Such is Elliott Earls's unmistakable point of departure in his interactive CD-ROM Throwing Apples at the Sun, published last year by Emigre's music division. In his own descriptions of the work Earls likes to invoke the Russian Formalist's concept of ostranenie, or "making strange," which is also clearly a central plane of reference for LaPorte's creations. Throwing Apples at the Sun is, however, ultimately a more ambitious project than LaPorte's. Freezeframe screenshots are worth a thousand words, but there is no way to efftictively capture the kinetic energy of the work; I would parse it as an interactive, multimedia, visual, verbal, and textual installation, or else as one reviewer calls it, "a long, involuted visual and audio groove."
The CD-ROM itself comes packaged with four 23" X 37" posters of typographic art, each of which reappears on the disk itself as a clickable image map. Collectively they are referred to as the "MasterCylinder," functioning as the ground zero and terra firma of Earls's environment, which is itself a palimpsest of images, QuickTime movies, written and spoken texts, music, and other audio effects. There is no discernible narrative logic; the aesthetic is one of collage and the only generic affinity is to Blake's "Unnam'd forms." The Help screen offers this: "It's pretty simple. Single click on objects in windows." That Earls's work is a lesson in applied différance is plain to anyone who spends time with the disk, and that lesson is reinforced through the abundancy of visual and audio forms which are defaced, distorted, and defamiliarized. One section of the disk, for example, is entitled The Book of Kings, and consists of a series of interventions and alterations to a partial digital facsimile of a book called Great Inventors and Their Inventions. These interventions and alterations are carried out in at least four different media.
Earls's work brazenly rejects the conventional wisdom that electronic texts and images are immaterial in form; his aesthetic logic is at all times feeding back on itself through various frictions, inertias, and resisted contacts that manifest themselves through the user's attempts to interact with the work. This is particularly striking at the visible level of the CD-ROM's user interface, which is foregrounded - literally centered on the screen - rather than marginalized along the edges in a gesture of transparency. Toolbar buttons on the interface take the form of glyphs rather than icons. Combined with the gorgeous fonts, illuminations, and illustrations, there is a palpable visual presence to Earls's electronic environment which reveals the phenomenological substance and materiality of the medium.
In all of this, there is also an unmistakable sense of dialogue, if not
with an alien intelligence, than at least with alien orders of experience.
Because of the opacity of the interface, for example, it is often unclear
whether a given visual or audio event - the appearance of a window, a jump
in the sound track - is the result of some action on the part of the user,
or a process running deep within the program's logic. The effect is uncanny,
but also surprisingly tranquil; rather than becoming frustrated at my attempts
to manipulate the work, I find my interactions with this disk deeply soothing,
the equivalent of a human-computer multimedia jam session.