Academic journal article Afterimage

About Sync: A Conversation with James Tobias

Academic journal article Afterimage

About Sync: A Conversation with James Tobias

Article excerpt

James S. Tobias's work as both scholar and interactive media artist bridges complex and evolving languages for time-based media arts. Associate Professor of Cinema and Digital Media Studies in the English Department of the University of California, Riverside, Tobias is the author of Sync: Stylistics of Hieroglyphic Time (to be released by Temple University Press in summer 2010). Tobias draws on his own multi-faceted educational and experiential background in music, movement, linguistics, film studies, and human-computer interface design to explore a key challenge for scholars and practitioners--investigating the unnamable element that lies beyond and within the interplay between image and sound.

Tobias's journal publications include Film Quarterly, Jump Cut, and Documentary Box. He has additionally contributed to other texts including Boyhood in America: An Encyclopedia (2001, edited by Priscilla F. Clement and Jacqueline S. Reinier) and authored the chapter "Bunuel's Net Work: The Detour Trilogy" in Marsha Kinder's book Luis Bunuel's The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1999). Formerly an assistant professor of Film and Video Studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Tobias received his doctorate in Critical Studies/Cinema-Television from the University of Southern California in 2001, after receiving a Master's degree in Interactive Telecommunications in 1994 from New York University, and a Bachelor's degree in Linguistics in 1985 from the University of California at Berkeley

Tobias's art. practice is as varied as his scholarly interests as he and his collaborators explore the interplay of sound and image in emerging technologies that emphasize interactive gesture. He directed the "Cruising Zone" section of Mysteries and Desire: Searching the World of John Rechy, an interactive CD-ROM produced in 2000 by Kinder's Labyrinth Project, which was awarded a Gold Medal for Best Overall Design at the 2000 In-Vision .Awards and was also selected for the European Media Arts Festival in May 2000. An earlier interactive installation, "To Live and Drive in LA" (1999) led to Tobias being named one of "25 New Faces of Indie Film" by Filmmaker magazine in 1999. In addition, he was awarded an Interactive Frictions Conference Installation Grant for 1998-9. This conversation took place via email from January through March 2010.

JOANNA HEATWOLE: I found myself wondering if your interest in music comes from early exposure to music--and in the same vein, if your interest in language comes from early exposure to languages. What is the root of your interest in music and musicality as related to media studies?

JAMES TOBIAS: I studied linguistics at Berkeley in the mid-1980s, and used computational linguistics courses from the Computer Science department along with English and Spanish linguistics courses from those departments to fill out my electives. I studied three years worth of Japanese. Throughout, I also tried countering my own interest in language and linguistics as a structural model for expression with musical improvisation as a more dynamic and fluid model. I studied piano as a kid for about ten years, and I would spend hours freely improvising wherever I could find access to a piano: co-op houses, practice rooms on campus, anywhere. I also searched out experimental improvisational music and all kinds of alternative musics. In those years, the Apple Macintosh, was setting the standard for consumer-level graphical computing. Meanwhile, the Pacific Film Archive would screen programs featuring the work of directors of the American New Wave--heavily improvisations! films like those of Jack Smith or Ron Rice, So my interest in musicality as such developed not literally from a formal study of music, but from interests in the way expression might he modeled and understood across a. variety of cultural forms--alternative, emergent, critical. You had screenings of great independent and underground films that were being canonized but were nevertheless like nothing else I had ever seen. …

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