Re: telematicinterprovisation

Johannes H. Birringer (
Thu, 03 Apr 1997 03:19:35 -0600

I thank Mark for his interesting and instructive response to some of my

I'd be interested in other people's input on the question of the
"interactor," and perhaps I could dwell for one moment on something Mark said:

Mark wrote
>the live performer is reliant on this [software] device, and its failure
would insure >certain performative embarrassments. But I wonder how useful
is this thinking? What is >the difference between the Interactor/Macintosh
software/hardware machine and
>the wooden machine of the piano, which translate the gestures of the
pianist reliably >into sound?

I wonder what lies behind this admission that "its failure" could insure
performative "embarrassment," or, put another way, is the analogy between
piano and computer innocent and logical? I am not sure.
In that case I would ask myself how I have traditionally come to enjoy
concert music (or rock music), and whether I see the piano or the electric
guitar quite transparently as an instrument that enhances the music-making
of the hands. In other words, is the piano (visible as it is) simply not
crucial as a physical, material body in our enjoyment of the music/sounds
produced and the player's energy, artistry, elegance, passion or subtlety?
Do we still see it? Is it redundant, in the frame of reception?

Do we see the computer or the interface device in the theatre (this is a
question that might interest Scott and his workshop on telematics)? and why
not? Or do we, and do we s e e it or is it invisible (bodily) in the way
it manipulates or •nterprets the dancer's movement? How intimate is your
software to you?

The dancer tends to not play a piano or an instrument other than her or his
body. What my question tried to address was the emotional or narrative or
expressive (I am not much into modern /abstraction or "pure movement" as
they call it) content, quality and direction/focus of movement and gesture.
And why we move.

I wonder how an interactor device, as Mark's homepage explains it,
"interprets data", transforming space, lighting, sound, video images, etc,
making "artforms suddenly intimate." The "data," I gather, are the dancer's
movement that are picked up by interactive technology (sensor devices).

I refuse to assume that dance can be thought of as data. Now, if I did
assume it, it change my work, surely.

Perhaps I should publish my short essay/report on LBLM (our dance/digital
art workshop in Chichester) in the WRA website, since there I raise many
questions precisely about my doubts about the interactive "sensibility" of
the data-reading computer. For my taste, it's not sensitive enough, by far.
I'd like to find out how it interprets. I'd like to become more intimate
with mathematics, to a certain point. When I spoke about insecurity, fear,
desire, or other emotional content of movement expression, or beautiful,
sensual gestures that touches you or a rhythm that excites you kinetically,
I am still learning, trying to understand how a software program (and
graphic user interfaces or MIDI devices) become intimate or read my movement
or let me read its transformations of my choreography, which I understand to
be my expression of why I move.

If the interactivity is based on improvisation, how is improvisation
structured or experienced? Is digital dance necessarily a step beyond
choreography to something that is interactively out of control or perhaps
shifted to the computer's unconscious? What do we know about the sentience
of the computer? What would be "contact improvisation" with a data-reading
sensor device, and how does the apparent "translation" of movement into data
figure into our analysis? For example, do dancers improvise or move (in the
space of sensors) in such ways that the sensor does interesting things....
do we prod the sensor? Play with it, tease it, seduce it? Is the sensor our
audience? arriving/departing?

How does an audience in real space "read" our intimacy with the sensor,
actually this interests me immensely, Mark, how audiences respond to your
concerts? Can the sensor censor our movement expression, misread it,
falsely interpret it, fuck up? Can the software be embarrassed, audience
laughing heartily?

Mark wrote:

But, our fear/insecurity may come through the social
>training that teaches us that the possibility of sentience in the computer
>is real if not inevitable. (It is!)
> We insert the
>"interactor" as an intermediary between performer and instrument, to add
>capacity to the performer, to extend their body beyond its physical
>confines... Does the breakage of the direct physical link betweem
>performer and performed result from a fear of the devices, as a way to
>distance ourself from the media technology at hand. Would it be more
>powerful to simply "play" the video player by standing onstage and pressing
>the buttons in a carefully coordinated kind of way?

I am not sure how to answer the last question. I don't think it's more powerful.

More powerfully interesting and problematic to me is the idea of "extending
the body beyond its physical confines." I remember that last year at
Amsterdam's "Connecting Bodies" Conference Susan Kozel spoke about dance in
"electronically enhanced spaces" (an expression she prefered over "virtual
space"). I have not yet seen my movement extended beyond its physical
confines, except as an image, as a virtual or analog composition. Granted, I
guess this is what DTZ and some of our experimentations are about. The
demonstrations Susan Kozel gave were not so very inspiring, however, and
often I see us become clumsy and embarrassed by the trip ups. Closed cirucit
video and live mixes and digitally manipulated images (how are they
projected, on monitors, on walls, scrims, where in the space, on what wall
or into what other non-topical place somewhere elsewhere?) lure us into what
David Rokeby has called "very nervous systems."

I spent an hour recently in one of his very nervous systems room, tripping
up the sensors that blasted sound into me. It was genuinely boring, and I
walked around like a tiger in a cage, stubbornly trying to figure what what
footstep or what arm movement created what sound, but what was I doing that

Just an embarrased question about the nervous technology. Sorry.