City of Perpetual Moonlight
An Interactive Documentary Exploring the History and Contemporary Experience of the Moonlight Towers of Austin, Texas
This is an experiment in the mapping of perception, a collective geography of the seen and unseen. Employing database documentary as a medium, the City of Perpetual Moonlight serves as an ode to vestigial illumination, to aged urban towers that brighten the skies of Austin, Texas. It is less about what these towers are than what they evoke. It is a mediation of the imaginary, in the present with a reverence for the past. An amalgamation of interactivity, visual media, and sound design, this project serves to celebrate lights with a purpose that is no longer relevant, acknowledging the quiet meaning(ful) and (less) splendor. Seen below is the opening page of the project. Lights are placed where moonlight towers are located. When the mouse hovers over the location, exerted audio is played from street interviews about what the average passerby sees when they look at the towers:
In 1895 The Austin Daily Statesman explains that the city’s hilly terrain, crisscrossed by unpaved lanes, had citizens “groping around in that utter darkness that threatened the life and safety of all.” A representative of the Fort Wayne Electric Company suggested Moonlight Towers. They guaranteed that on the darkest night, a person with normal eyesight could read a pocket watch at a distance of 1,500 feet in any direction from each tower. The city traded a railroad built to carry granite to the Colorado River for 31 towers and on May 6, 1895 the towers were lighted and Austin became, “The City of Perpetual Moonlight.” The story of these towers is intertwined with a series of murders that took place. On this page, users click each servant girl and hear her name and the day she died:
As soon as the servant girls pictured above say their names, they disappear from the screen, revealing text to continue the story. This provides an example of how interactive interfaces can be used to tell stories that engage the participant. Another example explores how just before the towers were installed, there was an uproar amongst Austinites who were concerned that with 24 hours of daylight, gardens would not stop growing and hens would not stop laying eggs. On this page, the user has to click each fruit, vegetable, or egg, to keep reading the story:
Fast forward to the year 2011. Urban development is at an all time high and residents say each time they look at the skyline it seems to be inching across the horizon. Austin is no longer a city devoid of light. As most urban areas it has a glow that can be seen from many miles away in the hill country. There are streetlights and commercial lights, a proliferation of neon signs and stadium brilliance. We are no longer groping about feebly in the dark. And yet, the moonlight towers remain. Many residents do not know they exist. Their light is no longer so (comparatively) brilliant. Although they are the only towers of their kind left in use in the world, the gaze that falls upon them is distracted, seeking elsewhere to land. To those that recognize them, they are symbols of another time, another simpler and darker moment. The City of Perpetual Moonlight offers multimedia cadence in the form of an interactive documentary to what is both meaningful and meaningless about these quiet towers.
Project is flash-based and integrates video, images, graphics, and sound to explore history of these unique towers as well as how they are perceived today.
Many thanks to programming mastermind Simon Quiroz for his help with this project.