Again the N.I.P. crew was together at STEIM (Amsterdam). This time around we concentrated essentially on theoretical thinking about performing with new media. A very good exercise was to build some mind maps and find out about the different issues that each one of us is concerned about.

One word that sticked to my mind was “fragility”. Is fragility what makes us interested in performance per se? Knowing that the performer is expressing his own thoughts and ideas into an improvisational scenario and that it can all just go wrong.

Of course it is easy to point that it could simply go wrong (or be bad) because the performer is not good enough, but we must also consider that the digital system itself is prone to misbehavior. The digital media should, in theoretical terms, be immune to error or failure, since machines should always behave the same, with certainty to them. Thus it should be controllable by definition, which doesn’t really happen.

I think it doesn’t happen because we’ve connected two worlds: digital and biological. The variability of the biological environment is automatically mapped onto the digital system and thus it becomes much more evident to us, performers, that we live in an environment full of chaotic functions, very distant from the digital precision. This is very visible if you simply take any analog sensor and connect it to some kind of digitizing device. Any sensor has noise to it. The digital values jump up and down. Our biological environment does so too.

Regarding the performer side, this indeterminacy adds up to the fact that we are makers and performers. By building our own instruments we must then learn how to use them. This is already a big step. An even bigger step is learning something that doesn’t always behave equally. And that makes it interesting! If we ever got to the totally deterministic response, maybe even us, performers, would loose some interest into exploring this media’s “experimental possibilities”.

But that leads to other issues, namely one that really strikes me as very important: Who is restricting who? (if the word “restriction” is applicable). Are we controlling machines and making them the instruments of our precise vocabulary or are they just restricting our creativity, blurring our expression?

Are we adapting to the machine’s behavior or is it adapted and designed around our own purposes?

These are very basic questions which I’m sure many of the researchers of this field have already addressed, but it is very good to see some of this discussion emerge in our own group.

We’ll keep commenting on these. Soon Teresa will have our mindmaps freshly distributed. I need to take another look at those! 🙂

Some food for thought:

Theremin and Piano


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