Digital Recycling of Your Emotions

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How often have you seen a video on YouTube and thought about how cool it is, but simultaneously realized that you've seen the images on the screen countless times before? But, for some reason, you have a different reaction to this particular video with the same images you've seen countless times before.

Using a combination of previously created assets in conjunction to make something brand new – and in the process, changing how one actually feels and reacts to it – is a process I call “Digital Recycling.”

We all realize that art stirs our senses and feelings. Most great pieces of art inspire or infuriate. Music can make us happy or bring a sense of melancholy. A simple photograph can touch off a sense of sadness or joy.

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I think music is one of the most powerful tools to express and stir emotions. Combined with images and video, music amplifies emotions and feelings. The musical score in a motion picture often makes or breaks my opinion on the entertainment quality of a movie.

One of the most impressive ways I’ve seen this demonstrated was actually through the absence of music. In the movie "Castaway," Robert Zemekis uses the lack of music to create a striking sense of isolation.

The movie actually "feels" lonely. Per the Sage of Wikipedia: "The film's soundtrack is most notable for its lack of score and creature sound effects (such as bird song or insect sounds) while Chuck (played by the venerable Tom Hanks) is on the island, which is intended to reinforce the feeling of isolation. Cast Away contains no original musical score until Chuck escapes the island."

Recently, I came across an image that required a double take. When I first saw it, my emotions were very negative, but after a pause I remembered what the picture actually represented.

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What emotion does this image of Charlie Chaplin - one of the world's most famous actors - dressed as Hitler create in you? I'm guessing the image strikes a sense of unease and great discomfort. The thing is, this picture alone doesn't do justice to the true art at hand.

So why is Charlie Chaplin dressed as Hitler, anyways?

For those who aren't familiar with the image, it comes from the 1940 release of Chaplin’s absurdist Nazi satire - "The Great Dictator." As stated by one reviewer, "It was a cinematic event like no other: an influential work of anti-isolationist agitprop, a mythical embodiment of the culture war between democracy and Fascism, and a deeply personal grudge match between Chaplin and Hitler."

Chaplin took on the most feared man in the world at the time using his fame and the mastery power of his artistic modality - Film.

My friend Steve recently used a word I've heard before but never really thought about: "emotive." So, like any web connected adult I did the research... and consulted Wikipedia.

After thinking about the origins of this photo and the concept of the emotive, I was reminded of another friend of mine who once gave an excellent presentation on what "grabs people." My friend Melissa talked about how it's not just "one thing" that really grabs you: "It's the sum total," she said.

We all know powerful imagery, sounds, and moments captured strike an emotional chord. When put together in an artful, masterful way - something deeper and more powerful is achieved. Together, the art pieces create a "sum total." The result grabs your heart in ways any single element can't.

One group I've watched demonstrate this is "Tragedy and Hope." This online group does a good job of using various artistic elements like photos, stills, movies, music and soundtracks to create a strong emotional response, regardless of how you feel about their politics. Technology enables anyone to use original artistic elements and then combine them with others to create a new, more powerful emotional response.

Which brings me back to that picture of Chaplin dressed as Hitler.

A negative emotion at first blush, but when recast in a new light using Chaplin's words, a music score (by Zack Hemesey), and modern imagery (from various sources); a new art piece is produced creating a very different emotional response.

Watch for yourself to see what I am talking about.

This type of artistic expression is much easier when compared to what used to be required in terms of skill and creativity. For example, Animoto has made it easier to produce these videos almost effortlessly. But, I find myself in a state of ambivalence about these technologies and tools.

I'm not sure if this type of technology is a good thing or a destructive path. I'll reserve those thoughts for a future blog. Obviously, it's critical that the original artwork (photo, music, etc.) is respected and valued. I pay for my music, movies and I like to think that if I have a photo worthy of someone else to want to use that they will credit my effort, and me just as I would theirs. But isn't digital recycling incredibly cool?

Admittedly, there is still nothing like the genuine article. But, that doesn't mean that these digital art mediums can't be combined to create new works. With the host of tools and technologies available, digital recycling creates a whole new artistic medium; much like sampling of classic older songs did for Hip Hop music.

I'm looking forward to my next blog, which will tackle the merits of utilizing other people's original art works to be recast. Is it right? Is it proper? What are the limits? In the mean time, let us know if you practice digital recycling and share your thoughts. Or, better yet - share your art pieces.

Hopefully the video we featured here changed your original emotional response to that Chaplin photo. If it didn't... watch it again. That’s the power of Digital Recycling.

Thanks for stopping by.