Re:more improvisations

Johannes H. Birringer (
Sat, 05 Apr 1997 02:06:20 -0600

Thanks Amanda, Richard, and Mark for responding so thoughtfully and carefully.

I am enjoying these discussions, and hope they can help/provoke us. What
Richard commented on:

1) visibility of the interactive device/machine (transparency,
2) the dancer playing with/influencing the interactively designed environment
3) >But what else is movement within an interactive environment if not data?
4)> the interactive environment being PART of the choreography -

made me think a lot about my own preconceptions and approaches to
rehearsal/production, and these remarks about the space/environment, and the
dancer's extending the instrument, are very valuable to me. Yes, I realize
technology is an extension of me or is present in extension,I operate in a
forcefield, I constantly actually move in designed (urban, surveilled)
space, but I am still always asking what is being extended and what for,
and how does it feed back to me, or in artistic/audience (spectatorial)
frame, what kind of extension/feed-back system am I working through telling
or showing something of myself or about the work, an idea, a story, a music,
an image. I suppose I am moving slowly right now, carefully checking my
steps, my tracks, packing up.

Does electronic art, as Scott implied not too long ago, alter irrevocably
the communal physical frame of spectatorship, and how do informational
data-exchange environments act in new aesthetic perceptions [In Germany,
design schools teaching computer/digital art call it "OberflŠchendesign,"
i.e. surface design, presumably this refers to graphic interface
design/screens], how do they alter our notions of event, dance, concert? was
I right in recommending to Jools Gilson-Ellis some weeks ago that I'd love
to see her perform her/your CD-ROM live, but is it possible? See Amanda* below.

I think Mark would agree with Richard, and I thank Mark for his more
detailed explication of the "Interactor" and his view of < redundancy>

[<and I hope that one day some of the devices in use to allow the gestures
of a dancer >to control media will mature and become just as commonplace.
But for the time being, >there is a certain unavoidable novelty in these
devices because they allow something to >happen that the audience is not yet
familiar with.>}

This is an issue for me still, artistically and politically, because in our
current installatoin performance ["before night falls"1.0] we seek to expose
the machines and operate them in full view, or at least we want to n o t
make them redundant. It's not about exposing the "production apparatus," as
Marxist film criticism calls it. It's about intimate connections and
relations that we thematize (e.g. my partner's playing on the sound i n
the machine, e.g. the sound the camera makes when transporting tape; other
new musicians in England has mucking around in fascinating ways with the
laser in the CD player or they manipulate smallest fragments (frequencies,
etc) within a sampled bit, manipulating/redesigning structures [as Aphex
Twin, Atom Heart, Air Liquide, Scanner, and especially Oval talk about it,
and they do sometimes talk about "designing informational structures, not
Šbout making music].

I admit, I used the wrong word in saying I "refuse." What I meant was: I am
having some thoughts about it - say, about dance design - that make we
wonder if what I tend to think of as complex emotional/physical and psychic
material in a performance can be rendered/redesigned in the language of
"data" (on a quantitative, measurable level)? I am sure in musical terms
that might be so, in terms of physics also, but not in terms of the
phenomenological aesthetics of content that is qualitative and
context-dependent, radically unstable and interactive in terms of
kinesthesias (audience perceptions and proprioceptions - the crux for VR
design that predominantly dedigns optical simulation, and lags behind the
tactile and other sensory emotions).

Mark then wrote about the "data" (dance as data) issue:

>How can you refuse? The physical gestures _can_ be measured....... the
>performative gesture is not also the signifier of meaning. [not clear to
me, Mark]
>To me this is
>the central issue when using these devices with dance: is the dancer a
>dancer, or a musician, or an image manipulator or ... ? Will the use of
>technology change, the idea of "measureable" choregraphy change your work?
>Surely. But if we want the dancer to remain primarily a dancer, the control
>of the media devices should be a direct result of the choreography -- not
>the other way round.

And further, Mark says:

>When I use the word intimacy, I was primarily speaking the removal of an
>intermediary human actor between performer and technology, with his or her
>replacement being an "instrument" created in software. In the case of the
>theater, the lighting board operator is an example. Between dancer and lamp
>there is a human conduit of information. This has obvously worked well for
>decades and continues to do so, but it prevents certain choices from being
>taken by the performer. I am interested in seeing the performer have the
>opportunity to make these choices.

This makes complete sense. Finally, Mark comments on how audience reads

>The use of the technology, from the audience perspective, is
inconsequetial. If the
>artwork has something to say, and it is well crafted, the technologies used
>matter very little.

and you end by saying you wish the audience wouldn't come because they like
to see the technology/controls.

These are very critical issues, I think, open to a much larger discussion, I
hope, including points of view that would interest me from dancers who like
audiences to see the dance, and from designers who like the audiences to see
the design. In Richard's view, and I agree, much of our audiences actually
would come to our works because they are interested in the interface design,
and the content and the experience of an intelligent, beautiful, moving, or
cool or other content of such design right?


I think Richard wrote from his experience as designer/composer, and his way
of looking at an expanded interactive environment will actually, if I
follow, change our vocabularies/conceptions of live performing arts
(espceially arts traditionally reliant on physical and acoustic
movement/sound in real space, and this is the path to VR and telematics and
the kind of intriguing netwok performances Amanda has experimented with.

Let me say here that I loved Amanda's exciting, surprising and
vivid/humorous/ironic presentation of "M@aggie" in Amsterdam (1996,
Connecting Bodies) - I loved that display so much that I tried to write
about it for a German magazine who had never heard of such possibilities of
an internet concert. When I expressed a little bit of disappointment about
Susan Kozel and your duet with her in Chichester, then only because I
thought Susan Kozel's theory was much more elaborate and heavy (high) than
the awkward video camera/closed circuit interface performance we were shown.

I want to clarify here that I completely agree with Amanda about needing
contexts/opportunities to experiment in supportive environments, and that
often we are experimenting learning how to manipulate/interact with
technology and new technoaesthetic concepts by retooling or redirecting the
ways we used them (camera, projectors, MIDI devices, phone lines),
especiallay when conditions are not perfect. we need to demand better
resources, find them, request them if we show work. [I have a long story to
tell about Atlanta and their disregad of all the tech design faxes I sent them.]

Amanada has composed internet performances that are much more complicated
than anything I have done, in some sense. But I am particularly thankful for
her frank comments on:

>The loss of the player/musician/dancer creates a space to be
>filled, or a loss, like a sudden death, rather than an annoying nuisance in
>the run of an everyday life...

and on <connecting>
> I think the main thang is about connecting - to a space/s - a concept -
time - to life> as we live it.

and on context/responsibility

>It is the responsibilty of the artist to make work accessible to a
potential audience >or participant
>......... maybe the clue lies somewhere between the digitally connected and
>the digitally homeless. We, the connected, are too used to technology
>either working or not working for us: with the functions of the technology
>being pre-defined and restricted. Like the cashpoint that won't deliver,
>that we often fail to realise the implications of what is actually going
>on, between the space, between the eye and the image, the sound and a
>particular movement - and the many combinations, etc, etc. Back to the
>artist responsibility of HOW they r presenting their work, in WHAT context,
>to WHO .......... it is a massive job.

We definitely need feedback on that.

I want to conclude by asking how one conducts such conversations. I find
myself quoting so that I can organize (in space, in time, between the lines,
on my screen, in my head) my thought process.

A few hours ago I was dancing and going back to the tapes and the editing
room, worried to death about the problem of the physical movement (too slow,
too minimalist, too kinetically unmotivating, too restrained, too
constricted): vis-a-vis the four-channel fluid/image movement environment we
have composed and which surrounds us and envelops us and lights us and
interacts with us and we with it yet the imaged movement is more kinetically
powerful and emotionally expressive than us there quietly performing our
presence, with a few carefully subdued gestures [it's not an interactive
environment in a Mididancer sense, we couldn't finish that stage of our work
yet; we simulate interactivity by examining it]

I am not worried about sudden death, machine crashing, person in netscape lost

I am working on slow death, on very slow/difficult remembering, retrieval of
bodily information, and at my own face on the control monitor. I am acting
with it, and the image's increasing distancing itself from me, almost as if
the line was getting weak, like sometimes when I call my mother across the

Do Lines get Weak?

I am obsessing about flowers and a garden.

About someone who died in it.

About my childhood and certain images that I remember now, and how I can
"read" them,
capture them, transform (choreograph) them.... design them into a forcefield
of sound and image and movement, weaken them. Joel, my partner, has a whole
choreographic section (a voice, too) on the color of his eyes.

He's working with "interferences" (Amanda, almost, you might say, we are
exploring in our composition the loss/break down you talk about, the
cashpoint not dispensing). The interaction, in order words, we are exploring
are problematic ones, difficult one, synapse failures, connector-problems
that are only meaningful for us (beyond technology/extension) as a
problemtic of culture, identity, race. The color is not an innocent issue,
nor is gender, nor health and age. What you say, perhaps without saying, is
something rather stark, Amanda, that about the future/present digitally
homeless. What is that? You mean the people unlike us who are not connected
with phone/modems?

is the posthuman (much talked about now after the lamb lamb lamb and the
cloning business) the modemized, and what if the connection fails, or if the
connection discriminates, hurts, blinds, sickens, exploits?

Wha is the phone company switches you off? [Ameritech informs me last week
that AT&T is no longer my long-distance carrier. I didn't decide that. How
come they decide for me?]

In terms of design, the language of data construction has a militarist
history to me, and a scientific/engineering history which is biased. I am
biased against design,if it is hidden and controls/informs me that I have
been disconnected, and perhaps my worry about the kinetics of my body
extended into the image field is a worry about my nudity, age, irrelevance.
On the other hand, I'd like to push further into it, overdesign the field in
which I am resricted, or restrict the field in which I am designed, or
redesign the voice that is seen in the image of my death, or the audience
can choose to click me away.

Good night,

AlienNation Co.
10 more days in Chicago.