Reflexiones sobre Performance, Cultura y Tecnología




(page 3 of 4)



Grupo Nucleodanza, videostill


Johannes Birringer. Fabian's question still deserves some responses…. is there a distinction between artistic uses of technology in North or Latin America?

Mariano Sardon. Yes, I have attended courses on interactive authoring here at UCLA, and people who worked with computers had a different relation with machines than Argentine people have. The themes of discussion, and the willingness to explore and consider machines, were different. I suspect it would be different to approach concepts, structures, and reasoning in one's own language, have the same thinking structure, created by people that are part of one's own culture.


Johannes Birringer. Now, Fabian and Jeff, you have written on "Networked Multi-sensory Experiences" and described some of your installations and interactive designs. You say that you are interested in

>>"the ease with which connections can be made between components, including sensors, media controllers, and databases. Because the components (or their controllers) share a common digital representation of information, they are ultimately separated only by conventions and protocols. When these can be bridged, digital technology allows artists to set up systems of relationships between the physical world (as it can be measured by technology), digitally controlled elements of the experience, and purely "virtual" components. Relationships might be direct, adaptive, and/or emergent. New telecommunications networks even allow these relationships to exist almost transparently between geographically distributed components....">>[13]

I am interested in your employment of "databases" (and search engines), and your use of sensing technologies that could be considered "surveillance" technologies as Foucault described them in regard to regulatory conditions of dominant institutions. How do your position-sensing technologies differ, what interests you about positions (navigation), and these emergent relationships, and how does your work describe a specific cultural aesthetic?

Jeff Burke, Hamletmachine (2000)


Jeff Burke. So far, I don't think that we have used technologies that couldn't be used for surveillance. Certainly we are planning to employ actual surveillance technologies in future projects, e.g., RFID tagging or more indirect ways of sensing position and identifying people through computer vision.

Typically, these technologies are used in a way where the observation is apparent to the participant or viewer and is part of the experience. Rather than a direct criticism of their surveillance applications, they tend to be a completely different context for use, where they connect components (and people) in a fairly egalitarian way. Our Iliad Project would use the surveillance technologies in a more direct way - using the information they gather to generate a demographically modified piece - and it does that in order to reveal how such systems function.

Finally, I think both of us are interested in eventually developing or applying technologies that observe the detailed patterns of behavior of groups of people over time without trying to identify or track individuals.

Our interest in position, I think, is largely due to the fact that it is easy to obtain first-order information about spatial relationships among people and their environments (and each other). It is a rich data set on its own, and for me it is a domain in which to work with 'reactive' or 'interactive' or 'responsive' systems before moving on to more complex areas like gesture.


Johannes Birringer. Margarita -- how would you describe the shift in some of your work from the dancing body (on stage, outdoors) to "virtual installation" (Los Flotantes)? Are you interested in blurring the difference between "live" and "virtual" body (image), and how does this describe your aesthetic objectives?

Margarita Bali. There are many reasons for this shift and each one contributes:

1) I have been involved in the visual arts before I ever began dancing. I worked in sculpture, specifically acrylic polyester resin for several years, being very interested the transmission and refracting of light within the translucent matter. Going into installations is more a going back to a field that I have always been interested in but could not pursue because of my full time involvement with my dance group.

2) My dance stage work has almost always involved the manipulation of objects, scenic elements, masks, and artificial body extensions (which the dancers did not always appreciate…). Going into installation work seemed a logical continuity.

3) My last work Naufragio in Vitro included live sound composition produced by the dancers onstage by spilling and stirring water inside clear acrylic cylinders, and I also worked with the optic lens distortions of the dancers' bodies seen through lucid planks and water-filled cylinders and bowls. Viewing these effects from very close standing directly on stage or through my close-up video recordings, I realized that the theatre audience was losing the best views. I therefore started conceiving derivations of these ideas for an installation situation where I could get the viewers to circulate closer, and several pieces were created since then that bear a relation to this stage work. At this time I find this kind of work new and exciting and feel there is there an expanding field for doing artistic work where I have the possibility of bringing together my background in choreography, performance and the sciences in propositions that demand strategic space and movement planning and hopefully interactivity with the viewers.

4) It is also exciting for me to work in this new way. I can create on my own time and, to a great extent, through my own resources since I no longer depend on the presence and participation of a lot of other people to be able to progress or experiment with my artistic work. This might sound selfish, but only a choreographer that has struggled with the direction of an independent dance company for many years -and in Argentina - can understand what I am talking about.

5) Installation, video, sculpture are works that have a longer life-span than live dance. As a choreographer I have always envied painters that have a physical canvas to hold on to. A dance performance is an enormous effort of putting together a fully rehearsed cast and an audience at a precise moment in time; the piece has vanished when the curtain comes down. From this point of view an installation piece such as Los Flotantes has a higher chance to be reproduced and become "real" than actual live stage pieces such as Naufragio in Vitro which for all practical reasons have a "virtual" life, existing only as labile memory paths in the minds of those that saw it three years ago.

6) With respect to the incorporation of suggested or projected bodies in my installations, they might be more "virtual" of course than a performing live body, which is all right with me, as long as I can achieve to express something potent through them. Human garments that get pulled in and out of a water tank, forming a different empty "human" shape with each submerging action is, I think, very powerful and suggestive.


Johannes Birringer. Bia -- could you elaborate on your comments on the "disabled body" and the "flesh-body"? After our discussion of the posthuman/postbiological, I went back to look at Katherine Hayles' book How We Became Posthumans: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. [14] She is not advocating the "posthuman" but critically analyzing the history of how "information lost its body," explaining that the major driving forces behind the rhetoric of the "posthuman" is the desire to conceptualize human being and human cognition in terms that allow it to be articulated seamlessly with intelligent machines -- the posthuman as "distributed cognitive system" (Roy Ascott may subscribe to this). How do you see your aesthetic politics in regard to such distributed systems and the way they tend to lose their bodies and their relationship or acknowledgement of local phenomena?


[13] Fabian Wagmister and Jeff Burke, "Networked Multisensory Experiences: Beyond Browers on the Web and in the Museum."

[14] Cf. N. Katherine Hayles, How We Became Posthumans: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics (Chicago/London: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1999), p.5, and esp. the chapters "Toward Embodied Virtuality" and "Virtual Bodies and Flickering Signifiers," pp. 1-49.


Bia Medeiros. As I have written in my essay "Efficaci@realidade":

Corpos Informáticos, frame grab


instinct flees from linear, boring demonstrations.

These surviving instincts are the survival of our work. We try the error, express its limits, its noxiousness. The body is ornament, space for realization. Combat. At the present time, only the flesh-body, the body entrails, the matter, the touchable are rhythms, dimensioned by technology’s impure filters. No possible return.

What Body? The body that has trouble in getting up in the morning. Or… another embryo-body that wears down this swollen womb crying another eager and starving cry. This morning, another body turning itself down at the ripping pleasure of penetration which demolishes all consciousness. Instant, infinite dive into forgetfulness. This body, which becomes wet with desire, aroused by a trivial text. Another body that no longer desires to write about bodies, other than this one, that appears, searching between naked words. "Eroticism is the unbalance in which the being puts itself into question," said George Bataille. We wish to put ourselves in question again, at each moment. Eroticism is one of our favorite partners.

Again, another, another and another body, always the same, made of mechanic actions.

I pierce my subway ticket in the machine box. Pricked ticket. "Ripped being," say the northeast Brazilians referring to women. Northeast women call themselves "ripped." Pricked ticket, woman ripped hole. Object of desire, desire upon object. The other is Phallus. Woman are esthetics. Masturbation rips an overwhelmed body in the incongruent silence of a Thursday afternoon.

Our sacred reality: unreal.

Ideologies, models, systems, representations, illusions, alienation, myths, mass needs created from the outside to the within, "thing" spirit (ornament), second nature (Marcuse), individual reduced to nothing…Drowned by our present, our only rescue is our daily life.

Having given the denomination by intellectual doctrines, the individual’s thoughts are found mutilated: a mathematical thought that aims at organization. Does the body escape from this logic? The touch reveals the other from culture. What about the locked instincts? Flesh remains avid.

The body, loaded with connotations, is present in publicity, but then, it is no longer a contradicted body, alive. It is no longer the site of desire. Subversive truth, as Baudrillard suggested. The body transmitted by mass communication is an "eroticized" body, with a planned sexual significance, emptied from desire (what desire?). It is neither flesh nor sex, but an object transformed by abstraction and semiology, with a social function of trade.

Individuals are then deprived of their "organic "body and obsessed by hygiene and asepsis. Object-body, worshipped object, to be taken care off, cleaned, well treated.

Why is art so interested in disability? All these disabled bodies are my body. They become our idols. Flash made (web)site. But we put flesh and blood in this flash movie

From the moment that communication becomes an international web each citizen of the world becomes attached to a filter that will homogenize as well as drive their consciousness.

From the moment the communication becomes an international communication’s web, every citizen of the world is linked to a filter: Information bytes, gigabits of information, conscientiously traded through the web of isolated individuals. Body links and contaminations. Technological secretions and epidemics. Residues and flashes of bodies. CORPOS INFORMATICOS "thinks" the symbolic ecology of this irradiated individual. CORPOS INFORMATICOS, through esthetic pleasure, installs the symbolic ecology of this individual, nourished by hypo-icons of Internet bodies.

Within universality, pretension generates the right for exclusion. An auto-centric rule desires the first world culture as the universal culture. We are always the other, on the other side of a minority adapted to the ideal: at the margin. A privileged position at the cultural stagnation.


Johannes Birringer. Bia's performance poetry introduces important dimensions…the erotic flesh body crossing into, commuting into, virtual body which is not fictional, but dis-abled, not obsolete (as Stelarc has argued), but dispersed. Bia’s work takes the idea of fragmentation and turns it around for powerful artistic expression. We need to think further about this question of secretions and permeations, also in regard to what Tania's has called the "dis-orders" of the body or the failures to comply with, correspond with, the cultural engineering of health and disease, for example, or of boundary constraints which concern (if we mix medical/biological language with cybernetics) information malfunction or what we might call "communications pathology." Boundaries are interfaces. The body is a network-body.

Renato, your large-scale theatre work incorporates visual compositions, media, actors, dancers, musicians, non-actors, and also ritual performance techniques and traditions. I wanted to mention that the University of Southern California Annenberg Center for Communication published a book in 1999 titled "Technological Rituals." Vibeke is included in the book with her installations Lemma 1, Frames of Mind/House of Memories, and Morocco Memory I believe the notion of "technological ritual" here refers to the laboratory conferences, dialogues on research, a "mutual multisensory interchange, with speech and artworks as main media......"[15]

In Europe there has recently been a heated discussion about the relations/differences between theatre and digital/mediatized performance, and I understand you will be attending a forthcoming conference in Berlin, on "Teatro latinoamericano. Hibridez - transmedialidad - cuerpo" (organized by the Ibero-Amerikanisches Forschungsseminar, Universität Leipzig). Your work seems grounded in theatre, work with actors, different kinds of speech, movement, images, gestures, collective forms of consciousness, but it is certainly a postmodernist, hybrid theatre. Do you think the theatre (as a paradigm) continues to have relevance for the digital processes of interactive design/networked relations linking virtual spaces, as we have seen in Mariano's "X (t) - Y (t) = 0" ? How do audiences become "actors" or agents? How do actors become media, in your opinion? What is your database? Myths, archetypes, and the idiolect of the "mad" (mental patients you recently worked with in Gotham SP) -- can they be digitized?


[15] Rosanna Albertini, Technological Rituals. Stories from the Annenberg Dialogues. (Los Angeles: Annenberg Center for Communications, 1999).



Renato Cohen. I think that you can work in a more or a less mediatized performance. As I argued in our discussions during the Second International Conference on Art and Technology in Contemporary Culture in Brasilia, a work with "taped" scenery (film projections) is a modernist work, and a work happening in real time is a contemporay work. We made a work , in 1999, called Imanencia ("Immanence") where 8 performers stayed one week locked up in rooms, being watched on the Internet. This was not a new experiment, and some people related us to Joseph Beuys "Coyote" performance ("I like America and America likes me," 1974), saying that our "event" was weaker, and others compared us to Reality-TV programs such as "Survivor." But I think it was a strong experiment. I was based on a Zen-Buddhist experiment, and we reached very good results. Answering you, I think the question of technology deals with culture, levels of presence, and narrative.

Renato Cohen, video still


I think the key is the level of hypertext which is being shared, the level of "happening" (acontecimento), the level of "openness" in the work/network. I
definitely think that myth can be shared and created in the digital system. For example, I like the kind of experiments that Knowbotic Research do, which transform inputs, and I liked your Vespucci installation which you presented in Brasilia where we saw/heard the hypertext of the creation through the cosmonaut-character's thought-process.


Johannes Birringer. Tania -- what hybrid models (or concepts) underlie your current work? Are you using a specific theoretical framework (frame of mind), derived, for example, from a feminist or queer perspective on cyborgs, or performativity, or gendered corporeality-as-social construction -- and how do these theories translate into the Mexican context or are they actually transcultural, postcolonial? Is the "cyborg" or the drag-persona a postcolonial, constructible "subject" -- and how do you see technologies in your work as "inscriptive? Could you elaborate on your aesthetic/political position on the "inscriptions" of subjectivities, hetero-normativities, etc. What is the positionality of a body/embodied performer perceiving your wearable costumes? Is not butoh dance (and its metaphysics) the opposite of the "wearable" body?

Tania Aedo. Something very important to me was to realize that I don't need to get a chip implant or to clone myself to become a "cyborg." We have been "cyborgs" (this
is not a word I commonly use to describe the coupling between human and technology) ever since we started using milk-pumps, contraceptive pills, tampons
etc. I have done some animations for one of the pieces making analogies between those objects and electronic devices -- "converters" or "adapters" more than "feelers" -- such as Midi-USB, DV-firewire, etc.

I think technology (interfaces), for the "South," are still working more as adapter-converters, and that is exactly why we cannot use technology in the same way. Even if we have access to "the same" technologies, we visit the same websites, we speak English, what for the North is truth, for us is fiction. For me it was very clear when we were at UCLA, they are in "the place," they have to decide whether they take part in warfare-technology development or not, whether they take part in a VR development which then may become a real system-application. I mean it may really be used to kill people in Afghanistan or to entertain people in Disneyland; whether they take part in a lot of really key aspects of digital technology or not, it counts in a very different way.

Latin American artists, and artists from different parts of the world, have to be more tactical because if we want to influence developments in some way it is not so direct.
In regard to my work, I'm interested in showing from a very personal and intimate perspective how we have to wear this occidental body to function as it is expected. I also want to make evident that technology is not this thing we have been hearing about fifteen years ago, and that the computer is not the only representation of it.

Johannes Birringer. David -- I am curious why you gave your lecture as a Power-Point lecture on the "system" and how you use it. It was very informative, but why didn't you play us some of your music or a sequence from your system in process?

David Beaudry. Well, three factors, the first two of which I know aren't terribly exciting (and actually are quite lame):

1. The system isn't terribly portable at the moment, so setting up to play for the talk would have taken about an hour set-up/tear-down on each end.

2. The final draft of my dissertation was due to my committee chair two days after the talk, and so the first point I made was a big issue for me, namely stating that I am searching for new dialogues in live acoustic performance, and that I am less interested in "works" but rather in the development of a "performance system." This means that I wanted to explicate how I incorporate digital technologies into musical performance, what language I use, what interface I build, and why I use "systems."
3. Over the weeks after the talk I found I needed to make a distinction on the "phases" of this work, mainly the idea of basic vs. applied research in the arts. During my academic career I have spent about as much time in the sciences as in the arts, so making this distinction was quite natural to me. In the realm of science, basic research (pure or fundamental research) is that which is motivated by curiosity – research done without knowing the outcome. It is research done solely for purpose of extending our knowledge on a particular subject to satisfy curiosity or interest in a specific scientific question.

It is the pure research which usually lays down the foundation for the applied research that follows. Applied research is that which is designed to solve a particular problem rather than acquire knowledge for knowledge's sake, and usually involves the application of discoveries made in pure research. The discussion I gave at the beginning of my talk (about shifting dialogues in music performance) provided the impetus for basic research Into modern-day music performance: Is it possible to create a system with the potential to change how we approach modern acoustic performance through the use of interactive digital technology? Can digital technology find lost performance dialogues and at the same time create new ones which become unique to live performance? So Tango Electrónica is really an attempt at basic research in realm of art, with the goal of creating first the system that will allow these new exchanges without knowing if such a system
Could be created.

The first performance (which was given a week after the talk) was more a proof of concept for the interface and the underlying messaging system: can the computer act as a viable intermediary between the composer and performer in a live performance setting, i.e. can we move to the applied stage? So what I presented at the talk was really the pure/basic stage of the research. Since I know now that it does work, the next stage is the applied, i.e. let's make some music with it! Well, but that being said, I certainly would have loved to actually play *something* for you, but at that stage of my dissertation work it just would have turned me into even more of a nut with the time pressure involved! Next time! ;)

Johannes Birringer. Good, I look forward to it. Now, according to your aesthetic, is the computer (or rather, the Max/Msp software) indeed an interpreter of processes, and is not the musician also an interpreter of processes? Is the organic/intuitive musician (thinking parallel) advantaged or disadvantaged in the partnership with the processor?

David Beaudry. The computer really isn't interpreting anything here. It's mainly just quantifying various performance attributes (pitch, timbre, volume, tempo, phrase structure, etc.) and passing these along to the composer (or back to the performer) to be used in making decisions regarding the musical material. All decisions are based on what the composer or performer (or composer-performer) has allowed for in the first place. If the computer is to be an interpreter, then we are talking about a machine being an equal member of a performance ensemble. With this I do feel that the computer really gets in the way of the performance, and is exactly what I do not want. The distinction I try to make is "machine as broker" or "machine as translator" vs. "machine as musician."

Johannes Birringer. I suppose I had a different vision of the inter-relational role of the computer (someone actually working with the Max/Msp patches and - through the interactive system - manipulating and playing the performance attributes in real time, or programming the patches in such a way that they "learn" from the input performance and react to them, perhaps in randomized or unexpected ways….). You seem to want to evolve the interactive technology while maintaining, for example, the clarinet sound, the actual sound of your instrument, rather than "processing" the clarinet sound to the point where it is no longer a "clarinet."
Would you describe your system-aesthetic as an outcome of your practice in a North American cultural climate (or school) or could this system also be used by Afro-Brazilian or Cuban musicians?

David Beaudry. Well the motivation certainly comes from my work in all Western art music (not just North America). Most of the trends and lost dialogues that I discussed do not exist in other cultures (as far as I've been able to determine through my research): the isolation of the performer, composer, and audience seems to be unique to this genre of music. In other words, Tango Electrónica was motivated by performance issues in Western art music.

But this does not mean that it cannot be carried over into other musical cultures. The aesthetic choices I have made are these, however, which do limit what it can be applied to at the moment: 1. based on a written score; 2. a pitched acoustic instrument (vs. a percussion instrument) sits at the center; 3. the written score can be made into something that can be navigated/explored in performance; and 4. the musical material that is not coming out of the acoustic instrument (e.g. clarinet) is based on "found sound": non-pitched material, samples of other recordings, etc. So...within these assumptions, yes it can be applied to other musical cultures. Whether
or not it actually can is something I'll just have to try. Again, it was designed to address issues I had with performance of Western art music, so translation may not be possible.

Johannes Birringer. Have you worked with musicians from strong polyrhythmic cultural backgrounds, or have you noticed that numerous Anglo computer musicians and choreographers are working with Max/Msp, but rarely ever do we see African or Indian dancers work with Max/Msp, how do you explain this?

David Beaudry. Dance is a bit beyond what I know, so I'm afraid I can't answer this part.

As for music, though, I think the issue isn't just Max/MSP, but digital technology/electronics in general. Starting with the end of the Romantic era (end of the 1800s) Western art music has been on this perpetual quest for new and exotic sounds, with electronic music being an extension of this (well, it's the poster child for this trend since, in theory, electronic music can produce just about any sound imaginable). Max itself was an extension of electronic music (having its origins in MIDI based algorithmic/interactive compositions). These trends of being perpetually in search of the new and exotic have certainly spread to other western art forms: dance, theater, film, design, etc. etc., and they too have found that electronics/digital technology can take them there. So I guess the question is: do these trends/desires of perpetual change and redefinition exist in other cultures?

In other words, rather than an argument as to whether or not Max is just something specifically designed for western artists (which it very well could be, but being a western artist myself it's difficult to see otherwise), the issue may be that the culture just doesn't want it/need it. Just a thought.


Johannes Birringer. I want to ask Jeff Burke and his collaborators (Jared Stein, Adam Shive, Eitan Mendelowitz, and Fabian Wagmister) what prompted the choice of the "Iliad" - surely a foundational Western mythic-epos, although not quite the kind of epic that Brecht had in mind? Brecht, for some reason, travels well in Latin America, and his propositions for a political and scientific theatre have been influential in Cuba and in other Latin performance cultures. You also must be aware of the work and theatre pedagogies of Augusto Boal or Paulo Freire. Now, you chose a literary epos which deals with warfare, perhaps a "clash of cultures." I am curious -- do you think that your conception of interactive, emergent theatre can be politicized or seen politically as a form of intervention or social practice, rehearsals of "street scenes," as Brecht called them? You are arguing that you arte working with a new "production architecture" (on the level of the producer team and the digital technologies involved), but do digital media allow for political and social participation, do new interfaces inside your architecture (computer stations with mice where audiences log on, or where they go in intermission, with their drinks) allow for what the Critical Art Ensemble has termed "Recombinant Theatre of Digital Resistance," and is your new project in fact a form of "recombinant theatre"?

Jeff Burke. Let me comment first on CAE's "Recombinant Theatre and Digital Resistance." [16] This should reveal some of my biases (and perhaps a lack of understanding of critical theory) before answering your question directly.

To be honest, I'm a little confused by their use of the words "digital" and "analogic". They define the latter as a world-model in which order comes from chaos and returns to chaos. Coincident order and complexity yielded civilization, providing an implicit assurance of relative uniqueness to humanity throughout history. Despite the fact that this definition has no direct connection to the scientific or popular meanings of the word "analog", I can go with it because they use it consistently and don't try to simultaneously use their broader definition and the scientific or popular impressions.

But they fail to define "digital" with similar precision, preferring to allow its popular, scientific, and anti-analogic (for them, then, the idea of "order from order") definitions to exist simultaneously. This is neat and intellectually challenging, but makes paragraphs like the following impossible for me to parse:

"Much more is at stake than the configuration and appearance of theatre in the next century; the formation of digital theatre (in the broadest sense of this term) is a struggle over the microsociology of the performative matrix of everyday life. The digital model, like the analogic, contains both apocalypse and utopia, and the applications constructed now will in part determine the directions in which digital processes will flow. Capitalism is primarily a digital political-economy, much as the medieval economy was primarily analogic. Pancapitalism's use of the digital thus far has been horrifying, whether one considers the pathological separation and alienation of Taylorist production, the false democracy of consumption, the repressive apparatus of surveillance, or the biotechnologies of eugenics. Digital culture is on this same trajectory, with its primary manifestation being an invasive mass media that functions as a reproduction and distribution network for the ideology of capital." (p151)

Later on, they're a little clearer:

"From the smallest details to the first principle of the digital paradigm, it acts in a manner contrary to the analogic by insisting that order comes from order." (p 153)

To me, this is at best unhelpful. Don't get me wrong, I agree with many of their artistic conclusions, just not the setup. They use a number of disconnected examples in complex manufacturing, biology, economy, and culture to allude to several other points about the digital. I would rather they start with the properties of the digital and then illustrate their social/cultural result...

For example, let me try to get to one of their conclusions from a simpler argument:

The digital is about digits. It's about counting things and measuring them. The digital revolution (in the modern, popular, electronic sense and as a broader social phenomenon) has very little to do with order from order.

In fact, the first paradigm shift was not that we could count countable things (order from order) - we've been doing this for a really long time - but that we could count things that been uncountable (order from chaos: analog-to-digital conversion).

In order to apply this "counting", to make this "digitizing" useful, we had to create methods returning from the well-defined mathematical abstraction of the digital to the particular analog domain that we started with. If we "counted" electrical signals from a sound mixer to digitize them, we created a way to "uncount" them, to return them to the domain of electrical signals that could be amplified and transduced into sound.

There was always this pair: analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog, because as CAE points out, the primary concern of engineers was communicating the original analog signal efficiently.

The second shift occurs in the discovery of the importance of the state between these two conversions. While in digital form, there is nothing that binds the signal to a particular analog modality except convention. Everything is flattened and all modalities are essentially equal within the digital domain. (Except in terms of bandwidth - one of the only remaining costs of distribution.)

This is, I gather, one of their premises. But I wish they would just say that.

In any case, in the article they continue to raise or imply other qualities of modern digital technology that I think can be explained in the same way - that is, more directly and by what Fabian likes to call digital's "specificity". It's not that I would rather they stay away from socio-cultural discussions, but that at least in this article, they fail to explicitly derive the particulars of the digital from their examples. This makes their extension (or application) of the impact of the digital in theater tenuous and hard to understand.
Here's the problem: They use the word "digital" 57 times in the entire article, but when they talk about their work in the penultimate section "The Theatre of Everyday Life," they use it once. It is never used in the final section, "Theatre of Information." So that's the question - we see briefly the impact of the "digital" (whatever it is) on the economy, culture, production, etc. But how do the same qualities of the digital impact theatre?

I don't think they answer this, instead they deal with a subset of the digital - "ICT" (Information and Communication Technology) - so I hesitate to call our work "recombinant theatre" in their digital sense, because I don't quite know what it is. But to address the spirit of the question, the article, and of the word "recombinant", I'll start with four quotes from the paper:

(1) "What CAE does consider street theatre [and thus a foundation of recombinant theatre] are those performances that invent ephemeral, autonomous situations from which temporary public relationships emerge whereby the participants can engage in critical dialogue on a given issue." (p. 157)
(2) "Recombinant theatre begins by eliminating the privileged position of the director, auteur, genius, or any other reductive, privatizing category." (p. 158)
Yet, (3) "A second major problem with this model lies in its pedagogy. The theatre of everyday life is limited to everyday life. Key issues in liberationist practice that are beyond local and immediate parameters do not register in this model. Indeed, this is a problem for activists as well as for artists. As liberationist practice faces increasingly global or specialized issues, or requires an international constituency for locally based issues, the usefulness of the theatre of everyday life begins to wane." (p. 160)
(4) "Because of this situation, liberationist performers now must find a way to splice greater conceptual complexity and a more broadly based pedagogy into their performative models. CAE would like to suggest that one potential solution is to use elements from the emerging theatre of information and its attendant technologies. Mechanisms such as a computer that can deliver specialized information in a fast, aestheticized manner have become increasingly necessary and more useful than ever." (p. 161)

I think we turn to the digital within The Iliad Project for the same reasons. Though without the overtly activist approach of CAE, our interest is to allow the audience to move through a piece with specific storytelling goals (our "pedagogy") while allowing them to experience echoes of their presence. Also, we want to enable the current environment of the city to define the world of the piece. The digital seems to enable a bridge between the fluidity/ephemerality (hmmm... which is analogically valuable) of a Happening with the concrete storytelling goals of more familiar theatrical forms.

Specifically, this lies not in the removal of privilege of the writer / director / designer over the performer over the audience, though it does level those relationships a bit. What the digital enables is a removal of many different privileges that once impacted the use of media in live performance.

Given the technical resources,

Order is no longer privileged
Media choices can be on the fly... no worry about
which slide is where in the carousel.

Distance is no longer privileged
A remote camera could be in downtown
LA, Québéc, Moscow, or one of our UCLA dorms.

Pre-recording is no longer privileged
We can place sounds and video physically on
different monitors based on who sits where,
choose images captured five seconds ago or
last year with equal ease.

Liveness is no longer privileged
What can be captured digital can be stored;
performances can remember and learn.

More generally, when something is digitized and sliced into units (image frames, phrases) about which rendering decisions can be made in real-time, privilege of one frame or one phrase or one location or one time over another is obliterated.

This removal of the need to privilege well-defined, well-ordered, repetitive, pre-recorded media in performance suggests the dynamic *recombination* of media based on performer and audience action in the performance space.

This is possible because of the second major affordance of digital technology: the creation of flexible *systems* that manage the spaces in which performances take place. In the same way that many Happenings and CAE's theatre of everyday life were placed in particular social systems because of the interplay between the dynamics of those systems and the "performance", digital technology allows systems to be constructed (which may coexist with uncontrollable social systems as well) that provide an authored but dynamically created experience of media.

To go all the way back to "digital specificity", it's that middle spot between adc and dac that enables these systems: mappings between different modalities allowed by an intermediate layer where the meaning of bits is defined only by convention and can be manipulated with math that follows or ignores those conventions.

So, now back to the first question. Why then, The Iliad ? It came largely from pre-existing interests of some of the people involved in conceiving the project. And, I think, it arose partially out of a misunderstanding that digital technology applied to performance in new ways would result in epic experiences (again, not in the Brechtian sense). This is no longer the feeling and hasn't been for quite some time, but the themes of pride, allegiance, and perception of allegiance remained especially striking when considered in light of the "loss of privilege" that I mentioned above. Our allegiances are formed in a mediatized world in which media-empires (whether industrial or political) both exploit and fall prey to the ease of distribution, manipulation, substitution, and duplication enabled by *digital* media. Hence, the themes continued to fit even when we left behind any thought of massive staging.

In the end, I think our piece does become politicized, because by not only giving the Achaeans and the Trojans modern media tools in their circular political battles, but also by using a manipulation of audience demographics (that becomes gradually clearer) to generate components of the show itself, I think it becomes very critical of modern media practice. (But this is an easy target...) It does get more specific and potentially more aggravating by the use of digital technology to place the piece very firmly in the Los Angeles at the moment it is performed. Though not Brecht, it is Brechtian.

Edit Villareal, one of the faculty involved in the project, said it better than I can:

"If we accept the definition of epic theatre as theatre that incorporates the inchoate feelings and intents of a mass of people, be they the pre World War II Germany of Bertolt Brecht or the contemporary America of Tony Kushner's more recently lauded Angels in America, then the Iliad Project, as epic theatre, aims to bring together the inchoate feelings and intents of another populace, the wildly diverse and divergent populace of Los Angeles, to a stage in the Los Angeles area."

"In the Iliad Project, however, the inchoate feelings and intents of the citizens of Los Angeles will NOT be processed or homogenized through the eyes of a vigilant playwright. Instead, the populace, by virtue of the computer capabilities and software technology being developed for the Project, will be present, as an equal participant with the playwright's text. In fact, the populace of Los Angeles will be able to literally make an impact on the dramatic event of the Iliad Project, not just the first time it is presented on stage, but every time it is presented on stage."

Again, she's returning to the key issues of how recombinant theatre - in CAE's sense and our own - is enabled by the digital: removing internal privilege within media forms and enabling the authoring of *systems* within which performances are experienced.


[16] These comments refer to CAE, "Recombinant Theatre and Digital Resistance," The Drama Review 44:4 (2000), 151-66. It is also available at:


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