Spoken images

 SPOKEN Table of Contents

CG game cloudy night silhouette jumoing over moon

David over the Moon by Eugene Soh

black and white image of man dropping vase

Ai Wewei, Yesim Agaoglu, Stephen Black, Eugene Soh collaboration in gallery.sg

Avatar drinking

Nhung: overhead perspective

Jeff Koons Balloon Dog in SPOKEN

Nhung: Floating

low tech in hi tech

Works created with ink

SB & 3D (Why I’m excited to be in Eugene Soh’s virtual gallery project)

THIS post was written before SPOKEN started. SPOKEN is a project I am doing with Eugene Soh, an experiment in which art, text, virtual reality and social media intersect. Learn about SPOKEN here.

To enter gallery.sg and experience SPOKEN, click here.
Here is the extremely short version: from 2002 until 2008 I was involved with a visionary virtual reality project that combined educational practices with gamemaking and multimedia. However, the spiritual captain of the project was part Disney, part Microsoft and part Sex Pistols. An unexpected death, treachery, incompetence, inexperience, bureaucratic boondoggles and more made my life “interesting”… I have pages of notes about the events and the spirit of the times. We were doing things like Youtube and Second Life before they started. The project was so close… and yet so far away. (Actually, now that mobile technology has settled down, I hope that the lessons and products of that experience can be revitalized. But that’s yet another story.)
In 2006, as a way of showcasing our technology,  I entered a gamemaking hackathon. A theme was given on a Thursday morning and the next day at five the results were judged.The theme was something about healthy eating, I think. Working with my programmer in Hong Kong, we made a game in which the viewer learned about the calorie count of certain foods. The player competed with an AI character.  It was fun to do.
However, what I remember most was a team that made an incredible flash game. I don’t remember if they won or not, but I do remember two guys on that team very well. George Parel and Eugene Soh were full of energy, knowledge and bursting with creative ideas.
They still are.
I’ve been lucky to work with George and Eugene on a few projects since then. In 2008 I finally had to put the educational gamemaking project on hold while I waited for a programmer and the mobile device situation to stabilize.I put more time into writing and art projects. George and Eugene (that dude from Singapore) however, have kept on doing remarkably creative things with IT, art, design and more.
Virtual reality may seem to be an artificial place, but the gallery Eugene has created fills me with memories and hope. I am honored and very thankful for I Ate Tiong Bahru to be on display in gallery.sg
IATB in virtual gallery
Cheers, Eugene! Cheers, George!

Ebooks: Born to Click (1 of 3)


This informal essay is my way of marking the end of a certain era in ebook history. It’s part snapshot, part reference materials, part journal.At the end of this post are notes about me, my experiences and my books.
Thanks to Doug Rolph for his insights on economics, Eric Hellman for his input and my dad for having taken care of our family by selling books.

το πνεύμα του Ιανού

After I finish writing eight books, I will begin marketing. Until then, I’ll probably study the ebook world less and hopefully do more writing, arting and engaging with Life. When it does comes time for me to contribute to the marketing conversation, I hope I have something to say. For now, I present the following notes, quotes and thoughts as a means of punctuating a phase in the development of ebooks as I have seen and experienced it.

This is an exciting time. The ebook delivery platforms are finally stable, self-publishing has proven to have great value and a number of services have recently appeared that shorten the distances between readers and authors. It seems to me that indie ebooks and ebook marketing are about to enter a new era.

This blog post makes little mention of traditional publishing. This is simply because, as much as I would like to enjoy the benefits of being a Big 5/6 author, that fruit is not now within my reach. I am however, considering joining the Author’s Guild.

Although I’ve done almost no marketing, I have studied the environments in which ebooks are created, presented, bought and sold. Some observations:

1. Except for uploading, nothing about ebooks is easy.
Writing is the anti-social social media, full of long, long hours of pressure-filled solitude. Assembling an error-free book is never simple. The social part, finding an audience, is an immense challenge. I respect all of the authors mentioned in this post for they have successfully met these challenges and more.

Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.
Stephen King

Based on my experiences, the work breakdown of an 88,000 word novel looks something like this: 1000 words a day (88 days) or, more likely, 500 words a day (176 days). Call it 200 days to prepare something for a proofreader. Two months for corrections, art, and ebook conversion. So, a book takes about 300 working days to finalize. About…
And then there are the thousands of actions needed to connect with readers… The title of Guy Kawasaki’s excellent book says it all: APE, meaning Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur

This document, by Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords, is a data-based analysis of the ebook market. Highly recommended, it covers topics important for newbies and veterans. It touches upon issues like word count, pricing, marketing and more. For instance, his research shows that the average bestseller on Smashwords is 100,000 words, and the average romance is 112,195 words. (There are more links to resources at the end of this post.)
Very few traditionally published authors became bestsellers; the same is true for ebook publishing. My goal is not to become a bestseller, but to connect with the largest possible community of people who enjoy the art of reading.

2. A great writer or a great marketer…
….or, the frustration of being caught between not doing enough writing and not doing enough marketing. A writer writes, a salesman sells.
Self-publishing does not equal self-marketing. Spending money wisely on promotion money means income and time to write. (See the links below)
Twitter, Goodreads, FB, LinkedIn and blogging? All have their advantages and disadvantages…

3. There are no independent, hugely successful ebook-only self-publishers.
Note: Two days after this post went up, I became aware of this great piece by Dana Beth Weinberg on Digital Book World. Thank you Jacqueline Church!

Amazon is huge, Apple is huge, Kobo and Smashwords are very big. Unless you are selling from your own website or the back of your car, you’re not truly independent.

OK, A bit of an attention grabber there…but the author’s need for a partnership with Amazon and ebook distributors is a dependence that cannot be overlooked. These “automatic partners” will always protect their interests first. They call the shots. Amazon is a business, not an author.

Amanda Hocking is a hugely successful author. At one point, the average daily sales figure of her self-published ebooks was 9000. Again: average DAILY book sales: nine thousand! Her success was based on hard work, technological first mover advantage and an indirect tie-in with Hollywood.
-the successful and pioneering integration of ebook readers into tablets and mobile as well as the launch of the Kindle (2007) and the iPad(2010)
-the large demographic of young women who bought readers and tablets
– the fact that, having written many books, Hocking could quickly provide a new and large market with a variety of new titles
– writing books about the paranormal when Hollywood is pushing the same cannot hurt. Twilight, the hugely successful series of movies about teen vampires began in 2008. Hocking’s first book, My Blood Approves, began selling in 2010.

E.L. James’ book phenomenon began in the fan fiction chat rooms for Twilight. The characters in Fifty Shades of Grey were originally the characters from Twilight. Could Master of the Universe, as her series was originally called, have achieved its success without an existing network of thousands of Twilight fans?

These two women made their mark upon society in two different ways. As shared, collective book-based experiences: WOW!
However, the writing is…”not terrible” or worse

I remember SF/F authors complaining (back in 2011) that their readers hadn’t switched to e-books yet, casting jealous eyes at the outsized romance audience. But as readers did move across, we saw people like David Dalglish and BV Larson breaking out, and the rest of “genre” fiction soon followed.

There are “indie success stories” about authors who “rode into town” on the backs of traditional publishing. Funded by Big 6 money these “indies” were advertised and publicized, sent on book tours and given things like business cards. Possibly, audiobooks were made. Hundreds, if not thousands, of their books were given away, many to reviewers.
As the ‘first mover’possibilities of the ebook market became clear and realistic, these authors, knighted by the Big 6 and armed with credibility and connections, rode onto a battlefield with little opposition… Undoubtedly hard work was involved, but to label them as indies brings to mind the quip about George Bush: “…was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple.”

There certainly are “ebook only” indies connecting with many readers and enjoying sales. I just don’t know of any. (FOUND SOMEONE: LINDSAY BUROKER Please tell me about others! them! Somewhat related to this, are there any “ebook only” awards?

Here, authors talk about their sales experiences.

4. The ebook world evolves to reward the reader; the prepared author benefits from this.
Fan fiction. Goodreads. Ebook readers on mobile phones. The mashup between big data and metadata. Entrepreneurs with vision who see ways to connect authors and readers in a new ways.

It is an exciting time.

Ebooks: Born to Click, Part 2 of 3

visit www.blacksteps.tv for parts 2 and 3 of this post, as well as information on art, books and ebooks


Five things I learned on my first 360 VR shoot:Bobsledding vs. Skateboarding

I recently began work on a short film with Hiverlab. We shot on two days, each day from about 4PM to 6PM . Only natural light was used and sound was recorded by the six GoPros used. The rig and stitching were  a unique configuration being tested by Hiverlab.The director was Ender, from Hiverlab. I was the location scout and am writing the script/creating the story. The script will be written after studying the rushes and working closely with the composer/musician Chen YiQi. One actor was used, Alps Bethneck, the lead actor in The Changi Murals by Boo Jun Feng.

I will analyze the shoot  later. This post and four related posts are based on notes that I took upon seeing the rushes.

The first and strongest impression upon me: in 360 VR, the viewer is on a skateboard, so to speak, whereas the traditional movie experience is like bobsledding.

In bobsledding, the team goes down a track; the team being composed of both the film production organization AND the viewer.  Once the film is finished, the track (the sequence of scenes) is fixed. None of the team members can change anything.

With 360 VR, however, the viewer can deviate from the track that the director and production team  created. Though the goggles present a series of scenes in front of the viewer, the viewer can, obviously, look around in 360. So the idea of a “track” becomes inaccurate. I have heard the word “arena” being used instead of “scene”, which would mean that in the world of 360, one does not watch a movie (a collection of scenes) but looks around a series of arenas.

Let me repeat this idea in another way.  In a movie a shot is a shot. Whether an interior or a landscape, the angle and composition are fixed forever. A sun setting behind a mountain will be presented to the viewer only in the composition and framing that the cinematographer recorded it.

With 360 VR, however, the viewer can look away from the sunset. Looking to the left the viewer may see other mountains. If the viewer turns his or her head to the right, he or she may see the town below. Physically turning completely around, the viewer may see a helicopter in the sky or whatever happens to be behind. (As I write this,I know that I am stating the obvious. However, even though I knew beforehand that 360 degrees means 360 degrees, it was like a revelation when I turned my head and body to look at the footage we had shot. In the future this will be no big deal. The future meaning tomorrow…)

Simply, when I looked at the rushes, I realized that  in terms of viewing the scene, I was somewhat in control. I could look at exactly what was being presented to me or I could look around. I learned and internalized the fact that directors, cinematographers and writers MUST begin to tell  stories in new ways in order for 360 to achieve its potential. After we looked at the rushes, Ender loaded this up, saying it was a good example of using 360.

So, bottom line: 360 VR requires that writers, cinematographers, audio people  lighting crews and directors constantly create dynamics that guide the viewer where to look. These are not problems, they are a chance to discover new possibilities. To always keep the action directly in front of the viewer is a wasted opportunity.

Towards a New Cinematography (notes)

blue fish in tank with Wall Clouding written aboveit

image created as part of the preparation for the Wall Clouding 360 video by Stephen Black/hiverlab

So… it is now clear to me that the title that I was first using, Angelic Visions:drones, VR, immersive environments and cinematography’s second life, isn’t magical. Too long. So for now, I am going with Towards A New Cinematography. This is the book that I committed myself to with this post.

Singapore has been very helpful to me. For example, because of an amazing series of talks organized by SCAPE, I was able to get up to date on 4K, thanks to three great presentations by Matt Seigel. Twice I was able to hear Karl Soule go over some of the numerous delights in the Adobe Creative Cloud. I heard Kazz Sato speak about sound! I was in the same room as Royston Tan!Nicholas Chee! These talks really brought me up to speed, helping me get a sense of the current state of indie film production. Very important, especially after my years away from video, when I was in “exile” in Bali.

And more: last week I attended a three-in-one Meetup:

Singapore Creative Coding Meetup

Singapore StoryCode Meetup


The presenters were: Himanshu Shah, speaking about a Virtual Reality based Amusement Park Ride Simulator

Himanshu Shah has been in the production industry for the last 15 years and is involved in a number of companies. Amongst the companies he is currently involved in is one that does stereoscopic 3D video production. His latest company is involved in the creation of VR Rides.

Hrishi Olickel, speaking about a low-cost alternative to the Oculus Drift

Went to ACS(Independent), graduated in 2012 for IB in the top 1% Currently majoring in Computer Science at Yale-NUS College focusing on Machine Learning and Big Data Founder of the Yale-NUS Hackerspace, hackathon enthusiast

AND…Eugene Soh!Eugene spoke about unconventional uses of VR, including a very special project…

www.dude.sg Eugene Soh is a Singaporean fine artist who happens to be a programming genius. When he isn’t travelling the world, he is at home making apps or creating epic photographic renditions of famous renaissance paintings. Eugene has recently taken a strong interest in harvesting energy from the sun (solar power, because he hates paying bills) and may be moving in that direction.

All of these experiences really increased my knowledge about all of the changes taking place in cinematography. However, having information is not the same as having experience… which is why I am very excited to be involved with a couple of projects with hiverlab… but I will elaborate on these developments in another post…

Singapore: 100 Images (2002-2015) #10

dynamic color composition

Near Lavender Station, 2015

Unlocking With Ears: 3how

Video interview with Stephen Black about 3how to go here.


http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/3how  3how The Riverwalk Session

The first 3how: playing in an office/ laughing when it breaks…


Blue House – “Molemen Army” – Amith Narayan, Dave D’aranjo

the unseen guest – let me in

Unlocking With Ears: Sadato

Video interview with Stephen Black about Sadato to go here.

Sadato Group – Kafesho + Gohon Gahon 7″ (1984) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GpZnrWQ44mA


Sohrab Saadat Ladjevardi aka Sadato interviewed by CNN ASIA in 1998






The Tehran-Dakar Brothers at Zora Art Space (NY) Jan 8, 2011. Performing “Everyday Blues”.


Unlocking With Ears: Faculty Party +

Video interview with Stephen Black about Faculty Party and Steve Pagnotta to go here.




Unlocking With Ears: Stelarc

Video interview with Stephen Black about Stelarc to go here.




Unlocking With Ears: The Mitre

Video interview with Stephen Black about the Mitre Hotel to go here.





Unlocking With Ears: Personal Explosion

2015 SB video interview will go here, very soon.

Don’t Wake Me video by Stephen Black

Assembly Line by Margaret Explosion, video by Stephen Black


Singapore: 100 Images (2002-2015) #9

Singaporean HDB at dawn

HDB: life and death