[-empyre-] installation / enveloping environments

Atau Tanaka atau.tanaka at ncl.ac.uk
Sun Oct 23 06:39:14 EST 2011

I was hoping to catch on butoh and performance from the first week, since I'm better equipped to talk about gigs than about galleries. But it's interesting what the installation discussion has triggered off.

Embodiment, synaesthesia, interaction, or crappiness of SGI-ness of it, we're talking about several things at once, hoping somehow to universalize somehow a synthetic view. But as we probably all have encountered over (accelerated) time, there's no simple answer to any of this, and analytically characterising some of the percepts we work with creatively (perhaps differently across dance, music, installation art) might lend insight to be shared.

Embodiment - it's HCI researcher Paul Dourish who evokes Heidegger's zuhanden/vorhanden... "ready-to-hand" and "present-at-hand" to analyse notions of embodied technology interaction. For him, zuhanden (ready-to-hand... that of acting _through_ something) leads to vorhanden (present-at-hand... where the interaction object becomes the focus of attention) is a postive development in embodied interfaces. As much as I like Paul and his approach, for me, in embodied media art, I see things quite in the inverse. That when an interactive art object that supposedly creates embodied, enveloping situations draws conscious focus of the beholder (present-at-hand), then we are focused on interativity in the way that like we are with Rodney's microwave oven or SGI O2. It's when the interactive substrate of a work becomes somehow transparent, either by disappearing or being forgotten, that we "act through it"  - where it recedes to be "ready to hand" to facilitate an embodied situation where the interaction is not the object of attention.

Memories of the SGI O2 bring up temporal memories now 20 years ago that seem like yesterday and a possible deceleration in how far or how unfar things have come. The "crappy", pixelised and jittery interaction of Bondate circa 2003 would certainly be smoother if the same MaxMSP/Jitter patch were opened on a modern machine (ahem w the requisite time invested to port it over to the current version of Cycling74 is pushing on the marketplace). But is smoother better? Is it even the same piece then? 

Another form of deceleration is trying to keep the technology the same while the marketplace and engineering march ahead. I've been using BioControl Systems' BioMuse for 20 years now. It used to be a custom Texas Instruments TMS320 DSP based dedicated hardware, with wet electrodes and wires everywhere (1991-2001). We moved to gold plate dry electrodes, and dedicated wireless (2003), and post-procesing the physiological signal on the host computer. Not bad, but then the Sensorband band joke was that I was duct taping cigarette packs or brick-formfactor mobile phones on my forearms. Performance ok, and similar, happily enough. Next step, BioControl spins out the dry electrodes with active electronics to output 0-5V to be Arduino compatible (2005). I use Infusion Systems' WiMicroDig bluetooth interface. Works fine in the studio, but onstage before I can pair with the interface, I see all the bluetooth mobile phones of all the screaming fans in the concert venues. Drop outs. Nightmare. Now switching over to Eowave's Eobody HF system, based on Zigbee, we don't have the Bluetooth problem. But all electronics has moved to 3V. So Marc Sirguy of Eowave generously puts in a stepup circuit on the output of the Eobody to power the BioFlex at 5V. Works fine in the lab. Onstage with four going, who knows what the signal looks like (need an oscilloscope). After 20 years w all this "convenience" technology that's meant to make things go faster (accelerate), I can say it's no better than the original BioMuse, and an equal headache (it wasn't paradise back then and it certainly isn't now). 

A violin doesn't have this pace of version updates. It's not that I want the BioMuse to have version updates, but it becomes an effort in itself to make the thing stand still while the technology surrounding it is pressuring things to move "forward". To take time in a way a musician has time to be with his/her instrument (decelerated practice time) is just hard w digital tech no matter what we do to try to be faithful to giving an instrument the time it needs.

But this idea that faster-is-bad (to counter faster-is-better) and that decelerated-is-good is also an oversimplification. The very idea to reduce the passing of time to 1 dimension means that we have fallen victim to those supposed powers we are at times resisting.

Peter Weibel wrote a nice piece about this power relation - Chronocracy - in V2's 2001 Machine Times volume.

And the idea of a multithreaded view of time is beautifully put forth in Edward T Hall's "Dance of Life" - his notions of "monochronic" and "polychronic" mean that there is another dimension to time other than just its velocity.


More information about the empyre mailing list