Very few artists have been working at the intersection of performance and technology as inquisitively, innovatively and rigorously for as long as choreographer/media-artist Dawn Stoppiello and composer/media-artist Mark Coniglio, known together as Troika Ranch.
The widely used, real-time media manipulation software Isadora, written by Coniglio, was conceptualized and created from the choreographic investigations at the core of their collaboration.
Stoppiello and Coniglio are among the first artists whose creative practices developed alongside the digital technology that is now so pervasive, and the story of their ongoing creative partnership is also the story of the past twenty years of performance and digital technology.
I am a man of many obsessions, but over the past few years some of those obsessions have taken prominence, namely: traditional cultural forms re-imagined in contemporary contexts, digitally informed choreographic structures and deep dramaturgical integration in performance.
In September 2012 I attended a dance platform in Minneapolis where I encountered the embodiment of this confluence of obsessions in Aniccha Arts’ performance In Habit: Living Patterns.
John Keston is a Minneapolis-based artist working with sound and electronic imagery. I found him through my conversations with Pramila Vasudevan and the Aniccha Arts team. John received his MFA in New Media from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) here’s the abstract of his master’s thesis. :
This paper explores the idea of mutable, audiovisual scores for improvised musical performances through the description of personal perspectives, practical examples, proposed projects, and research. The author postulates that an audiovisual score can be a useful tool to connect improvising musicians to each other and their audience through the insertion of a mediating audiovisual layer within the work. These systems are used as a primary influential agent for an ensemble of improvisers, providing them with a context for a musical conversation. In contrast to traditional notation and graphic scores, audiovisual scores embrace the chaotic ambiguities of environmental influences giving the music the context of unpredictable everyday events. Presenting an unpredictable audiovisual score parallels the indeterminate improvisation of the ensemble. It activates the last vestige of what remains immutable within traditional forms of notation driven performance inserting it into a mutable layer within the work.
He included this amazing Venn Diagram on his website, which really resonates with the mapping I’m trying to do:
Things have been a bit hectic around here. New interviews coming soon. Am in Berkeley at the moment, taking some time to try and catch up on writing, meet some people, check out the scene. There is a lot going on across the bridge in SF, hard to describe. Spoke at this event on Monday night, though, and the changes are on everybody’s mind.
In NYC the transformation has been slow and ongoing for a long time, watching SF is like watching a time-lapse movie, where the metamorphosis is happening almost overnight. It is going to be interesting. And probably pretty difficult.
Have been thinking a lot about digital public art. Good example of it (to my mind) is Susie Ibarra’s “Digital Sanctuaries” which you can experience on June 21 if you’re in Lower Manhattan. More details here.
I’ll be on a panel at Harvestworks talking about Ephemeral Objects, digital public art, sound art and “place” on June 26.
A few weeks back I went to the Leaders in Software and Art panel discussion on “Digital Art, Money and Independence” hosted by NYPL Labs, featuring Amy Whitaker, Barry Threw, Justin Bolognino and Kyle McDonald and moderated by Isabel Walcott Draves.
It was a super cool event, though a little bit freewheeling. There were about a million different possible conversations, the panel hit on about a dozen of them. I was particularly intrigued by the comments and insights of Barry Threw about the art/tech situation in SF and some of the thornier complications of the culture clash unfolding there. As someone whose most pivotal artistic and cultural imprinting occurred in Seattle in the early 90′s, and who was deeply influenced by the ethos of publications like Mondo 2000, it is confounding to see how – it seems – money has obscured a previously natural and fruitful intersection of worlds.
I subsequently checked out Barry’s website where he recently posted a podcast of a conversation between him and Darwin Grosse from the Art+Music+Technology website. You can listen to it below or download the MP3 here.
This is a first pass at mapping the discrete components of an ephemeral object or work of time-based art along with the relevant disciplines/areas of consideration for aesthetic engagement:
On a recent trip to San Diego I met the artist Tara Knight who is making a documentary about Hatsune Miku, a “collaboratively constructed cyber celebrity“. Hatsune Miku means “The First Sound from the Future”. According to “Know Your Meme”:
Hatsune Miku (初音ミク) is an application developed by Crypton Future Media. Released in August 2007, using Yamaha’s Vocaloid 2 technology and voice samples of Japanese voice actress Saki Fujita, the program allows the user to synthesize and optimize the singer’s voice to sing any tune. It was first introduced to the Japanese market with an official anime character, who has since reached iconic status within Otaku culture as well as mainstream J-pop and online video culture as well.
It is kind of amazing. Watch the trailer for Tara’s movie here:
Alec Wilkinson’s New Yorker article “A Voice From The Past” [subscription required] is a really fascinating and thought-provoking examination of the role of technology in the creation, preservation and restoration of ephemeral objects.
He tells us about the work of Milman Parry and Albert Lord who, “formed the Parry-Lord hypothesis, which proposed that epic poems such as the Iliad and the Odyssey were made up of formulas that involved descriptions and characters and scenes that were assembled for an occasion by poets who were improvising, much as musicians improvise according to a songs’ chord structures and the rules of harmony.”
Wilkinson then goes on to describe listening to long-unlistenable “piano rolls” and in so doing radically revising the “we understand what 19th century music sounded like.”
Wilkinson quotes the physicist Carl Haber from the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory – the central figure of the article – as saying, “Sound, for example, is a phenomenon that changes as a function of time.”
I’m intrigued to think ephemeral art as working in the mediums of space and time, and how evolving the tools we use evolves our ability to manipulate our experience of space and time, and extend the arc of the work of art through time.
One of the notions that I started developing when working with Susie Ibarra and Roberto Rodriguez on Digital Sanctuaries – a GPS-based site-based sound walk throughout Lower Manhattan – was the notion of digital public art that was persistent, iterative and always-evolving.
I really love this illustration by Christine Wong Yap diagramming “What Artists Make Happen”.
My only major bone of contention is her assertion that, “Artists make objects. The very activity of manipulating materials with an openness to their possibilities is the development of our own practices” and that “…artists make exhibitions, which are events/situations for engagement between the artist and viewer via the object.”
The central argument I’m proposing with the Ephemeral Objects blog is that our understanding of what artists do need not be limited to the creation of material objects. By extension, the creation of non-material objects is an art form unto itself that crosses multiple disciplines – music, theater, dance, media, film, performance, digital, etc. – and that these artistic disciplines require skill, craft and expertise; they have their own particular knowledge bases, theories and contexts. If artists are using expanded practices to include the creation of non-material objects, then they must learn those skills and gain expertise or collaborate with artists who have them. It is irresponsible for artists working in the creation of material objects to transition to non-material objects without learning the existing knowledge bases, theories, contexts and concerns of artists working in ephemeral or embodied practices.
Similarly, critical engagement with non-material objects demands an expanded field of practice around discourse. It is not enough to merely create the appearance of rigor, either within the work or in the discourse; it is necessary for artist and critic alike to understand the realm of the non-material, its conditions and concerns, to truly make great works for art and write about them thoughtfully.