Digital Sonimage

edited by John Potts

In 1972, Jean-Luc Godard withdrew from conventional film-making, and from Paris, setting up a company called Sonimage in Grenoble in the French Alps. The organisation of sound and image (son et image) had been of central importance in Godard's earlier film-making. His films investigated sometimes implicitly, sometimes explicitly the generation of meaning and truth-effect from within certain techniques of combining sound and image. The allure of fiction films, and the truth-telling function of news and documentary, rest on conventions built into the regimes of sonimage. Godard's new company continued these formal investigations within an expanded range of concerns, including consideration of new technologies, new modes of distribution, and new relationships with audiences.

The availability of new video technology, and the development of alternative patterns of distribution, were significant factors in the establishment of Sonimage. Godard and his collaborators in the 1970s produced works for television; in later decades he alternated between feature-film making and other modes of expression in the visual arts. His large-scale video work Histoire(s) du Cinema was completed in 1998; in 2006 the Pompidou Centre staged an enormous exhibition entitled "Voyage(s) in Utopia, Jean-Luc Godard, 1946-2006: In Search of the Lost Theorem". Dominique Païni, who worked on the exhibition, noted that Godard resides "on an island between the worlds of the museum and the cinema" (Païni 2006). Throughout his long and varied voyages, Godard has explored the inter-locking relationships between technology, economics and aesthetic form. He has remained attentive to the ways in which new media technologies affect the production, distribution and reception of sounds and images. His work across diverse media contains a political economy of creative expression.

The essays in this edition of Scan operate within the theoretical circuits explored by Godard, even though they do not explicitly concern cinema. Each essay is concerned with the problematics of contemporary sonimage. This problematics comprises technological elements that could not have been imagined by Godard and his peers in 1972. These developments include, most notably, the digital manipulation and appropriation of sounds and images, and the instantaneous distribution of digital information across global communication networks.

Within this contemporary apparatus, images and sounds migrate from one platform to another: from film, TV or radio to laptops or smartphones. Video images are now commonly found in art galleries and museums. The ownership of sounds and images has become increasingly contested, as intellectual property assumes a central importance in the political economy of creativity. Digital technologies allow consumers to download images and sounds, manipulate and process them, then redistribute them on the Web; in the process those consumers become creators/producers. Whole new entertainment forms videogames have emerged, along with their attendant scholarship examining the relation between aesthetic form, technology, and the imperatives of entertainment.

Digital sonimage functions within a global technological system in which national borders are easily crossed. At the same time, instructional categories built into earlier media forms for example, children's books distinct from adult books have dissolved. In the wake of these developments, issues of censorship and control of images have become paramount. Sonimage - the relationship between sound and image, set within this global digital apparatus - is now more complex than ever.

The first essay in this edition of Scan confronts the status of the image as it moves between the worlds of cinema and the museum. In Viewing Time, Kate Mondloch considers temporality in film and video installations. The role of the spectator is analysed in detail, while the influence of the surrounding media environment is also discussed. For Mondloch, the experience of time in video installations is "multiple and sometimes contradictory". In contrast to the cinematic viewing experience, spectators in a museum may have more affinity with the Windows-based sampling of multiple computer screen images. Mondloch focuses on the video installation Consolation Service, by Eija-Liisa Ahtila, as exemplary of a distinctive and challenging relationship to viewing time.

The essay by Steve Collins, Kookaburra v. Down Under: It's Just Overkill, launches its discussion of copyright from an analysis of a recent high-profile case heard by the Federal Court of Australia. In February 2010, this court found that the Australian pop group Men at Work infringed copyright by including, in their hit song "Down Under", a brief passage from the 1932 song "Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree". This decision, like several other recent court decisions relating to copyright, has generated controversy and has had many critics. Collins places this court ruling in a broader context of debates concerning intellectual property and the purpose of copyright. He argues that upholding the strict interpretation of copyright law may weaken the intended function of the law, which is to foster and protect creativity. Instead, creativity becomes restricted if copyright enforcement is pursued as a means of financial exploitation. These debates are particularly important in the age of digital manipulation and internet transmission. Collins sets this particular case in the greater framework of creative expression and its functioning in a free society.

The last two essays in this edition of Scan both concern video games. In The Context of Violence in Video Games, Marcus Schulzke considers the intense media criticism of violent video games. One of the common characteristics of these attacks is that they give little attention to the narrative context of the violence and the way that it is presented. While it is possible that some games are harmful, Schulzke argues that scholars interested in gaming must be sensitive to the vast qualitative differences in video game violence. He analyses the different genres of gaming and their contrasting depictions of violence, which may include levels of ambiguity, irony, and distancing through deliberately unrealistic representation. Schuzke argues that each of these genres differs in its presentation of game violence and may have greatly different effects on players.

In his essay, Fable 2 as Simulation, Game and Narrative: A Contest, Adam Ruch uses a particular game, Fable 2, to explore broader issues in contemporary game theory. These include the debates which seek to position video games as either narrative forms or ludic experiences. Ruch moves beyond these debates in his consideration of the competing imperatives involved in playing ? and analysing ? games such as Fable 2. He demonstrates the competing forces at play as three sets of rules pertaining to simulation, game and story ? interact. Through a close study of this specific game, Ruch shows the complexity of this contemporary form, an intersection of technology, aesthetic strategies, design, narrative drive, commercial imperative and, of course, sound and image.

Cover Image
Eija-Liisa Ahtila
Consolation Service, 1999
35mm film, DVD installation
23 min 40 sec, 1:1.85, Dolby Surround
Copyright Crystal Eye Ltd, Helsinki
Courtesy of Marian Goodman Gallery, New York and Paris

MacCabe, Colin (1980). Godard: Images, Sounds, Politics. London: Macmillan.
Païni, Dominique (2006). "According to JLG?" at (accessed 21 April 2010).