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Carbon Dating: A Love Story


Contemporary Performance Practices Project

15th - 24th November 2011

Millburn Studio

Convenor: Tim White

Working with: Rob Batterbee, Michael Pigott, Rob O'Toole

Over two weeks we will be morphing the boy meets girl trope into a space where flesh meets silicon, churning up algorithms and angst. Can a regular frat boy really get beyond first base with his iPrecious? Can "Emily" ever reach her final destination with the independent-minded student if he refuses to see her as anything other than an object on his dashboard? Did something electric pass between those laptops? And with all those lonely hearts registered online can a data warehouse really be blamed for keeping back the best ones for herself?

How it works
The creation of the work is the pretext for some extended interrogation of, and experimentation with, the technology in (or soon to be arriving in) the department. And if it were just that then it would appeal to those of us who take delight in such things and leave many more cold. You will be creating a story that might well exploit the computational power of all the bits of kit assembled but that is less concerned with the dispassionate logic, more so in the vast heat that it generates, literal and metaphorical.

Given the size of the group (not far short of triggering a loaves and fishes type scenario) and the realisation that four sessions over two weeks cannot suffice to cover all the possibilities, it has been decided to identify a number of areas that will be the focus of small groups (5-7 people) whose output will coalesce into something with the appearance of a performance at 5pm in Millburn Studio on Thursday 24th November. These areas are as follows: (the letters in brackets are short tags to be used in the blog to refer to specific areas)

Narrative (N)
Some sense that what has happened will be related to what will happen and that what is going on at the moment is not entirely unfathomable. We have no shortage of carbon-based lifeforms getting in the way of wi-fi signals, showing up in the glare of LCD screens and selectively eroding the plastic coating of keyboards. Sometimes they bond with the connivance of technology, a conspiratorial emission of data here, a milliwatt of battery life there propelling the propinquity effect. But is this about the object of their affection or affection for the object? As fingers glide over the sensuous brushed aluminium rear of Cupertino's finest is there something more than tactile drag as they are slowed by the contours of the plastic Apple logo? Here's director/composer Kenneth Gaburo relating to a determinedly pre-electronic instrument made by outsider artist Harry Partch:

I am in this room; Partch’s Marimba Eroica is in this room. I am not alone. I am staring at it; wondering about it. Even though I can’t call what it’s doing: ‘staring or wondering’ at-about me, its presence is made clear because it, too, is present. (We) are each sitting in the presence of the other. It ‘tells’ me it is here.

Somehow, (we) each got here and now are facing each other. I slowly walk to it, and touch it. It feels cold. I feel its coldness, not mine (I am not cold). Its coldness is evident to me, because it is cold. Even though it doesn’t say ‘I am cold’ (in my language) it does say it; (in my language). Now its coldness resides in me. It didn’t before I touched it. Its coldness is now in both of (us).

Swap the organic bulk of the Marimba Eroica for something smaller (to be cradled), stuffed with logic gates made fuzzy enough to imitate intelligence, sight, sound (and possibly rumble) and the way is clear to convert an encounter into a seduction. And is there not more than a scintilla of hubris in assuming that we (and I address my remarks to fellow aggegates of carbon, screen readers and google bots may look away) are worthy of their affection (66% uptime a day is pretty slovenly) or even that it is directed toward us? (In 2007, in a tower block overlooking MOMA, New York a webcam watches in on Martin Creed's hesitant efforts at binary and with the same patronising look we might give to Lassie/Flipper/Skippy muses "I think he's trying to tell us something") Perhaps we might more usefully consign ourselves to facillitating more meaningful exchanges between machines?

Light (L)
It is of some concern that the powers that be gave lighting a bad press by setting up a dimmer on a 24 hour cycle and pretty much forgot about it other than tossing in the occasional FX (eclipse, lightning) to provoke a few rituals and latterly artists and dreamers (though credit is due for the aurora borealis, real thought has gone into that one). Thankfully theatre came along so that lighting is not as predictable as night following day and this group is tasked with what my colleague Rob Batterbee is pleased to call 'dynamic photon manipulation'. Truthfully, dimmers aren't entirely out of the picture, but we want to explore the weft and weave of visibility, foregoing presets and painting penumbras. In the absence of the workbench and materials (a confession - when stretching the resources budget the standoff between the Xbox Kinect and a Black and Decker workmate was resolved in favour of the former) light is very much a scenographic proposition for this project. I could direct you to Craig and Appia in this regard (and you should certainly pay them a visit) but the single arresting image that is hyperlinked is the cover of the soundtrack for Einstein on the Beach As with every other group you will be beset by demands and possibilities from your colleagues, not least because performers will have an expectation of being seen and bits of technology will blink and glow into the space.

Sound (S)
Ten minutes in a restaurant playing (flirting?) with a friend's iPhone 4S and its much-touted Siri voice interface and I'm not sure whether the strange looks I'm getting are disdain or envy. Certainly there's no fear of an opinion on who's been voted off a television program and I could learn to find the non-commital responses almost endearing. Youtube will furnish you with any number of encounters with the technology and I'll post up on the blog any number of text to speech and/or back again programs to fill the silence between listening to sat navs, pre-recorded messages and other vocal machines. There's no doubting that the audible machine makes a fair fist of menace, but can we grow to find the mangling of vowels and spittle-free sibilliants endearing?

Using Logic software and assorted applications that slice, dice and make nice found and generated noises this group will not abandon the longing occasioned by a major seventh but neither will it be immune to the constancy of the cooling fan, displacing air in between intentional sound.

Video (V)
To feed the gaping maw of the live video performance group (see below) will necessitate the most discerning of video collectors, pressing the lens of the HD camcorders into the nooks and crannies of the particular and appropriating sources strewn about the web, collating and editing them into polymers of untold possibilities upon which further violence is visited in the live event. Final Cut Pro X will form the basis of the editing platform.

Mobile and Computer integration (MC)
The throbbing, vibrating heart of the piece (possibly) and, aside from the menagerie of Macs and PCs that are available to be de-plumbed and re-sited in the performance space we have some smartphones and are in negotiations about some iPads that really should be used in anger. Aside from this we are hoping to piggyback on some Xbox Kinect hacks (we will have just the Kinect not the Xbox so no 'productive downtime' playing Medal of Mediocrity 7 or whatever is posible) which should enable us to do some interesting stuff with bodies in space. This is not the group to give vent to one's inner geek as it will entail a lot of dialogue with other groups.

Projection Mapping (PM)
When I'm asked to explain projection mapping I tend to hyperlink to that or this (please feel free to populate the blog with 'and also' and 'not forgetting' links as you see fit). When conceiving of this project I was excited about the possibility of using bodies as projection surfaces and as noted, having dispensed with the workmate from which all hard wooden surfaces must surely spring, this may well be the path down which we head. Having made oblique reference on two occasions to 'bodies' and not so much as hinted at leading roles, fabulous death scenes or moments of tremulous emoting now might be the time to slip in the fact that this piece may not be a high watermark for the thespian art.

Whilst attempting to convince Michael and Rob that they should come on board with the project I wrote "The narrative and means of staging are to be determined in discussion with the group but the work will exploit the redundancy of performers in a space where everything is conveyed through electronic means – projections, sounds, mobiles etc. But the performer is still present, moving screens, patching leads, acting as stands, speakers, projection surfaces, subservient puppeteers to an electronic mediascape, like black-clothed bunraku handlers or, as Stefan Brecht noted of Robert Wilson’s work “performers creating images, i.e., performance only supplementally.”"

Live Video Performance (LVP)
There's no shortage of fun to be had rearranging those three words into all possible variants (and, telling, I'd probably fire up a calculator program to work out how many that actually was) but betwixt T-Visionarium II and iTunes' carousel of videos there's a sweet spot where the number, variability , interdependency and immersiveness of multiple video feeds teeters on the cliff of complexity without falling into the abyss of over-saturation. It is ever more redundant to say that the work of this group is contingent on that of others as it applies in each instance but the use of VJ software and Qlab necessitates being very acquisitive.

If you waded through the above you will have surmised that an improbable numbers of balls are being thrown into the air and keeping them there will be time-consuming. I envisage that the first session will see the scope of the project grow exponentially (ie more balls), that the training sessions will add a further level of complexity and that beyond that there will be a closing of the gap between could and can, qualified by the teamleader meeting on the first Thursday (a representative of each group pitching their suggestions). The blog and myself as peripatetic envoy between groups will broaden lines of communication so that possibilities, requirements, challenges and disagreements can be aired and incorporated within the whole. It is not wholly unpleasant to think that the project will develop both organically and in a networked fashion, coincident with the thematic. Variously myself, Rob and Michael will be on hand to assist and bounce ideas off.

Week 7


9-11 - Discussion, Group Formation

11-3 Group Training

3-6 Work on Project


9-1 work on project

2-3 teamleaders' meeting

3-6 work on project

Week 8


9-1 work on project

2-3 teamleaders' meeting

3-6 work on project


9-1 work on project

2-4 tech rehearsal

5-6 performance

And then

All subsequent contributions to the project will be posted on the blog to which all students can contribute either in the form of comments on existing posts or by creating new posts. If just one student emails me to say they don't get the blog thing then I will emerge from the shadows and post a how-to movie on posting on the blog but otherwise I look forward to exchanging ideas with you all there and even more so to start working with you from 9am on Tuesday in Week 7



Initial Links
I asked Rob and Michael to furnish me with some intial links that might inform the project and though some of them make it into the main body of the text the full list are offered up here:

From Rob

Blue room technical forum:

Lighting board manufacturer:

a)tutorials for operating the desk:

b)product page:

Creative applications network (video and coding mainly)

Logic studio tutorials:

Qlab Tutorials: 

United Visual Artists:

From Michael

Projection mapping videos:

Antivj website:

free cross platform VJ software:
(includes demo)