Saturday, July 24, 2010

We've got our own domain now!

We have undergone a 'translocal' migration.

Please find us now at It is still a little messy, but that's where the action will be from now on.

Welcome all!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Where It’s At! Pt. 1 – Dub War and the New York Scene

In our previous project 'Brothers-In-Paint' we found it paramount to visit many contexts where the social practices of paintball culture take place. This allowed us to not take the site as the location of the culture, but rather the practices as the culture itself, not defined, but co-existing with the spatiotemporal 'places' of activity and agency. Thus we visited 6 countries in attempts to gain more insight and a translocal appreciation of the social practices.

Now, having just finished CCT5, it was time shift gears and further our 'Pushing the Scene' dubstep project by similarly getting into and filming in many contexts, scattered by proximity, yet connected via various intertwined social practices. It was time to discover and experience the New York scene! The highlight of this little hop across the pond was to be the 5 year anniversary of the 'Dub War' night - the club that started the scene in New York half a decade ago. This was big!

Risto had made smoothly scheduled arrangements for us to meet the central figures of the New York scene, and for him to simultaneously play a set or two in various locales. Firstly, we met up with DaveQ and headed out to Brooklyn to be a part of a SubFM radio show. Risto (Desto) ended up hitting the decks also alongside such pioneers as DaveQ - thanks Dave for taking such great care of us!

Finding the studio can sometimes be somewhat puzzling.

DaveQ on SubFM.

The AIM screen during the SubFM show, over which the DJs were in

constant interaction with the listeners.

Desto's turn on the decks.

SubFM getting lively.

Later Risto was scheduled to play a set at a record store right under the Brooklyn Bridge. The place, Halcyon, was a vinyl enthusiasts playground and had a great soundsystem (especially considering it is a record store and not a club venue). Later Risto played at a venue called the White Rabbit. Too bad not so many people made it over. Fortunately, the interesting experience in Halcyon more than made up for this.

The Halcyon storefront.

Vinyl. Lotsa.

Inside the store. Desto at it again.

And again in business. Now at the White Rabbit.

Pt. 2.

The main event for us, the Dub War 5 year anniversary, was truly a night to remember. We began by navigating through the masses of dubstep lovers making their pilgrimage. The place was packed like sardines in a crushed tin box already at ten when the party was only picking up. In terms of filming, we got amounts of intense contextual footage, and Risto did an admirable bit of legwork in order to grab such pioneers as Joe Nice and Alex Incyde, and the dubstep Internet forum creator Seckle for little back-and-forth with us in interesting back rooms and corridors while the party was booming. Even Skream popped into one of our interview sessions right behind the DJ booth - where we actually got quite a bit of action also. Thanks again to the New York scene for giving us such a warm welcome!

And we're in!


Joe Nice.

Desto, always listening.

Skream jumps in.

During our walkabouts through Broadway we had additional time to think about our up-and-coming editing process. As Risto has become an increasingly central figure in our work, we went further in our preliminary ideas about the arc of drama in what is to become the final product. Our first project, Brothers-in-Paint, was very much a conservative article-like showcase of how to, for the lack of better terms, create a videography that resembled an article in video format. How it exactly came out so, we do not know, but I do still remember our original ethos of really exemplifying how a theoretical perspective could be depicted on video. In retrospect, we might have overdid it a tad bit. Now, while we wish to still make a theoretical case, we will attempt to incorporate a much more entertaining approach, with Risto's autoethnographic commentary hopefully bringing about a more interesting, theatrical, and continuous story line.

But to match Risto's insighful autoethnographic story, we need contextually founded footage in situ. And certainly, as experimentality goes, we have found one of the most demanding contexts equipment-wise. Dubstep is certainly loud and noisy, taking an evident toll in terms of video and audio quality. Fortunately, again, we have Risto to work his producer magic on the audio, and we do expect decent outcomes. Moreover, the lack of video footage quality is more than compensated for by the graininess of the context presenting itself right in-your-face with all its loudness. As Rob Kozinets has pointed out before, social practices are bright, noisy and messy. Without completely slipping into the rabbit hole at this point, it can be noted that it is this loudness and messiness we are aiming to represent. An interesting comment by Lisa Marks seems to bubble up here too, as she was known to have said that what the film represents is often dull, but nevertheless the impurities and the scratches on the film material itself are perpetually fascinating. I would agree, and that is why we are not afraid of grainy material, when such outcomes go on to represent the murkiness of the many contexts we were introduced to in our underground travels. Because we dare to profess love for the loudness and embrace the grittyness of some of the video material as our equipment are maxed out, we gain more confidence in our perspective - the contextual representation of social practices in close proximity.

In order to accomplish this, I believe strongly that the video ethnographer must do as little of obstruction as possible, and therefore all we shoot is uncompromisingly in situ. This means, that even with the implications for video quality, we will not use additional lights and we will not be sticking lapel microphones around peoples’ necks. In our adventures in the dubstep scene this has not been purely an question of preference either, as the promoters of many club venues will not permit lighting for video works. An important concern arises from this preferred modus operendi, however. Equipment truly matters. Indeed, there must be something seriously wrong with our heads, as we are conducting video work in probably one of the most hostile environments. It is dark (often and often very much so) and it is loud (have you felt the subbass causing tremors in your spine and jiggling the clothes on you). To pull this silly feat off, we are no longer going in with equipment more at home in capturing the kids making sandcastles on a sunny Mediterranean beach, where the food was delicious and the wine was just right. While still nowhere near a professional outfit, we are now donning a decent videocam and a back-up video DSLR with lenses specifically chosen to lure in all possible trickles of light in the illlit places we happen to enter. See the post before this one for a more technical perspective (and gripe) into the contents our gear bag.

Yet again, what would we be, if we were hauling lighting and microphones into sweat drenched rooms packed to the rim with euphoric music followers being blazed by the club lights and battered with subbass that you can feel in your spine? That’s right, a distraction, an obstruction. Worse than that, we could become what I as an ethnographer fear the most, a odd academic peculiarities flailing about a context that will never again give us a pass. No, to get close to that sweat, that pounding, that energy, we must and will continue to go in light. What you see is what you get. And what you get is noisy and bright.

We'll leave you with a couple more memories. Soon to come, our continued adventures in London.

Some Issues with Gizmos and Gadgets

Time for just a quickie now, and as it seems the first one to become part of our slowly developing roll. Well, my steadily growing experience in making videographic work seems to lend itself to certain abuses. I, and I have to admit the true causes elude me, have become increasingly interested in the technological side of video production also. Me, a nerd, never. IDDQD.

For our ongoing 'Pushing the Scene' project we bought another camera to record video with, in order to get more dynamic footage from interviews with two simultaneous angles. And, as seems to be the hip and pop fashion, it was not a videocam, but an DSLR capable of HD video recording. Now, don't get me wrong (in what follows), the luxury of shooting footage with exchangeable lenses is unparallel. However, DSLRs are certainly not ready to be (at least in terms of my limited experience) the sole recorders of video (and audio) for video projects. For now, they take wonderfully pristine footage with the correct lens choices. However, in terms of reliability and audio recording there seem to still be some unresolvable obstacles in the way. By the way, our DSLR is the Canon EOS 550D with a Sigma fisheye lens (especially suitable for low-light shooting) and another Sigma lens for more all-around applications.

Our JVC video-cam.

Some of the usual gear of a contemporary ethnographer.

First, a gripe about reliability. The 550D overheats if the shot takes over circa 20 minutes (and most interview settings obviously do). Secondly, the audio capturing capability is practically zero (with the internal mic). This naturally did not come as a surprise, as we knew we were going to use our videocam's (JVC GY-HM100U) audio capturing capabilities for most of our recording. However, as the Finns say, the hunger increases as you munch away, and therefore I have become increasingly interested in building a presentable rig out of our Canon DSLR for video use.

So, (after days of internet scowring) what do I need? Well, a decent microphone for starters. I went through a whole set of directional test mics (Rode Videomic, Azden SGM-X / SMX-10 etc). Directional meaning to have the ability to capture audio from a certain direction, i.e. the voices of interviewees in otherwise loud surroundings. However, as I learned, this was not the only qualm. As our Canon 550D is not primarily intended for video shooting, there is one rather gargantuan concern. This would be the AGC ('automatic gain control') 'feature' that basically, for the lack of better wording and excuse my French, absolutely f***s up your recorded audio. Thankfully, Canon seems to have no interest in rectifying this problem, and there are open source micro-projects that tackle this issue for the 5D Mark II model, but not, to date, for the 550D. So yes, indeed, thanks a whole bunch Canon. The 'methodology' of videography work certainly lunges the researcher in a whole new realm of 'what you need to know', and this just after I thought to have acquired a decent baseline knowledge of editing in terms of all the various video formats and codec issues.

How to go about this, then? How to (preferably) brutalize the AGC out of our 550D. As it turns out, this in itself will not be the ultimate salvation. As I know from my dabblings with music production, I need to be able to monitor the sound entering my camera also (as in 'not too loud, not too soft'), and of course, a DSLR not dedicated to video shooting lacks all such capabilities. Well, I found at least two options. The rather bulky Beachtech DXA-5DA and the Juicedlink DT454 4-CH. These are basically boxes of audio electronics to attach to your camera that give you the capability to monitor the recorded sound that is being fed to the DSLR.

And here's the twist and the crux and the help-me-I've-had-enough part of this post. I tested two Beachtech DXA-5DA today with 3 different mics, and neither Beachtech DXA-5DA device showed any decent graphical representation of the sound going in. This would be the device to use as it provides a way to circumnavigate the whole AGC issue by fooling the cameras electronics (but that, I have to say, is another whole matter in and of itself). This, in practice, rendered the whole monitoring feature unusable without constant headphone monitoring. With our preference for unobstrusiveness and 'going in light' in our ethnographic video work, it would seem kind of peculiar for me to rock a camera rig the Ghostbusters would be envious of with the humble addition of having wires hanging out of my ears. Very subtle, indeed.

So, the outcome. I'll wait for something else. And we'll continue to use audio by relying on our JVC video-cam only. It may not take as spectacular footage (especially in the dark), but it is a full-fledged video recorder. To date, it seems, a DSLR is not. Finally, a normative recommendation. If this is your game, use both. Always. And simultaneously.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

My Dissertation About Our (Increasingly) Translocal Lives

I finally found the time to blog about my doctoral dissertation after a busy round of conferences and filmmaking this summer. I successfully defended my thesis, titled "Exploring the Cultural Logic of Translocal Marketplace Cultures: Essays on New Methods and Empirical Insights", at the Aalto University School of Economics in May 2010. I had the honour to have professor Robert Kozinets (York Univerisy, Schulich School of Business) as my co-examiner and opponent.

My dissertation presentation...

To explain briefly, my dissertation research involves taking a cultural, practice-oriented perspective to consumption and markets. It pays attention to the new forms of marketplace cultures that have recently emerged due to cultural and technological transformations such as the increasing hypermobility of people and new means of digital communication and connectivity around the globe. New computer-mediated social networks – iconized by Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and other consumption-oriented online communities and groups – have given rise to new kinds of cultural production. My dissertation examines the translocal nature of such phenomena: culture, identity, space, and sites that are not bound or limited by particular national, geographic, or territorial constraints and through which consumers’ lives, experiences, and practices are increasingly mediated today.

New digitalized consumption communities accelerate translocal marketplace cultures

The key notion of the dissertation is translocality, which refers to a transnational network of interconnected local sites and social spaces, both physical and virtual, through which culture is increasingly being negotiated, shaped, and produced. To conceptualize and provide concrete examples of translocal cultural production, the dissertation investigates consumption-oriented communities, the so-called ‘consumer neo-tribes’, as particularly good examples of translocal communities.

By investigating consumer communities that gather around a common interest or lifestyle – I studied budget travelling and extreme sport activities (paintball) – the dissertation offers insights suggesting that translocal communities and practices play an important role in transnational cultural production. The empirical studies illustrate how translocal communities increasingly collaborate, share information, exchange knowledge, and negotiate consumption practices via new digital media. In addition, the findings show that the new communication media, combined with less constrained transnational mobility, has made it possible for consumers to take part in various consumer communities in radically new ways and with less effort. These key developments, the dissertation claims, have spurred the creation of more profound, organized, empowered, and transnationally spread consumer networks.

New methods for studying translocal marketplace cultures: netnography and videography

My dissertation also lays out new approaches and methods for studying translocal communities and practices. Based on ethnographic fieldwork in both online and offline settings, I develop netnographic and videographic methods that may benefit companies, researchers, and policy-makers in analyzing how new forms of translocal marketplace practices emerge, spread, and transform.

Altogether, my dissertation package includes a summary essay plus four individual essays – three of which have been published in international academic journals. The fourth essay, a videographic study accompanied with a paper, has been described also in this blog. Here’s the list of essays, just to give you a better idea of the contents:

1111. Rokka, J.: Netnographic Inquiry and New Translocal Sites of the Social. International Journal of Consumer Studies, 34, (2010) 381-387.

2. Rokka, J. & Moisander, J.: Environmental Dialogue in Online Communities: Negotiating Ecological Citizenship among Global Travellers. International Journal of Consumer Studies, 33, (2009) 199-205.

3. De Valck, K., Rokka, J. & Hietanen, J.: Videography in Consumer Research: Visions for a Method on the Rise. Finanza Marketing e Produzione, 27, (2009) 81-100.

4. Rokka, J., Hietanen, J. & De Valck, K.: Brothers in Paint: Practice-Oriented Inquiry into a Tribal Marketplace Culture. In Advances in Consumer Research, 37, (2010) Campbell, M.C., Inman, J., Pieters, R. (eds.), (forthcoming). (Videography and paper).

I was happy to get some attention from the local news media. I was interviewed by a number of newspapers who also made some of the material available online. To my slight surprise, the work and ideas presented in my thesis were well received by the reporters. I guess this can be considered some sort of success, at least when considering the fact that many academic works simply wont translate to wider audiences. I think one possible reason for this is that I had quite a few timely themes to discuss, including the consequences of social media, consumer tribes, video research, online research etc. In addition, what gained a lot of interest in my thesis was exactly what we've been discussing in this blog: research on video and its accessibility online. This is a good signal for our future work :)

Here’s a couple of links I found (in Finnish unfortunately):

Kauppalehti 17.5.2010 "Web-Based Communities Produce New Forms of Consumer Culture"

Turun Sanomat 24.5.2010 "Consumer Power in Peer-to-Peer Communities"

Kaleva 22.5.2010 "Understanding Consumers Everyday Lives"