The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

August § The Common Test / 2016-02-16 21:04:46
Robin § Unforgotten / 2016-01-08 21:19:16
MsFitNZ § Towards A Theory of Secondary Literacy / 2015-11-03 21:23:21
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 18:39:56
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 16:32:50
Matt § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-05 01:49:12
Greg Linch § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 18:05:52
Robin § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 05:11:02
P. Renaud § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 04:13:09
Jay H § Matching cuts / 2014-10-02 02:41:13

No, Faster! No, Slower!

One of the things I like about video on computers—vs. video on tapes and decks—is that the framerate is so much more flexible. 24fps? Sure. 60fps? Why not! 17fps? Let’s give it a try.

Now of course, on a computer, all of this is still gated by the lockstep refresh of the monitor. So there’s still a rigid rate being imposed at some point.

But that’s not so for film, and it was especially flexible in the old days, before things got standardized. Images were captured, and played back, at all sorts of crazy framerates—and people argued about it!

I like this bit, noted by Mike Migurski:

On the active role of the projectionist: A 1915 projectionist’s handbook declared — in emphatic capitals — ‘THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A SET CAMERA SPEED!’ The correct speed of projection, it added, is the speed at which each individual scene was taken — ‘which may — and often does — vary wildly.’ And it declared: ‘One of the highest functions of projection is to watch the screen and regulate the speed of projection to synchronise with the speed of taking.’

Like a ship’s navigator keeping a hand on the wheel. Cool.

Here’s a thought experiment. Could we come up with some kind of gadget that “re-physicalizes” digital video so we could have this kind of fun again? Maybe it flashes images onto a re-writable strip of film. Maybe it’s an Arduino-powered kinetoscope with images rendered in E Ink!


It seems like it could be relatively easy to create a program that captures video at a variable framerate, defined by parameters rather than a fixed number. After all, we’ve got variable bitrate recording. The key thing would be to introduce a little bit of randomness into the process, create some aleatoric art.

This also reminds me of the way jazz recordings were done in the 50s (and earlier) before tape recording – sound engineers would constantly adjust the volumes on different mics as they were cutting directly to a record. This was hard enough on classical or pop recordings, but bebop and other improvisations meant that you either had to have a terrific ear and agile hands or you got a kinda lousy recording of what happened in the room.

You’d need more than new software; you’d need new hardware. Most cameras — whether we’re talking about a MacBook webcam or a Sony HD cam — have, at most, two framerates baked in.

But yeah, I want a digital video camera with a little continuously-variable crank that can slide from 12fps to 60fps all in one smoooooth motion.

Actually, there’s a problem there. Digital video files all specify a single, universal framerate. There’s no notion that the framerate itself will change over time. You literally can’t specify that. So in addition to a new camera… you’d need a new codec!

Well, maybe you could create a program that transcodes the video at variable at framerates. So you record in, say, ~30 fps, play it at a variable framerate, then recapture it in a fixed framerate. It might be lossy, but it gets you something of the multiple layers of indeterminacy that structured hand-cranked film.

Or you just go whole-hog analog.

The snarkmatrix awaits you

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