Saturday, August 28, 2010

dispositif / mise en scène V

On the last day of the workshop (Saturday), the group decided to end with a showing of all 12 short works (in progress) that members of the ensemble had worked on over the past few days.
For the record, we shall list the performance-installations and the names of creation teams here so that visitors to this web archive can imagine the productive effort that led to this wonderful culmination of the week-long process. After listing the installations, we shall continue to reflect on the particular arrangement/dispositif chosen by the artists to present their work and invite performers or audience to act inside it.
(meeting of the "screen movers" before final showing)

Live.Media + Performance installations:

1. "Tiling Performance," interactional performance by Ian Winters
2. "The Table," interactional performance by Jennifer Woodin and Tommy deFrantz
3. "Lying Bodies/Outside in," interactive installation by Joff Chafer
4. "Memory Table," interactive installation by Ian Winters
5. "Bubble Playground," interactive installation by Byul Shin, sound by Victoria Gibson
6. "UN-SU," performance by Victor Zappi
7. "Truth Is," interactional performance by Sara Kraft (with video programming by Ian Winters and sound programming by Victor Zappi)
8. "Poppy", architectural projection performance by Emily Putoff, with dance by James Cunningham and Tommy deFrantz, and six screen movers, and sound by Victor Zappi
9. "Grid", interactional performance installation by Sarah Dahnke, with James Cunningham, Suzon Fuks, Julia Alsarraf,
10. "Dotted Landscape," interactional performance installation by Wendy Chu, with James Cunningham, Julia Alsarraf, Sara Kraft, Sarah Dahnke, Victor Zappi
11. "Tripod dance," performance by James Cunningham (with Suzon Fuks)
12. ""Bandwidth," visual music piece by Victoria Gibson

After the showing, a group discussion which lasted over 90 minutes completed the evening. During the discussion, everyone was invited to comment on the works presented and offer insights into their experience and reaction of the arrangement, form, and content.

. . . . . .

VI. Sensing the tracking/performing installations

Continuing the previous chapter on "Platform Proprioception," one could point out that in rehearsals for Sara Kraft's "Truth Is," it was noticeable that the creators wanted to achieve an interactional scenario in which the performer (or the visitor invited into the installation) had to sense the "fields" on the floor (tracked by the overhead camera) which allowed the system to respond to movements on the fields. The camera tracking system senses the mover on the floor. The program was written in such a way that the person moving on the field could activate sounds (the spoken text by Sarah which dealt with relationships of trust or love and disappointment) as well as affect the projected text passages that were visible in the spatial environment.
(Sara Kraft rehearsing inside her installation "Truth Is")

This often led to a behavior – in rehearsal – where much of the attention of the performer was directed at the system behavior and its recognition of movement inside the parameters. While this is clearly a necessary proposition for the interface, namely that the mover "activates" the system responsivity, it also leads to a tentativeness that directs the focus at recognition/positioning and not at expression or experience, performance or motivated action. Contrary to what James Cunningham experienced when he performed inside the dotted landscape and the choreographic exercise on Friday morning (inner focus), and what Kazuo Ohno's butoh dance implies – namely that the dancer's entire body becomes a receptor organ for light and the eyes are no longer the only visual link with the exterior world but the whole body assimilates the immediate surroundings – Sara's rehearsal showed her to have an outer focus trying to "find" and cross between the sensitive spots in the programming/mapping environment. This is clearly a disadvantage if one were to think of the interface performance in theatrical/dramatic or choreographic ways, as the one to one mapping tends to work only as a trigger space. Reactive system behavior (changes in sound and in projected words) is elicited, and the action in the environment becomes focussed on eliciting rather than sensorial experience, or emotional experience, performed as a story of the body experienced "truly" in the physical, spatial environment. Or a woman's body performing a story about "Truth Is" (her narrative) and what the uncertainty or ambivalence or truth/perception might be or not be, might have been or not have been – the tenporal disconnect crucial here as the performance is live but the written words and spoken words are recorded, data, remembrances, echoes and associations. Words and meanings change, their semantic affect on consciousness unstable.

Sara Kraft's environment is potentially rich and complex, since it houses a personal narrative, but in the rehearsal, as well as in the final showing of the interactional installation, the performer's movement itself seemed kinaesthetically or psychologically unrelated to the story or the fragmented narrative, from a representational point of view but also from a sensorial/experiential point of view if indeed such an installation could open up a terrain for contact improvisation or inner-directed immersive experience of self (and Rosalind Krauss, many years ago in 1976, spoke of an inherent narcisssism in such self-presentational [video] work).

One conclusion that could be drawn is that interactive systems that house active-reactive (stimulus-response) behaviors are stuck in a parameterized constellation which does not allow generative evolution of performance expression but offers mostly a constraint, a tightening of the options. I will compare this to the haunting, poetic evocation of the "lying bodies" on a projected grassy plot in Joff Chafer's "Outside In," further below, but first want to mention Elin Manning's critique in her recently published book, Relationscapes: Movement, Art, Philosophy (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2009), quoting from her chapter on "Dancing the Technogenetic Body" (and she in fact refers to Mark Coniglio in this context):

>>Explorations of new technologies and dance, led by Mark Coniglio, Scott deLahunta, Antonio Camurri, and others, have often focused on the difficulty of locating gesture-as-such. One key to developing sensitive software is understanding – and embedding into the software program – what a gesture is. In a 2006 paper, Scott deLahunta suggests that the best way of coming to an understanding of gesturality is to work collaboratively with dancers such that “the choreographic and computational processes are both informed by having arrived at this shared understanding of the constitution of movement.” A similar tendency is expressed by Mark Coniglio when he suggests that live performance work must “delve beyond direct mapping and the metaphor of a musical instrument; to building systems that could better sense qualities of movement; to represent something of the ‘gestalt’ of movement.”

An engagement with technology and dance demands an encounter with the syntax of the moving body. For the practitioners of dance and technology, the exploration of movement is intrinsically related to how to locate where a movement begins and ends in order to map its coordinate within a sensitive system. Yet the questions “What is a gesture?” and “How can the computer recognize one?” may not actually lead into the direction proposed by Coniglio and deLahunta. Rather, it may direct the techno-dance process toward establishing a kind of grammar of movement that would – paradoxically – be more likely to tie the body to some preestablished understanding of how it actualizes. “Mapping” gesture risks breaking movement into bits of assimilable data, replicating the very conformity the computer-dancer interface is seeking to get beyond. Instead of attempting to map gesture, this chapter therefore begins somewhere else. It explores the potential of the wholeness of movement, including its “unmappable” virtuality. The unmappable – within a computer software program – is the aspect of movement I call preacceleration, a tendency toward movement through which a displacement takes form. (pp. 61-62)>>

This "wholeness of movement" is constrained by platforms that need eliciting, as I pointed out above, and we might need to agree with Manning that pre-mapped environments always contain a limiting structure that hinders the kind of unfolding we saw in James's dances or in James and Tommy's duet in "Poppy," however much that installation revolved around the strange shifting and moving of the spatial architecture and the changing light (a programmed sequence of swirling light particles in different colors) - there the dancers' movements evolved and flowed without that their gestures needed to activate a response: the movement itself was not dependent on the system’s prosthetic apparatus or its emphasis on subjecting the dancing body to its predefined parameters, and therefore the performers' attention was less drawn to the workings of the system, but rather to their movements' qualities and the changes they experienced as the "walls" started to move.

("Poppy" installation by Emily Putoff, with Tommy de Frantz & James Cunningham)

In their confined space of "Poppy," the two dancers created a duet between themselves and the moving screens and their materialities (the paper that prolonged the vertical screen surfaces down to the floor), sensing and dancing with their immediate surroundings. Since this was a highly plastic, moveable environment, how do we perceive such a dance or such a physical-spatial performance?

In more general terms, the question was raised in the post show discussion how "performance" articulates itself in an interactive installation and how one can distinguish at all between installation and performance? Are there performative installations, and is the visitor in need of "instructions" on how to behave/perform inside the dispositif? Do such dispositifs require prior knowledge of the system operations or can they be experienced intuitively, and if the latter is the case, do we consider all behaviors as performance? If rules or properties of the system are given, and if it were a one-on-one encounter (between a visitor and an installation), would we still think of performance even if there was no audience?

In the case of "Outside In," the projected environment also had plastic potentialities, the green of the projected (synthetic, unreal-looking) meadow slowly becoming spotted with dark shadows growing into recognizable images of persons lying on the grass. This installation was utterly silent, there was not a sound. We held our breath and took in the landscape, noting the slowly emerging lying bodies, or rather, images of bodies. We realized we could walk on, and gradually, some of us did, walking about, as if we were the kind of "flaneurs" Walter Benjamin described in his Passagenwerk (his study of 19th century Parisian urban life), we meandered on the meadow, noticing the dark shadows that would become lying bodies, images of persons that may have been buried here or lying here, spectres from a past moment, beckoning us, and as we moved closer, some moved as if to invite us or as if frightened by our intrusive presence. Some of us would sit down, or lie down next to the ghosts, which gradually faded away, but over there, in some other spot, another image-person appeared and this continued for a while. There was a deafening silence, and the unreal looking meadow held our attention, as we moved about, until one image-person began to slowly spin, turn and turn, and then a woman stepped near the disappearing shadow and dance a dance of a whirling dervish, faster and faster, then slowing down, as the meadow grew dark and faded away, slowing giving rise to a field of many hundreds of leaves.

The aura of this landscape was fascinating, and left many of us breathless. I want to add a few comments regarding leaves from a conversation between Doros Polydorou and Michèle Danjoux, collaborators of mine who were involved in creating a scene for a recent choreographic installation, UKIYO, produced by my ensemble after a workshop in Tokyo, Japan. There we found the real leaves which were then worn by a dancer (on a dress made of leaves) in an interactive scene with a 3D graphic landscape that allowed the dancer to affect elements inside the virtual world. In other words, the commentaries concern the nature of the interactive relationship with the virtual images. Doros suggests:

"As far as the nature scene is concerned, the scene started forming in my
mind in Japan after Michèle and Katsura brought in the leaves. I originally
brought from Singapore a scene with the hanamichis, and then
in one day I constructed that very simple island with the grass, trees
and leaves. I had a look at the work from the first version of Ukiyo, the videos and images, and the idea that I had in my head, was a floating island, a beautiful place
which contradicted the industrial feeling and aesthetics of the rest of the
performance. A place where one would go to escape from that reality, and I
wanted it to form from the dancer's, from Katsuras imagination. The dress leaf was an extension
to her, and I wanted that extension to continue and slowly paint the island
as well." (email 08/01/2010)

Michèle responds: "This is really interesting, to read how your thoughts are / have been emerging in terms of the collaborative work and your specific contribution.

Just a couple of points at this stage from me which are simply in direct response to what you say:

>>The dress leaf was an extension
to her, and I wanted that extension to continue and slowly paint the island
as well.>> This is such a beautiful way of viewing the clothed body, and yes, clothes are an extension of the body.
And I like the way you then expand this extension outward to the virtual realm of your island / Katsura's island.
Who's island is it actually? Who's island does it become?

The slow painting is very poetic and seductive, the body and the technology are inseparable, Katsura takes on a sensual
and almost erotic manner as she performs the dance of creation.

Then you suggest
>>In order to be
meaningful though the relationship must be clear, like for example the
dancers following and "learning" moves from the virtual counterparts or vice
versa. When we are projecting a non-interactive piece the performers must
consciously adapt their choreography (which was either pre-choreographed) or
improvise in order to create a relationship with what they see. In theory,
by having an interactive system in place, the performers can dance freely
and the virtual counterpart will "monitor" their actions and act
accordingly. >>

I think there is still some 'learning' for the dancer to do when working with interactive systems, no?
By this, I mean that there is both automatic and controlled processing. The latter requires conscious effort
as with most learning processes. I consider after watching Katsura work in Ukiyo 2 and also Helenna and Katsura from Suna
no Onna that the application starts with controlled processing and moves to become automatic. This idea of the 'controlled' and the 'automatic'
could be interesting for you.

Anyway, you are hopefully through your systems of interaction and your visual / sonically enhanced worlds emotionally hooking the performer
(and viewer?) and transforming experience.

I am glad the gathering of leaves back in December in Tokyo proved so inspirational to you."(email 08/25/2010).

In this subtle reply, which also relates to her own motion design of the wearable garments, Michèle draws attention to the vexing question underlying the programming of the scene and the perceivability of a plastic, moveable, changeable 3d (projected) world, just as in the case of Joff's "Outside In. It is a question about relationships, and becoming. The "patchmaker", as Suzon non-chalantly calls the programmer, is of course vexed by the question of the performability of a virtual world, and whether a directional or indirect interaction can be perceived by the observer or the immersant. Doros assumes that this is a key problem, and doubts whether the
performer - virtual-environment-interactions can work and produce something interesting
without invoking immersion. And if immersion is achieved, will the feeling
of agency produced to the performer be interesting to the audience?

He was
doing some reading recently on gaming, he adds, and was suprised to find a number of
people who actually like watching their friends play games. He then proposes that we might need to investigate a
bit further, as we build interactive platforms, and try to identify what feelings produces this liking,
or whether there actually can be an audience in interactive installations - a question Ian Winters seriously raised in the post show discussion. Why would there be any one watching? Should there be anyone watching? is the experience, for example of "Outside In," relevant to anyone not actually meandering into the landscape and meeting the spectres of the persons? Would an audience care?

Whose island is it? whose meadow is it and how do we walk into it? Is it a joyfully inviting "playground" (no instructions necessary), as in the case of Byul's "Bubble Playground"? Or is it a seemingly rule-based grid environment (Sarah Dahnke's "Grid") that tends to challenge the visitor and give her level up feedback or die down punishment? How free do our general audiences (in galleries and museums) feel when they realize they are asked to move, do, act, follow, explore, engage, etc? Someone mentioned in the post show discussion that an installation like Ian's "Memory Table" did not present a problem for our extroverted lab members to get down to it and play hard, since many in our group are used to performing, but how would such an installation work for the shy, the inhibited? the observers? If no one sat down and engaged the table and the objects lying on it, there would be nothing to observe as the system would not capture any input and have nothing to filter and re-disseminate. Thus installations like "Outside In" and others only really attain their collective sensoriality or animate character once people step inside and begin to behave in some manner that brings about relationships, imagined or otherwise.

If no one stepped inside Joff's "Outside in" the installation would "run" silently – the course of its programmed "actors" (in the Isadora patch). It would be idling, as i think it is called in games or in Second Life when the avatar hangs there, occasionally twitching and waiting to be activated. Once visitors step inside, relationships emerge in-between. In between the person responding to the image-environment or movements inside the projected environment, and the images responding to the mover's presence and action. Is this what we tend to think of as an interactive relationship (between agent and animation, visitor and sound-image?), and how conscious (in a mutual sense) is this relationship. Or we can ask the question differently, from a dance perspective (connected to the art of animation): how does movement happen and how is it perceived, how is the movement of the image happening and changing and how does this affect our own movement relationship?

(Leaves falling onto the whirling Sarah Dahnke on Joff' Chafer's "Lying Bodies/Outside In" projection-meadow; Saturday morning rehearsal, August 21, 2010. The real falling leaves could not be repeated in the evening due to security protocol. (c) J Birringer)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Saturday Timelapse

Didn't start recording until 2pm cause I was using my laptop away from my station at the back where I put the webcam.
Then Suzon got gawker going on her laptop and the timelapse was back in progress. It's split over 3 parts




Saturday, August 21, 2010

dispositif / mise en scène IV

V Platform Proprioception

As we reach the end of the week of our workshop, we are energized by our regular morning physical sessions. Today (Saturday), Wendy opened the warm up with everyone lying on the tracking floor and closing their eyes, sensing everyone's presence and one's own connectedness to space and others through sensitivity to the sound we are making. In the second part of the warn up, Sarah Kraft directed us to begin sensing space and persons in space through focus exercises that shifted attention from a focal point in space to a more peripheral vision and sensing to a wider proprioceptive awareness of everything around us - envisioning the total environment almost like a holographic volumen.

Looking at this image, you see the dancer (James C.) testing the follower behavior of the blob actor (in Isadora), which is programmed to process/manipulate projected text and also sound samples (of recorded spoken words); in the center of the floor you can see the downward view of the camera tracking the figure in space.

Starting from the Live.Media+Performance lab, and the experience I have had observing the experiments of the various project groups during the week, I want to look at the performance behavior of the individual artists working (rehearsing) inside the interactive platform environments.

Another approach, of course, would be to look at the programming environment and analyse the tracking behavior (machine vision) and communications between "actors" in the Isadora patches, to gain a better understanding of how the coding is conceived and what protocols or parameters and filters are used.

Almost all the prototypes under development this week had a modus of real-time interaction in place (in the patch programming), so that tracking information coming into the computer was continuously measured and processed by the patch actors (in Isadora).
In this image, you see the dancers in space, on the tracking field, observing the downward camera vision on the large upstage/backscreen on the northside of the studio. The studio projection set up included three fixed projector positions; first, from back of house to the large screen you see in the picture; second, from the right side to the left side, and third, from the ceiling grid down to the floor ground. Several roving projectors were used at times for throwing images onto the smaller flexible/moving screens. In other words, in the lab studio environment, projections could be positioned from virtually any position that was desired.
Here is a picture of the same prototype (Sara Kraft's "Truth Is") under development, without that the camera vision window is open.

The team programmed a projective landscape that showed white squares and the words on the floor, while the blob actor becomes visible as a faint round spot that tracks/follows the person that enters the space (the camera "sees" the stage under infra red light: we hung four lighting instruments, the infrared lighting for the overhead camera allows the stage to be bathed in invisible light which does not interfere with the video or graphic image projection onto the white floorscape).

To show the perspective of the programming, here is a screenshot of the Isadora patch for Joff Chafer's Lying Bodies/Outside In installation:

Perhaps the still image is hard to read on the blog, but at least you can see the arrangements and connections between the various actors and "projectors". The patch is visible only on the laptops or main computer used by the programmer, while to the environment ("stage") the software sends out the visual outputs. In our lab we often used more than one projector (using Matrox Triple Head to Go), and the various projections can then be distributed by the software to the "stages" (Stage 1, Stage 2, Stage 3, etc).

The issues we now face revolve around the interconnected composition/design process of developing the physical performance or participation with the system, while continuing to improve the response behavior of the system, which in many cases depends on the presence of performers in the platform. The performers or participants, on the other hand, need to learn to "play the instrument," so to speak, find out and perceive, intuit and sense, the response behavior of the system.

The participants of the lab have been working on eleven small experimental live media performances, some requiring performers with a task-based or game-based or choreographic motivation, other are installations that invite the visitor into the system environment and leaving it to her/him to explore the situation that has been prepared. For the interaction between performer/participant and the system to work and be satisfying, there needs to be a perceptional process initiated: the performer who acts inside the platform environment needs to "test" or explore the system behavior as well as her/his proprioceptive and kinetic awareness of the live media with which action is enacted.

Taking as an example the "Smush-grid" installation by Sarah Dahnke (which is presented tonite along with Wendy Chu's dotted landscape installation), you see in the photograph how the participant users are examining the unstable behavior of the system. They were told the "rules" when entering: balance yourself and move on the white lines of the grid, as if you were a tightrope walker. If you stay on the white lines, you are safe, if you step into the darker areas, you fall and need to go down to the floor for some seconds and be still. The grid has a behavior, it is either stable or is suddenly warps. When it warps, it will "throw off" the walkers in the labyrinth. The moment of the warp is triggered by the tracking machine. The whole landscape changes, and the participant needs to react instantaneously if partaking of the game challenge.

This change in the grid environment has interesting psychological effects on our perception, as the projected outlines of the gridded landspaces warp and fold, almost as if the unfolding/folding changes are "cuts" in a dream (I think there is an amazing dream sequence of this kind in the new film by Christopher Nolan, "Inception"), and your mind/body is trying to adjust to or anticipate the sudden changes. One tries to balance and hold on to a sense of reality or stability, which is undermined by the digital serendipity. In Wendy's dotted lanscape, the grid becomes mass of starry nightscape swirling about like swarms of stars. Here the action is enacted by a dancer (James) and a musician (Julia) who move in this starry landcsape and respond to its character. When the environment was performed, we could not always see the human actors as the space is rather dark, only one side light offering a corridor of light, and the most astonishing moment happened when James, at one instant, suddenly appears (his face) in the bright beam of light.

This moment stands out and yet it is part of the whole experience of "feeling" the sensory environment that is in constant movement, so to speak, through the swarm of dots. It would be interesting now to ask the dancer how he negotiated the space, and how his proprioceptive sensory experience motivated his movement behavior. In a discussion earlier in the week, James argued that he is mostly following an inner focus and attention, not needing to look at the space, and it it is this immersive experience that a number of our exhibitions tried to create. It propose an experience where you see/feel with the entire body and sensorial organism, not merely with eyes.

I will end this section by referring to Kazuo Ohno & Yoshito Ohno, Kazuo Ohno’s World from without and within, trans. John Barrett (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2004), a fascinating book by the late butoh master from Japan. In a section titled "The Eye," Ohno suggests to look without looking. Yoshito expands:

We, as performers, need to give careful consideration to how the eye and body interact. It’s essential to grasp where exactly the eye is located and how it functions. Moreover, there are things that cannot be seen with the eyes. For a butoh dancer, the entire body must become a receptor organ for light. By this, I mean that the eyes are not our sole visual link with the exterior world. The entire body, from head to foot, is capable of visually assimilating our immediate surroundings. In a performing context, Kazuo’s eyes don't, in fact, look at things in a conventional sense of looking out on one’s immediate surroundings; his gaze is also fastened on what is happening inside the body.

At the workshops, Kazuo repeatedly stresses the necessity to start looking with the underside of the foot. He wants us to arrive at a stage where we can see with our feet. The eyes, in his estimation, should be able to migrate throughout the body, thus enabling what one might call a fine tuning of our perception of both outer and inner worlds. Onstage, Kazuo’s eyes, while continuing to focus on his surroundings, pass down through the body and cling tightly to the soles of his feet. By attaching themselves to the feet, their gaze becomes more penetrating, for the body itself then begins to respond to external stimuli. Kazuo insists that one shouldn’t rely entirely on the eyes to see because their ability to penetrate the visual field – even when making accommodation for focussing on nearby objects – is negligible when compared with the visual acuity of the body. In his own words: “It’s impossible for me to dance if I continue to look at things in my habitual way.” (Ohno and Ohno, Kazuo Ohno’s World from without and within, p. 24)

This beautiful passage is an appropriate commentary on some of the thoughts under development here on the "field" created by our performative installations. In the group discussion following the presentations, it was in fact James Cunningham who noted that he finds it increasingly difficult to distinguish the fine line between performance and installation, and this comment led to a longer discussion on how our perception/reception behavior is stimulated in new ways by the digital scenography and unstable behavior of the tracking platform.

(to be continued)

Friday Timelapse

Friday 9:54am-11:35pm
Warm-up led by Julia. Discussion about loops and "real-time" led by Johannes. Improvised performance directed by Johannes with Julia, Victor, Sara, Ian and myself. Second improvisation with same performers directed by Tommy. Discussion about camera angles, movement of projection, and the "actor-image". Suzon videos individuals waking up. I perform with the camera on tripod linked to projector. Sara, Victor, Ian and Julia trials of text piece. Grids and Dots. Ian's multiple tiling. Emily's "Poppy". Ian, Sarah, Buyl working on "Tiling". Sara's "Truth Is". Emily's "Poppy".

Friday, August 20, 2010

Performance Experiments (Day 5, Part 2)

Day 5 (Friday):

Having posted the first sequence of performance experiments (Day 5), I became aware that even while logging and capturing fresh video material from the experimental arrangements, the process in the lab was/is on-going, and what was documented a few hours ago is already changing in the next version. Although this is common sense, and what we expect to happen, it is a compressed experience in a week-long workshop in which participants more or less work day and night on the research & development and iterative design. In the following, I show some other works in progress not yet mentioned in the previous post, as well as newly revised installations.

Mark testing interactive LED light instrument:

Byul Shin, Interactive "Bubble Playground":

Jennifer Woodin, with Tommy deFrantz, "The Table" installation

Performance experiments (Day 5)

Day 5 (Friday):

Today was our second "open house", and visitors arrived in the afternoon to observe our rehearsals and the development of works in progress. The workshop ensemble is currently working on several (six or seven) parallel projects, almost all involving interactive programming environments and tracking. We present a very brief sequence of images here that reflect the different experiments, some are undergoing constant iterations of the prototype design.

Emily Putoff, "Poppy" architectual color projection environment, with 2 performers and 6 screen movers, musician and audio engineer

James Cunningham, "camera duet/tripod dance"

Sarah Dahnke, smush-grid interaction space (test phase):
Sarah Dahnke, smush-grid interaction space, with visitors in the playground:
Joff Chafer, "Inside Out," interactional meadow:
Victoria Gibson, "Bandwidth," visual music piece
Sara Kraft, Ian Winters, Victor Zappi, "Truth is", interactive textraum installation
Wendy Chu and team, "Dotted Landscape"

dispositif / mise en scène III

III. Platforms

As my background is theatre and dance, my thinking is largely influenced by stage concepts, and how the 'stage" is created and comes alive in the mise en scène of a performance or an installation.

The digital dispositif - and here we think of the comprehensive environment for an interactive/real time performance or a participatory installation or mixed reality installation - offers an expanded notion of the stage. Due to the nature of the media and data flows involved (sound, video, graphics, etc), the performance range of "actors" - of the cast - extends to all elements and combinations of elements that are capturable and networkable. In terms of the networked environment created, along with recording/capturing technologies inserted, the performance of live media is re-presentable or transferable to multiple frameworks, if we think of screenings, live performance, instalation, television,online publication, telematics/telepresence, and various forms of digital dissemination (DVD, CD, tapes, mp3, etc).

During our discussions, Suzon brought the notion of "platform" into the round, and I would invite her to elaborate on her ideas here.

What came to the foreground on Day 4 (affecting the start up of Day 5) was a certain methodological restriction or limitation arising from the tracking stage (platform) as the primary device, so to speak. From the methodological perspective, the work done on the programming of a patch (using tracking camera and projector image down onto the white dance floor) set the scene, so to speak, and the patch designer then asked some of the performers to create an improvisation inside the nervous environment (I am refering to the historical precedent of David Rokeby's naming of his first interactional sensory sound environment as "very nervous system") - and Thursday evening this environment was created by Wendy Chu.

Here is an image from the performance on this platform, which ran on an Isadora patch using several actors (Eyes ++, Blob Decoder, Envelope generator, Mosaic, etc) that take the tracking information to disturb/manipulate the dotted grid pattern, an abstract patter, that is the base image of the projection. When human actors enter the platform, the graphic projection on the floor surface becomes animated.

(dotted landscape with music performer Victor Zappi in the center and Julia Alsarraff, on viola, on the left; James Cunningham is "upstage" and as yet invisible as the digital projection was the only light source, with the exception of a floor lamp stage right, which is visible here. Victor is operating the illuminated sound box in front of him. To be more precise, the illuminated box is a monome, a real-time step sequencer made up of a grid of backlit buttons that can be utilized for a number of applications, the most common of which is music performance. It is used to trigger and retrigger samples or sample sets, but can also be used as a generative instrument that runs self-effecting or self-sufficient patterns, or to control effects and envelopes).

Now, in computer science the term platform is used rather specifically in regard to computation, to platform theory, operation systems, tools, resources, principles and concepts related to coding. In the new media arts and social network contexts, the term refers to online or networked and (collaboratively generated) discursive platforms which can draw from a large range of fields of knowledge. For example, the courses in curating offered at the University of Fine Arts Zurich, describe their curatorial philosophy as follows:

The program focuses less on the ‘genius concept’ of the exhibition planner as individual author – a highly controversial topic since the 1990s – than on cooperative, interdisciplinary working methods, as employed, for example, in film productions or non-government organizations.

Exhibition-making / curating means the creation of innovative structures for the presentation of cultural artefacts through interdisciplinary collaboration. In this field, art, digital media, design, and architecture intermesh in new ways. The manner of working employed by curators, artists, architects, designers, museum educationalists and writers has become increasingly unified, bringing about new forms of mediation, lounges, archives, reading rooms and new virtual forums – and with them new means of access and forms of interpretation. At the same time, we are witnessing a shift in the organization of work processes throughout society. Individual areas of action are merging on new meta-levels, namely those of networks and know-how transfer.

This conceptual overview – focussed on curating here but relating equally strongly to artistic creation and production and experimental research in the arts/sciences – bears directly on our lab process and discussions and the collaborative and processual aspects of the work and its manifestations. It has become clear that in our reflections we must ponder and address the changes in the processes of production, if we seek to position our work to specific audiences or to audiences at all.

But since our work experiments take place in the studio, there is a primarily physical (and site specific) architecture involved; the manifestations that happen here are at the same time recorded, discursively reflected, photographed/filmed and blogged/diffused. Digital components and patches can be crossed and exchanged, and this inter-connected method has been called cross-patching by Anne Nigten, the director of the "Patchingzone," a praxis laboratory where Master, PhD students and professionals work together on meaningful creative content (prior to her current position Nigten was the manager of V2_Lab, the aRt&D department of V2, and she has widely lectured on research and development in the interdisciplinary field from an art perspective.

Our lab, today on Day 5, truly resembles a kind of patching zone where 20 odd computer screens and laptops are illuminated in the dark while some members are repositioning screens on the tracking floor or moving cameras about. What is perhaps needed now is a reflection on how cross-patched platforms enable live media performance to find sustained or re-sustainable vehicles for content, for aesthetic experiences, for theatrical and dramatic action and story telling, for dance and music, and multimedia writing, the poetic as well as the subtly understated, rougher shades of the sacred.

IV. Real-time

The conceptual seminar on Day 5 was focussed on time/temporality in live media performance. The group began to look carefully at the meaning of the term real-time, and while initially there were more subjective and philosophical concepts brought up (relating to human experience of time, the past-present-future continuum, memory), the debate then moved to the more technologically inflected usage of the term, often applied to real-time synthesis (in music/sound processing) or real-time interactive interfaces (in computational performance or interactive design). From this initial discussion of real-time and delay or latencies (how computers processes data input) , which is a technical issue and often related to bandwidth, we also discussed differences in sensory perception (visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, etc) and how they might relate to our knowledge or experience of time. After I asked a question about the "time" (durational experience) of the "loop" and how we perceive musical loops vis à vis various kinds of image loops), Marlon Barrios Solano, who is visiting the lab, suggested at this point to look at calendars as another metaphor for the construction (the arbitrary categorization) of temporality in our civilization. When Marlon argued that the calendar, with its days and months, generates a concept of the loop and of repetition, not everyone in the group agreed, and Tommy deFrantz pointed to specific corporeal differences (interestingly, Tommy also kept insisting in the our discussions on not forgetting or excluding the social and the sexual as important dimensions of movement/technology embodiment or entanglement experience). He responded by suggesting that human cognition and emotion works on complex levels that are not reducible to digital or mathematic logic, and that machine vision, as Mark suggested, can never be as intelligent as human perceptional systems in action at all times.

The time of intelligence, the temporal nature of analog performance and digital media (Victoria mentioning how in her early work she made music with linear video editing of tapes, while now she can edit in non-linear modes through the digital software that gives her a much greater range of possibilities improvisationally), and the experience of small loop samples (repeating quick time movies running in a patch) became a subject of a very engaged debate, while I was hoping that we could actually make a choreographic rehearsal experiment working with actors and images to figure out in a visceral way how time relations and time properties are connected on stage, and how we can carefully examine the particular nature/modes of interactive images (what are "interactive images"?) --- and here I was driving at the differentiation of abstract graphics and narrative, representational images.

(choreographic exercise, Friday morning, with Julia Alsaraff, Sara Kraft, Helene Lesterlin, James Cunningham)

The method for the exercise used three spatial fields (lit th spotlights) and an irregular diagonal across the performance space, with actors entering into the light. The musican plays one sustained note, to which the dancer on the left (in the picture) responds by imagining movement connecting the furthest point of his right hand to the left foot, while in the middle space a couple enters to re-enact from memory the actions they carried our in Ian's memory table installation. The viola player is captured by a camera, and a close up of her arm movement is projected in real time in a curved motion (from right screen to middle screen to left screen). The exercise lasted 3 minutes and allowed actors (and audience) to compare the time properties and spatial relations of each action. The live feed (camera) input/output action was fed through a filter that created a small time lapse.

The exercise was primarily intended to set up a theatrical scenario that allows for dramaturgical redevelopment, and the rehearsal was immediately opened up to the group and Tommy deFrantz took on directing the second version. There was narrative and dramatic potential in the scene, even if musical and digital (video) relationships were as yet completely undeveloped, but this was something I wanted to propose, to start out construction of scenic action material prior to patching/cross-patching, so that we could ponder the question of what kind of live images (media) might enter into a meaningful relationship with the human actors and their expressive, non expressive or gestural and emotional affect on the situation (and the space) as a whole.

It might be illuminating here to reflect briefly on William Forsythe's comments on his way of directing dancers in his company (at the time he produced "Improvisation Technologies" in 1999).

In an interview with Paul Kaiser, Forsythe states:
So I began to imagine lines in space that could be bent, or tossed, or otherwise distorted. By moving from a point to a line to a plane to a volume, I was able to visualize a geometric space composed of points that were vastly interconnected. As these points were all contained within the dancer's body, there was really no transition necessary, only a series of "foldings" and "unfoldings" that produced an infinite number of movements and positions. From these, we started making catalogues of what the body could do. And for every new piece that we choreographed, we would develop a new series of procedures. Some choreographers create dance from emotional impulses, while others, like Balanchine, work from a strictly musical standpoint. My own dances reflect the body's experiences in space, which I try to connect through algorithms. So there's this fascinating overlap with computer programming..

In the next section, I will try to depart from this Forsythe commentary and look at specific differences in contemporary dance between what Forsythe calls "experience in space" and what we, on the morning of Day 6, begin to see as a proper proprioceptive challenge of performing with an augmented reality environment or platform which is nervous, dynamic/responsive and generatively alive.

(to be continued)

Thursday Timelapse

Thursday 9:48am-11:01pm
Warm-up led by myself, circle talk (SL, the senses, mixed-realities, meta-verses…), Joff Chafer, Sara Kraft and MadameThespian Underhill (in Montana) present examples of SL theatre integrating luma-key video of the real world actor (Sara), Mark Coniglio's talk (filters, bounding boxes, and film grammar), Poppies with Tommy DeFrantz dancing, group lying on the grass, moosh-grid game, dot-matrix improvs, group "critique", Victoria Gibson's "Bandwidth" trial.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Performance experiments (Day 4)

Thursday evening performance experiments:

(1) Dotted space

(created by Wendy Chu, Suzon Fuks, Victor Zappi, Julia Alsarraf, James Cunningham, Sarah Dahnke, Sarah Kraft)

Thursday morning:
(warm up directed by James Cunningham)

(Johannes leading conceptual discussion on mixed reality environments)

(Mark presenting a short seminar on "filters" (imaging))

dispositif / mise en scène II

III. Following up on Suzon's commentary:

DISPOSITIF from French:

DISPONIBLE (adj) available
DISPOSABLE (adj) disposable
DISPONIBILITE (n) availability
DISPOSER (v) to arrange

The facets of the word suggest freedom and emergence of possible structures, structural possibilities, Suzon suggests, and i could not agree more. At the same time, the imaginative range/freedom is to some extent driven or inspired by the arrangements that are made.

Making arrangements is a design and organizational principle, as well as a compositional process of course, and in terms of institutions or ideological patterns, grids, frameworks, guidelines, regulations, prescriptions, manuals, etc, one might assume that all dispositions hold an element of constraint or agreement for constraint, as one would imagine it also in a game (subject to game rules or the game would not work).

If one wanted to explore the conditions of production or knowledge (in terms of the lab) themselves, as they enable or facilitate designing operations and the spatial modulations that many members of the workshop carried out, one would perhaps need to reflect on the Studio we are working in, the pre-arrangements we found when entering, the EMPAC context, the RPI context and where such a workshop gets situated, the "open house" we have today and tomorrow (visitors standing behind me as i write this), how we situate ourselves as a group, an temporary research ensemble, and how we imagine our freedom or our time constraints, how do we (as group or individuals) use space, use open space and table space (laptop computers), and the various lines of flight we have seen here, projecting trajectories, trajets.

Is a lab studio different from theatrical spaces, and how? what is the key difference between a laboratory and audience-directed presentation spaces? why does a lab create similar sight lines as we have them in a theatre, and is it helpful perhaps to "re-mediate" the theatrical dispositif in/with the compositional languages, the lighting, the framing devices and performance techniques provided by live media traditions? what are our live media traditions, compared to cultural traditions of, for example, the performing arts, dance, theatre and music – and also the cultural traditions (somewhat newer) of cinematic, televisual and network experience?

Is not the televisual experience entirely different from the communal ethos of theatre? Have social networks and the internet replaced the participatory communal ethos of the theatre, and what new "communities" of interest have arisen, supported by network connectivity and interactivity? The latter, as a larger cultural frame, involves of course the emergent practices of social networks and multiplatform networked creativities, a subject we briefly addressed on Day 4 during the conceptual discussions. Suzon in fact raised the question, in response to my mention of the teleplateaux (a collaborative project initiated by TMA Hellerau), and wondered whether "platform" is a more suitable spatio-conceptual term for multiple diffusion and dissemination possibilities for live media art work in the 21st century.

(these images show lab members at work on their programming patches or editing softwares. the image on the top shows Ian Winters's "memory table" installation in the northeast corner)

In the next section, I shall try to add some reflections on platforms, as i just now watch the space change in front of my eyes, the architectural triangular cubist space Emily Putoff had worked with suddenly gone.
(Jennifer Woodin inside the cube created by Emily Putoff)

In front of me, a vast meadow, a green pasture has opened up. In the foreground, two persons seem to be resting, lying on the grass. Other people have come onto the pasture.
A small echo from a voice drifts across the valley, from the far corner, where Ian's memory table sits, I hear crickets and birdcalls, I feel how the warm evening wind touches my face, but that may be only my imagination.
(Joff Chafer's tracking meadow)

(to be continued: this is an open invitation to others, to write on)