Digitized audiovisual collocations can be accessed in new ways, many of them so far unknown or not yet explored. The Sensory Moving Image Archive (SEMIA) is a collaborative project of the University of Amsterdam (UvA) and the School of advanced Education of Amsterdam (HvA) where a number of these new ways are explored, starting from sensual data of the heritage materials (colour, shape, movement) instead of descriptive metadata. The project’s aim is making collections “accessible and stimulating various kinds of reuse” (project website).

At the end of February, the project was invited to a two-day conference where diverse sensual approaches to digitized audiovisual collections were presented, including the Sensory Moving Image Archive interface prototype that helps to visualize digitized audiovisual collections according to sensual features of the material. Presenters of the SEMIA interface and other comparable projects such as the Deep-learning Tools for the Visualization of Film Corpora created by Barbara Flückinger and her team at the University of Zürich, demonstrated that new dimensions of the material and ‘surprising connections’ between items in a collection can be detected.

One of the most ambitious and intriguing projects presented during the conference was BBC R&D and BBC Four’s attempt to develop an algorithm that compiles a live broadcast drawing on digitized sources from BBC’s immense archival holdings.  As George Wright, head of Internet Research and Future Services at BBC R&D, explained, the project combines artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to identify relevant content and compile it live to a meaningful broadcast. BBC Four so far went live two times to test and showcase the tool. The fragments Wright presented during the conference engaged the public more in guessing what connections the algorithm sees in the compiled materials, and when and why it decides to switch to the next source. In the current version, the tool might help editors to select material, while sequencing and montage seam still to need human expertize and supervision. However, the footage presented again ‘surprising connections’, a well used term during the conference legitimizing the so far less explored approaches to archival collections.

Another interesting way of investigating archives, this time from the public side, was Studio Louter’s installation The Movie Mirror, a program designed to explore the archive of the EYE Film Museum in a new way – through the body. The user poses in front of the camera and then is shown a film from EYE’s archive that matches the movement. This way of exploring the archive keyed into one of the main questions raised at the SEMIA symposium: how do you make the archive not only accessible, but desirable? What would drive the public to be interested in the less obvious corners of the archives? The presentations at SEMIA explore the potentials of the senses to let the archive “surface.”

This raised interesting questions for us as the CADEAH project continues – how are archives used by those that use them? What are the methods of searching and finding, of exploring and investigating, that remix artists (both professional and amateur) utilize in order to make something of the archives? This presents us with a new angle of investigation in the months to come.

Thank you for SEMIA for the interesting symposium.