The world is a cloud

Recently I figured out how the world works. It is very simple: The world is a cloud.

Image: Jim Avignon

The world is a cloud and around the cloud there is nothing. The Nothing is black. But the Nothing is not just nothing, simultaneously it is everything. The Nothing is the never-ending ocean of all possibilities.

Just like a cloud consists of water molecules, the cloud, which is the world, consists of people. There must be a force that keeps the molecules together, that prevents them from striving into different directions and from getting lost in Nothing. This force exists. It is a type of glue that keeps the human race together. This glue is called communication. People talk to each other. Non-stop and about one topic only: what is the world.

But the cloud is the world. And the cloud is that which connects all humans to each other. Each human being is part of this cloud, just as long as (s)he is in touch with at least one other human being, who is also connected to the cloud. Humans who lose their contact to the cloud drift into Nothing. They lose touch with the world. They are insane, insane to the world.

Most people are surrounded by other people. The density of the cloud at a particular spot is determined by the quantity of these people. New ideas develop at the edge of the cloud. Ideas, inventions, discoveries that change the world. What happens when a person at the edge of the cloud takes one step to the outside? A tiny bit, just big enough that (s)he will not lose the connection to the cloud. (S)he will discover something that has not existed before, something that exists outside the cloud, outside of the world’s consciousness. (S)he would call out “Hey! See what I have discovered!” And if the pioneer manages to convince others, can make them follow her, then something interesting is about to occur: The cloud will change its shape. The cloud changes just one bit and what was external a moment ago is now internal.

New ideas come about constantly. Molecules fly beyond the cloud’s borders non-stop, but only few manage to engage other molecules. Most of them get lost in the Nothing, or fall back to the world after a short excursion, without permanently altering the cloud’s shape at that spot.

The world will sometimes notice that someone had been there before it. For example, Vincent van Gogh. A particularly crazy molecular specimen; a painter who didn’t sell a single painting during his lifetime. Driven mad by drugs he cut off his own ear. An insane man, no doubt about it. But the cloud did move in his direction. Coincidentally perhaps, no one can tell. The world has changed, has discovered his paintings, and suddenly Vincent van Gogh was no longer insane. He was a genius, ahead of the world.

The cloud is constantly changing. It is never the same at any two moments. But the change occurs slowly, and the world has its centers. Religions are such centers, for example, or political systems. And the cloud has many centers. These centers have the effect of an inner center of gravity, making sure that the world does not move too fast. The cloud doesn’t just grow, it also disappears in areas where it had existed before and leaves these areas to the Nothing. For example, the Egyptians’ knowledge and view of the world. We see their pyramids, and yet we cannot grasp what their world must have looked like. From our world of view we can imagine it, but we cannot comprehend it. And our imagination is affected by the current state of the world.

A friend of mine, Sophie, noticed this, too. She said, ‘It is strange, when you watch a movie from the 1950s set in the 1850s, you see the 1950s much more than the year in which it is supposed to take place. Even if in 1950 they tried their best to re-create the year 1850 as authentically as possible. A historical movie that was filmed only 20 years later would look entirely differently, but again it would reflect its date of origin. Obviously the way we view the past changes over time.

The world is a cloud that is constantly changing. One cannot fully grasp it, because as long as one is part of this world one cannot view its exterior to understand its shape. Theoretically you could examine all of the cloud’s molecules. However, this would require a lot of time. Time during which the world would change again. One would have to freeze the world to watch the molecules in peace in order to understand the world this way. But that is not possible either. The whole world is much, much too large. One could try to freeze and understand smaller sections. And this is what we are doing when we take pictures, write text, make recordings. We are trying to freeze small sections of the world in order to understand it.

Translation by Anja Tachler.