Re-dressing New Orleans in Katrina's wake
Design by Erik Loyer
Music is a much more direct ancestor to interactive media than cinema. The mathematical and logical frameworks, the use of score as a generative source, the importance of live performance—all find strong parallels in digital interactivity. Poetry, too, shares many of these qualities, and in my experience authors with a poetic sensibility are often the ones who feel the greatest sense of liberation as they engage interactive platforms.
Scholars like David Theo Goldberg, who possess an innate predilection for the poetic, frequently find that their more fanciful instincts, which may be quashed in other formats, can be expressed more freely here. Of course, freedom in this medium, as in the other arts, frequently thrives within well-defined limitations. In interactive media, a good content architecture—realized in most Vectors projects in the form of a database—fulfills this role, taking account of the territory it is meant to represent and shutting down unproductive structural avenues while encouraging the fruitful ones. If all goes well, the author gains an expressive scaffold which resonates with the ideas at hand.
The database design for Blue Velvet initially suffered from overconnectedness—too many kinds of things were linked in too many ways. The common result in this situation is that author and user alike become confused about what they are supposed to be doing. Stefka Hristova was instrumental in identifying these kinds of problems and suggesting solutions. Through collaborative pruning and condensing of the structure, amplified in our case by the decision to give the work a linear spine, we were able to identify and foster a regular rhythm for the interaction—an oscillation between above ground and underwater, placidity and turmoil, complacency and catastrophe.
The ways in which falling words "dissolve" and reconfigure themselves in the piece was a structural conceit designed to give David the chance to explore something I kept hearing during our phone conversations: his penchant for wordplay. He would frequently substitute the expected word in a sentence with a similar word that threw an (often humorous) twist into the idea being expressed. Taking inspiration from this trait, I came up with a database structure that would allow David to define how words would break apart and transform. David took to the concept immediately, which was very gratifying, and resulted in some inspired word associations.
A final note: Blue Velvet includes an interactive index—an experiment in making the underlying structures of Vectors projects more accessible to the public. Using the index, you can browse the project's database visually and bookmark specific elements for citation purposes. The piece itself remains the preferred way of accessing David's work, but we hope elements like the index and video tutorial will help to bring Vectors projects to a wider audience.