In autumn 2013, I was invited to play a concert with the Dutch band Knalpot, during The Night of the Unexpected in Moscow. The invitation came from the Russian government, to celebrate 100 years of trade organizations between the Netherlands and Russia. Coincidentally, it was timed just after the implementation of a federal law passed on June 29, 2013, banning the distribution of »propaganda« to minors to promote »non-traditional sexual relationships.« This timing ended up putting a strange context of control over the event.
A mediator working for the Dutch embassy in Moscow helped us through the process of obtaining our visa. Besides the normal requests, he demanded a »map« of my setup, a rider (the list of technological needs – I requested an RCA or analog connection) and a list of gear. He also spoke about »permitted AV behavior,« referencing the new ban on propaganda. I explained my intention to generate synced live video, using the sound of Knalpot.
The Night of the Unexpected arrived. The venue was big and we set up in the middle on an island built of risers. A big projector graced the prow of our island, pointing at a professionally suspended black screen. A technician handed me HDMI (digital, not the requested analog RCA), and an analog-to-digital converter. Surprised at what seemed like problems stacking up rapidly, I turned to the event’s producer.
< Where will I project?
> This is the screen (pointing at the black screen).
< A black screen will not reflect the light; it will absorb light, which means the projection will not show. I need to project on a white screen.
> I ordered the best technology in Moscow. It is the most expensive. In your rider it did not specify a white screen.
< Can I show you what I mean? We can test it… Can I have the RCA I requested in my rider?
> (producer points at HDMI cable and analog-to-digital converter) We have this for you. It’s better, it’s digital.
< I requested analog out. I need to send my output unconverted, from my synthesizer to the projector, to keep it untransformed and synced with the band.
> This’s not possible. But HDMI is better.
None of my primary issues resolved. But it was only when the rehearsal started that I realized that I had a much bigger problem: In the corner of the island, in front of a video server, a Russian video engineer (or »Russian video police«) screened my live video for »offensive« content, taking the liberty to overlay or even cut my stream at any time.
The digital video server of the Russian video police digitized my analog, synced video stream, not only corrupting its intrinsic analog qualities by replacing analog scanning (line) artifacts with digital macroblocks, introducing an aspect ratio conflict, but also its timing, by adding a two-second delay. In the end, my performance became a barely visible, indiscernible disaster.
But that night, something also became very clear to me: the shortcomings of my understanding of the term resolution. During the performance, the differences between the resolved image on the black screen and the image resolved on my check monitor differed like night and day, not just in terms of brightness or aspect ratio, but also in terms of aesthetics, timing, and most importantly, power. I realized then that even though a screen often illuminates a situation, the screen also has a »thickness«, that acts as a veil. An envelope showing only a final resolution, or a cover, concealing (most of) the technologies involved in the process of resolving the image. The »depth« of the screen refers to the technological procedures and trade-offs beyond (or behind) the screen: processes of standardization and power involved in creating or »resolving« a final resolution.
To establish a better understanding of technology, the term »resolution« needs to be redefined and expanded to include a reflection on what processes and trade-offs between materials and their protocols take place, not only perceived from the screen or the perspective of the onlooker and audience, but also as experienced by the producer, performer, curator, or reviewer. This is why besides width and height, the screen’s »thickness« and »depth« need to be taken into consideration when reflecting on its resolution.
In his 2011 PhD dissertation, Gabriel Menotti Gonring makes the difference between the thickness and depth of the screen, see: Gonring,Gabriel Menotti MP. Movie/Cinema: Rearrangements of the Apparatus in Contemporary Movie Circulation. Diss. Goldsmiths, University of London, 2011. p. 227.