Re: mixed means 2

Nick Rothwell (
8 Apr 1998 09:58:23 -0000

> Now digital technologies have increased exponentially the
> possibilities for electronic media and sound creation, manipulation,
> production and projection into the stage environment.

Maybe. Just maybe. I think there's a real danger of the gap widening
between practitioners who have the resources to bring digital
technologies to bear in performance situations and those who do not.

To some extent, the simplicity of analogue presentation techniques
(read: sets and lights) is such that there is generally no
discontinuity in terms of resources brought to bear and the paradigms
they facilitate. A choreographic workshop requires a cassette deck and
amplifier. A development project requires much the same. A
work-in-progress presentation requires the same plus perhaps some very
simple lighting. Depending on the focus of the work, serious
professional performances can be quite resource-light in terms of
what's needed (apart from development resources like good rehearsal
spaces, and time!) - and the resources needed for performance are
generally those provided by venues anyway.

This doesn't hold with digital technologies. I don't know if it ever
will. Scott, you mention your "school" : presumably there are
educational establishments with these facilities (I was briefly at
Surrey University's Performing Arts department last month, for
instance, for a project I was involved with). That's not the same as
the technology being cheap and unbiquitous enough for it to become a
staple part of the development and showing of work - and this is what
we need if we want to escape media compartmentalisation of digital art
as slightly nerdish, and if we are to see practitioners getting a
chance to develop working paradigms which let them actually
communicate artistically rather than show what they've learned to do
with the new toys.

> With digital technologies, you
> push a single button and algorithms interact to manifest a complex result...
> which may leave the user with no idea as to how it was achieved. Wonderful
> for 'chance' operations -- but if one wishes to make work from a different
> perspective... where a certain amount of predictability and repeatability is
> important then it's difficult.

I'm not sure I agree - early generation analogue instrumentation is
notoriously unreliable, and we all know what analogue feedback loops
sound like. Yes, digital systems, with their ability to manipulate
symbolic information and make it self-referential, allow all sorts of
chaotic behaviour to be created - but it IS repeatable given the right
support environment, because what it's doing is digital and
discrete. (This is one of the threads to a paper I'm trying to finish
for the Computer Music Journal on interactive performance systems.)

> Disciplines are separated out of the 'interdisciplinary' and
> considered as isolated forces for the purpose of reflecting on the
> interactions in the context of 'Mixed Means: One'.

This sounds curious and interesting (mainly because I'm suspicious of
the "separation of disciplines" - that sounds like
compartmentalisation - but I'm sure that's not what you mean).

> ... refers to a new space for dance. Another technological space, that of
> the 'digital network'. The digital network is liberating all forms from the
> genres in which they were/ are contained or, some might say,
> confined.

I disagree. The Internet carries its own specific constraints, both in
terms of what it can offer technologically, and in terms of the
expectations of its users and the "cultural" (for want of a better
word) slant that acts as a filter for people's perceptions of online
material and the way they interact with/react to it. There are serious
human factors issues at stake here. (Reference: Jakob Nielson, Senior
Interface Engineer at Sun Microsystems, He has a
series of high quality essays on network ergonomics and user
behaviour, interface models and so on.)

        Nick Rothwell, CASSIEL            contemporary dance projects            music synthesis and control

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