City of Sound is about cities, design, architecture, music, media, politics and more. Written by Dan Hill since 2001.

Two (or three) recent films are worth watching for how they accurately depict the grain of the future. They are 'Making Future Magic' by BERG/Dentsu London:

And 'Augmented City'/'Domestic Robocop' by Keiichi Matsuda:

Both films – I'm counting Matsuda's as one film for the sake of argument – are interesting as they convey a sense of contingency in contemporary media technologies and informatics, or near-future extrapolations of such things. They indicate that such technologies are slightly awkward, incomplete, jittery, fizzing in and out of focus. And yet magical. Coverage is patchy, positioning vague, interaction is compromised yet the capabilities of people, buildings and cities are extended nonetheless. The aesthetic of both films – though quite different – is fascinating in terms of conjuring this sensation. (It's a sensation I tried to describe in text with The Street as Platform.)

Dentsu/BERG's reminds me of the work of Len Lye to some extent, and I can pay no higher compliment (and their collaborator Timo Arnall deserves special mention once again).

It's a form of light painting, which is as old as film itself in some respects despite their utterly contemporary methodology. And while it's difficult to see an application for it other than as raw aesthetic, and so lending itself neatly to branding and cinema, it's powerful precisely because of that aesthetic. 

As with Matsuda's masterful short film, the various augmented components twitch, jitter, blur, fade, wobble, jiggle, shiver, fade, snap, crackle, pop, hiss. Watching those blocky letters jelly about in mid-air is oddly familiar for something we've never seen before. For working with these and related technologies quickly reveals that they are contingent, awkward, unpredictable and far from the seamless experience generally depicted in films, promos (or my own designs for urban interaction, if I'm honest – though here we hit the tricky question of selling such ideas to clients, who in the case of city governments and property developers will rarely want to hear about contingency. Still, much of the most interesting, influential and useful work is without client at the moment.)

In Matsuda's worlds everything is interface and everything is social media, spam and partially relevant advertising, the holy trinity of internet background noise. This is an architect who understands that spatial intelligence now includes an understanding of data as material, just as architecture understands other materials such as glass, steel and plastic. And as such, an understanding of the essential limits, stresses, tensions and density of these new materials too. Or transmaterial as Mitchell Whitelaw would say. (Though watching the 3D 'Augmented City' without the glasses is probably even closer to how technology feels. Everything only just works, but even that is incredible.)

This sense of contingency can even be heard in the background noise incorporated into Matt Brown's soundtrack or in the crackly static Muzak underpinning 'Domestic Robocop'.

It's also a good example of how design itself can hover between research and art, being neither and both. Contingent. The BERGers are old friends, and though I don't know Matsuda, I'd guess that none of them would call themselves artists. Or researchers for that matter. But this work is, well, hovering in that indeterminate space, like a perfect 10 or a false 9.

There's something else: that these are films. Video is rapidly becoming the pre-eminent mode for communication of ideas (just as everyday photography is increasingly becoming video too). My day-job regularly involves discussions about whether animated 3D models or films are best for conveying ideas. Here both are used but film is the dominant medium, and the visions of all the designers here are interesting precisely because they can be situated in a film world with the gritty texture of reality, rather than the smooth polygons of pure animation.

Making Future Magic: BERG and Dentsu London
Keiichi Matsuda


3 responses to “Journal: Contingent: recent films by BERG/Dentsu London and Keiichi Matsuda”

  1. Caleb Avatar

    I love Keiichi Matsuda’s work. An interesting article to accompany it would be in the current National Geographic. The article talks about the development of glasses, and in the near future, contact lenses, that act as a filter to the outside world, displaying information such as reviews of businesses and Wikipedia profiles.


  2. jake wand Avatar

    These kind of post are always inspiring and I prefer to read quality content so I happy to find many good point here in the post, writing is simply great, thank you for the post


  3. Stephen Soos Avatar

    thanks for sharing…..


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