news release: August 2004

Myriorama by ambientTV.NET and kondition pluriel

Taking a hint from Italo Calvino’s story A King Listens, Myriorama unfolds the world of one whose environment is all ears and all eyes; one for whom every whisper and rumour is heard distinctly, for whom every movement is watched and logged.

Today, equipment designed for a paranoid king has become the plaything of the people, part of our everyday gadgetry and woven in the fabric of the city.

For this production, ambientTV.NET and kondition pluriel have repurposed location-aware mobile devices, motion sensors and audio-visual transmissions to fashion a responsive performance space that both extends beyond, and is concentrated in the venue itself.

The protagonist at the centre of Myriorama tracks his subjects, agents and avatars as they move through the city. The one in the place of the king watches, commands and interprets a mediated world, a domain of data, a screen of projected subjectiv ities in which inside and outside are entwined.

A range of cross-disciplinary practices and interests converge in the collaboration between ambientTV.NET and kondition pluriel. For London-based ambientTV.NET (artistic directors: Manu Luksch and Mukul Patel), the techniques and effects of data transmission provide theme, medium, and performative space for projects spanning installation and performance, through documentary, dance, and gastronomy, to real-time sound and video composition. kondition pluriel was formed in 2000 in Montreal out of the collaboration between dancer-choreographer Marie-Claude Poulin and media-artist Martin Kusch. Their contemporary dance pieces, performative installations and responsive environments explore the possibilities of interaction and transformation between the physical environment and gesture and the electronically mediated re-presentations of movement and space. Both companies highlight models of networked and collaborative practice.

ambientTV.NET (artistic directors: Manu Luksch and Mukul Patel)

Manu Luksch and Mukul Patel of answer some questions about the company and the piece.

How long have you been working together in the context of
Since 2001.

How would you describe the company?
Since 1999, when Ambient began, the company’s purpose and definition has undergone changes, and it has grown branches such as Ambient.Wireless, Ambient Space, and Ambient Sushi. Our approach is nearly always interdisciplinary, so we can’t say that we’re simply a film production company or tactical media practitioners or video artists, even though we are all of those. We collaborate with ‘experts’ from all walks of life—from gourmets to textile designers to anthropologists to dancers, and so the form of our pieces varies a lot, too, from performances with food to documentary film to music and video composition. One generalisation that we could make is that our productions revolve very much around the integration of live data transmission and real-time data manipulation into the process.

We all have a strong sense of swimming in a materialized flux of data—actually the term ‘information overload’ is more telling since this data is, on the whole, already interpreted and pre-digested. Media hype accelerates decisions and homogenises opinion, and before ‘intelligence’ reports can be analysed, a war has already been prosecuted on the other side of the Earth. So, as many of us understand, it is very difficult to relate to, let alone actively take part in, determining this reality. (Consuming and taking part in formal political and economic processes appears to us as passive participation. We do it to some extent, but we try to be self-aware as we do so, and to limit this passive mode).
If you search for the frontier of democratic space, you might ask where most communication takes place, and this forum is not the town square or the bar or the courts—it’s ‘email space’. People who use this space need to understand how it works. How else can they have an opinion on legislation that affects this space? And there is so much legislation being implemented, or just about to be, which restricts this space, curtails expression, intrudes on privacy, and so on. These technologies of hygiene and control are being paraded to the public by states and corporations who seem to have no fear or shame, and public discourse is limping way behind the implementation of technological ‘solutions’.

Ambient declares this technological environment as its creative medium, not at all to celebrate a technological idea of progress as some media art tended to do especially in the 1980s, but in order to demystify daily-life technology, to render it visible, and to encourage consumers to become hands-on users, to responsibly exploit the substantial power that is within reach.

Is Myriorama a new departure for you, or do you see it as a convergence of the various activities you've been involved in?
We are very excited about so many strands of activities coming together in this production. At one stage the challenge was to reduce, to make it less complex: ‘less is more’.

Myriorama deals with movement in live data architectures, with spatial narration and serendipitous street encounters, with facts and fictions, the local and the global, empowerment versus surveillance.

In technical terms, the performance will take place in an environment that we create by visualising and sonifying the location data and texts sent by roaming narrator roaming the neighbourhood of the venue during the performance.

Some years ago, we experimented with the possibility of happenings at a distance in the Telejam parties. There, we linked up parties in different cities with online streams (and fed sound and images back and forth between them). But we also worked with networks and data flows in other contexts. For Manu, one key moment was June 18th 1999, when people around the world organised a ‘Carnival against Global Capitalism’ and linked the events through live online reports and streams. She filmed on the streets and sent tapes back to London media lab Backspace for immediate upload.
Expansion of the performance space through live data links is one important aspect of Myriorama. We’ve also started working with responsive environments, live video/sound manipulation systems that can be controlled by inputs such as environmental data, or a dancer’s movements. Mukul’s experience as a writer (of text) and as composer for contemporary dance companies also feeds very directly into the piece.

You were talking about using data transmission to create a narrative. Will there be a strong narrative character to Myriorama, or is it more like an image, an ambience?
We wanted to introduce a fictional character to the ambience we talked about before, someone who embodies the ambivalence that we feel towards the technology we use in daily life and in this piece.

Myriorama draws on the figure of the King in Italo Calvino’s short story A King Listens. Calvino describes the inner state of the King, who is initially omniscient and all-powerful, but then gradually realizes the vulnerability of his position (the only place to go from the throne is off it). Just because he has spies everywhere, and just because his palace is designed to bring all whispers and murmurs to his ears, his omniscience gives way to paranoia and he turns into his own prisoner.

We have access to tools and gadgets and services that turn us all into kings. We can overcome time and distance (travelling without moving, literally this time), and we can live in ‘imagined communities’ of choice—communities of shared interest rather than geographical vicinity. What many forget is that most of these consumer technologies are spin-offs from military developments, which weren’t invented to empower people, but to control and track them.

There seems to be a new craze for GPS-enhanced or location-aware media, or as the non-for-profit scene calls it, locative media. But even without these technologies, we leave traces—when we use our mobile phones or email to reach out, we leave logs on mail servers or records of cells between which calls were placed; traces that can be perused by governments in their fight against ‘terrorism’; traces that can be used to reach back to us.

All of us are promised the opportunity to be kings, if only we buy this or that service or piece of technology: the Consumer is King. We hope that the audience for Myriorama will be encouraged to reflect on such promises.

You mention 'locative media'. What does that mean exactly? How do you use it? Where would you locate 'locative media'?
Locative media encompasses all the mobile technologies that we carry around and that can fix position. Ordinary GSM mobile phones can do this, approximately, by triangulation from different phone masts. The trickling down of GPS into consumer technology (such as handheld and car navigation units, but also in 3G phones) triggered a wave of projects that are rethinking cartography. Some of these works result in documents or products that can be distributed, but many are process-based, and many involve public participation. The ‘creative industries’ sector (especially gaming) is hovering over some of these projects, waiting for them to ripen for appropriation. But locative media, as informed by the Situationist International, is also a locus of resistance.

A lot of 'new media' projects seem to recede into 'virtual worlds'. Your work always seems to put an emphasis on experience: sensuality, urban experience, emotional aspects of online life, perceptual effects of networks. What kind of experience do you expect Myriorama to be for the audience?
Enveloping, engaging, discomfiting. We want the audience to be able to smell the King’s power and paranoia.

Does that explain the co-operation with Kondition Pluriel? They would seem to have a clear foothold in the dance-theatre-performance world. What was it about their work that suggested they would be good partners for realising Myriorama?
It was love at first sight ;-)

Besides, when we started working with GPS data, we were thinking a lot about the relationship between the roamer outdoors and the people in the venue indoors. In the early stages, when we presented some work in progress at the DMZ Festival at the Limehouse, a 3D artist modelled the building for us, and we tried to distort this 3D mesh with the movements of the roamer as they left the venue and began to explore the neighbourhood. This idea was very much inspired by Kondition Pluriel’s work Schème II, in which the interior of a space is projected back into itself, and distorted by the dancer’s movements through a system of sensors that she wears.

You're taking the piece to Helsinki straight after the London premiere. How do you deal with relocating a 'locative' performance?
It’s in the nature of a ‘locative performance’ to adapt and conform and react to the environment—we bring a framework, an environment to the new location, and allow the piece to unfold. We do need to do some research in the neighbourhoods of the venues that we perform in, so that we can soak up the flavour, and we need to recalibrate some of our visualisations for the different routes taken by the roaming narrator. Also, we are reliant on certain infrastructure (broadband internet and GPRS—data service for GSM phones), though that’s more of a problem in London than in Finland!

Where to next?
Geographically, to Lyon, Taipei, Bombay and New York.
Mentally, into urban space under surveillance.

Questions by Anthony Auerbach

Triptychon: live locative media and dance performance

Triptychon: live locative media and dance performance
Kiasma Theatre, Helsinki, 4 April 2004

The audience at the Kiasma Theatre was led all the way down the steps of the tiered seating area and invited to take their places inside a hexagonal veil-like tent raised on the stage. A performer equipped with a GPRS capable hand-held computer and GPS receiver left the building on a walk. As the lights dimmed, the semi-transparent walls of the tent became a myriad of projections, the stepped auditorium a stage for a dancer dressed in white and the bip-bip-bip sound of a pedestrian crossing signal was heard, introducing an evocative live sound-track.

The walk, framed between the steps of Helsinki's Parliament building and the steps of the Lutheran Cathedral, also formed the framework of the 45-minute show as text messages from the walker, along with the positions reported by the GPS system, were mapped in real time in a visual display. The live messages from the walker emerged from the context of layers of archived walks and the earlier walkers’ messages, and threaded their way through a forest of texts. Crossing the three-dimensional images generated this way, were live-mixed video footage and closed circuit relay of the dancer’s movements outside the tent. The sightlines of the dancer seen through the tent-screens, her shadow and her image crossed the many sightlines of the audience seated at will in the tent rather than in rows in a theatre. The movements of the walkers in the city, tagged with their messages, mediated by the technology, became the cues for the dancer, interpreting her own space with the movements of her body.’s interest in so-called ‘locative media’ (mobile communications and positioning technology) stems from earlier ‘telejams’ which linked performers and situations in different cities with live messaging, music and video. The Ambients draw from the traditions of psychogeography the notion of a spatial encoding of narrative and its subsequent unveiling. The complex visual and sound environment created in Triptychon is the emergence of language from media: the reciprocity between ‘objective’ data and ‘subjective’ interpretation. It mirrors the urban experience as a myriad of crossings.

Triptychon also emerges from and tends towards another locative-performative piece, now developing under the working title Myriorama (formerly FlipFlop). In this respect, Triptychon has been a valuable research loop, allowing the Ambients to develop software and hardware solutions, but above all to develop the critical approaches to media and subjective focus that stop it becoming a gadget-piece.

Myriorama will premiere this summer.

Anthony Auerbach, London, April 2004

Triptychon: live locative media and dance performance
by (Manu Luksch, Mukul Patel, David Muth) for Pixelache Festival 2004: Audiovisual Architecture, Helsinki
with: Hanna Ylitepsa (choreography and dance), Gavin Starks (roaming narrator), Camalo Gaskin (costume and tent design) and featuring walks through Helsinki by John Hopkins, Mariko Montpetit, Nick Grindell, Hermanni Ylitepsa, Voytec Mejor and others

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