High Muck a Muck: Playing Chinese

 

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As soon as I entered the world of high muck a muck, I was captivated by the sounds and the map of the author’s journeys being placed on the back of a body. When I went into the marker on the map named Everywhere and Nowhere, the music in the video brought me back to my time in my Cross Cultural Communication Class with Dr. Yedes. My second cultural event assignment was completed at the Rubin Museum in New York, where I was able to to explore the different cultures that make up South Asia. The music throughout High Muck a Muck took me back into the Tibetan alter/shrine where chant-like music played constantly in the background. Moving along, this piece was very interesting to me and I almost wish that I would’ve found this one to be able to present it :D. I feel that this work is so similar to how I would like my personal project to be. I love that the aspect of poetry (sometimes seemingly obscure but better understood if one clicks the book to read the full thing) is incorporated throughout as the reader travels through all of the places the authors trekked while immigrating to the West coast of Canada.

When I began trying to respond on this blog about this piece of e-lit, I started out by googling the word High Muck a Muck, and it is indeed an actual word (a noun). High Muck a Muck is basically a very authoritative and conceited person, and that was very interesting to me because I still do not know if I understand why it is titled that. I did stumble, however, across Simon Lysander’s website. Lysander contributed to the programming and design of the interactive piece. I liked how he specified the fact that he used “aleatoric processes” throughout the piece to make it feel similar to a fate/fortune, essentially because aleatory is defined as random or dependent upon chance. This concept really brings the piece full circle because that is exactly how it feels.
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I became even more fascinated as I read more and more about pak ah pu (Chinese lottery game) because this entire piece, I suppose, is supposed to be like a pak ah pu game. Often spelled pakapoo as well, this game is played by the organizer marking a ticket that has rows of characters on it from the Thousand Character Classic (a poem where no two words are repeated and is used to teach Chinese characters). The player that marks their ticket closet to the way the organizer does wins. I thought that I was the problem at first as I reiterated in my head that the piece was kind of all over the place and messy. I ended up finding out that “it looks like a pakapoo ticket” is an Australian slang way of saying that the writing that is displayed is essentially messy!

I also read that, for the authors, creating this piece was as much of an immigration journey as the actual stories they tell and that is completely understandable. The design of this piece is so carefully and intricately put together. The more that I got into it, the more excited I became to find different things that I did’t see before. I really appreciate this piece for what it is. Stories like the ones these authors shared are stories that need to be told and identified with. There was so much reflection in this and even more release. I have to say that this piece might have been even more powerful to me if I was hearing all of the poetry instead of just in one of the videos in the Canada section (?). Don’t quote me on the section, but I definitely remember it.  All in all, I can’t wait for Hailey’s presentation.

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Link to High Muck a Muck

"The future is in nostalgia…"

"High Muck a Muck," a multimedia piece of electronic literature, uses watercolor visuals, written poetry, sound/music effects, and superbly-edited videos to capture the experience of Chinese immigrants to Canada.  Although I can see the artistry in each aspect of the piece, I feel as if the videos carry the most power, so much so that every other part of "High Muck a Muck" actually feels extraneous to me.  The same power and viewer empathy could have been achieved by the videos alone, and thus the e-lit medium was perhaps not the most appropriate for this amazing piece.

The piece begins with a watercolor ink blot on a Chinese lottery card.  This ink motif continues throughout the piece, and it seems to be the thread holding it all together.  When the viewer clicks on the ink blot, they are taken to a map painted in watercolor on a man's back.  More ink blots are used to mark towns and regions of Canada, as well as "Everywhere and Nowhere."  When clicked, most of these ink blots take the viewer to a watercolor scene of the town that includes images of Chinese immigrants, regional landmarks, and some more abstract symbols/images.  Everywhere and Nowhere takes the viewer to a yin-yang symbol that opens a video.  In the town scenes, there is always a man with a camcorder, who when clicked brings the viewer to a short video.  The other people bring up short snippets of poetry.  In my opinion, these town images are unnecessary, especially once the viewer realizes that the same poetry is included in a much more vivid way in the videos: a voice-over read by a man with a Chinese accent.  That's a big deal for me to say because I don't usually like to take in literature audially; nine times out of ten, I would rather read than hear a story or poem.  "High Muck a Muck" is that rare 1/10 where I get more out of hearing the poetry read to me.  Perhaps it has to do with the reader's accent and cadence, or perhaps it has to do with the images in the video that complement the poetry being read; I'm not sure.  I just find the written poetry in the town scenes a lot emptier and flatter than the same poetry in the videos.

Two recurring elements in this piece really stuck out to me: the calligraphy and the strange puppet.  I think they are actually meant to stand in opposition to each other to represent the conflicting identities of Chinese immigrants.  The calligraphy, watercolor ink, and paintbrush imagery is fluid, beautiful, and organic; it evokes images of ancient Chinese culture and the pride associated with such.  In one video, there is even a performance by a man suspended by his ankles pantomiming the movements of the head of a paintbrush.  Although this image is quite jarring at first, I think it shows the deep connection Chinese immigrants have to the calligraphy brush.  They are their writing utensils; their words push and pull them.  Even the most romantically-minded American writer would have a hard time admitting or convincingly expressing such a vulnerability and intimacy with their pens or word processors.  In contrast, the puppet, which has no arms (perhaps representing feelings of powerlessness?) and wears the wide conical hat associated with old Chinese stereotypes, is stiff and awkward in its movements, and it looks out of place whenever it is shown.  I'm not sure if this awkwardness is meant to express the feelings of isolation/alienation provoked by living in a land so separated from their history, or if it is supposed to show how poorly and painfully Chinese immigrants actually fit into Western stereotypes.  Either way, the strange little puppet does a great job of grabbing the viewer's attention.          

Blog #3 Interpreting High Muck a Muck

Immediately when I was aware that I had to read High Muck a Muck, I thought it had a funny name. That was one of the reasons I personally would not even open up the piece to find out more. It almost sounded nonsensical. Muck a Muck could be a person but hi isn't spelled right. I just decided to Google what it means and here's what came up.



Being that this was in Volume 3, it was a little different in opening the text as I previously experienced in the other volumes. Some of the texts from Volume 3 wouldn't open on my laptop because of software that I don't have or because I don't have a MAC. Instead of being taken right to the piece after pressing begin, you have to chose WORK WEBSITEBEGIN and WORK VIDEO. Pressing WORK WEBSITE allows you to go to a website that allows you start the story by pressing ENTER but gives you a slightly unique experience. Pressing BEGIN takes you to a non website page where you can also press ENTER. Pressing WORK VIDEO allows you to be guided through the text through the experience of a previous user.

When I first opened it I noticed the background reminded me of one of the Mahjong game backgrounds that I have seen on my computer. In the computer game you have to match two pieces accurately from top to bottom. Sometimes its tricky since some designs look similar to others but eventually you do get to the bottom. You have to analyze closely and be patient. According to Wikipedia, Mahjong is a Chinese game that originated during the Qing dynasty and uses skill, strategy and calculation and involves a degree of chance.

When I was navigating High Muck a Muck, I had to restart from the beginning several times. The first time I started the words moved so fast that I missed certain sentences. I felt I had to read all of them otherwise I would miss some important part of the story. Once I did read the sentences, I was confused as to what every part meant like the green spot eight spot. On one occasion I returned here to comment and I came back to the body part of a human already on the screen but had left a small square with Chinese letters. At one point the music came on and the yin yang symbol was up saying loading. I thought maybe I did something wrong. Nevertheless, I continued on from there. I pressed the square with chinese letters and clicked the about section. Once I read it, I pressed the back arrow again and began the journey. I started at the top with Everywhere and Nowhere. I thought that the art was amazing and the sound effects were brilliant. I tried my best to interpret the art and wasn't very successful. I thought it could symbolize the map but the human body didn't fit in with that. I did think that the chunk that had drifted apart from the body looked fascinating.

I thought that it was interesting to be zooming in on the Chinese man's eye. I felt impatient yet obligated to keep watching and was also afraid what I'd see when it continued to zoom in.I got a little creeped out when it was zooming around because I didn't know if it was going to be a corpse's eye then. I couldn't see eyelashes and the skin looked really pale. I was surprised when it turned out to be a baby. The text was a little unpredictable on the parts I went on. I clicked on one area and  I saw a video and then sometimes I would see floating text and a poem appeared another time.
I liked this text and I am getting even more accustomed to the variety e-lit allows.


High Muck a Muck

I actually looked at High Muck a Muck initially for my own project and I am glad to get a chance to play. The phrase itself means an important or influential person, especially one who is pompous or conceited. It comes from Chinook Jargon in the period (later 1800’s) and area (Pacific Northwest) in which the story is set. The first screen appears to be the Pak Ah Pu lottery card that they reference. Interesting that it seems the game is set up to be multimodal (text, video and sound) and it indicates that the player has final decision on how the game unfolds, since the front page promises that the site can be explored “in any order and for any length of time”. No other part of the page is clickable except Enter. The text reveals slowly. The poem begins two lines at a time, referencing the lottery book which then replaces the poem large in the center of the screen. Some of the Chinese letters seem to be darker than others and I found that at least one was clickable, but while I was checking the others, blue ink stains appeared over some of the letters and then it all disappeared, replaced by a map. Starting over, I tried clicking on the one spot and all it does is erase the spots and then they come back again. So I let it go to the map. The lottery  card in the corner acts as a kid of a map key and reveals a list of places you can explore if you cursor over it. There is the sound of Chinese flute music – very calm at first, but soon replaced with conversations and silverware, etc – sounds very much like a restaurant. The blue stains are now on a person’s back covered with a drawing that looks like a map. By messing with the key, I discover that this is the home page. If you click on the book that says “British Columbia” in the left corner, it takes you to a poem. The seven biggest and darkest blue dots correspond to the seven locations in the lottery key. Clicking on “Everywhere and Nowhere“, you get a mystical horn sound, like a digeridoo. There are the images of two men facing away from each other and a ying yang between them. The ying yang takes you to a video that shows an old man emerging very slowly from the black screen – so slowly I thought the link was broken. It then pushes in on him. Is this the man with the lottery card from the beginning of the story? Discordant music plays over the video which just keeps pushing into the old man’s left eye. At about the halfway point, it dissolves into a bay’s eye and slowly pulls back. The juxtaposition of old and young is interesting – perhaps it means that if we look closely enough, we find things about us that are all the same? Just like the baby and the old man’s eyes are the same when you look closely?  (As I point out later, it’s interesting that each of them is shown separately and by themselves, fitting with a theme of solitude throughout.)

Back to the home page and I’m trying to figure out what this is a map of. The opening page mentions that the idea of this game is to explore the difficulties of Chinese immigrants in North America’s Gold Mountain, which I discovered is a reference to both San Francisco and Canada’s British Columbia. The closest parallel I can find using Google Maps is Vancouver Island just north of Washington state. The lighter blue dots on the map reveal short poems, seeming to channel Chinese immigrants’ experiences and perhaps the locals as well (dealing with the wave of immigrants). One poem talks about villages a hundred years ago and describes them as “elegance in tune” – perhaps a reference to life before the immigrants came. But another says he marks his time “in sluice” – a type of gate that can be used in panning gold (a big part of what drew immigrants to the region). There are references to Chinese cuisine and names. By the way, interesting that each poem has an FW at the bottom – I’m guessing a reference to Fred Wah, one of the makers of the game. Click on the Pacific Rim, I realize that it has a book in the corner. I go back and check and the Everywhere and Nowhere page does not have a book. Clicking the book, I get a poem about the location. It seems to be referencing the troubles for someone going back and forth between China and Canada – “the counterbalance to the Mainland not so man at home” – maybe means the man is no longer welcome back home?  “Here and back again, stopped stunned and caught in this double-bind of information, Chinese-Canadian, China Chinese tongue-tied”… maybe the man is finding it difficult to jump back and forth both physically and mentally and getting caught unable to speak the language fluently either place. On the man page for the Pacific Rim, there are three ships (actually the middle one is several ships).  That middle one shows a bunch of stuff shipped by China and the label “Made in China”, so perhaps this is about how critical China is to other parts of the world and how Chinese immigrants want to be recognized for that? In Richmond, the poems and images are about Chinese immigrants longing for you and complaining about being disillusioned by the U.S. One video shows expensive American houses and complains about this “empty life”, saying “it’s just not me.” Interesting that this is a modern story with modern images – not so much a reference to life in the 1800’s (although the sensibilities may have been the same). The juxtaposition of the Chinese drawings and art (even the writing has a Chinese feel) and music with the American images is jarring. It gives the player the sense that these things are being forced together instead of fitting together seamlessly. I think this is the whole point, to show the beauty of the Chinese culture and then show how poorly it fits with America. I noticed that many of the characters in the art are depicted singularly and in the videos as well, it’s often (if not always) a single person or face. They even opt to push into the face a couple of times, emphasizing the singularity and (in my opinion) solitude of the person, giving the viewer no sense at all of the people or environment around them.

The overarching theme is of someone who doesn’t feel like they belong – either in the homeland they have left or in the new land they now inhabit. Canada is similar – it shows a map of the Northern U.S. along with the Great Lakes and images of workers and the railroad. The poems speak of loneliness (ancestors who wont remember you) even though it seems to refer to a lot of ancestors being in the area (or maybe just a lot of Chinese). Interesting to note all of these maps are on images of a body, showing that the land and the experiences of these lands are ingrained in the people and that the people and land start to become inseparable for better or for worse. When these immigrants came to these areas, it changed them forever.”Nelson” is another dot (a city I discovered). The images you can click on are more modern – restaurants and shops and a small house… The poems again speak of homesickness – of dreaming of a land across the water – and disconnectedness from the Chinese people who are living there – the “uncle” in the shop, the people playing mah jong. The main character questions everything – how are they related to him?  or more likely, how are they like him? Another image of a man with a camera takes us to a video. More action in this one – mostly showing people playing mah jong, with a close up on the game (not a lot of faces) and an odd toy or something showing a figure with a Chinese hat on a string leash of some kind. Again, faceless and unidentifiable. In the poem, it’s interesting that the narrator admires a man named “Charley” who he says “is China”. Apparently he finds it easy to move between the two worlds – a trait our  narrator finds admirable.

After I clicked through the locations, I tried the “Legend” which I should have looked at first. It told me what all the images meant (and I went back to look at another video hidden behind a character in Vancouver. It showed people moving cups around) And it told me that ears had audio from people who told stories about the places they lived and their experiences. The key also had an option to learn about the making of the game and all their awards, as well as an option to tweet about it or share the game on Facebook. All in all, this is a very involved, multi-layered game with lots of different options for the player. The drawings and audio put you very much in the mind of an Asian/Chinese experience and with the different text, video and audio options, there are lots of places to draw a sense of what the authors are trying to do. That said, the entire game seems very much to stay with the theme which, to me, is that of people coming to a new land, trying to maintain identity and yet feeling disconnected, at odds with the new culture even as they try to maintain their own, and in some ways disillusioned with where they find themselves. And yet, the sense is they don’t really have an option to go back (although they admire those that can move between the two worlds) and so therefore are stuck to try and make the best of it. Looking back, I think the image of the lottery card may simply be telling us that all of life is a game of chance. You make your choice, buy your card, and hope to come out ahead.