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Instrumentality, Time & Memory in the Virtual

Ed Keller (
I would like to begin with a mise en abyme, a meditation on the nature of
the virtual which will throw this essay through its entire trajectory and
deposit us in a place where a more detailed development of each of these
concepts can occur. As a starting point I find the formulation of the virtual
that Deleuze gives us via Proust fascinating :
'Real without being actual, ideal without being abstract.'
p96, Bergsonism
This understanding of the virtual insists upon its operative nature;
moreover, the operative nature of something that is not, most likely, visible.
It is used by Deleuze within the context of the performance of memory as a
force that conditions our perception ineluctably and shapes us as subjects.
In Deleuze's investigation of the subject through Bergson's idea of memory,
virtuality is the key realm within which memory locates itself .
1.1 The Threshold
The role that the virtual plays in its intersection with time, with memory,
can be described by a performance value that will be initially termed the
Cinematic Threshold. The term, which I take from Deleuze, reminds us of a
spectrum of instrumental qualities that are identifiable in film and in
photography; as well as in techniques manipulating space, and rative. The
cinematic threshold is a revealing possibility in film, which exposes the
previously unseen and unthought. As such it maintains an instrumentality
that has a direct effect upon the configuration of our subjectivity; it gives us
more than an expanded lexicon; in fact, the main theme that this paper
develops is that there is inherent to this cinematic threshold a certain
quality that involves us as viewers/participants in such a way that duration
is invoked. This is built into the method of the cinema, and to varying
degrees into each technology that we live within. So the description of such
instrumentalities will be our focus.
1.2 The Invocation of Duration; Speed's role in relation to Duration
One of the special relations developed by the Cinematic Threshold is the
involvement between time and certain intrumentalities. As it performs, at
the limit condition of our retinal capacity, it invokes time in a particular way
which we can call duration (following Bergson). Speed is invoked, as well,
for the varying speeds and slownesses present around the cinematic
threshold (the slow mo/ the closeup/and so on) extend the retinal limit in a
way that would be previously outside of thought. Speed's relationship to
time will take on a larger significance (this connexion will be developed
through Bernard Steigler's analysis of Nietzsche) in the action that memory
plays in configuring our perception, our subjectivities, because of the
concern that has been revealed vis a vis our physical limits, and time as the
area into which perception descends.
The main trajectories of this investigation are thus revealed. Our concern is,
with the configuration and extension of subjectivity, understanding the
virtual as the chief realm for those configurations.
1.3 OPERATIVE FICTIONS...(who ever said I was writing anything but
Note the model of subjectivity in William Gibson's Neuromancer, Count Zero,
and Mona Lisa Overdrive. The individual's perceptual field is not restricted to
their own library of experience, nor to a purely retinal model. Telepresence
thus becomes legitimized as a realm of experience along with the retinal,
and the haptic, in such a way that the individual's extension into the virtual
is a commonplace. As well, their access to libraries of other's experiences is
a field that extends their personal subjectivity in much the way that our
current technology of the hard drive and the Internet might be said to
functionally extend our memory, creating a deployed subjectivity. This point
assumes not that our subjectivity was ever purely localized, but that the
instrumental qualities of our current technology allow a new form of an
already existing deployment. The importance of this example is twofold- it
opens the question of the virtual as always having been present in the
operative nature of any instrumentality, however concrete- and it
simultaneously notes the instrumental peculiarites inherent in Gibson's
understanding of virtuality.
As noted above, there is an affiliation between the performance envelope of
film, which evolves from it's particular instrumental characteristics, and
Bergsonian duration. A favorite example from another discipline employing
the explicity operative virtual is the work of Max Ernst, specifically his
collage novels, which have been the subject of some attention in Krauss and
Foster. I use Ernst as an example of a somewhat different understanding of
the collage as a model of hyperplanarity/inchoate becoming animal, and
thus a perfect site for an analysis of virtuality. This argument depends upon
an understanding of the surface of the image in Ernst not as a site for a
purely psychoanalytical or textual decoding, but a field of intensities that
invoke the inchoate and the savage. Andrew Benjamin's term timing
captures the element of this new form of savagery well in it's understanding
that the work of the work is to TIME: to throw the subject into duration.
This is a realm that is close to home for architects, but also for the modern
filmmaker. Questions of 'presence' will be opened here, vis a vis the
interface. It is linked in my mind to the development of modern computer
games, which are one of the primary examples of an extension into
cyberspace of the operative realm of the virtual in a way that is specifically
spatial (as an extension of the subject into a virtual space through
telepresence). Marathon, a new game for the Macintosh platform, is a good
Power is coursing through the virtual in it's inflections of our everyday
freedoms. Any understanding of the virtual must take into account the
matrices of power that bound it's practical and passionate uses. The issue of
power may be understood via it's two aspects developed by Deleuze,
Guattari, and Foucault: puissance and pouvoir. As Brian Massumi clarifies:
'Puissance refers to a range of potential...It may be thought of as a scale of
intensity or fullness of existence...puissance pertains to the virtual, (the
plane of consistency), pouvoir to the actual (the plane of organization). D&G
use pouvoir in a sense very close to Foucault's, as an instituted and
reproducible relation of force, selective concretization of potential.' -1000
Plateaus, p xvii
The relation of power to the virtual takes on tremendous force within the
Internet. Between the dialogic formation of subjectivity and the
instrumentalities of cyberspace can be found one potential escape path from
some of the matrices of power I will touch upon. There are conditions which
can be drawn from cyberspace and mapped onto other disciplines, as well,
so one is not limited to cyberspace's constrained virtuality; however, my
main theme recognizes that our society is moving increasingly into the
technologized virtual, into a composite or cyborg condition; therefore, I feel
it crucial to theorize techniques of the virtual for this deployed base. It is
important to note, as well, that computers and the Internet itself accelerate
techniques of surveillance, and provide powerful tools for cataloging
individuals. This aspect pervades the use of the networked computer and
has sinister overtones at best. In theorizing the Internet then, these
aspects, which deploy a truly crushing kind of panopticism against the
individual, must be considered carefully.
The techniques examined here, within these contexts, do suggest at least
the mention of the word resistance. However, I use this word with caution,
not seeking to proffer examples of what I consider useless revolutions
that we have seen in the past, but to think through the problem in the
way that Walter Benjamin devoted himself to mechanical reproduction.
This paper's trajectory is an attempt to extend the theories of Deleuze &
Guattari, Ensenzberger, Bahktin, et. al. into the consideration of the dialogic
as it irrupts across the World Wide Web. Crucial is a theory of the virtual
from a viewpoint which assumes not an independent subject, (even in the
virtual) but a dialogically configured subject; and one that does not cast
aside the elements of aura that Benjamin struggled with, but was unable
to incorporate into his socialist schema for mechanical reproduction. Lest
anyone cry global village here as a riposte to these issues, let me hasten
to add that simply having global telecommunications broadcasts is NOT
The Cinematic Threshold refers to the operational value of a set of
techniques inherent to the filmic, and particular actions these techniques
carry out within matter and our perception.
This bases the notion of the performance of cinema, not on a largely
psychoanalytic model (cf. Christian Metz) but rather on a model invested in
a multiplicitous space of capability- by this I mean an assemblage that
works through a combination of the interpretive and the machinic. Thus
developed is the notion of the subject formed by an assortment of forces
both enunciative and machinic. By enunciative I mean textual, but also
imageistic, habitual; narrative in the sense that even an appliance might be,
in that it restricts program to a single sequence and function within the logic
of capitalist consumption. Machinic forces are those that realize their effect
outside of, or within the fabric of, a subject's interpretation. The machinic is
to some extent invisible.
The setting up of this invisibility may be revealed through an interrogation
of the instrumental qualities inherent in certain filmic techniques. There are
analagous techniques of virtuality not limited to the purely cinematic which
will also implemement these new degrees and kinds of subjectivity. But let's
start with film...
"Movement has an essential relation to the imperceptible; it is by nature
imperceptible. Perception can grasp movement only as the displacement of
a moving body or the development of a form. Movements, becomings, in
other words, pure relations of speed and slowness, pure affects, are below
and above the threshold of perception. Doubtless, thresholds of perception
are relative; there is always a threshold capable of grasping what eludes
another: the eagle's eye... But the adequate threshold can in turn operate
only as a function of a perceptible form and a perceived, discerned subject.
So that movement in itself continues to occur elsewhere: if we serialize
perception, the movement always takes place above the maximum
threshold and below the minimum threshold, in expanding or contracting
intervals (microintervals). Like the huge Japanese wrestlers whose advance
is too slow and whose holds are too fast to see, so that what embraces are
less wrestlers than the infinite slowness of the wait (what is going to
happen?) and the infinite speed of the result (what happened?). What we
must do is reach the photographic or cinematic threshold.."
Cinema 1, p280-1
Deleuze here uncovers a host of concerns; for example, the limits of an
individual perception, the relation between speed, time and perception. This
project is addressed as well by Walter Benjamin when he says
'The enlargement of a snapshot does not simply render more precise what in
any case was visible, though unclear: it reveals entirely new structural
formations of the subject.' -The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical
The camera is an instrumentality that cuts out a bit of reality and reveals
the unthought in it; similarly the moving section is one in the catalogue of
filmic techniques that form an instrumental practice occurring in the
evolution of cinema, an evolution that moves from the still image and POV
to the moving image, to the moving POV/section, to finally a time image.
The implications of this development of technology for the subject in
relationship to power have been clarified by Jonathan Crary, who notes in
reference to early camera technologies:
As a complex technique of power, it was a means of legislating for an
observer what constituted perceptual 'truth', and it delineated a fixed set of
relations to which an observer was made subject.
This begs the question of how power relationships decide a technology .
Greg Lynn addresses this in comments from a recent virtually realized
conference (published in print in ANY issue 10, 'mech in tecture') when he
There should be a distinction made between more fluid and supple relations
of operation in space and time (abstract machines) and the mechanisms
produced out of these relations (concrete assemblages). What is interesting
is the argument that the diagram comes before the concrete
machine: "techniques are selected by diagrams: for example, prison exists
as a mechanism only when a new diagram, the disciplinary diagram, makes
it cross 'the technical threshold'." The diagram is the social and cultural
organization that makes technology possible.
Thus the threshold we are dealing with is one of both perception on a retinal
level and perception, or configurations of the subject, on a more distributed
plane. It also re-situates our question of the threshold back on the plane of
the virtual, as this plane is where the abstract machine lodges its
performance. The question is not here the chicken or the egg, but more,
how do the two dynamically reconfigure each other- the technique working
upon the diagram and vice versa. This brings us to the catalog of
instrumentalities, filmic and otherwise.
Any catalog of instrumentalities will be of course incomplete, and should be
viewed as highly provisional, and to some degree culturally relative.
However what is at stake here is realizing the operative nature they carry,
and not defining an essential set of techniques. With that stated, I would
like to move from the optic/cinematic, to the computer and its spectrum of
possibilities, and finally to look at the intersections between power and the
computer's instrumental characteristics. Deleuze identifies numerous
techniques which are germaine to this discussion, which I will apply to
several films. These instrumentalities are ordered in a sequence that
parallels the evolution of cinematic thresholds that Deleuze maps in
his Cinema 1&2.
This is a quality diagrammatically exemplified by still photography. Not
surprisingly, many representations of architecture adopt the pose as well-
static views of buildings frozen, concretized in time (the absence of time).
Exceptions might be animations (sic.), some renderings by Zaha Hadid, and
the like; or the work of Boccioni- I am thinking in particular of The City
Rises, but Boccioni's work in general has a concern with the intersection
between time, perception, and technical instrumentaliteis (cf. Sanford
Kwinter's recent analysis of the Stati d'Anime series in Assemblage).
A curious example of the pose in film can be found in Gus van Sant's My
Own Private Idaho.
I use this example knowing that it is not entirely within the theoretical
limitations Deleuze identifies with the pose, however, it is so intriguing I
can't resist. In this film, during certain moments of sexual tension, the film
denies specular pleasure to the viewer by immersing us in a series
of 'poses'. Van Sant uses these poses with intent, unlike the internet which
gives us a series of poses because of current technical limitation. The
theoretical intent is of course, completely at odds in these examples but the
result is somewhat the same. There is a distancing from presence, and as
Deleuze notes, the development of a modern theory of montage depends on
the idea that cinema has moved beyond this manner of involving us in
"In fact, to recompose movement with eternal poses or with immobile
sections comes to the same thing: in both cases, one misses the movement
because one constructs a whole, one assumes that all is given, whilst
movement only occurs if the whole is neither given nor giveable.'
p7, Cinema 1
In the case of My Own Private Idaho, these scenes turn the condition of
sexuality on screen on its head, by virtue of their rhythmic and enunciative
value within the film; in fact it is interesting exactly because these scenes
function as time images, even though Deleuze relegates the pose to the
beginning of the evolution of cinema.
Deleuze notes in Cinema 2 that
'... depth of field creates a certain type of direct time-image that can be
defined by memory, virtual regions of past... This would be less a function of
reality than a function of remembering, of temporalization: not exactly a
recollection but 'an invitation to recollect...'-- p109
This notion of depth of field could be linked to painting: like Piero Della
Francesca's Flagellation or Velasquez' las Meninas. Counter to it one
might posit Uccello's Battle of San Romanoas an example of the lateral
activation of a visual field. One could also discuss Tarkovski here at length in
his explicit use of slow pans across Bruegel's painting Hunters in the
Snow in the film Solaris; a lateral cinematic move over a painting that
operates primarily through depth of field. Using any of these examples as an
oppositional strategy would be a mistake. The point here is that a timing has
occured which involves the viewer as a more active participant both
perceptually and enunciatively in the space the film creates. This is a
technique which intersects tangentially with the interpretive and the
narrative in the way that it brings duration into play using the memory
2.3 THE EMPTY SET is a technique akin in a way to silence in a musical
composition (or an absolute volume/noise) where the screen dissolves
utterly into a color. There is an abstract element to this, in fact, which
replaces the interpretive in the pose shot; this abstract or sensate realm is
where the empty set locates its operative nature. In the opening sequence
of Bergman's Persona for example, when our POV dives into the projector's
arcing light, thus dissolving the screen in an intensity; such a move exposes
in both an enunciative and an instrumental manner the apparatus of the
film. As well, Kieslowski uses this technique of the empty set in a more
expressionistic manner when in Blue his lead character experiences fugue
states- moments of intense anguish and inspiration when she recalls the
recent death of her family, or suddenly and cathartically hears the
continuation of a symphony she is writing , in lieu of her dead husband. This
intensity of darkness, of blue on the screen, is matched with brief passages
from the symphony. They do not occcupy the role of transition, but take us
both deeper into the experience of the character, and place us out of the
filmic- thus problematizing the filmic experience in a sublime, or blissful
manner (cf. Pellegrino D'Acierno, Roland Barthes).
Similarly, in the shot used as moving section, which begins to activate the
POV of the camera; the shot understood as '...a mobile section, that is, a
temporal perspective or a modulation.' Deleuze quotes Epstein: '...For the
perspective of the outside he substitutes the perspective of the inside, a
multiple perspective, shimmering, sinuous, variable and contractile, like the
hair of a Hygrometer.' (One thinks immediately of Roberto Matta's
multiperspectival deep space, in works like The Vertigo of Eros.)
Filmically there is a parallel in the travelling tracking shots in
Greenaway's The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover, which reveal
different realities as they transparently pass through architectural
boundaries, poches; the intensities of violence swathed in white in the
bathroom, in contrast to those in red, or green in the dining room or
kitchen. Placing the characters in differently colored yet identical costumes
as the pan passes through each architectural boundary is a revealing of the
apparatus. For instance; the upward tracking in the opening shot, revealing
the scaffolding of the set, emerging from the city set's underbelly to the
muted growlings of the packs of wild dogs that populate its back alleys.
Another travelling shot of great interest is the closing scene of The
Passenger, which (and I am indebted to Pellegrino D'Acierno's analysis of
this shot) sets up a series of limits- the window grate, for instance; and
brings us into the climactic scene with perhaps, certain expectations; then
lets us see, first, only Nicholson's feet, then, as we enter third person
completely and our attention wanders out of the room, through the window,
we pass through the barrier of the window and barely notice the gunshot
behind us as we transgress this limit and move out into the court beyond.
This shot is interesting as well because of it's out of field characteristics, but
I mention it here as an example of a focusing of our attention in the way
that our POV/character is established in the shot, then transformed, in the
course of a movement.
As we see in this travelling shot, the out of field can play a particular role in
focusing our attention. As Antonioni uses it in The Passenger, and
in Blowup or L'Aventtura, we find that certain rhythms and expectations
are set up which take us out of an absentminded apprehension of a
narrative sequence in the film, and put us into a state of bliss.This sublime
condition of perception/attention is of great interest in the extension of the
analysis of the virtually operative in cinema out to other disciplines. Deleuze
'In one case, the out of field designates that which exists elsewhere, to one
side or around; in the other case the out of field testifies to a more
disturbing presence, one which cannot even be said to exist, but rather
insist or subsist....the further duration descends into the system like a
spider- the more effectively the out of field fulfills its other function which is
that of introducing the transspatial and the spiritual into the system which is
never perfectly closed.' p17, Cinema 1
In the game Marathon (and also when one surfs the Net using Netscape,)
the out of frame is a constant operative element. Marathon even maps
Lacan's notion of the gaze as a hostile other, in that one is constantly under
threat of attack by aliens; one's presence when surfing the net however is
more akin to the sense that one is on an infinite plane of information
(perhaps Bryson/Nishitani's notion of sunyata?). But the element that links
Marathon and the Net is the possibility of the dialogic. In Marathon, we may
immediately enter this dialogic condition by joining forces with other
humans 'jacking in' to the game; whereas on the Internet the immediacy of
communication is slightly vitiated, but has much more content and more
closely approximates Bryson's understanding of other. (These models both
differ from the out of frame that we have unpacked above in that the fully
dialogic does not emerge from a linear filmic narrative in the way it can
through the Net. )
This model is has connexions to the one that we find developed for montage
by Deleuze:
'What montage does, according to Vertov, is to carry perception into things,
to put perception into matter, so that any point whatsoever in space itself
perceives all the points on which it acts, or which act on it, however far
these actions and reactions extend. ' p81, Cinema 1
I extend this by noting Deleuze' comment on Tarkovski's
conception: '...Tarkovski challenges the distinction between montage and
shot when he defines cinema by the 'pressure of time' in the shot. What is
specific to the to make perceptible....relationships of time which
cannot be seen in the represented object. ' p xvii, Cinema 2 Thus we return
to our initial concerns with instrumentality and find them irrupting within the
technique of montage.
Let's consider Stan Brakhage's short film 'The Dead'; what seem to be
formal camera techniques initially throw us as viewers into an abstract
realm. Above and beyond the absence of an explicit narrative, he employs
rotations of the camera as a frame, rotation of composited frames within the
overarching frame, lengthy continuous tracking and travelling shots, various
effects like solarizations and color value inversions of the composited
elements, handheld movements juxtaposed against the interminable
tracking shots, the overlap of different color treated composites of the same
image, which are often rotated against one another, the composite against a
tracking shot or a 360 degree pan of its color inverted reverse, and so on.
These strategies are initially impenetrable; however, as in the minimal
compositions of Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and John Adams, after a certain
acclimatization period a shift in perception occurs- a shift analogous to the
one that an attentive subject also experiences in Dan Graham's pavilion
projects, (cf. the installation on the roof of DIA Center for the Arts,
This perceptual shift opens the viewer up to continuously deepening levels
of information and rhythms which the work begins to articulate. In this way,
the work captures completely the level of simultaneous affect and effect that
is a prerequisite for it to become a mise en abyme of the world- a Time-
Image. {The performance of this kind of work takes place on many levels-
within the enunciative, one can enact a whole series of interpretations on
the work, in the way that Rosalind Krauss might- locating the work within an
historic trajectory, analyzing the artist for their psychic investments, and so
on. } However Brahkage's work also occupies a machinic realm that could
be called a radical phenomenology, in the way that it functions purely upon
the sensibility of the eye or the ear. It is this abstraction combined with a
deep enunciative content that calls forth the question of duration.
Let's look closely at memory, duration, and speed. It is clear at this point
that each instrumentality deploys itself to varying degrees of effect
depending on the 'balance' between these parameters. Bergson's memory
is 'virtual coexistence.', and is identical 'in principal' to duration. The act of
sinking into memory involves first a general invoking of the past, then a
search for specificity. This is described as a 'leap into ontology.' After this
leap has been made, recollection gradually takes on a psychological
existence. "From the virtual it passes into the actual state." This actual state
is the moment where the virtual becomes operative. Bergsonism, p57
This mechanism also becomes the locus for our confusion of recollection
images and perception images- which is in part why the retinal exercises
such a force and makes cinema (or more frighteningly, television) as
powerful a realm as it is in the configuration of subjectivity. Bergson shows
the relation between these two kinds of images by placing the mechanism of
memory, the virtual coexistence of the past, coeval with the present: "The
past would never be constituted if it did not coexist with the present whose
past it is." Bergsonism, p59 Coexistence becomes a key factor in our
understanding of how duration, memory, and perception intersect.
'Duration is indeed real succession, but it is so only because, more
profoundly, it is virtual coexistence: the coexistence with itself, of all the
levels, all the tensions, all the degrees of contraction and relaxation
(dtente). Thus with coexistence, repetition must be reintroduced to
duration... a repetition of planes rather than elements on a single plane;
virtual instead of actual repetition. The whole of our past is played, restarts,
repeats itself, at the same time.' Bergsonism, pp 60-1
Memory is a difference of kind- and calls forth non reducible differences.
This condition aligns it with the mathematically/geometrically anexact: it
is "...susceptible to measurement only by varying its metrical principles at
each stage of the division." Bergsonism, p40 Existing/perceiving as we do
in a continuous multiplicity is thus the condition of being thrown into
duration, whilst simultaneously perceiving. Here we find the operative realm
for strategies that produce encounters with duration. As part of their nature,
they possess irreducible and anexact multiplicities.The non numerical
multiplicity is duration. Duration/intuition bind together to form a rebuttal to
the dialectic, which locates itself in a false articulation of the real, and then a
false response to that articulation.
What is the role that speed plays in this constitution of memory in the
virtual? For Bergson the delay in time, the actual neural delay, sets up the
instrumentality of memory, putting it into duration. I am interested in this in
that the computer invokes an increase in speed in terms of certain
specialized computing tasks- and in the sorting and archiving of information.
So speed plays a role in transforming structures- as in the vertebrate which
folds itself in half so rapidly that it acquires the territory of the cuttlefish.
This is what Foucault is touching on when he isolates speed, territory and
communication as the three great variables of modern space. Before
tackling the political significance of territory and communication, though, I
would like to look again at the relation of speed to time and memory.
Bernard Steigler, a participant in the Electrotecture conference last year,
makes two points of interest to us here. In the course of suggesting that
speed may well be older than time, and considering the technological
reasons at play in this idea, he suggests that in virtuality we question the
recasting of the boundaries between the real and fictive:
'If we say that speed is older than space and time, then from the
Nietzschean point of view this leads to an erasure of the difference not only
between fiction and reality but also the organic and the nonorganic. This is a
crucial concept for Nietzsche, particularly in terms of this notion of
selectivity and the struggle for existence.'
As we have developed above, the subject exists in an imperfect composite
of perception and recollection, one always superimposed on the other.
Steigler deals with a particular inflection of memory- he says 'I subscribe to
Derrida's term retentional finitude, which ...means that our memory, which
since Hegel has been thought as interim or interiorized memory, is in fact
based on objective or external memory. ' Steigler cites Borges' story Funes,
the Memorious, as an example of memory related to forgetting and
selection, thus '(posing) ...the Nietzschean question of memory.' This ties
the relation of power and the will to the idea '...that Nietzsche's elaboration
of power is actually based on a technological understanding of selection.'
Therefore, '... time (like space) cannot be thought except in relation to
speed (which remains unthought).' [these quotes from ANY #3,
Electrotecture ] The significance for us in these questions lies mainly in
Steigler's questioning the operative limits of the real and the fictive, and the
explicit tie to the instrumentality of speed upon the 'computerized' mind.
Note also that the temporal dimension suffers an attenuation along the
evolution that moves from real time vocal interaction, to much slower,
textual interaction in printed matter (if in fact there is any interaction)--
back to real time interaction with the telephone; arriving at potentially real-
time but completely non interactive media, with the radio and the television.
Finally we encounter the speed of games like Marathon, or the WWW, which
invoke very different forms of the dialogic.
These speeds demand a thinking through of the perceptual boundaries that
inflect our definitions of the dialogic. The Internet steps into a new position,
as it allows real time text communication, voice, image; and in a format that
resists (currently) the canalizations that pouvoir imposes upon the current
mass media.
is a small catalog and analysis of certain
instrumentalities, and projects I have worked on that address them.
4.11 The archive/sorting
One of the first instrumentalities that
suggests itself for examination in the computational realm, and this in light of
the extension of memory previously initiated by writing, then print, is the
notion of the archival quality of the computer in regards to memory. Here
we see the function of the computer as a virtualization of memory in an
externalized form.
Specific to the concerns of this paper as well are the ways to facilitate the
organization of information. During the preparation of this essay, I
assembled hundreds of pages of notes, previous writings, and downloads of
texts off the Internet. To remember all this information would be almost
impossible, for anyone but an idiot savant; to remember it and sort it
requires a technology. Previous technologies might have been textual,
functioning purely as an archive. However, now the archive has become
activated through the hypertext links that can be formed within it. This
essay was composed in Storyspace, a program used to compile all the text
into a series of slightly differentiated fields; I then used a feature of the
program called the 'Path Builder' to ferret out links from word to word.
Thus I can follow a path with a label like speed through hundreds of pages,
and in so doing, leave a map behind. So, although I outined the text in a
conventional manner, within storyspace, much 'content' was gathered by
following paths pertinent to each element of the outline. The next step in
this process will be to distribute this text to a group of individuals for
comment, so they may add a series of links throughout the 'space' formed
within the application. In this final stage the essay is posted as a hypertext
document on the World wide web, with
links to other documents worldwide. The process of publishing, research,
and collaboration has thus been accelerated dramatically. The actual
performance of memory is changed as well, as the geometric model from
Bergson is currently replaced by card catalog-like models, such as Lycos and
Webcrawler on the WWW. This is a temporary condition, however, as 2D
and soon 3D spaces of information will come to the fore as the demands for
realtime Net based VR begin to produce results, thus returning us to
the cognitive/intuitive spatial map offered by Bergson.
The Net is transforming as well the idea
of the archive, as one can conduct research online with tremendous ease.
This ubiquitous deployment has enormous implications for the way we
understand our relation to memory- scientific, cultural, and personal. The
question is raised- are we now configured- even constituted- as subjects within the Net? and more
importantly, as the key theme of this essay- when were we ever NOT
configured by a virtual assemblage?
4.12 Computer Graphics
In the realm of Computer graphics and CAD the way the computer operator
is integrated in the virtual space through the technique of the moving
section becomes a key element to a transformative media.. In CAD, one
might use a static section to describe a project for construction, or in certain
development stages; but to visualize/experience the space, one moves,
walks, or flies through it. This moving section invests the user of the
computer with an understanding of the spatial configuration that would be
hard to obtain through static tools. In addition, one may study the building
as a dynamic entity in space and light, or even attempt to analyze its
presence dynamically in regards to program.
There is a paradigm shift at work here that has the potential to change the
way we think about architecture. Worthy of note is the fact that many of the
software packages that we now use to design and simulate space, and which
were developed originally for the film industry (SoftImage, Alias, Wavefront)
now have capabilities to run physics simulations. As Greg Lynn recently
observed to me, there is even a quality of form that one might obtain from
these softwares which differs between packages which focus on cadd/cam
(Autocad), ones that describe objects in space in a more surface and spline
oriented matter (Alias) or that describe object motion according to Fcurves
which are precisely editable (SoftImage).
4.2 Projects
The projects follow a evolutionary order of development, in terms of their
involvement with duration and virtuality.
4.21 WHETHER CONDITIONS: institute for electronic clothing
Daly and I were CGI artists and designers with
Studio AEM for this project. We began with a set of supple grids which were brought into a
3D cartesian space. From within the perspective of the space, we traced
the grids using splines. These splines were fairly aleatoric as we could not
tell which plane of 3 space they were in; there was an overlap of the 2D
image we were looking at on screen, with the 3D space the objects were
forming in. To quote Stephen Perrella's description in AD vol. 100,
Design decisions are weakly determined
by resonance and effects occurring within specific meaning frames, within
and beyond the sphere of the project. Intention does not control the
development of form. In the Institute, the program is the other of the repressive
programs of contemporary market driven information culture.
These splines were then skinned, and
we moved through them, searching for places that might become space.
The institute now consisted of three overlapping objects, one glass, one
metal, and one a coruscating LCD display screen that Sean created out of
a map of digital phone lines. This movement through the 'objects' was akin to a digital spelunking, as many of
the interior areas of the institute were completely dark until we moved light
sources in to reveal the space.
Another competition completed with Studio AEM. The project was about as
fast track as one can get; modeled and rendered on a Sunday afternoon, it
was at fed ex the next evening, after a long night working on the board
layout with Kunio Kudo. This degree of speed was in keeping with the
agenda of the project. Earlier Perrella and I had discussed the theoretical
intent of the project; I then developed the computer models and rendered
them from a sketch he faxed me Sunday morning. The theoretical agenda is
best represented by our text on the board, which I quote from here.
The hyper-surface superstructure of a virtual corporation headquarters
investigates future intersubjective relations as they are transfigured into
new forms of human settlement in the age of information...The virtual
corporation diagrams a space between print publishing (two dimensions)
and architecture (three dimensions). Within this dimensional framework, an
electronic net bridges informational modalities into a hypertext surface.
Service modules within the headquarters electronic furoshiki incorporate
print and electronic publishing, interactive media such as CD-ROM, CD-
Interactive, video and interactive television, animation, computer-aided
design and modeling, and architecture...The entire event-apparatus of the
virtual corporation functions as a hypertext surface where subjectivities are
transformed into the digital flux of a disseminating electronic skin/
surface....This endless digital fabric may also be understood as the skin of
the 21st-century cyborg the seam between human existence and
information technology.
see Greg Lynn's Text in Basilisk 1.1 for a complete project description
Completed with Greg
L ynn Form, this project
began with an analysis of the site coastline around Cardiff at several scales, for it's branching morphology. This developed a
branching oval system, which was used as a new profile of major and minor
branches. The structural fins were developed as well from branching forms
extracted from formal and programmatic configurations on the site. At a point
when the program deployment had been partially worked out, we moved onto the computer and began to use it to
verify certain design moves that were being made on paper.
Ultimately most of the design was completed in a more
traditional manner, but we produced a stereolithographic model from the 3D
files, as well as these renderings and a short animation that made it onto the
boards as a Muybridge-esque motion study.
4.24 YOKOHAMA Port Terminal
This project began with an analysis of the site programmatically and in
terms of the three or four cruise ships the pier was to handle. This set of
requirements inflected the initial circulation diagrams. From this point on the
project alternated between a virtual and a paper development. Greg Lynn
modeled some conceptual diagrams and then began inflecting them
according to a notion of inversions and program pressures. These inflected
forms were brought into Softimage and rendered, using stills and animations
to bring the moving section into play in the design process.
These forms took on a particular quality in terms of the specific
instrumentality of the program (Microstation) that Greg was generating
them in; there were peculiarities to the duplication process that produced
what we termed 'Blebs' at points of folding in the program and urban
surface. We opportunistically used these blebs as they had a direct relation
to the program intensities that were informing their genesis. The project
was resolved then on paper in the production of line drawings, using the
computer plans and section elevations as underlays. At the same time I was
developing a set of perspectives and elevations in Softimage using the forms
that Greg had developed in Microstation. The final boards were a
combination of hand drawn line work and Softimage generated CGI
elevations, plans and perspectives.
4.25 Operative Voids/Derives
-the project
Begun several years ago with Gregg Pasquarelli, operative voids is an urban
analysis project that developed out of a seminar Gregg and I took with Alex
Wall and Stefano DeMartino at the Columbia Graduate School of
Architecture. This continuing project utilizes research, mapping and urban
drawings that seek to understand operative fields, through an investigation
that suggests conclusions about the relationship between enunciative
(significant) and machinic (operative) assemblages in the city. 'Operative'
architecture is activated by a recombination of understood typologies that
are organized in varying ways to allow for the development of new
conditions. The analysis and mapping of the urban environment must avoid
sinking into simple representation and investigate the repercussion of
transformations of programmatic and passionate relationships, thus drawing
conclusions about possible reconfigurations of architecture as a machinic/
operative assembly which is complicit in the scripting of subjectivities.
We use the derive as an analytic tool which, when employed in conjunction
with a computer system and model of the urban spaces being traversed,
allows an understanding of the dynamics of operative relations within the
city. By utilizing a parallel process between the virtual space that has been
constructed within the machine, and actual derives within New York, and
colliding the experience and results, we have begun to identify qualitative
changes and develop an abstract model that usefully articulates the
operative nature of the urban environment. This process takes place by
photographing and filming during the derive, modeling extensive portions of
the city on the computer, mapping intensities and flows both
programmatically, spatially, and electronically and then moving through
them simultaneously on the computer and in the city via mobile
communications. Photographs, text, and mappings take on an indexical
relationship to the passage through 'real' space and combine with
isomorphic behavior within the 'virtual' model.
-project animations-
An urban intervention at the Trump City site on the west side highway in
Manhattan. This project developed concurrent with the operative voids
projectThe programme for this project called for a mediation between the
speeds that the west side highway perpetuates, and the very different
velocities that are present in the urban blocks bounded by the highway. One
of the initiating concepts was the notion of barriers existing on the site, in
part due to the west side highway, that might be happily removed, or
altered. I began with a detailed program analysis of the site, and mapped
the program location, and physical and the programmatic barriers on the
These analyses were then used to deploy programmatic interventions.
A site scheme was developed that attempted to respond both
programmatically and formally to issues of speed, communication, the
moving section, and a way of achieving TIMING on a larger urban scale.
The event surface was used as one of several partially abstract models, as a
mediator of the body, trajectories, the virtual surface, the real urban surface
of the project, and the coruscating architecture.
The initial design move actually took the highway from 96th to Battery Park
city, and collapsed it back on itself to model the kind of circulatory and
programmatic intensity that could occur, and that this site might support.
As a diagram of how the process developed a working model, this sequence
showing Oscar Nitzchke's Maison de Publicite lying down, compressing, and
folding in two like Deleuze and Guattari's cuttlefish demonstrates the
deformation of a more rigid programmatic and formal type. The speed that
the vertebrate folds in two, Deleuze & Guattari note, is the factor that
determines whether it becomes a cuttlefish.
The project involves the zones moving from highway and water access, and
conversely from the city access, in a tangled zone where speeds and
program overlap freely.
Existing program and and its lines of force, use, and intensity were used as
a basis for the accretion of form.
The diagram from Nitzchke is used as a schematic for the sectional quality
of the project, which lays a thick surface down on the site- this surface
facilitates physical connexion between points across the site, on its upper
surface various park and garden spaces pull people across from Lincoln
center and Columbus circle, while in its interior it has an open loft typology
supporting both working, commercial and dwelling space.
Its underbelly becomes the thick facade/ light space of the Maison de
Publicite, which can actually be inhabited, but which also provides a deep
surface above the park and enables circulation zones below at ground level.
The computer was used in this project to intensify the investigation of this
site- work on the operative voids project played into an understanding of
the site; the site was modeled in detail; and the virtual model was worked
with using a material sensibility that took the form of the west side highway
with its attendant program elements, bending , folding, and collapsing them
into themselves, to form the cuttlefish. This collapse of form and program
simultaneously in all three dimensions (not merely plan), according to
certain intuited performance parameters, was one of the key concepts of the
4.27 The Unconfigured Subject
Tract housing reconsidered
| project animations
'...the body is the inscribed surface of events (traced by language and
dissolved by ideas), the locus of a dissociated self (adopting the illusion of a
substantial unity) and a volume in perpetual disintegration. Genealogy, as
an analysis of descent, is thus situated within the articulation of the body
and history. It's task is to expose a body totally imprinted by history and the
process of history's destruction of the body... genealogy... seeks to
reestablish the various systems of subjection: not the anticipatory power of
meaning, but the hazardous play of dominations.'
Michel Foucault, Nietzsche, Geneaology, History
This quote from Michel Foucault illustrates clearly the notion that the body is
a diagram of the forces exerted upon it: social, economic, political, moral,
and ethical. These forces inflect the configuration of the subject through
language, film, social organization, architecture, modes of production, and
the like. It would be contradictory to this idea of 'force' to reduce the
configuration of the subject to merely a set of linguistic parameters-
therefore, the notion of habit will be developed as a general term under
which the full scope of the other parameters fall.
Such an ontological system views habit as a force that demands an
examination of it's relationship to perception, form and program. In the
terms this project sets out- an interrogation of the dwelling as one site that
habit manifests itself within, concretely, in an architectural manner, a useful
starting point was the mapping of a very local movement.
The process of mapping was informed by readings of Kwinter, specifically his
essays in Assemblage dealing with the notion of a system transformation
and that transformation's relation to the irruption of forms/chreods; the idea
of a structural stability forming around singularities; and the conclusion that
some at least provisional identification of those chreods was necessary.
Interestingly in the mapping of certain affects and emotions, Kwinter
focused his analysis on formal/imageistic characteristics within Boccioni's
Stati D'Anime tryptych:
"Each panel defines a unique field of unfolding, a section through a distinct
epigenetic landscape in which forms exist only in evolution or equilibrium,
that is, as event generated diagrams..."
This reading of one kind of performance envelope that Boccioni sets up
brought to mind the notion of the anamorphic program: a program
condition, or more accurately a gradient of perception, which was modeled
on a decentered/oblique vision, a hybrid perception, rather than centered
single point perspective. The condition of the hyperplane becomes then an
analogue to programmatic anamorphosis, in that the hyperplane maps
diagrammatically the blends that occur in time between one program and
another as we function as perceiving beings. (An example: the hyperplane
between dreaming, sleeping, reading, and drinking tea.)
From this idea of hyperplane emerged the consideration that the use of
certain appliances in the domestic environment invoked certain perceptual
states, and the movement from appliance to appliance could be more
accurately mapped using the hyperplane model.
Simultaneously came the idea that the notion of the cutup or collage worked
as a method to rethink program, due to the limitations that habit imposed
upon the design process. Ernst, due to his aleatoric and collage processes,
specifically his collage novels (La Femmes 100 Tetes), emerged as a
jumping off point. His diagrams of reconfigured program in the collage
novels were responded to, and considered as sites for intervention.
The tract house was the site (within the program of dwelling) chosen for
modification and deployment.
As a way to problematize habit, and open the project up to unexpected
possibilites, apparently 'fictional' configurations were used as program
engines, and the program which emerged became one employing the
reconfigured workplace and reconfigured sites of leisure as a way to link
each tract house in a possibly heterarchical manner. This larger scale
consideration was one that moving towards new definitions of work and
play, public and private.
Simultaneously, the intervention at a highly local level was being pusrsued,
and the transformation of the appliance became a strategy to create new
basins of attraction within the reconfigured dwelling.
Burroughs' cutup was used as the initial method to arrive at redeployment
of the program and the appliance within the shell of the building, which was
itself the result of a sensibly guided cutup process used on a levittown
house. The main concept guiding this process is the attractor (cf. chreod
above), which could be a formal element, like the appliance or the
boundaries of the space surounding the activity, in relation to the procedural
(the event itself.)
In a return to the analysis that Kwinter unpacked regarding the Boccioni
tryptych, a technique was developed in Photoshop to investigate
programmatic overlaps. A courtyard house by Mies was scanned in plan,
then collaged with extensively reworked areas of a plan by the situationist/
unitary urbanist Constant. This collage was then altered using a smearing
technique to explore ways that diagrammatic program, or intensities of
program and activity, might blend through one another. The smearing was
viewed as a loaded abstract expressionist/gestural move; a way to arrive at
redeployment. Ultimately this informed a similar 'spatial' smearing that was
used on the earlier iteration of levittown cutups, when a fairly simple 3D
model of the levitloft detournement was 'smeared' in section as well as plan.
The final step in the project was a series of rendered animations which
explored as many of the previous techniques as possible in an attempt to
isolate instrumental moments in the process, and the expected result. This
loose idea of specific instrumentality would be determined by an intuition
judging the probable success or failure of a particular architectural/
programmatic/appliance configuration, or sequence (montage).
In the first of these animations, we move through the levitloft interior- the
spatialized cutup plan. This is simply a walkthrough taking us through the
spaces generated by earlier steps.
In the second animation, levitorbit, we find an agitated camera swooping
around the levitloft house, observing a variety of activities performed by
both unexpected program and individuals, and the buildings themselves.
The sky and earth (which may be grass or water) are both elaborately
manipulated by the smearing technique, as the initial animation was altered
extensively, frame by frame, in Photoshop. This smearing links both formal
(filmic and rhythmic) elements and program areas as well. Collage
techniques, the cutup, and other methods all make their appearance in this
final animation loop, - a situationist/surrealist collage using moving sections
informed by abstract cinema moves (cf. Stan Brakhage's The Dead).
'A central structure to Marx's thought, according to Elaine Scarry, is the
reciprocity between object and body- every manufactured object recreates
the body, and the body itself becomes a kind of manufactured object. In the
most primitive subsistence economy, "consumption" amounts to little more
than food to fuel the body & provide for tissue regeneration. As economies
advance, a "production" emerges that merely supplements more bodily
functions with material objects: tools extend the hand, clothing augments
the skin, and so on. From this perspective, there is no qualitative difference
between the most elementary consumable object, food, and the most
technically sophisticated prosthetics, for they all relate to the body as a
permeable, manipulable surface, ingesting, incorporating, and expelling an
expanding range of objects. Yet this open-ended circulation does not occur
in some pure and open space; rather, as various bodily functions are
extended outside the body, so the spaces of these extensions are embodied,
in every sense of the word. '
p 507, Incorporations (ZONE 6)
This quote illustrates the framework for this project. It charts a path
towards Unger's transformative vocation, or Turner's anergic-ludic state, as
a final goal- the creation of an architecture that fosters these conditions.
These last two projects, which are ongoing, were begun in studios at the
Columbia Graduate School of Architecture, under Stefano DeMartino and
Alex Wall (cuttlefish), and Jessie Reiser (unconfigured subject).
5.0 Marathon
Marathon is a new computer game that runs on the Mac; it is a lot like the
game Doom. There is a cursory narrative structure that has to do with
aliens, a spaceship... you've seen it all before. You go in, and take on
Ripley's role as the lead bug killer. Of course, without Sigourney Weaver's
panache, at least at first.
Why am I talking about Marathon in this essay? Several reasons. It is a
close to real time, texture mapped and shadowed environment; one can
move through it with a full 6 degrees of freedom; bump into walls, flips
switches; and there are others in the space. Two kinds of others: aliens,
many types, which are pure constructs; and human standins. In the network
game, one actually sees an avatar of one's partners in the melee; there is
no facial detail, but, if you want you can talk over the computer's
microphone, you can watch your partner napalm alien bugs, you can run
past each other and bump into each other.
If that isn't enough, you can even jack into their sensorium; you can
experience space through their eyes.This is an interesting destruction of the
shot /return shot formula, , and a powerfully dialogic detournement of that
filmic move, in the way that a player can literally place themselves in
the 'other' body of another player in marathon, thus seeing through the
eyes of their partner/opponent. A VIRTUALLY DISPLACED GAZE. This
becoming other however goes much beyond the return shot, as it puts one
in the avatar of another, as a 'rider' (to use Gibson's term) experiencing
their retinal world, helplessly. This trades the territory of command of one's
own motions through a space, for the territory of co-presence (or
surveillance, as in many cases in the game it may be used as a hostile
tactic). Interestingly they can at the same time, if they so wish, ride you...
And then, there is the hack of Marathon. Michael Hanson wrote some code
that allows you to hack any parameter of the Game. The hack is
downloadable freeware off the Internet. You can become invincible (which is
rather boring...) or, more interestingly, you may specify behavior patterns
for the aliens. Not just what guns they carry, but what flocking behaviors
they adopt, how likely they are to attack, how likely to tenaciously pursue;
how 'intelligent' they are; and who they consider friend or foe. It is
interesting to make them all enemies of each other- lob a grenade into their
midst and watch the shooting start. Let me show you a few recordings of
the game.
To just make my point here. I had retinal afterimages for days after I first
played it- and I did play alot. It's a good game. Bcause it involves one in the
traversal of space. In real time.
Who designed the spaceship? Better question: who will design the next set
of spaceships, and set carefullly tweaked aliens free in them to study
circulation patterns; and then the possibility of deploying information- did I
mention that one can periodically jack in and read 'messages' from the
ship's computer? What if that computer were someone else? And this runs
on a mac IIci? Why aren't architects working with these people? Check out
the hack. And others that already allow one to create spaces.
The dialogic is irrupting in a spectrum of 'media' fostered environs, all
virtual.... I refer of course to the WWW and games like Marathon. This
becomes a realm for the development of a truly dialogic virtuality which we
should not ignore, even if at first glance Marathon seems to be a video
5.1 The World Wide Web (The Dialogic and The Virtual)
The key instrumentality of the WWW is found in its integration of a dialogic
condition, which we can find defined by Bahktin and Enzensberger-- in
relation to it's own use of speed. Enzensberger articulates the elements of a
truly communicative media: Decentralized program, each receiver a
potential transmitter, mobilization of the masses, interaction of those
involved, feedback, a political learning process, collective production, social
control by self organization.
Speed as we have noted is a gateway under certain conditions to duration,
and in this case a radically communicative realization of the virtual. I follow
Don Langham in his outline of the progressive developments of media:
the advent of speech, allowed communication at a speed approximating that
of human thought. Writing... is slower than speech, but is powerful
nonetheless for its ability to make speech dependent upon the speaker or
the memory of the hearers ...the widespread use of moveable
type...brought about a revolution not in the way people communicate, but
rather in the way they conceive the world. Now, at the end of the
millennium, we have what Harnad calls "electronic skywriting"--the "fourth
cognitive revolution". In this revolution, writing will allow us to communicate
with speeds approaching that of speech, which is much closer to the speed
of thought than other communication media.
from The Common Place MOO: Orality and Literacy in Virtual Reality
by Don Langham (
On the WWW text is only one part of a wide bandwidth communicative
environment that embraces images, sounds, and the moving image as well.
This brings back the question, following Bernard. Steigler's work, whether
the deployment cybernetically of our memories is a vitiation of ourselves. To
adequately address this problem we must also consider his thesis that we
have never been deployed across any plane except one outside of
The lineage of technologies moving from speech (or perhaps with
architecture as an inchoate form), to writing, then printing, the telegraph,
the telephone, radio, film, and the television develops a set of behavior
patterns in relationship to pouvoir, (in contrast to puissance, which is a
liberating, doubly affirmative sovereignty) and insists upon a transmitter
receiver model in its most proliferated form, the book/ radio/television/film.
The 'narrative' sequences thus structured, which reflect the intentions of
pouvoir in various forms, have little to do with communicative media as
defined by Enzensberger.
5.2 (Dialogic fields or revolution.....)
The Internet's origins were military in nature, thus invoking a particular kind
of pouvoir. But note also that packet transmissions, designed to reach their
destination and reassemble themselves, regardless of the path to their
destination- bring to mind a different notion of the war machine: 'This
analysis of the two assemblages and their coefficients demonstrates that the
war machine does not in itself have war for its object, but necessarily adopts
it as it object when it allows itself to be appropriated by the state
apparatus.' p513, 1000 Plateaus, Deleuze & Guattari
5.3 In conclusion I will return to Foucault's three great variables of modern
space -speed territory communication. Each of these variables is retheorized
within the descriptions of the virtual that we have outlined above. A radical
cynic like Baudrillard might consider much of the liberating potential I have
described in the Internet to be temporary, as multinationals are currently
taking great interest in the Net as a market. Marathon might escape him
entirely- purely a meaningless pastime within a spectacular culture. I
disagree. They are analagous to urban void spaces- A place for heterarchical
program to boil forth- savage high plains.
In fact, the world wide web is much more savage than Marathon, though
Marathon might seem more explicitly violent. There are similarities between
a diagrammatic understanding of the web- nodes with great empty space
between- and the urban void- explicit reified program surrounding an
indeterminate zone. As well, there is a blending in the multiprogrammatic-
be it in terms of architecture, subjectivity, or the Net- which sees play
merging with work.
Turner identifies a condition in social transitions- rituals- which is important
to note here. He describes a socially reintegrative path of ritual
transformation as a liminal path- and calls it ergic ludic, as it reinserts the
subject into a social order. However, the path termed the anergic ludic is a
game playing path that does NOT reintegrate, that does not work, per se,
but plays, and that sees the general condition of society as a problem, not
as a datum. In the current form of the Net each individual can establish
themselves as intellectual, artistic and economic entities- with a sovereignty
that will radically alter the reach of the individual and change the way that
the industrial revolution imparted a set of demands on the laborer.
The virtual is the site where puissance and pouvoir ripple through each
other. Our subjectivities develop themselves through the intersection of the
virtual (memory) and the 'real' (matter). It is important to understand,
foster, and develop the current dialogic condition of cyberspace, as in its
model we may find perhaps the greatest opportunity for humanity to step
into a radical ethics, politics, and morality.
-Ed Keller