|Trans||Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften||9. Nr.||Mai 2001|
Live transmission of sound and image through the internet is increasingly used in contemporary arts not only as a means of distribution but often as an integral part of works which incorporate performance and/or live presence elements. Offering a number of exciting possibilities, this new practice also poses questions and brings new problems. On the one hand, practitioners constantly face a variety of technical problems which originate not so much in the lack of technical resources as in the vagueness of how and where appropriate technical support could be sought. At the same time, the ways, conditions, interfaces, manifestations of this type of work pose aesthetic and philosophical questions about the nature, the parameters and the meaning of such work. It is interesting to notice that the above two areas are closely related, intimately dependent on each other, intertwined in an unprecedented fashion. As technology (which has become the art medium in this case) develops and expands, the medium keeps changing; definitions, expectations and materialisations of ideas are constantly shifting. On the other hand, as practitioners work with whatever is technically available at any point new needs are unavoidably identified, further technical solutions are sought and subsequently discovered keeping the medium in constant flux.
In their account of the 'technological', Michael Menser and Stanley Aronowitz suggest that the 'technological' should be explored from three methodological points of view:
The first is ontological: what technology is ... technology, science and culture all mix together along a continuum such that each object, to varying degrees, is the result of each of these three. The second is pragmatic: what technologies do; and the third is phenomenological: how technologies affect our experience in ways that are not bound to questions of function. (in Aronowitz 1996, p. 15)
Menser's and Aronowitz's model appears fully equipped to accommodate the current fuzziness in the definitions of technology, science and culture. The two authors also suggest that theories on complexity can be instrumental in understanding such in-between relationships and that such terms as technoculture or technoscience can operate as reminders of the indeterminate and hazy relationship between the technological and the human (Menser and Aronowitz in Aronowitz 1996 p.8-9). From a different theoretical perspective, in her discussion of the postmodern condition, Linda Hutcheon explores the relations between art practice and theory as one which is not causal but "an complex [interaction] of shared responses to common provocations" and manifests an "overlapping of concerns" (Hutcheon 1988 p.14)
Drawing on the above theoretical positions, discussing examples of existing performance work which integrate elements of live transmission through the internet, and addressing the technical idiosyncrasies of such work, this paper aims at introducing the intimate interactive relationship between the artwork and its technology. The discussion concentrates on examples of work in the area of dance and technology. The questions explore conditions which allow for a reconsidered understanding of choreography, one which can accommodate the mutations taking place in work based on real-time processes, where digital technology has become a crucial component. Time, space and dynamics are key parameters in choreographic practice and extremely useful in this discussion; they provide a technical vocabulary through which methods in such practice can be looked at and elaborated upon. Notions such as architecture, representation and metaphor are also directly relevant to this discussion. They offer a hybrid vocabulary to address the complexity of the interdependence between the technological and the aesthetic.
Rutsky (1999) believes that it is the changes in the very conception of technology (rather than the changes in technology itself) that affect and interact with the domain of culture and suggests that in the current postmodern moment (as opposed to the modern area)
the aesthetic can no longer be figured in the traditional terms of aura and wholeness, nor in the modernist terms of instrumentality and functionality. Like technology, it too comes to be seen as an unsettling, generative process, which continually breaks elements free of their previous context and recombines them in different ways. (Rutsky 1999, p.8)
The key parameters for work which fuses the technological with the aesthetic are dependent upon the character of the constantly evolving relationship between the aesthetic and the technological. For this reason the quality of such work is never a matter of the degree of sophistication of the use of the technology involved, rather of how deeply aware of this relationship the contributing artists are. It is easy to understand therefore that it is possible to work with what might be considered 'basic resources' in this area and produce work of high quality if there is sufficient awareness of the medium (or type of technology) involved and its complex relationship with aesthetic decisions.
To limit the discussion in the area of movement-related work, I would like to suggest that the use of new technologies as integral part of live performance with movement elements, increasingly poses questions about the ontology of choreography. What is choreography? What can still be choreography? How far can a practising artist go so that aspects of his/her work can still be understood as relatively 'choreographic'? For this reason, it becomes possible to argue that there can be a wider notion of choreography, one in which the human body is only one amongst a range of different sites where time, space and energy parameters come together to provide structures for movement-related artistic work. This perspective allows for clearer understanding of current art practices in which interdisciplinary choreographic explorations and/or use of new technologies have become an integral part.
To respond dynamically to such challenges, the potential for shifting/expanding the accepted ways of practising and understanding choreography (as a process through which manipulations of elements of time, space and energy produce movement patterns) needs be considered. The flexibility to move across the whole spectrum of possibilities between literal and metaphorical understandings and uses of these elements is essentially what makes such work possible or even conceivable. For such flexibility to become fully operational in practical terms, the importance of the role of complex interactions between the development of technical conditions and aesthetic decisions needs be acknowledged. Technical knowledge and availability of technical resources are extremely crucial in the development of concepts for such works and the making of aesthetic decisions about them. If this aspect is not given sufficient attention, tensions can develop between the aesthetic aims of the work and the potential of the available media or means through which the work is materialised. At the same time technical solutions need be approached and developed as direct responses to existing understandings of the notion of choreography (and the role of time, space and dynamics in this practice). In this process, there is of course an extreme but, at the same time, quite possible option: that, because of the ways in which technology has been used, the work finally reaches a situation where its choreographic character has been negated, subverted, deconstructed, mutated. This is one of the most exciting possibilities, yet it really depends on an even deeper knowledge of traditional methods of choreography so that the makers have the tools to deconstruct these processes and at the same time keep clear the artistic aims of the work.
ANALYSIS: trans/forms and string - two case-studies of movement-based live performance incorporating webcast elements
Menser's and Aronowitz's paradigm informs the process of constructing a methodology which can allow for a close investigation of the parameters of the above mentioned complexity. In Menser and Aronowitz's discussion, the ontological perspective introduces the question 'what is technology', the pragmatic point of view looks at 'what technologies do' and the phenomenological angle explores 'how technologies affect our experience in ways that are no bound to questions of function.' In the context of the investigation undertaken in this essay, this paradigm reveals the importance of breaking the process down into three smaller tasks where a modified version of Menser and Aronowitz's methodology could be instrumental. I suggest therefore that the complicated relationship between the technological and the aesthetic in work which integrates live transmission through the internet and movement-related elements and/or processes can be explored from three perspectives:
Undoubtedly this is a question about the ontology of such work yet it involves a series of pragmatic elements. To discuss the nature of such work, one has to have access to clear descriptions. Such work incorporates new components in new ways, old components in new ways, mixtures of old and new components brought together in mixtures of old and new ways and so on. To be able to provide clear and accurate descriptions of what this work is, what its elements are and how they work together often becomes a fairly complicated process.
Here are two examples of descriptions of movement-based live performance work in which elements of webcast have been incorporated, as these appear in the websites hosting these pieces:
trans/forms is an ongoing multimedia collaborative project exploring the fusion of live performance with digital technology and on-line communication from an improvisational perspective. It includes a live improvised event performed by musician Viv Dogan Corringham and dancer Sophia Lycouris. Multimedia artist Nate Pagel interacts with the two performers using video projection and sound which is a mixture of pre-recorded and digitally manipulated material of similar improvisations with live recordings from the event itself in combination to on-line contributions from remote participants. The projection operates as lighting for the event and the sound becomes an active component of its soundscape in constant dialogue with the live sonic contributions of the two performers.
The development of the project involves several stages of collaborative work and explores:
trans/forms was originally performed as part of Intermational Dance and Technology 99 (Arizona) in 26 February 1999. The material for this performance was produced in three different places of the world: Tempe, Arizona, USA (movement, sound and video contributions), London, UK (sound) and Turku, Finland (video). It was mixed live on the web.
The remote participants were:
string is an installation/live performance piece which addresses limitations
in the use of the physical body and digital/internet-based technology as part
of live performance contexts. Through manipulating the threshold between two
and three dimensional considerations of the physical space, the piece explores
connections between the physical and the virtual. It proposes a hybrid multi-spatial
environment which unfolds within a time frame strictly defined by the travelling
of digital information between two different physical locations of the performance.
string which has been created by Michael Kosmides and Sophia Lycouris
was originally performed in London in January 2000 as part of SHIFTS. Live streaming
of the video element of this piece was included in 'Loading
screening of video works especially created for webcast which was part of the
Radiator Festival (Broadway Cinema, Nottingham, April 2000). The video element
of string was also presented in Kino Ear (sonic video screenings in Leeds International
Film Festival, October 2000).The full version of this piece, including live
performance and webcast, was part of 'Between Nature: Explorations in Ecology
and Performance' Conference organised by Lancaster University in July 2000 and
was presented again in Performantive Sites (Pennsylvania, USA - October 2000)
and Arts, Sciences et Technologies (La Rochelle, France - November 2000).
how the piece works?
Looking at both trans/forms and string as an example, it becomes apparent that there is an increased complexity in describing the components of such work. How exactly does it bring itself into existence? Which are the artistic media involved? How are they being treated? In which forms (or formats) do they ultimately manifest themselves?
This pragmatic question has also some ontological aspects as the problem of what such work does is closely connected to how it has been put together, the nature of its constituent elements and the conditions under which some kind of architecture has emerged.
In trans/forms, the live improvisations recycle sound and movement material from Stories in D, a pre-existing improvisational live performance piece, which is processed at a number of different levels and through a variety of both technology-based methods and live performance practices. trans/forms becomes a reconstruction of Stories in D via the body memory of the two performers who re-visit movement and sound fragments originally devised for Stories in D. Yet, this now happens within a new performance environment, structured and constructed through projections and recordings of these fragments, reshaped to their final form through a number of digital and analogue manipulations.
In trans/forms, the two improvising performers operate in an interactive space where video images of their own movements and recordings of their own sounds become improvising partners directed by the work of the multimedia artist. At the same time, as remote sounds and images gradually reach the terminal situated in the performance space and become part of the piece, their role is to disrupt the otherwise introspective journey of the piece. As the performance progresses through time, the piece is constantly fed by recorded versions of itself, internally accumulating fragments of its own fragments as it follows a close circuit pathway in a self-reflexive landscape. Yet, at the same time, the remote contributions create regular fields of interference and tension which destabilise the consistency of this inward spiral. The improvisational framework of the work fully justifies the compositional role of such juxtapositions which are the product of the specific ways in which technology operates in the piece and ultimately engender a double-coded meaning.
Improvisation in live performance is a compositional event defined by clear decisions which take place in the 'present moment', become part of the performance process and are, for this reason, irrevocable (Lycouris 1996). There are a number of parameters which inform the decision-making process, amongst which one of the most crucial is the performers' assumptions and experiences in relation to models of composition. Philosopher Gilbert Ryle suggests that "the vast majority of things that happen in the universe are in high or low degree unprecedented, unpredictable, and never to be repeated" (Ryle 1979, p.125) and 'thinking' itself, which is "the engaging of partly trained wits in a partly fresh situation" (Ryle 1979, p.129), involves the practice of improvisation. Whereas in traditional live performance contexts, the process takes place through the application of the assumed models of composition which follows Ryle's rule within the limits of rather familiar grounds, in hybrid improvised work which incorporates the use of technology, the heterogeneity of the participating elements intensifies the role of the unknown.
In his book The Theatre of Mixed Means, Kostelanetz invents the term 'the mixed-means medium' in order to explore the rules of 'new theatre' as this was manifested in the happenings of the 1960s. In his opinion, this new genre was primarily concerned with breaking "the conventions of literary drama [ ] plot, development, climax, characterization and thematic explicitness [ ] the theatrical situation revert[ed] to its bare essentials, time and space; and the creator's primary problem [became] animating the space and time" (Kostalanetz 1968, p.281). Due to how the diverse components of 'the theatre of mixed-means' were brought together in space and time, its manifestations could "be at once music, dance, drama, and kinetic sculpture, as well as an entirely new form that eschews references to any of those arts" (ibid., p.39). Yet, the most crucial aspect (as well as difference from theatrical forms of the past) was that "the components generally function[ed] nonsynchronously, or independent of each other and each medium [was] used for its own possibilities" (ibid., p.4).
A commonality can be identified between some of the work of the 1960s and certain kinds of current artistic experiments which include elements of digital technology. This refers to work which expands or even displaces artistic practices into domains which are not their own. The happenings of the 1960s have frequently employed such methods: "If the new theatre grows out of the desire of painters and sculptors to stretch their art into time, so it also extends from the concern of certain composers with the space their pieces fill" (ibid., p.18). string explores some of these issues in ways that would have been impossible without the contribution of digital technology. To use a terminology firmly rooted in traditional choreographic practice, the 'musical accompaniment' for the dance (which reaches the performance space in the form of a webcast) comes with an image of itself. This idiosyncrasy dramatically changes the architecture of the live performance: three (rather than two) ingredients constitute now this performance bringing with them a web of new relationships. A process of 're-articulation of space' is already visible at that end of this multi-spatial work. Yet, to use Kostelanetz's framework, this is more about "a continually rearticulated space" (ibid., p.18) in ways probably similar to how kinetic sculpture informed the happenings of the 1960s. This fluidity is primarily due to the contribution of digital technology and more specifically to the compositional choice of spatially separating the two performers by placing them in two different physical locations and linking location A with location B with a one-way webcast link.
Alternative notions of architecture become crucial to the analysis of such a performance situation. "Modern sculpture has evolved "from mass to motion" and so architecture has developed "from restricted closed space to free fluctuation of forces" in the new architecture, as well as the new theatre, when we move around the building its space becomes kinetic, as our perception of it is continually changing" (ibid., p.23). It is interesting to notice how such spatial fluidity has a temporal character. Kostelanetz brings to the fore Cubism which offered a static pictorial technique of "fus[ing] temporal and perspective diversity within a single frame" (ibid., p.15). In string, this 'single frame' is in permanent flux, it depends on the viewer, the place, the perspective, yet despite this elusiveness it provides the only way in which this piece can be grasped. Traveling through these frames, the piece materializes itself in a constant state of becoming. An intense relationship between the unstable character of the webcast technology and the unpredictability of live performance brings this piece close to Kostelanetz's theatre of mixed-means which is more about the experience of "looking at a street or overhearing a strange conversation [rather] than deducing the theme of a drama" (ibid., p.9). Such activities depend on so many different factors including the time-space relationship of the viewer and adopt chaotic, multidirectional and highly complex architectural structures. The traditional musical techniques of variation and development or the dramatic forms of linear development lack the multi-dimensional, architectural character of such activities. Kostelanetz suggests that: "in the Theatre of Mixed Means, a piece usually opens by announcing a sound-image complex which is immediately communicated; and [ ] pursue[s] [ ] an unmodulated development that sustains or fills the opening outline" (idid., p.8). string has largely employed this method as its main compositional strategy where "repetition of image [ ] [is about] filling in time and space, rather than developing action through plot" (ibid., p.281).
To apply the phenomenological perspective suggested by Aronowitz and Menser on the analysis of movement-based live performance which incorporates live webeast elements, one really needs to elaborate further on space, one of the three key choreographic elements mentioned earlier in this essay which seems to be the most crucial in this discussion. Moreover, one has to concentrate even more intensively on the interplay between literal (technical) and metaphorical uses of this term and the full range of possibilities between the two ends of the spectrum.
In trans/forms, although the piece was conceived in such a way that the three artists (two performers and multimedia artist) have complete control of the process, the remote participants have the opportunity to provide means which could seriously disrupt the intimate atmosphere of the piece. The original improvisational material which was devised for Stories in D was based on sound and movement manipulations of fragments from everyday conversations. In Stories in D, the aim was to use movement and sound elements in order to magnify the intimate character of 'everyday life' moments as these appear in casual dialogues which are often ways of 'thinking loud' in front of a witness. There was an effort to 'dress' these moments with distinct Mediterranean and South European textures, which would emphasize the play/contrast between interior spaces and outdoor locations and make the images and sensations stronger and clearer. This was primarily achieved through the use of an improvisational lighting 'score'.
In trans/forms, the movement and sound material are both re-visited, yet the lighting 'score' has been replaced by the use of projection which is a radically different lighting source. Lacking the 'traditional' lighting support, the location of the piece has been decontextualised. The improvisations have been suspended, trapped in some sort of undefinable time and space. In such an almost 'clinical' environment, they have become manifestations of 'pure' movement and sound forms. Yet, through the use of technology, parts of them have been magnified, emphasised, highlighted, but also modified. Projections and recordings bring the viewers closer to these imaginative intimate spheres revealing to them some of their most unusual, distorted or ambiguous aspects. As the piece unfolds through time, it travels deeper and deeper within itself and makes its own fragments ever more available to the audience.
At the same time, because of the webcasting, the event has been opened up to the 'world'. The performance is virtually accessible to anyone globally who has a terminal and the appropriate connections, a large international audience who receives 'close up' versions of these intimate events, while having, through the option of remote participation, the opportunity to contribute elements to the process, which could irrevocably alter the flow of the event. Notions of the private and the public become elements of each other in the paradox of a double-coded event.
In string one of the main objectives is to experiment with a movement-based live piece which unfolds within a sonic environment constructed by remote and mediated sound materials. These sounds not only travel (through telephone cables) in order to reach the location of the movement performance but, when they arrive there, they also offer the possibility of their own visual integration in this environment through their video images. The video projections are used to manipulate the structure of the performance space by constantly changing the relationships between two and three dimensional space: integrating the shape of the body into the two dimensions of large projections (suggesting/referring/representing three dimensional spaces) and / or mapping such images of small size on the sculptural (three dimensional) surfaces of the performer's body. Using superimposed textures on three dimensional elements (such as the performer's body) and integrating shapes of three dimensional elements into two dimensional projections are both strategies of negotiating the materiality of body and light.
Attempting to define the nature of internet-based live performance work with dance elements, three issues need be addressed:
© Sophia Lycouris (London)
table of contents: No.9
1. Books and Articles
Aronowitz, Stanley e.a. (eds) (1996): Technoscience and Cyberculture, New York: Routledge.
Cubitt, Sean (1998): Digital Aesthetics, London: Sage.
Deleuze, Gilles (1986): Cinema 1: the movement-image, London: The Athlone Press.
Deleuze, Gilles (1989): Cinema 2: the time-image, London: The Athlone Press.
Grzinic, Marina (1999): "Actions in Virtual Space" in Performance Research 4(2) pp. 34-41.
Hutcheon, Linda (1988): A Poetics of Postmodernism: History, Theory, Fiction, New York: Routledge.
Lycouris, Sophia (1996): 'Destabilising dancing: tensions between the theory and practice of improvisational performance', Unpublished PhD thesis, Guildford: University of Surrey.
Rosenberg, Douglas (2000): 'Video Space: A Site For Choreography' in Leonardo, Journal of the International Society for the Arts, Sciences and Technology, The MIT Press, 33(4) pp. 275-280.
Rutsky, R.L. (1999): High Techne: Art and Technology from the Machine Aesthetic to the Posthuman, Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press.
Ryle, Gilbert (1979): On thinking, Oxford: Blackwell, p. 125.
Shiva, U.A. (1996): Arts and the Internet: A Guide to the Revolution, New York: Allworth Press.
Barriedale Operahouse (Klien, Michael and Mortimore, Nicholas), http://www.barriedale-operahouse.com/ (Access date: 20 March 2001)
Crasis (Lycouris, Sophia), http://www.ad406.dial.pipex.com (Access date: 20 March 2001)
D&TZ, Dance & Technology Zone (Coniglio, Mark and deLahunta, Scott webmasters), http://art.net/~dtz/ (Access date: 20 March 2001)
Hands-on Dance Project (Popat, Sita) http://www.satorimedia.com/ (Access date: 20 March 2001)
LEONARDO on-line, http://mitpress.mit.edu/e-journals/Leonardo/home.html (Access date: 20 March 2001)
Satorimedia (Miller, Jeffrey Gray and Popat, Sita), http://www.satorimedia.com/ (Access date: 20 March 2001)
STRING project (Lycouris, Sophia), http://www.ad406.dial.pipex.com/string.htm (Access date: 20 March 2001)
Touchdown Project (Popat, Sita and Miller, Jeffrey Gray), http://www.satorimedia.com/touchdown/ (Access date: 20 March 2001)
trans/forms project (Lycouris, Sophia), http://www.ad406.dial.pipex.com/transforms.htm (Access date: 20 March 2001)
TRIAD, Transatlantic Real-Time Interactive Dance project (Satorimedia LLC, ORACLE and ULTRALAB), http://www.triadance.com (Access date: 20 March 2001)