Right to Know (Book)

Right to Know (Book)

Right to Know – India’s internet avant-garde

During post-production of my first feature documentary, Ocean in a Drop, I began writing, drawing on my journals and the numerous interviews I’d undertaken, what has turned out to be a my first book, Right to Know – India’s internet avantgarde.

Right to Know describes, in part, how Ocean in a Drop came about, then goes on to describe the more nuanced observations on the impact the internet is having on rural and tribal communities in India. It provides a more indepth and personal view of the many stories shared with us, so many more than the film could tell.

The book closes with a series of photographs taken by up-coming photo journalist Mubeen Siddiqui. Mubeen accompanied our crew on every shoot eventually turning his hand to videography.

Designer and then intern at the Digital Empowerment Foundation, Cathy Chen, created a unique layout for the book which, if you’re lucky to find a print version, was printed on hand made elephant dung paper. A PDF/eBook version can be freely downloaded and shared.

Forwards were kindly written by Anriette Esterhuysen (Director of global policy and strategy, Association for Progressive Communications) and Mishi Choudhary (Legal Director, Software Freedom Law Centre).

Right to Know is published by the Digital Empowerment Foundation and the Australia India Institute. It was launched in Delhi on 16 December 2017 by the Australian High Commission in collaboration with the the Australia India Institute and the Digital Empowerment Foundation.

The stories are so vivid…

Associate Professor Rebecca Giblin, Faculty of Law, Monash University

Garton, Andrew, 1962, author
Right to Know: India’s Internet Avant-garde
Issued in print and electronic formats
ISBN 978-81-933164-2-9

Directors Statement

Directors Statement

Director’s Statement – Ocean in a Drop

In 1994 I co-wrote the PAN Asia Report, the first published study on the extent to which a pre-web internet had grown throughout South-east Asia, South Asia and Indo-China. Over three months my co-researchers and I visited universities, telecommunications facilities, news gathering centres and non-government organisations. We were also encouraged to where ever feasible to announce and demonstrate the attributes of the yet to blossom world wide web.

We found that the most publicly accessible of computer networks were cobbled together by former engineers, volunteer coders, human rights workers, environmentalists, labour union organisers and entrepreneurial funders. This saw the emergence of a new breed of activist advocating for public and secure access to information and communication technologies. Their goal was to connect like minded social networks to each other so that their public reach increased.

Twenty years later plans to make a film about the impact the internet is having on rural and tribal communities in India took shape. By January 2015 the first of four shoots was underway. I would find very similar stories, the same challenges and expectations as those I had encountered in 1994, with the same kinds of people organising local and regional networks with like-minded entrepreneurial funders backing their initiatives. Information and communication activists emerged from these rural villages too, enabling access to government initiatives and entitlements via the web, the only means by which much of these resources are now available. There was one major difference though. These were villagers who had leapfrogged radio and television, finding themselves face to face with Google, Wikipedia, Facebook, myriad integrated text messaging services and the world’s vast store of websites.

By the end of 1994, 2,738 websites had appeared online.  By 2015, on arriving in India, 863,105,652 websites and just over one billion videos were available to one and all, including newcomers to the internet. What would India’s rural communities make of all this information and how would they find anything meaningful there? What would be the consequences, the ripple effects within a single person, their friends and families, or an entire village given the sudden appearance of internet connected computers at their disposal?

These were some of the questions I asked throughout Ocean in a Drop and in many ways, not that different to those I had asked in 1994. However, one significant achievement of the internet since is how it has become the largest, most unique, most far-reaching and instantaneous gathering of us ever! It’s in our pockets, alerting us to global and local events the moment they happen.

This is the world – the torrent of it – its wild diversity and uncertainty, its spontaneity, its Wikipedias of the informed and the opinionated. What will India’s internet newcomers make of the world they find there and how will we welcome them?

We visited 14 villages located in nine districts in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar. We travelled across highways reduced to rubble, mud, sand and surfaces, so uneven that large vehicles were seen toppled and abandoned on the roadside. We took trains to get to the furthermost locations, amazed that we could lug cameras, lights, tripods jammed into every available space within our sleeper compartment.

It takes great determination to get to these remote communities and even more to install communication towers, computer centres and the training that follows. We returned with over one hundred interviews – visiting, analysing, filming and experiencing what UNESCO describes as the media dark – regions of the world where little to no information and communication technologies have reached.

In 1963 Nina Simone penned the lyric, I wish you could know what it means to be me. The question I ask now, as we stand on the precipice of catastrophes and miracles the world over; reflecting on all whom I had met in India and the stories we share in Ocean in a Drop, is I wish we could know what it means to be us… and fast?

May you find something of ourselves, our diverse, complicated, beautifully imperfect selves, in our film.

Auslaender Micro

Auslaender Micro

Auslaender Micro

Mark Fedotych is dying. A foreigner in every country, he passes away in a Central European refugee camp, years of restless travel and persecution behind him. But in death, freedom is as allusive as it was in life.

Ausländer Micro – an online spoken word opera, was been designed as an interface through which each of its four acts can be explored. Various forms of navigation were provided. The user encountered numerous combinations of text, graphics and sound.

The opera follows the afterlife of an Eastern European refugee, a foreigner in every country. In a squalid camp, he passes away there. Years of restless travel and ruthless persecution are thought to be laid to rest, but in death, freedom is as allusive as it was in life.

Pre-production commenced in 1995 with the project completed and launched in 1998. It was to be, perhaps the earliest use of Dynamic HTML as layered animation within an interactive interface underscored by a random, pseudo-generative soundscape. It pre-dated Flash.

We used Thomas Dolby’s Beatnik Audio Player (no longer in use) and the SSEYO generative sound plugin (also no longer in use) and code that would pull samples and unrecognisable midi sounds into the interface creating a sense of ever-changing depth. We wanted to create a website that had an immersive quality to it, that would also fit onto a floppy disk.

Ausländer Micro was conceived by Andrew Garton and produced in collaboration with John Power, Bruce Morrison and Justina Curtis at Toy Satellite, Melbourne.

v1.2 was produced with Andrew Sargeant who assisted with the implementation of Flash replacing depricated plugins.

Ausländer Micro v1.2 was produced by Toy Satellite in association with the Australian Film Commission and the Centre for Animation and Interactive Media (Department of Visual Communication, RMIT University).

Credits

Created by Andrew Garton, John Power and Bruce Morrison.

Produced by Toy Satellite in association with the Australian Film Commission and The Centre for Animation and Interactive Media.

Awards

  • Awarded John Bird Award of Excellence in an Online Production.
  • Nominated for an ATOM Interactive Media Award.
Lagerstraße

Lagerstraße

Lagerstraße

 

A documentary radio drama set in a former displaced persons camp in Austria. Stories from Lagerstraße, Spittal, are interwoven with a short fiction written by Elena Garton (1903 – 1972), a former resident of the camp and Andrew’s grandmother. Elena was born in the city of Sevastopol in the former Crimea. A white Russian Elena was herself a refugee of the Russian revolution before she and her two sons became displaced persons during and after WW2. Lagerstraße contrasts the vast cultural diversity that spread across Europe during and after WW2 against that of present times and the conflicted response to displaced persons today.

 

Background

Lagerstraße (or Lagerstrasse) has its origins in Andrew’s Master of Arts project, an outcome of which was Auslander Micro (see showreel), the earliest web interactive to employ scripted multi-layered animated dynamic HTML with an algorithmically driven soundscape. Work on Auslander Micro began in 1995 and completed in 1998. It had itself emerged from Andrew’s spoken word opera, Auslaender und Staatenlose.

Lagerstrasse picks up where both prior projects left off, completing in full Andrew’s original vision of a multi-tiered work blending spoken word narrative, field recordings, interviews, soundscapes, music and historical fiction.

Note works such as Auslander Micro may no longer function as they did in 1998. Sound files from the Master’s project are no longer accessible due to the RealAudio format no longer being supported.

Photos from the  Stadtarchiv.

Sample sound works and compositions

Status: In development.

For more information contact Andrew Garton.

Ocean in a Drop soundtrack

Ocean in a Drop soundtrack

Ocean in a Drop - Soundtrack

Music, field recordings and soundscapes from the documentary Ocean in a Drop filmed in fourteen villages located in nine districts across the Indian states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar.

Ocean in a Drop includes music performed on bhapang, or talking drum. The bhapang has been played and taught across 20 or more generations of the Khan family who originate from Alwar, Rajasthan.

The album also includes a selection of live recordings of desert musicians from Rajasthan courtesy of the musicians. Recorded by Shweta Rao courtesy of Khamayati.

Fifty percent of proceeds from the sale of this album will go towards ongoing support for rural and tribal musicians in India through the Khamayati project, an initiative of the School for Democracy in India and the New Delhi-based Digital Empowerment Foundation.

The remaining 50%, after hosting fees and PayPal charges, will go towards the completion of Andrew Garton’s film, Forged from Fire – the making of the Blacksmiths’ Tree.

Credits

  • Curated and Produced by Andrew Garton
  • Rajasthan field recordings by Shweta Rao
  • Soundscapes and atmos recorded by Andrew Garton