Liminal was an operatic song-cycle I conceived, wrote and created between 1996-1999, in collaboration with my friend, the composer Glenn Rogers. I had always intended it for the big screen, as a kind of follow-on for our earlier collaboration, The Horla, which was shot on 35mm film. However, the mid-1990’s were the time of CD-ROMs, and I was lucky to get some funding from the Australian Film Commission to make an interactive version for that platform. Little did I know it would take me 3 to 4 years, basically working solo on all aspects of the production except the music.
It is all too easy to forget the limitations of desktop video and 3D animation at the time and how long everything took. The first two songs were rendered out at 320×240 px, later ones at 480×288 px, once I realised that something like HD 16:9 aspect ratio was on the horizon. Of course, HD wasn’t to become mainstream or affordable until about 10 years later in 2005-6, when I managed to purchase my first ‘HD’ video camera, the JVC GR-PD1, which shot 576p on miniDV tapes. Even in that context, in 2005, the iPhone was 2 years away in the future and social media basically didn’t exist, so digital marketing and distribution was almost non-existent too.
Now, 20 years later it’s possible to up-rez using deep learning software approaches. The results are quite satisfactory, enabling upsampling to 1080P – an increase in resolution of 1500%. In general this leads to improved image quality, though there remain sequences that are ‘un-fixable’ due to compression artefacts in the source material. Fitting 30+ minutes of video and audio onto a 500MB hybrid MacOS/Windows CDROM was ambitious, to say the least. The only way to solve this would be to locate the source files, 20-year-old software and operating systems, reassemble the projects and re-render. It’s do-able but a huge amount of work and probably not worth the effort – I’d rather spend my time making new things. However, I imagine it could be done in virtual machines these days and that things would render out rapidly.
Of course, there is no such requirement for the audio, which sounds perfectly good after all these years – of course, it was a much more mature technology at the time.
However, there is a kind of integrity to the work of 20 years ago that I am circumspect about tampering with. It is of-its-time and it would be all too hard to resist making changes. Perhaps in another 20 years I’ll be able to make it all stereoscopic 360º using machine learning approaches.
Another aspect of this restoration is something I have intended to do, but never actually completed, in all this time: create a version that is linear, with a specific order. This is it – a mixture of chronological and thematic order. There are interactive QTVR environments and transition, music or voice-only sequences from the CDROM that are omitted here, but which have little impact upon the thrust of the main work.
I’ve been asked many times what it is all about – there are extensive contemporaneous notes here. But the basic ideas that inspired it include an article from the New Yorker in 1992, The Mountains of Pi, my own fascination with cemeteries, romantic landscape (especially the Northern romantic tradition in the work of C.D. Friedrich and its Australian traces in the works of Piguenit, von Guerard and Chevalier), botany and some connections with number theory (especially Hofstadter’s masterpiece Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid (1979)). Of course, my intention was to make a work of art, drawing my ideas and feelings about these together somehow. Working with Glenn and our remarkable, knowledgeable and award-winning singers Andrew Foote, Penelope Reynolds and Samantha Podéu; actor Peter Hardy and audio producer, Alistair Dudfield – and many others – I think we did.
The original pressing complete historical CD-ROM opera – a limited edition (500) double-album including the original cross-platform CD-ROM, the complete Audio CD and illustrated booklet, including libretto, are available for collectors of the obscure. Postage and packing extra. Use the contact form for enquiries.
As of 2019, note that the pristine never-played CD-ROM may only play on Windows 7-10, not MacOS (except through OS9 emulation (e.g. Sheepshaver)). The original Audio CD should play in any standard CD player.