ETP Phase 1 :: first public presentation and “TMA will”

ETP Phase 1 :: first public presentation and “TMA will”

TMA WILL: „Innovation in the crisis - Do our ideas have a chance?”

On April 25th 2009, 14 experts in media art met in the Trans-Media-Labor in the GebäudeEnsemble Deutsche Werkstätten Hellerau to discuss the topic „Innovation in the crisis - Do our ideas have a chance?” in the context of TMA WILL. The project European Tele-Plateaus - transnational sites of encounter and coproduction (ETP) took the centre stage. At the same day just a couple of hours ago, the first presentation of the previous achievements of the project took place. Unfortunately, because of technical problems, a networked environment could not be set up. Nevertheless, the local environment was being used by the interested audience. The person inside the environment is able to control audiovisual processes just by his or her position and the quickness of the movements. Definitely, the target of ETP exceeds all mentioned facts, because it also aims the production of publicly accessible, networked Virtual Environments. Therefore, three networked performances and six networked installations are planned which will take place simultaneously in all co-operating cities (Dresden, Prague, Madrid, Norrköping). The idea of the project was put up for discussion within TMA WILL. This discussion can be divided into three main focuses: “How can a Virtual Environment be defined?”, “How do the audience experience performances with networked Virtual Environments?” and “Why is the ETP-project applied as intercultural?”

“How can a Virtual Environment be defined?”

Already at the beginning of the discussion the question was put up, how Trans-Media-Akademie Hellerau (TMA) considers Virtual Environments. „We want to achieve that people deal with sound spaces relating to their own bodies”, said the spokesman of the TMA’s board Klaus Nicolai. Should the environment be recognised as an instrument that could be played like a guitar? Is it a ’stage’ for artists and the publicity, where atop a performance will happen? Or are there other opinions about the idea of networked Virtual Environments?

By using Kalypso, all aspects are practicable: „The software Kalypso can be understood in many different ways: it can be seen as a clear visual connection, as an instrument or as body music (Körpermusik).”, said media artist and technical manager of the TMA Matthias Härtig. He regards the developed environment that way, that it implies an instrumental background. Jörg Sonntag, media artist, said that the view on the software as an instrument excludes the visualizing of Kalypso. Later on Detlev Schneider, a theater scholar, asked an amusing but at the same time very adequate question: But what are lighting consoles?

Another opinion was represented by Heide Lazarus, dance scholar, who said: „To my mind, the environment can be described as a stage.” However, the question arose, if this stage would be available for performers only or both, performers and the audience. Finally, the media artist Jacob Korn wants the users to decide about the definition: „In my view, it depends on the user whether it’s an instrument or a device: From my point of view, a Virtual Environment is an interface.”

The tenor of all involved persons was that the answered questions are the basis for the artistic work with such environments. So, how defines the Trans-Media-Akademie the project ETP? A Virtual Environment - based on a motion sensing system like Kalypso - is closer to the body than a ‘normal’ music instrument, because the sound space can be experienced directly. For this reason, said Nicolai, the environment cannot be seen as an instrument in the common sense. The audiovisual processes of the virtual space can only be controlled by movements of the whole body. There shouldn’t be just dancers merely showing how to do a pirouette in order to demonstrate their learnt dance movements by playing with Kalypso. It is rather a question how you experience your own body in relation to the space. The project tries to find out the following: „What influence do Virtual Environments have on the own perception?”. The aim is to deal with sound spaces related to the human body.

European Tele-Plateaus is presently in the testing phase of the used technology. Thereby there are still some problems referring to networking. Certainly, in the year 2007 the cities Dresden, Norrköping and St. Petersburg were successfully connected on CYNEtart_07encounter within the scope of the project Teleplateaus. Because of the unsolved technical problems, the substantial work within ETP could only start in a limited way so far. “On the technological level you have to think with regards to content by now”, mentioned Nicolai. Lazarus said, that it should be taken into account, whether you want to develop a performance or an installation and what you want to obtain. For instance, a performance could even show technical barriers: “Therefore, the target course has effects on the development.”

All participants pointed out that the artistic aims and aims with regard to content should be clear already in the development of the technology, because they have an influence on the technical development process. “There should not be frontiers between users and programmers. Developing the technology is also contained in the art term”, meant Frank Hellwig, Development Manager at xima media. Detlev Schneider emphasized that it will start being interesting after all technical problems - at least from the artistic view.

“How do the audience experience performances with networked Virtual Environments?”

Especially when it came to the issue of involving the audience, which can’t be excluded during interactive installations like ETP, the discussion broke out. In Nicolai’s opinion, dancers cannot understand the space of the environment, because they simply fetch their learnt techniques on the new playground. Therefore he supports the participation of the audience. “Join-in art” by pushing some buttons and moving levers to control the stage setting should not be associated with ETP, according to the spokesman of the TMA board. In this context, he criticizes the predefined term of art by the artist, whose level cannot be reached by the audience in such a short period of time during the performance. Is the audience even able to take responsibility in this respect that there will resolve art from participation? Lazarus believes in that: “You need elements which can be handled easily by the user. In this way, a certain competence can be established.” Already in setting up the concepts you have to take the orientation towards the audience into consideration. Schneider said that in this context, there must be respected two processes: “On the one hand artists that are gaining experiences in interacting with each other and artists who play in front of the audience.” While crosstalking with Schneider, Lazarus remarks that there should be a combination: interaction by the audience and interaction by the artists. This has worked well up to now. But Schneider said that this cannot be satisfactory in an artistic way. Konrad Behr, artist, also criticized the limited design because you can only control a bundle of parameters. By this means, the artistic work is limited. Nevertheless, Schneider draws the attention to the fact that this is not boring: “For me it is like a kaleidoscope: Many elements are given but you always experience something new.”

All agreed about the fact that the audience must be involved generally when it comes to the organisation regarding the content of ETP. Nicolai underlined again the fact that there should be a clear separation between performance with audience and opened realms of experience. „ETP has to be a realm of experience”, he summarized. Another important question that came up during the discussion dealt with the perception by the audience: Can they comprehend that the audiovisual processes were activated by the performer in the environment? Do the movements made by the performer even match with the sound and the pictures?

Especially the asynchronicity avoids a traceability of all processes, because the impacts of the change of the parameters often become visible much later, said the media artist Matthias Härtig. Despite this fact, it can be an artistically demand to work asynchronously. Concerning the perceptibility there are technical barriers: unfortunately, the virtual space cannot be displayed completely. It might be possible that a dancer makes a move that is imperceptible for the system and that may result in a failure of producing sounds and graphics. “We have to improve the presentation of the space via sensor systems, at least locally. But that issue must be solved by the informatics.”, mentioned Nicolai. The networking of Virtual Environments with regard to the perception by the audience must be reconsidered as well. An ingenuous viewer cannot see that the performers are really interacting with each other at the different places. Lazarus criticizes, at the example of the already mentioned Tele-Plateaus during the CYNETart_07encounter, that the spectator cannot understand the interactions. As a spectator you cannot see whether there is a real interaction between the dancer in Dresden and that one in St. Petersburg. A (partial) solution of this problem could be the accessibility of the stage for the audience after the performance, noted Korn. As a consequence of that it would be obvious that it is not preprogrammed. How can a performance in a networked Virtual Environment be experienced? And in general: What actually is a networked performance? All those questions are meant to be replied.

“Why is the ETP-project applied as intercultural?”

Another issue in the context of TMA WILL was the translocality and the interculturality: Why has the project to be put in an intercultural context? Schneider opined that the networking could be experienced just as well, if the computers were close together. At this point, Nicolai completely disagreed: “But you are in the context of the other country, of another city. That cannot be replaced.” Sonntag added: “The experience is very exciting, especially for the dancers. That means, what happens when I respond to a situation that was provoked by someone from somewhere.” To support the interculturality additionally, artists will be integrated in the production locally. The intercultural encounter in the Virtual Environment seems to be closer and more intense by the combination of pictures and sound, said Nicolai. Due to the great distance, people of different cultures meet each other in their cultural and topographical context. By interacting, a new space is created which could never be established in realtime before. Do the cultural differences really play a role? Is the term of space generally applicable in the translocality? Does the interculturality play a role at all? “The translocality is interesting and should be further analysed. The differences are expected there. But it may be possible that in fact nothing in particular will emerge concerning the interculturality,” meant Konrad Behr.

Food for thought…

The discussion lead to the point that the idea of European Tele-Plateaus settled on the one hand but also has been reconsidered on the other hand. Many useful elements that were brought in by the participants of the discussion will result in a fruitful work on the project. Many questions have been answered during the discussion, but it has also raised new questions, mainly with regards to the artistically content.

  • To which extent should the audience be involved in the performances of ETP?
  • In what way do asynchronicity, synchronicity and networking influence the perception of the audience?
  • Which aims should be achieved among the audience and the artists with performances and installations?
  • Which role does the intercultural context play during the operating process and during the presentation of the results?
  • How can the concept of the Virtual Environment remain by translocality?

All those matters will be integrated in the ideas by the Trans-Media-Akademie along with its partners…and they will be discussed.

Jadwiga Müller for TMA, May 2009
Translation by Louisa Zschinzsch

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