February 28, 2007
Over the weekend I've struggled with getting the comments to work on this blog. It looks like it'll be more trouble than it's worth. Which is too bad. I love getting feedback. I love people challenging what I'm doing. Just the fact that people are reading or looking at what I'm doing is pretty satisfying in itself. Discussion is active thought. Also this weekend, I was lucky enough to get a couple blog mentions for the BlinkCam (Thank you for your support Despina and Regine). It was first picked up by WMMNA, which is a blog that I love and subscribe to. The collation of so much good stuff going on (and first hand!) is a wonderful resource. From there it was picked up by the ever-vigilant Gizmodo (whose headline at the time of this post was "Robot Sex: It's Here") -- always fighting the good fight to bring us the latest gadgetry and detritus from the nether-regions of the internet and beyond. Gizmodo's regular readers seem to enjoy Gizmodo's collation as well. I've decided to post here the comments that the BlinkCam garnered on the day that it was posted. I think the comments speak for themselves, but I will say that comment #17 is a fairly good metric as to what lies beneath. Here they are:
#1) EQC says:
Wouldn't it make more sense to take a picture of what you *would* have seen had you not blinked? Turn the camera around, and it'll make more sense. Who wants a bunch of pictures of themselves with their eyes closed?
#2) Image of Fuzz Fuzz says:
Someone get this guy 50cc's of girlfriend! Stat!
#3) Cobolman2 says:
And not only is does the incredible Blink-Cam take washed-out pictures of your own face every six seconds, but it also doubles as birth control! Act now!
#4) CBMTTek says:
Ladies and gentlemen, may I present the new 40 year old virgin.
#5) atomx says:
worst invention ever.
#6) Marty200 says:
He probably loses more time actually looking at the photos of when he blinked.
#7) frndlybnny says:
Well, I would post a snotty comment about his invention, but how much time am I going to lose doing that? Eh, what the hell: that thing is utterly fucktarded. Will he go on to invent the submarine screen-door next? We can only hope.
#8) CafeRacer1200 says:
Have you looked around you lately? Maybe I WANT to miss some of what presents itself before me.
#9) Eugene says:
A Polaroid picture? Does have stock in the company or has he never heard of a digital camera?
#10) SuppleMonkey says:
What's wrong with this guy?
#11) canfezplay says:
i can live with losing eight days, compared to the 31025 that i have total (thats for 85 years)..ok so 31017...whoopdee freaking doo
#12 obbie says:
its on polaroid film? man that must be expensive!
#13) sam_i_am says:
Anna Nicole Smith would be six feet under if she had Blink-Cam.
#14) Fluidity says:
So fucktarded that you just have to be impressed.
#15) kevininstereo says:
just give me a camera and I'll do the same... 100% of my photos are taken of a person in mid-blink. Where's my medal?
#16) blore40 says:
#17) qwertyblue says:
quite a stupid invention, but funny all the same. As soon as I read I thought the exact same as you Marty200, and I laughed when I read kevininstereo's comment. good stuff.
Thanks for the feedback guys! Let's keep the conversation rolling.
Posted by andrew schneider at 08:06 PM
February 23, 2007
BlinkCam in action
With the BlinkCam fixed and up and running, I've decided to take it out onto the streets. Many more pictures soon to come. In the mean time - I've documented some public interaction:
February 21, 2007
I am an enabler
All comments go. I've decided to allow comments here after not doing so for a long time. I have no idea if anyone have ever wanted to comment. I don't actually know for certain that anyone actually read this blog. But if you do, and you are a person, and you want to leave your thoughts on what I do here, or about anything in general, now you can...now you can. I am an enabler. On to the booze.
Oh boy...some trouble with moveable type again. No comments for now. Check back soon!
February 20, 2007
Experimental Device for Performance - Wearables Project.03 (update -- fixed!!!)
Last week I detailed the construction of what I am now calling the BlinkCam. Unfortunately, I shorted the circuitry of the camera itself. It powers up, but the switches no longer trigger the shutter as intended.
The only solution was to purchase a fresh polaroid for hacking. Same steps as before, and In about a half hour I've got myself a working BlinkCam! Check the demo here.
And check these hot pics!
Can't wait to take it to the streets!
In doing some research for a writing response to an article about Krzysztof Wodiczko, I needed to look through a lot of old footage from my undergrad. I have 40 or 50 Digital8 tapes from those four years that sit in my closet, waitng to be digitized. While looking through that stuff I found my graduate application supplemental materials reel and gave that a gander. It reminded me just how much stuff I used to do that is what I would now consider "analog." All these different video and photo techniques. Need a Final Cut Pro filter that makes a video look damaged / interference? Why not copy it over to VHS and stick your hands in the VCR to manually disrupt the data. Need the audio to sound tinny and shallow? Record the voice over off of the phone. I guess I still use some of these techniques in my my work, but what really struck me as being different was photography. Spending years in a darkroom, I reviled the advent of digital photography. Where was the art? No process. No chemicals. No blood, sweat ,and tears. I found footage from a shoot I did in completely dark dance studio with pen lights attached to my limbs and the camera set to "bulb" (there is no specific amount of time the shutter knows to stay open, the shutter stays open until it is closed again). See header image for the result of that shoot. I realize I really miss those old photo techniques and so I got out my point and shoot digital camera to see if it has s "bulb" setting. No dice. The best I've got on my Canon Powershot A540 is a setting to keep the shutter open for fifteen seconds. That'll have to do. Extending my procrastination evn further into the night, I used a standalone flash bulb to make the following images:
Posted by andrew schneider at 08:30 AM
February 19, 2007
I love you so much
Sign on a bus stop in Astoria, Queens
Posted by andrew schneider at 02:01 PM
February 18, 2007
This weekend I performed in the build/decay festival at The Tank. It was my first opportunity to incorporate Experimental Devices for Performance into a live stage performance. I used the video hat I've been working on and demoed for the second week of Wearables class. There are some improvements made to the last version. The current build includes 3 enlarged patches of conductive fabric for the leads as well as two sets of eyelash switches (see this entry for more on eyelash switches). Many thanks to Lauren Rosati for putting the festival together and Mike Rosenthal and The Tank for being generally awesome.
And the biggest thanks to Ariel Efron for documenting the show. Thank you!
Video is below.
view the program
Posted by andrew schneider at 07:59 PM
February 15, 2007
Experimental Device for Performance - Wearables Project.03
Hack a device. This week's project focuses on re-appropriating cheap consumer technology for use in a wearable. My device of choice was the point and shoot Polaroid 600 instant camera.
But how to make it into a wearable?
Camera technology has always fascinated me. The image is a powerful thing, but with the image's exponential proliferation and exploitation, what value does the image still hold? Is image still truth. Is it still time? Is image iconic? These are the things I've been thinking about heading into this weeks project.
With this in mind, I've decided to make a wearable that takes a picture of the wearer. I want the shutter to be activated by a gestural action that does not involve pressing a button - preferably an involuntary action. Here's what I've come up with:
A camera attached to a bike helmet that takes a picture using the eyes as physical switches. That's right. The eyes as physical switches and conductive fabric glued to my face.
And here's how I got there:
First I need to get a new Polaroid camera with a momentary push-button switch instead of a mechanical switch (usually found on the older models) to trigger the shutter. It is amazing how fast Polaroids are disappearing from the market these days. You can buy a digital keychain camera for half the price of a new Polaroid. What's more, a 3-pack of film for a Polaroid costs about as much as the camera itself. An expensive habit.
Time to hack the Polaroid. These cameras are usually fairly well put together as any light sensitive equipment should be. The thing about instant Polariods though is that they are usually snap together. Luckily this model has 3 tiny screws holding the sides together after it pops open. After taking the screws out I carefully pry off the top to reveal the innards. The goods:
I've located the shutter release as pictured above and determined through testing that the center switch and one of the periphery switches need to be closed simultaneously to trigger the shutter to release. With this figured out I can go on to snipping the existing wires and soldering leads for new switches that I'll add later.
Getting the casing back together is surprisingly easy, with a little care. My camera appears to be back in working order. Testing the new leads I've soldered only requires closing the switches. That just means touching all the wires together at once. Flash. Good. It works.
I'll run these leads along a wire hanger I've bent to attach the camera to a bike helmet. I'll terminate the leads in half-snaps so that I can convert the wire to conductive thread for the switch interface. (See this post for more info on snaps and converting wire to conductive thread and fabric)
On to the switches.
Swithces. Binary. Open. Closed. Eyes. Binary. Sexy. Why. Why not?
I've always wanted to translate the movement of eyelids to the opening and closing of a switch. Using conductive fabric, conductive thread and some spirit gum, I've finally got a solution.
I've cut the conductive fabric in thin strips and frayed the edges to give them more of a fake eyelash look. I've carefully sewn the conductive thread to the lashes at one end and to the other half of my snap connectors at the other. I attach them to my face making sure that the leads don't touch eachother. I snap the lash switches to the snaps on the helmet and I've got a working system.
With the switches wired up correctly, the wearer has to close both eyes at the same time to get the shutter to release. This way all you get are pictures with the wearers eyes closed.
Most pictures look something like this: link
Posted by andrew schneider at 10:13 PM
February 14, 2007
i heart ITP
Posted by andrew schneider at 03:32 AM
February 13, 2007
I've decided to start a seperate blog specifically for my thesis at the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU. As of this writing (02/07) I am not actively linking to it as I would my other work. This is a semi-private document and thought space. I need to set it up in this way to give myself structure while also allowing a lot of play. The signal to noise ratio may be a bit more 50-50. I am going to try to make this a hyper-active scrap-book. I'll be post anything and everything as I see fit. No need to justify. It all fits into my thesis somehow. My thesis...Experimental Devices for Performance. (for now)
I'm not going to post a link to it, but if you'd like to see it just drop me a line.
Posted by andrew schneider at 02:11 AM
February 09, 2007
Things I've always wanted to say to you
A Public Apology -
This morning I hit the foot of a woman in front of me with the bar of the revolving subway turn-style coming out of the 8th street downtown N train exit.
She's walking slowly. She's in a Robert Wilson stage direction she's walking so slow. She's walking next to a turtle. I am stuck behind her. We get to the turn-style. She waits two full revolutions. Nothing. No signs of any forward motion. I do a half-committed open-palm Virgin Mary thing behind her and finally she enters the turn-style. I make it a point to get in at the next slot to show her that it's not just one person per revolution, but one person per slot, making it in fact three people per revolution. The thing that I do not do, is push. I simply keep her pace, immediately behind her. She exits. I keep her pace. It's a good three feet until that next divider bar of the turn-style is gonna fly by at a blazing 1-2 mph. Somehow....somehow it grazes the back of her heel. And then I exit. And then she turns, looks and me, twists her face, and walks toward the wall. She puts her hand up against the wall, for support I'm assuming, and makes that mad-faced open-mouthed subdued-but-animalistic low growl. And shouts, "why did you do that! you should have waited." "I'm sorry," I say. I say I am sorry four or five more times as I walk next to her, speedily now walking up the stairs. She turns the corner. And I say I am sorry.
These types of things have been happening lately. I'll be in a rush, and commuters will be strolling along like it's national hands-in-your-pockets-day. They'll be in my way and they'll be moving slowly and I'll accidentally brush their elbow with the turn-style. They'll be walking up the stairs two at a time, when it's obvious there are lines established. I won't get out of the way. They get out of the way a bit too late. Out shoulders meet, we are both shocked at the force. They'll be slow on the steps. I'll accidentally find their Duane Reade bag underfoot. Crunch.
I've decided that this cannot weigh on my conscience any longer. I have decided to make a public apology.
I've coupled this idea, with an exploration in Wearables. This is a self-user test. The next step is to get the proper screen and build the wearable device to hold it in place.
Posted by andrew schneider at 02:09 PM
February 07, 2007
5 page concept
Wednesday 3:30 – 6:00
Caren Rabbino, Instructor
Thesis concept paper.
Experimental Devices for Performance are wearable and handheld devices used for media interaction in experimental performance. Being performer oriented, the devices make the connection between media and performer inseparable. The performer affects the media through the devices and the devices affects the performer. Together, they become the performance.
Experimental Devices for Performance roots itself in the history of technological stage innovation. Artaud, Marinetti, and Kandinsky were some of the early adopters of technology in the arts. Marinetti’s Manifesto of Futurism firmly planted the machine into a generation of artists to come. Technical innovation for the stage continued to rapidly evolve since then. Today, everything from live video manipulation, to dancing robotics is considered performance. Multimedia theatre companies like The Wooster Group have pioneered the integration of video and narrative performance. These artists have turned to technology as the lens through which to view their art. As technology continues to proliferate and change our relationship to the world and to ourselves, I propose to update this lens by introducing technology into my performance. I am building a series of devices embedded with sensors to be used in performance. I am most interested in the live manipulation of media though haptic response to a performer’s movement. The devices currently include prototypes for a pair of sneakers and a hat. I will describe the prototypes separately and then explain the proposal for newer prototypes to be built.
The sneakers use sensors embedded in the heel to detect the height of the foot off the ground. This information can be transmitted to an off-stage computer and used to manipulate audio, video, lighting, and mechanics. The sneakers are a pair of ordinary tennis shoes connected to a pair of wireless transmitters attached above the performer’s calves.
The hat is outfitted with wireless and wired video cameras, a wireless lavaliere microphone, and a Piezo sensor. The wireless video cameras and microphone transmit image and voice to various screens and speakers. The wired cameras are connected to the device with exposed leads of conductive fabric. Physical contact with an output device is required for the operation of the wired video cameras. In this way the hat is used both to constrain movement and as a manual video switcher.
Other proposed devices include small wearable screens and speakers, as well as custom built handheld screens and speakers.
I want to make experimental performance. An elemental building block of performance is movement. Dance, theatre, and film all incorporate movement as a part of their language. Theatre incorporates blocking to move the action along by literally moving the characters. Dance uses movement and gesture as a language in itself. Film and video uses camera movement (such as the tracking shot) as well as intra-media movement (such as the jump-cut or optical flow) to move the action. The common characteristic of movement can be used to fuse together dance, theatre, and film. Experimental devices for Performance use the movement of performers to control and manipulate media.
I am interested in creating performance that utilizes constraints. The devices are built in such a way to augment natural movement. For instance, the leads of conductive fabric on the devices require a physical connection with an output device in order for the image to be transmitted. This constraint dictates the movement of the performer. In this same way, other microphones, cameras, speakers and televisions are placed in awkward positions so as to require the performer to perhaps squeeze his head under a couch in order to use a certain microphone, or slam his face against the floorboards in order to be seen by a certain camera. This can be seen as a metaphor for the way technology both overtly and covertly affects our everyday action.
I use video and sound in stage performances, in part, to borrow from the language of film, which carries with it a different toolbox than theatre. For instance, theatre does not have the “close-up” in its vocabulary. I borrow the “close-up” from film terminology and couple it with stage techniques such as magnification extension to achieve a unique effect somewhere between video and performance. These couplings will be further exploded though rehearsal and experimentation.
The physical design must be robust. The software side of things must also allow for flexibility and change. The devices should be able to be used under different performance circumstances and venues. For example, all of the devices might be used to develop, rehearse, and perform a piece in a traditional black box theatre, while only one of the devices might be used to give an impromptu performance on the subway ride home from the theatre.
The devices should be modular. Many devices can be used at once or one device can be used alone. This way, the maximum amount of performances can be conceived, with little or no co-dependency on any of the other devices.
The devices should be designed toward a common aesthetic. For example, I have chosen to use New Balance brand sneakers in the design of a prototype because they are accessible as objects. This is to say, I see people wear New Balance sneakers on a regular basis. I wear New Balance sneakers. They are comfortable, practical, and do not stand out as anything other than common tennis shoes. This is what makes them accessible to an audience as performance tools, or performative objects. All of the designs for Experimental Devices for Performance should be approached in this way. They should be practical, comfortable, and not signify anything outside of what they are.
Audience and/or market:
The audience I envision for this project is the audience that already frequents the seats of the “downtown“ New York theatre scene. It is a private audience in the sense that they have paid for their tickets. They have come to see a performance. They have taken on the roll of audience. The contract has been made. I hope to appeal to this market the strongest. I am also interested in gaining the attention of presenting institutions, and residency-granting organizations such as Performance Space 122, H.E.R.E., and Eyebeam. Outside of this private sphere I am looking to entertain a public audience. I would like to use the devices for impromptu street performance. This performance would most likely appeal to those who enjoy public spectacle. The public performances would be a more casual interaction between performer and audience. The audience becomes the audience when they start paying attention. There is no performer/audience contract in public performance of this kind.
Environmental scenario (specific location, time it will take someone to use it, etc):
I would like Experimental Devices for Performance to be used for experimental performance inside and outside of the traditional theatre space. The devices should be built in a way that minimizes set up time and reliance on external technical needs. They should be as self-contained and “plug and play” as possible. This way they can be used first inside the rented rehearsal space, then transition easily to the performance space. Experimental Devices for Performance will be built primarily for the standard black box theatre that includes a basic lighting board, soundboard, and power supply. Most, but not all devices will require this minimum technical backend. A few of the devices should be self-contained enough to operate without any external amplification or power needs other than what can be carried on the body of the performer. The devices can be used in a performance of any length.
Media and technology proposed, and core features:
I propose to use a plethora of media for the completion of this project. Live video and audio will be fed back into the performance as part of the show. Prerecorded and found video footage will be played back, controlled, and manipulated by the performer. Much of the footage I plan to use will be found during the rehearsal period. The specific footage I will use will depend less on the content of the media, and more on the look and feel of the media. Prerecorded and live audio will also be played back, controlled, and manipulated by the performer. I plan to use the programming language Max/MSP to synthesize and manipulate live vocal input. For instance, the performer’s voice will be made to sound unnaturally high or low by using a pitch-shifting patch.
Video will be played back, controlled, and manipulated mainly using Max/MSP and Isadora. Manual manipulation of magnetic videotape may also be performed.
Live and prerecorded audio and video will also be used to affect itself. Sound levels may affect the vertical roll of a television screen. Video tracking may be used to raise or lower the pitch of the vocals. Feedback loops will be created and experimented with for content and spectacle.
The technology specific to the devices I propose includes various sensors for input, microcontrollers and radios for processing and transmission, and speakers and screens for output.
The prototypes for the sneakers include a photocell in each heel. The information sent and received varies depending on how much or how little light the sensors are exposed to.
Similarly, the hat includes a Piezo sensor to detect how much or how little the performer’s head is moving.
All of these embedded sensors talk to on-board microcontrollers also embedded within the devices. The microcontrollers process the information being gathered the sensors and send it along to wireless radio transmitters called Zigbee radios. Each Zigbee radio has a twin that listens to it on the other end. This twin Zigbee feeds the data it gets into a computer running Max/MSP or Isadora or both.
Ballpark budget or what it would need to be made real:
Looking at my proposal for the technology and media I will use, I can reasonably assume that I will need $500 to $1,000 to complete this project. I am only taking into account device experimentation and new prototype manufacturing in this estimate. I am not taking into account manufacture beyond what I have described here. The expense for back-end technical support in the theatre space varies with each institution and is also not taken in to consideration in this estimate. Back-end technical support in the theatre includes external equipment and cabling, various mixing boards, lighting and soundboards, projectors, extra televisions, and speakers.
Criteria for success:
Experimental Devices for Performance will be judged by the seamlessness of integration it achieves in performance. Due to this particular criteria’s subjectivity and reliance on outside factors such as performance quality, writing quality, and staging, I have decided to give the success of the performance itself very little weight in the overall assessment of Experimental Devices for Performance’s success. More weight will be given to the device’s physical and technological stability under the duress of performance.
Posted by andrew schneider at 09:01 AM
February 05, 2007
I'm posting a link to the dailies here only because daily015 bears a strong resemblance to what I am developing for a possible upcoming wearables project. This short clip is a very basic proof of concept demonstrating augmented reality using very specific screens in very specific ways.
More intimate versions are soon to come...
Posted by andrew schneider at 11:51 PM
February 04, 2007
New Stranger on actingstranger.com
Acting Stranger is an experiment in performance.
I write short scripts.
I invite people who I don't know to read those scripts and choose a specific scene and character they would like to perform.
We set up a date, location, and time.
There is no introduction.
There is no direction.
There is only one take.
There are no goodbyes.
The only interaction is the interaction that takes place within the scene.
I am rolling this site out slowly.
Any comments would be appreciated.
Tell your friends! Because they're not my friends! They're perfect strangers!
Posted by andrew schneider at 12:23 PM
February 02, 2007
Experimental Device for Performance - Wearables Project.02
create an item of clothing using wool, cotton, leather, and electronic component, conductive fabric or thread.
I've decided to start bringing in thesis idea influences early on in this class.
Experimental Devices for performance is this weeks working title. You can read more about my thesis proposal and research here or here as a pdf (34k)
For this project specifically I am interested in exploring soft video. As an initial exploration into this topic I decided to see whether or not it is possible to send composite video signal over conductive thread.
Looks like it's all systems go for now.
I've decided to start with some sketches that I've made during our first week of class. Then it's on to construction.
I am using a hat-on-hat combo that I usually wear as a daily fashion choice. The under-hat is a New York Yankees hat with a rigid brim. This will be used to attach the cameras. The over-hat is a crocheted black cap that Kristin made for me. This will be used as a place to put the conductive fabric video lead patches as well as housing for batteries and wires.
The cameras are my standard low-cost security camera of choice from super circuits. I've used coat hangers from the dry-cleaners to attach the cameras to the hat.
The camera's composite output terminates in a standard female RCA connection (there is no sound). I've made my own male RCA connector that terminates on the opposite end in a snap connection. The signal and ground of the video cable are soldered to two seperate female snaps. This is done to be able to make a solid connection between the wires and the conductive fabric of the patches. (Soldering to conductive fabric or thread is not very feasible.) The male side of the snaps are sewn to the crocheted hat with conductive thread, which is also used to sew the pathes of conductive fabric to the hat.
Now the camera's RCA output leads are connected solidly to the individual patches of the hat. One for signal and one for ground. In this way I will be able to reverse engineer this process on the television side of things.
Two patches of the same conductive fabric are attached to the television and positioned so they line up with the patches on the hat. Signal to signal and ground to ground. The same fabric sewn to snap and snap soldered to wire technique that was used on the hat is implemented here.
After I attach some 9V batteries and hide them in the fold of the skull cap, the first prototype of Experimental Devices for Performance # 1 is ready to be demo-ed.
Posted by andrew schneider at 04:28 PM
February 01, 2007
5 page contextual research
Wednesday 3:30 – 6:00
Caren Rabbino, Instructor
The purpose of this paper is to provide a contextual background to the development of Avant-Garde-Ables, my thesis project for the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU. Avant-Garde-Ables (working title) are a series of wearable, performer-oriented devices for the direct real-time manipulation of live and prerecorded media in the live performance space. For the purposes of this paper I will use the term media to refer to video, audio, lighting, and mechanisms. These devices will be used to develop and refine the action of a specific performance in parallel development called PLEASURE (working title). PLEASURE is a one-man show exploring the human condition in a technologically saturated and hyper-everythinged world.
The protagonist of the story, while an individual physical being, adopts multiple personalities through the aid of media in order to explore and cope with self-identity and rejection. Television monitors are strewn about the stage - acting sometimes as a traditional chorus might, and acting other times as the antagonist of the action.
In order to understand the specifics of the literal state-of-the-art when discussing live theatre, it is necessary to understand its background, history, and most importantly, current innovation and implementation techniques. In the following pages I will briefly discuss the history of avant-garde theatre and quickly move into describing the present day practice of incorporating media and technology into live theatrical performance. I will also dedicate a large portion of the writing to the significance and implications that specific technological trends have in current performance practices. Lastly, I will discuss the specific technology I will be using in the development of this project.
Avant-garde is an often-misunderstood term. Literally meaning the “front guard” in French, the term was pulled from military-speak of the 1800’s and refers to the “advanced guard” of the French military who were sent ahead of other troops to scout terrain. The term is often used in an artistic mode to describe works of art that are experimental and innovative, often with a focus on culture, politics, even art itself. Avant-garde is often misappropriated, however, to mean anything that is outside of the mainstream artistic trend. In this way we can see why avant-garde is sometimes referred to as “art for art’s sake.” Bert Cardullo, in his book Theater of the Avant-Garde 1890 – 1950, takes the meaning of avant-garde as a “leading edge” one step further when he states, “the avant-garde…becomes that element in the exercise of the imagination that we call art which finds itself unwilling (unable really) to reiterate or refine what has already been created.” In effect, we need to do something new. Cardullo further states, “Many would identify in the avant-garde not merely a tendency to retreat from the maddening disorder of the world for the purpose of creating, through art, an alternative, visionary, eternal order but also a tendency to absorb the world’s chaos into the work of art itself.” This is especially important and relevant to the theatre, where form, for the most part has stayed relatively static for millennia with small variations here and there. The problem was that the way theatre traditionally worked was through the strict confines of linear narrative. Again, Cardullo points out that “theater artists became aware of the illogicality of too much literalism in the procedure of a medium that is essentially make-believe.” With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, comes an artistic revolution. Within the avant-garde, the traditional narrative form, and subsequent sub-forms of theatrical technique can be exploded. Cardullo goes on to claim that “…avant-garde drama was directly affected by the new god of science – by new scientific discoveries and the advanced technologies of the machine age, in their constructive as well as destructive capacities” which is why we see avant-garde’s early association with the likes of Futurism, Expressionism, Surrealism, Dadaism, and Absurdism, by the more specific early adopters such as Alfred Jarry, Maurice Maeterlinck, Kandinsky, Marinetti, Tzara, Artaud, and Gertrude Stein.
From this intersection of art and the machine age, it is very easy to fully incorporate new forms of technology and media into a theatrical setting in fascinating and innovative new ways. One pioneer in the effective use of modern technology in live stage performance is the New York based performance ensemble, The Wooster Group.
During a talkback at a recent remount of “House/Lights” at Saint Ann’s Warehouse, artistic director of the company, Elizabeth LeCompte, remarked of the company’s use of television monitors instead of flat-screen displays, “It’s a period piece.” However odd this may sound, it reifies the notion of the exponential growth of technology in the past 100 years. Wooster has incorporated technology into their pieces from a very early stage. “House/Lights” had its debut at the Performing Garage on Wooster Street in 1999. By the time it was remounted in 2004, it had already become antique in a way. This is a fascinating demonstration of the need of technology-incorporating theatre practitioners to live on the cusp of the current media environment, to ensure that their work has the most impact and relevance. This is not to say that the most current technology needs to be incorporated into a piece, however it may behoove a company such as The Wooster Group to know the current media trends. How else could LeCompte know that the media from a show originally produced five years prior already felt dated - and thus make the appropriate decisions based on that knowledge?
During my time working on the remount of “House/Lights” I was able to gain a good working knowledge of the creation process of the company. LeCompte, who was trained as a painter, chooses specific “constants” that are then compared, contrasted, and which eventually inform each other. These constants can be text, activities, set construction, found media, sound, etc. “House/Lights” specifically uses the constants of the text from Gertrude Stein’s “Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights,” a reconfigured set from a previous production of “The Hairy Ape,” and a “B” soft-core porn movie called “Olga’s House of Shame” from the 1960’s. During the rehearsal process, LeCompte actively runs these three constants against each other and pulls out the good bits. The layering begins. What is fascinating about “House/Lights” specifically is the success of the telling of Stein’s Faustus tale through the use of found pornography, and the ultimate transcendence of any of the individual media, becoming a tale not of the struggle between Mephisto and Faust, but of the struggle between LeCompte and one of the group’s core actors, and a leading presence in the group, Kate Valk. This is an ultimately successful use and incorporation of media in the context of live performance. Not only do the actors on stage mimic the actors on screen, but they also mimic the very language and carrier of the media itself, the television. The staging mimics television’s vernacular. “Jump cuts” are successfully executed on stage. The canned soundtrack from television media is incorporated live. The Wooster Group is talking the media’s language. In this way the group is able to do a show both using the media, commenting on the media, and being the media. What comes across is a dense and rich story. That is what ends up at the center; the story.
Other theatre practitioners whom I’ve come across in my research make technology, rather than the story, the main focus of their performance – or at least focus the majority of their energies there. The Blue Man Group, for example, focus the majority of their energy on gimmicky, albeit highly entertaining, interaction between themselves and technologically clever stage gags, and more often, between themselves and themselves. They are leaders in bringing technological and expressionistic performance into the mainstream, as well as in the use of developing customized performance devices. While many of their onstage devices tend toward musical instrument, their incorporation of the body into those instruments is valuable to observe. Venturing even further into the realm of technological performance to a place that can still be considered theatre on some level, is a man who goes by the moniker, My Robot Friend. More robotic in appearance than human, My Robot Friend’s identity approaches cyborg. Almost all attention is focused on the wearable devices the performer dons. In fact, the devices arguably become the performance. MRF’s performance suit includes a helmet of LED’s, lengthening and retractable fingertips, and a crotch covered in what is too reminiscent of a fire extinguisher for comfort. In this way, the performance becomes only about the technology. While the wearer is himself a self-contained vehicle of performance and all control comes from inside the suit, the story fades away while gadgetry is presented as grand spectacle. Although my use of technology aims to bridge the disconnect between performer and onstage media in a way that My Robot Friend and Blue Man arguably do not, I do value the importance of spectacle as an engaging storytelling tool.
Take the work of Chicago’s Plasticene Theatre Company for example, and their use of what is called a “resource.” A resource can be anything. It can be a piece of technology, or a piece of furniture. A recent choice was a series of large metal tables. Plasticene chooses a resource and works with that resource as a creative tool for inspiration and as a concept around which to develop a language and material. The result is spectacle, but with a richness which the others do not attain. Many others can be looked at to see their own uses of technology for augmenting performance, such as the content-free work of Caden Manson’s Big Art Group and their 2004 production of “House of No More,” who create a soap opera in front of the audience’s eyes by use of a specially build green-screen stage and a dozen or so live video cameras, or the absurdist work of Brooklyn-based Radiohole complete with devices to shake the limbs of the body for no discernable reason.
The work of filmmaker Roy Andersson in particular resonates with the notion of a balance between spectacle and storytelling. In interviews, Andersson talks of finding a “pictoral solution” to the visual representation and the framing of scenes. Each shot is meticulously planned out and staged. Although Andersson’s work is in a different medium, it becomes more theatrical due to the deliberate lack of quick camera work, no intra-scene jump cuts, and a slow, contemplative pacing. Everything in Andersson’s film is given its proper playable moment.
Many more artists, musicians, and performers have an influence on the current state-of-the-art ranging from Laurie Anderson, Mike Albo, Taylor Mac, to M.C. This, The Builders Association, and the SITI Company. Companies like Elevator Repair Service continue to push the state-of-the art without the use overt technology, but rather a signature prop and movement style. In this way the state-of-the art is necessarily innovative, not necessarily technological.
When working with sensor embedded performance, movement takes the forefront – how will the movement be detected. The first solution is a “smart” sensor accelerometer. Doing some tests with the 3 axis LIS3LV02DQ accelerometer from ST Micro as well as weighted and non-weighted piezoelectric film sensors, I have realized that simple circuits and “dumbly” detecting movement gives more low level control than an IC does. Rather than use one Accelerometer, which requires the interpolation of data if not kept on a flat surface, I plan to use an array of low-level sensors deployed throughout the devices.
To conclude, I find it necessary to state that it is not my intention to create a work that is “avant-garde.” Nor is it my intent to create a “post-modern” or “performance art” piece. I will use qualities from each as they and other things have greatly influenced my work, however, I see them more as houses to burglarize rather than houses to live in. To this end, I will be working with a structure defined by the objects and the making of the objects themselves. As Cardullo points out:
In this kind of theater, among other things, all production elements speak their own language rather than being mere supports for words, and a text need be neither the starting point nor the goal of a production – indeed, a text is not even necessary, and therefore there may be none. In other words, fidelity to the text, that sacred tenet which had so long governed performance, has become irrelevant: postmodernism, both as critical inquiry and as theater, continues to challenge whether any text is authoritative, whether a dramatic text can be anything more that a performance script – whether, in fact, the play exists at all before it is staged.
Posted by andrew schneider at 07:07 PM