[-empyre-] Narrative, speaking traces, control systems, and the myth of interactivity

Johannes Birringer Johannes.Birringer at brunel.ac.uk
Sat May 30 23:14:35 EST 2009

dear Sarah. all:

your responses are much appreciated,
as you now dwelled on two examples  which provide many resonances.......

Christina McPhee 's  Tesserae of Venus,  (>>exploring the buckling or folding of skin: the skin
of the body, the skin of drawings of technological landscapes as these
drawings buckle and fold over time in the weather, the skin of the
photograph documenting this deterioration over time, the skin of the earth
as it submits to processes of energy extraction and other kinds of
technological deformations, the skin of the buckling surface of the
carbon-saturated landscape of Venus....>.)

This is a beautiful description that gives me a strong tactile sensation.....

and Teri Rueb's interactive soundwalks, such as Core Sample, which was exhibited at Boston's ICA and then won an award at ars electrnica, where i saw/experienced it before starting to probe it some more, wondering whether sound art can in fact yield the very complex story you are telling us in your won words or narrativization.

I am only now commenting on how a work can affect or reach/impact an  audience /   the conceptual sides of the works you just brought here are just astounding and very provoking.  I kept thinking about what you say here, and it inspired. 

now, Core Sample -- you say:  the walking body reads the island, i think that is true, and the walker and the person's bodymind may experience all kinds of responses and intuitions about the place, as enterting a place can do  (and here we are refering to the actual sound walk on Spectacle Island, not the audio installation in the  Museum   (the "non site", as Smithson would have called it, the mirror site?);  i am thinking of course of land art here, and what Robert Smithson and others tried to do in the 70s when working/walking into geographical cultures and locales, performing with them and through them.    

The re-experiencing is much more complicated for the person who does not know the island and its history or present consumption, so these are local works, yes? embodied with local and ancestral memories (5th dimensions ---    as choreographer Olu Taiwo would argue).......

re-experiencing also is complicated by (our) terminologies, as anthropologist  Tim Ingold has strongly argued in his writing ("AGAINST SOUNDSCAPE", see:  Autumn Leaves: Sound and the Environment in Artistic Practice.  Edited Angus Carlyle.  Paris: Double Entendre, 2007. 10-13), where he beautifully evokes the enwinded (breathing) body as a continuous moving experiencer of sound in continuous changing emplacements......

the sound (audio art ) art walker however is not doing that, "reading the island,"  nor breathing it phenomenologically, or at least the breathing is changed,  engaging a (reproductive) hearing-in,  somewhat disconnected from the hearing of the actual sounding place (the island) but  also "extended" into hearing the sampled "cores" and scores in the ears  (Francisco Lopez and other have worked extensively on such re-processing of sound sampled/recorded in the biosphere  -- i cannot speak about geological strata here ...... but the BBC reported this week that a research time has now inserted sensors so far deep down [ 6 km]  under the earth that they hope to get better data on  anticipatory seismic motions causing earthquakes or tsunamis ..... the project is called the Nankai Trough Seismogenic Zone Experiment (NanTroSEIZE), directed by Prof. Harold Tobin (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8073293.stm).....

but we do not just hear with ears. 
(well, now we could talk about tsunamis and New Orleans for a while)

so what is the walker/listener extended into, exactly, what kinetic and cognitive and synaesthetic experience?  and how is that critical or potentially the extending critical awareness of one'e convoluted relationships to some places and indifferent relations to others  (the same would be the case for one'e relations to >>social habits, requirements, and regulations and in all sorts of production of unexpected and unpredictable linkages˜ and  "projects that track artifacts of the body in space and place [Sarah] ? --   what are such artifacts, that leave traces? )  as the walker, she or he,  is not reading & analyzing scientific data  - nor does one generally expect laywomen and laymen to walk into an artwork or sci-artifact and hearing-in scientific data to grasp (Brecht would be joyful) the backstage texts and the underlying relations of production here that constitute the conditions we are invited to analyse and then change.....?

the audio art that we tend to refer to here (interactive) is working on several layers for sure, and the sensorial and experiential ones are much pushed in such contemporary artforms -  as well as the "empathy" research now happening between movement artists and neuroscience / experimental psychology. but the critical layers are sometimes much harder to glimpse. 

geospatial tags? 

What do others think about Sarah's powerful claim?  :  

>>the walker encounters geospatial tags and engages audio narrative of the many layers 
of density of information: the geological record and satellite communication, air traffic control of the nearby airport, 
the archaeological record of native cultures on the island, the artifacts of the
increasing speed and violence of usage of the last 150 years, the current
recreational use of the island as a park.   Engaging the unselfconsciousness
of the walker as a kind of empty state, the walker moves over and through
the layers of human and nonhuman activity, engaging a four-dimensional map
of narrative of the landscape.>>>

If the artwork could achieve this four dimensional narrative experience, i would be awed.  It didn't do it for me, and now i return for a moment to the "abjective" relations i mentioned.

I only used this term, for the first time in my accounts of a recent production i helped to create ("Suna No Onna"), as i have come to think of interactive (sensor driven) work as largely a red herring, artistically, or if you want, also for end users interested in practical or pleasant functionalities.....   Sensor i believe are unpleasant. they don't give me pleasure.  (the musicians working with data suits/gloves  may differ on this,  i remember the passion with which  Pamela Z performed with feedbacks and multiple voices, and how Julie Bokowicz performs her "Suicided Voice" and her excellent writing on kinaesonics). .......

But it did not yield quite what we had conceptualized and dreamed (as aesthetic manifestiation of a wearable space and a digital environment controlled or at least influenced by the performer movement/gesture and designmotion  and in turn learning from the extending environment and its "ecology" to integrate possibilities of movement into one's performance) , and certainly, over months of rehearsal, the brittleness and unreliability, or unpredictability or the data-generating sensors worn by our performers and integrated into a full wearable experience (our fashion designer, Michèle Danjoux, integrated the sensing technologies into the clothes and  garments (http://www.danssansjoux.org)  -   it drove us up the wall.  

It began to be apparent that new or particular movement techniques, developed for what we call "wearable space" , would have to be learnt and trained,  performers working with applied (garment integrational, soft technology-driven smart materials etc) sensortized accoutrements and garments would not just improvise but, if we composed a new work with such an aesthetic, would have to develop some form of collaborating vocabulary on scores  (with musicians, composers, digital designers, virtual 3D designers and filmmakers and programmers), or,  perform with softwares and code, etc and be intimate with the various ways the software analyzes data and reapplies them to "outputs"  (drawing, graphics, motionimages, sound, light, robotic devices, etc)

alternatively, we build installations for audience interaction  emphasizing the intuitive learning or behaving potentials of our garments and "synchronous objects" in our "built" / designed environments (after all, sensor input drives data output, and that tends to be audio, video, 3D game worlds, light, ...... not so much more?), and the we scale down or we keep in kind that audience arrive unprepared / unwitting and thus need to take on a new language or sense/infer the layers that are described, say, for CORE SAMPLE.    Our audience, at the same time, is emancipated already.

In "Suna no Onna,"  the narrative enviroment is a film/novel,  there is a script.  We found working through choreography and (scripted) damaturgy  -- following a theatre model applied to the age of digital performance, and using the knowledge we had gained over years -- a challenge once we lifted the whole digital scenography to the contingent levels of extended sensing functions of our technological devices, which actually limited movement intelligence & expressive capacity of the dancers. 

I would never think of such working within interactional design as "subjecting" myself to any technology.   

Working with interfaces opens up many interesting and challenging possibilities of constraint,  there are always parameter constraints and transmission constraints and mapping issues  (and software issues, i remember that AI computer scientists sometimes laugh at the kind of software, Max/Msp or PD or  Isadora we take on and adapt to rather than coding new/custom-built systems), and thus I have learnt to accept (with many misgivings) that interactional performance is limiting and on occasion, abjective, and also artistically not as satisfying to me as i had thought earlier, say, in the late 1990s when i began to observe my peers starting to use real time interactivity de rigueur. 

I also thought it opened up a new era (the interactive paradigm), involving our audiences in many new ways.   

That was certainly a fallacy.  

The audiences i have met over the years could care less about interface design, if the work was not good or interesting, making the time they spent coming out worthwhile;  of course this is all relative.  But look at the trends,  many works have to be designed for limited "user" capacity, you see an increase in one on one performances, restricted access, in the museums the gadgets break after a week, your see online performances perhaps rising (multiplayer environments) and game-like  plays/performances provoking momentary interest, but hard core gamers tend to get bored by art games, and dance or theatre or art audiences are probably only mildly dazzled now by the failed promises of "interactive art", a myth of democratization if ever there was one.   Most interactuve art is merely reactive, you cannot change the parameters and thus your input it rather limited, and functionality quickly bores, so does causal (cause and effect) listening/behaving. 

Interactive art is necessarily cybernetic and thus all about control systems, not emancipation.   

But then, emancipation could be emancipation into a better control system.

Johannes Birringer

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