Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Visual Literature

So, just what can the new digital technologies offer literature? Embedded links so that you can choose the precise path through a text, such as the collaboration behind Kafka's Wound, with archive photos, documentary, audio and an essay by Will Self. Or there's Nick Cave's vook "The Death Of Bunny Munro", a book with music videos and author readings embedded.

But these are really extras around the text, 'the making of' equivalent in movie DVDs. They do very little with the original text itself, other than frame it with these frills. The urge to click in "Kafka's Wound" kept talkin me out of what was a very sophisticated central essay by Self that demanded full concentration, so managed to work against the text.

I have always been interested in delving even further into a text, beyond that of the words and down to the very DNA of written language, the letters themselves.

I have commissioned visual literature that embed the words & letters in a visual representation. Examples can be found here, where coherent sentences emerge from the primordial soup of a jumble of letters, the play of image and words reinforcing one another.

But there is an art form that I believe offers even more to maximise the significance and contribution of the typography to the meaning of the text itself. And that art form is known as kinetic (or motion) typography. I'm not sure how well known it is, as the entry explaining it in Wikipedia is pretty skimpy. The best way to demonstrate it is simply to watch some of the videos. There's a dedicated part of the Vimeo video site to kinetic typography.

I studied them in my search for a designer to collaborate with. And I was disappointed. Not with the look of the videos, which are fantastic, but with the lack of imagination behind the choice of texts, which unfortunately in my opinion served only to widen the gap between text and representation through motion typography. The texts are often film dialogue snatches or song lyrics, and accordingly only serve to show off the art (Vimeo is after all a shop window for artists, so this is partly understandable).  Then there is the other main use of kinetic typography, in advertising and marketing videos, where the text is often dry and target-led rather than artistic.

Finally there is the example of perhaps the most viewed of all kinetic typography films, Stephen Fry talking for 6 minutes about the wonders of language, all represented by the visual echo of his spoekn text made to move. I use the word echo, but directly parrot might be more accurate. I'm not sure in this case that the visuals add anything to Fry's rich vocal rendition. Apart from movement for movement's sake, I don't think the visuals advance the text in any meaningful way that bring out new or different shades of meaning to the oral.

Writers have to think what might be the case for animating their text. Rather than that dreaded term 'added value', the reason for it must exist within the text itself. And that means thinking about the words, what about them demands to be sparked up and shoot across a screen. But it also means thinking about the letters making up those words. For kinetic typography morphs, mutates, reverses, spins, rotates, severs, disappears, magics letters in its very being.

So I have this text about dementia. A gradual loss of language ability, where words mutate into close sounding but otherwise unrelated by meaning other words as letter blindness and problems of recall set in. The perfect medium for representation in kinetic type. The text informs the animation and the animation gives extra edge and depth to the text.

So writers, please think about your texts and whether kinetic typography can serve to give depth, resonance and complexity to them. And graphic designers, please think about collaborating with writers for some interesting texts to bring alive. Texts that may even have been written with animated typography in mind.

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