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ELC Review 2- Urbanalities

Urbanalities is a non-interactive piece of electronic literature depicting the nature of urban life. Authors Babel and Escha take an antagonistic view which touches on major issues of urbanization including, discrimination, stresses of everyday living, life on the streets, loose morals, and consumerism. Each of these issues is poetically illustrated throughout eight separate scenes that are just absorbed as would a movie or television show. Urbanalities is set up like a comic strip with the addition of movement and sound. It makes you think twice about the developed world.

Urbanalities is an engaging piece from start to finish. It’s made appealing through the use of bold colours and images as well as a soundtrack that is appropriate and ties in seamlessly with the piece. Each scene describes a different issue, and with that a different vibe that many urban dwellers can relate to or have witnessed. Unlike many of the other non-interactive pieces of the ELC1, Urbanalities is easy enough to understand and successfully maintains the attention of the viewer.

Along with the positive aspects of urbanization, come many downfalls which are highlighted in this piece using the bold colours, images and sound mentioned above. It forces the individual to re-access their own life with regards to the major downfalls and raises questions such as “Am I contributing to these problems?” and “What can I do to stop this?”. After engaging in this piece, the viewer feels encouraged to slow down and not get caught up in all these pitfalls of urban life.

Urbanalities is well put together, bold, clear and memorable. When compared to man of the other pieces, Urbanalities gets its’ message across clear to the viewer. It seems professionally put together and is therefore more interesting to the viewer. The print moves quickly but it repeats to connect the idea. Another great feature of the piece is the bar at the top of the screen which allows the viewer to backtrack at their own discretion. The only issue that the viewer may have with this piece is that it’s quite lengthy, and with no pause button their attention needs to remain on the screen for the full ten minutes.

Overall this is a very entertaining piece of electronic literature. The authors’ antagonistic views on urban living come across in a very engaging medium. It’s not very often that we as a society are forced to sit back and really contemplate how we live. Urbanalities effectively embodies the problems of modern, urban society in a bold, entertaining and thought-provoking format which keeps the viewer engaged from beginning to end.


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Review – Urbanalities: Anything but Banal

Review of Urbanalities: Anything but Banal
Sophia M.

Described by its creators as “a short story-poem-comic strip-musical, with randomly generated text” “Urbanalities” is a 10 minute generative Flash piece created by writer-artist-composer collaborative duo babel and escha that depicts the opposites, dualities, ambitions and contradictions of contemporary life.

Divided into seven segments that can be viewed consecutively or individually (accessed by a drop-down menu that appears along the top of the screen), each of the “moments” of “Urbanalities” combine randomized text and images with music and animation to create scenes that range from the changing hours on a clock, to rolling assembly lines, to a swimming sperm, to the selection of a target through the sights of a gun. The work draws much of its visual elements from dualities and pairs, as well as the iconography of urbanized life, using images of city skylines, streetlights and bustling crowds. Classic opposites such as male/female and creation/destruction are paired with observations on hope, understanding, hopelessness and miscommunication to create scenes like the melancholic third segment, where a female face appears on a clock along with phrases such as “no time for love”, “anywhere but here”, “out of time”, “time for no love” and “sigh”, or the seventh segment, where a sperm swims through a sea of contraceptives, pushing words like “boastful”, “destructive” and “violent” through bubbles of “male sterilization”, “safe sex” ands “extended pill”.

Authors/artists/composers/creators babel and escha describe “Urbanalities” as a “mash-up of Dadaist technique and VJ stylings.” The breadth of this description makes the piece difficult to classify, and it is listed under no less than ten tags on the Electronic Literature Collection website, with classifications ranging from “animation/kinetic”, “audio”, “music” and “visual poetry.” However, what makes “Urbanalities” special is its generative quality. The randomly assembled text and images of each segment create a unique, unrepeatable reading experience that is slightly different every time the piece of accessed, successfully recreating the multi-faceted unrepeatable cacophony of urban life. However, the same generative quality that makes “Urbanalities” a success is also part of the work’s biggest weakness: due to the limited vocabulary of each segment, certain phrases can become stale and repetitious. While the words selected by babel and escha are quirky, enigmatic and often assemble in surprisingly profound ways, with too few words to draw from, the randomized quality of the text quickly becomes less and less random. This predictability means that what first appears to be witty or insightful can become marginal and dull by its fifth or sixth appearance on screen.

Unpredictable and unrepeatable, “Urbanalities” is a quirky-yet-profound piece that offers a variety of views into the quiet and chaos of contemporary life. Though the piece is visually engaging and has a strong soundtrack, the work is limited by its vocabulary, and suffers from moments of repetition. However, as a commentary on the existential mêlée of contemporary life, “Urbanalities” is a success, the generative nature of the work creating a constantly shifting, unrepeatable audio-visual experience.


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