Tuesday, May 06, 2008

In a Garden of Branching Websites

I spent an hour or so of procrastination time this morning trying to figure out how to travel to the Republic of Kalmykia. It's possible, in theory, but if you want to book ahead of time, you can't get there from here. Maybe that's okay, as Kalmykia, the nation that, by any modest powers of reason or imagination, ought to be the most interesting place in Europe, has been so worn down by the last century of external control and half-hearted Soviet-style modernisation, that any journey there is likely to be disappointing.

Websites, full of links internal, external, and infernal, were supposed to be the ideal medium from getting from some idea of here to some other idea of there and eventually to some completely different idea of somewhere else, but it turns out that, in practice, this capacity is under-utilized, if at all. Most websites are like simple motel rooms, with a central room leading to one or two other places, a few are like walk-through hotel suites, in which its possible to view everything in one route. Personally, I prefer web surfing to have the caprice of a Fellini film narrative in which the connection between the site first entered and the site ultimately exited is unpredictable, adventurous. Instead, the form of the website has largely become predictable: for composers, for example, there's an front, index, page and direct links from there to a biography (or cv, if the composer in question is an academic), a list of works, a press page, a small external links page, and a contact page. And that's it. For new musicians, we sure offer very little in the way of novelty, let alone surprise.

The late Edward Gorey's masterpiece among his many small books was The Raging Tide: Or, The Black Doll's Imbroglio (1987). The book has a stunning and disciplined composition, featuring characters associated with Gorey's unmade screenplay, among them the acrobatic Figbash, and is, in part, a response to surrealism by an artist who very much wanted to love surrealism but was too often disappointed. Each facing pair of pages in the book has an illustration to the right and a single sentence to the left. The sentences fall into two types: the first type has one or more characters performing an act with an object upon another character (or, in two cases, upon themselves)("Hooglyboo poured golden syrup over Naeelah."; "Figbash and Naeelah assaulted Hoogleyboo with cookie-cutters."), and the second is a simple declarative sentence ("Short sheets make the bed look longer."; "Not long ago they were destroyed by insects.") The narrative branches off at each page according to the reader's answer to a question like "If you dislike turnips less than you do prunes, turn to 22. If it is the reverse, turn to 21." or "If you want to persevere with the story, turn to 28. If you wish to correct a possible discrepancy, turn to 21." Thus, instead of a simple linear narrative, Gorey takes a trick from childrens' novelty books, and offers hundreds of possible ways of going through the book, thus guaranteeing that return visits to the book will be comfortably (or uncomfortably, as the case may be) within the same little universe, but never alike enough to be disappointing. Why can't more websites have that rhizome-like quality, with interesting things appearing via unpredictable routes?

(My own website is not good, let alone interesting; any links to model composer websites would be welcomes as well as any ideas or suggestions about how to do a better job.)

9 comments:

Les said...

What is this "web site" of which you speak? Is that where RSS feeds come from?

Les said...

(this comment is just so that i get emailed in case somebody posts a cool link)

Corey said...

Regarding Kalmykia: Wow! I thought I knew every obscure country in the world, and I'd never even heard of this place. Must not be very accessible, as there aren't any photos even on TrekEarth (probably the best site for photos of foreign lands).

sfmike said...

I'd love to see a "Magic Flute" website where you end up in weird Masonic rooms that you stumble upon accidentally filled with all kinds of esoteric information AND music, which leads you down a strange catacombed hallway to another place with even more information and music. How it would connect would definitely be a reflection of the techniques of Carl Jung/I Ching/John Cage/Edward Gorey.

The world's not quite ready yet for presenting this information, however, but the time is near.

sfmike said...

Addendum: Last sentence should read "The world's not quite ready yet for presenting information IN THIS WAY, but the time is year."

sfmike said...

Ah, fuck it.

Les said...

sfmike's idea is cool. I think there are some net.art projects that do things like this. It could certainly be achieved via second life. (ah, the platform with so much potential and so much suburbia. It's all private property and prostitution. zzzzz.)

When the website IS the art, it ceases being a site about music. And since the web is overwhelmingly a visual medium, it would be very difficult to even keep it as sonic art.

kraig grady said...

anaphoria.com
The people of Anaphoria continue to bury the dog deeper. We leave visitors assumptions as our safeguard in keeping certain pages beyond reach of those hurried. Ethnomusicology reminds of of how important the context is in the understanding of a music. It does not cease to be about music in that case, neither does it when presented with what form an intricate part.

paul bailey said...

http://www.paulbaileyensemble.org/blog/2008/05/tagged-x2.html