Re: anti-theatre/technology/education

Johannes Birringer (
Wed, 24 Dec 1997 00:38:55 -0600

Dear list:

thanks, Mark and Philip, for responding to the questions and stimulating
futher discussion. I am particularly grateful to the commentary/review on
Streb's work.

I think we have two settings here, stage and education. And both interest
us of course in terms of the intersections with technology, or to use
Mark's beautiful descripton of the "sound of impact" (bodies hitting the
"machine"-set)- we might be asking questions about impact or impacting
creative expression through new tools. But these settings are different, or
function differently, and while the posts emphasize a kind of aesthetic
response/reading of dancers/acrobats in performance (highly skilled
precision workers, as in Cirque du Soleil), I see a strange, and perhaps
critically important leveling effect in the way you all speak of "effects."
(effects in education?) I am just trying to seek clarification how these
two levels are combined in your opinion.

Mark wrote

>it probably relates more to the first incarnation of the Live-I
>Workshop which we gave last year to novice artists, i.e., people that had
>never made a performance before. And what we were able to do with our
>technological tools and instruments was to help create ways that these
>inexperienced, but enthusiastic, people could "perform" music or some other
>media without the prerequisite of many years of preparation. (Read "piano
>lessons.") This means that the focus was on creativity and expression, not
>on technique.

How do you use the term "peform" here, why is in in quotation marks, and
would you use the music made with MidiDancer for a choreography and how do
you use it and how do you encourage the young students to use it? and why
to use it?

Is the new parameter of these interactive technologies (midi, sampler, and
computer, etc) one that instructs not technique but creativity and
expression, and what kind of "technique" is such instruction or how are the
students to use the technology if not for making/stumbling into certain
effects or operating the technology as a sampling device? I think the link
to contemporary electronic music production is obvious, but I think that
from the side of dance or performance art or visual composition the
abdication of "technique" or of the conceptual frameworks of compositional
process is not so easily understandanble to me, especially since most of
the electronic musicwork I find strong and stimulating and provoking tends
to come from musicians and not from folks who never learnt to play music. I
guess the political claims (Texas senator promising laptops for every
schoolkid by 2000) are obfuscating.

If you give everyone a mididancer, then you probably might have to have a
pedagogy for how to implement growth of learning consciousness and
experience, self direction and critical application of knowledge.

That the implementation and creative use of technological tools can be
immensely enriching is without question, there's no argument

> Todd Winkler, who had
>been working with a person from Everett Dance Theater (I believe) in
>Providence. They had used STEIM's BigEye software to allow Paraplegics and
>other differently abled folks to make music with very limited movement. The
>children were clearly thrilled by their chance to, perhaps for the first
>time, make music under their own volition.

Yet I come back to "effects," you know, TITANIC just opened, nice movie.

Philip mentioned that

>Though, I wish there had been more
>effects triggered by physical elements in motion on the stage [STREB].
Wow, if the
>sensors triggered midi effects like lights and sounds... that would have
>another level to the interface of human movement to computers. Imagine the
>vibrations of the dancers impact upon the floor reverberating through the
>seating amplified by sub-sonic sound via woofers attached to the floor or the
>seats themselves.

>Concerning education, it seems to me that educators from Universities
>throughout the United States are turning on to the potential of interactive
>effects triggered by movement and of course sound. Particularly the MIT
>labs. These effects can go anywhere from sight to sound to smell or even to

What are the potentials of effects? Scott, can you als comment on this?
What are instructional directions being prepared in schools (MIT labs are
kind out of the way, for most of us, and no telematic dreaming yet in grade
schools in Houston barrios). I guess I am asking for some comments on the
philosophy of "triggering." I find it immensely uninteresting, banal, in
some sense (TITANIC). In another sense, the "triggering" is an extension of
contact improvisation or partnering in dance or performance, and we will
play with the instruments to see whether our movement story or ideas work.

The notion that there is something that captivates us (narrative, emotional
content, human affect, sexuality, kinetic energy, danger, beauty or the
force of the imagination played out right there in front of us) seems to
run, in an important way, through Mark's reading into STRREB the way I read
meaning and narrative into the CIRQUE DU SOLEIL trapeze artists hanging
precariously on red cloths from high ceiling, under the stars of the tent,
slowly unwinding their way down into a free fall suddenly stopped before
the body impacts and dies on the ground...

It is interesting to me how you read STREB, Mark, namely beyond the
machine-set/body acrobatics, beyond anti-theatre or pure concept. You read
it poetically. I need to reflect on this, and why so many thousands here
saw CIRQUE 2 or 3 times, spellbound, captivated, moved, crying, elated. The
Cirque has a similar machine-set, fully technologized apparatus and fly
machines, but the dancers/acrobats are telling the moving stories, and
there are no special effects, in that sense, but extremely powerful
physical and precise movement choreographies. There's some stuff
(decorative, expendable) always going on on the edges, like on the TITANIC,
but the ship is a character because the human dancers depend, in a sense,
on the body of the ship to carry them beyond. Cameron's (working class)
analysis in TITANIC is a bit impoverishd, swept by the stupid love plot,
but he does capture the ship's esssentially existential and poetic, mythic
power on our imagination. Especially because it must sink. In the immense
ship, we precise recognize the vulnerable human bodies, movement stopped.

It's confusing to me to think of technology as a life boat. Or a parachute.
But, as you can gather, the parachute interests me as a metaphor because it
is existential in some moments of our life, and it lends power to how we
use instruments otherwise in our lives for the art we practice as our
technique of storytelling. Storytelling is not triggering. I think we need
to talk more about what is triggered when we use our interactive
techniques, and why the music, the images, the movement captivate our
imagination or fears, if they so do.


Johannes Birringer
AlienNation Co./DDA Studio
Houston, Texas