John Vallier is Head of Distributed Media Studies and an affiliate assistant professor of Ethnomusicology at the University of Washington.
What is your lab called and where is it?
It’s called Media Arcade (aka mediArcade) and is located in Suzzallo-Allen Library at the University of Washington, Seattle. We landed on “arcade” for a few reasons:
– it provides access to a number of gaming consoles;
– we wanted to draw undergrads into the space (they were primarily the ones who paid for it), so we aimed to make it sound “fun”;
– it’s closed to the public, so it is not a commons;
– we already have a Media Center, which houses our main video collection;
– it’s a roundabout reference to Benjamin’s The Arcades Project.
What sorts of projects and activities form the core of your work? Is there a specific temporal or technological focus for your lab?
Our Arcade was born out of the following UW community needs:
– equipment to access our audio/video/film collections, which come on a variety of contemporary and legacy formats, including DVD (all regions), Blu-ray (all regions), VHS (NTSC/PAL/SECAM), laser disc, MiniDV, various video game formats, vinyl (33/45/78), cassette (compact and micro), digital files, etc.
– hardware/software to remix content for the creation of new works;
– a disciplinary agnostic space where students/staff/faculty can meet to work on media-related projects;
– equipment and expertise to help with the digital conversion and preservation of analog media.
Who uses the lab? Is it a space for students, for researchers, for seminars?
Because of the original funding source (students), the Arcade is primarily for UW students, though UW staff and faculty can use it too. It’s not a huge space, but faculty do hold seminars in there from time to time.
What sorts of knowledge does the lab produce and how is it circulated?
I like to think of the Arcade as reanimating knowledge, as in preserving and reformatting vintage media for use/criticism by today’s students, instructors and researchers. We also support UW curriculum directly by providing access to video reserve materials for a range of courses. Copyright and fair use, in particular, are popular topics of discussion.
Tell us about your infrastructure. Do you have a designated space and how does that work?
We have a single room on the 3rd floor the library. It has three external walls and, being Seattle, a lot of trees around. More about our equipment can be found on our website.
What kind of financial support does the lab receive?
UW students tax themselves via a “Tech Fee.” UW faculty and staff apply for those funds, which is what I successfully did for the Arcade. Our Mother org–the Libraries–has provided much additional support by way of a room, staffing, and funds for additional equipment, furniture and supplies.
What are your major theoretical touchstones?
While I think of the Arcade, and the Libraries as a whole, as disciplinary agnostic, the Arcade allies itself with such subjects and areas of study as Critical Gaming Studies, Information School, Music, Ethnomusicology, Cinema and Media Studies, American Ethnic Studies, Cultural Anthropology, Comparative History of Ideas, Gender/Women/Sexuality Studies, and the like. I’m particularly interested Remix Studies and how the Arcade can play an role in helping re-envision traditional/Romantic notions of authorship while technically/ethically/legally supporting the creation of new works from existing ones.
What would you say is the lab’s most significant accomplishment to date?
We’ve helped students digitize videos of unique Chomsky lectures, home movies showing long lost loved ones, audio postcards from Vietnam Vets, videos documenting human rights atrocities, and archival reel to reel recordings (music and spoken word). We’ve also helped students compose new music, access their video course materials, and just commune with one another after Finals by way of Smash Bros. In short, I can’t claim one accomplishment or project that stands out above the rest.
Could you briefly describe your plans for the lab over the next 3-5 years?
I aim to keep it open, as well as offer drop-in courses on the services and hardware/software we provide access to.
What makes your lab a lab?
The most lab-like aspect of our Arcade is probably the preservation and reformatting equipment/expertise we provide. In just about all other ways it’s decidedly un-lab like (though pocket protectors and safety goggles are welcome).