Emotion conveyed through digital means

Bobby Scott, Editor-In-Chief

The sound of waves crashing against a beach filled the Blackington Hall lecture room Sept. 12. A beeping noise pulsed as it followed the pattern of the waves crashing.

Simultaneously, an image of a computer-generated avatar appeared on a projection screen.

What was different about these sounds and images than those previously shown during Alan Sondheim’s lecture was that it was a graphic of a head. Previous images were of bodies.

This was not just any head, though. It was a head with a wound that had a crimson waterfall flowing out of it in an already red computer background.

What may have resonated the most with audience members was that this particular image, along with a few others, were portraits derived from real images of people being killed by ISIS (the Islamic State, Iraq and Syria).

Sondheim is a Brown University graduate (where he earned a masters degree in English), and is known by people interested in the digital world as someone fascinated by digital algorithmic glitches or defects.

Sondheim provided a keynote lecture Sept. 12 closing Pitt-Johnstown’s Day of Digital Humanities.

In other words, he is interested in what happens when graphics or other things in the virtual world go awry.

“I am interested not in video games, but in etch-bases of video games,” Sondheim said during his oration.

“I am interested in what happens when things start to corrupt and collapse (in the virtual world).”

Sondheim said that he is more interested in “etch-space” than “game-space” because there is more of an unknown.

“In game-space, the rules are understood, but what happens when the virtual world falters on you?” Sondheim said.

“In etch-space, you end up in blank spaces, and it is blank spaces that are filled with violence (and other taboos).”

Sondheim said during his lecture that, in recent years, he has been working on various images dealing with ISIS.

He then went on to show several images, including the graphic of a bloody head wound, as well as piles of dead bodies along the ocean.

Several minutes went by of brutal and violent images yet shown with Sondheim’s captivation of digital graphic glitches that left at least some wondering what they contained exactly.

“My work deals with things that are digital, but are also object,” he said.

“You can’t really figure out in a lot of the times what is going on (leaving it up for interpretation).”

Among other things presented by Sondheim to the room of about 30 people were self-destructing avatars, internationally trained ballerinas dancing like glitch-avatars and even a musical performance by him and his partner, Azure Carter.

Junior computer engineering technology major Evan Gretok said it is a different perspective of what technology can be used for.

“I focus a lot on the technical aspects of technology, and it was nice to see a different perspective of what technology can be used for,” he said.

“I’m taught analyze technology like it is a machine, but whenever you are able to utilize that as a medium to represent something that creates a human reaction (emotion, a feeling of responsibility) spurs a reaction out of yourself.”