encounterBLOG 18 November, third night

sunday afternoon featured Meeting Places: Art and Science, Performance in Real and in Virtual Hellerau.

this project is a collaboration between King’s Visualization Lab (KVL, King’s College London) and TMA Hellerau with the aim of creating a mixed-reality installation that can extend a historical performance design concept (created in the beginning of the 20th century by Adolphe Appia and Emile Jacques-Dalcroze at Hellerau’s new school of Eurhythmics) into digital/computational environments and the cyberspace of Second Life.

opening of the performance, the musicians walk onto the digital set

the performance took place in the great hall at 17:oo and again provided a unique historical moment whose significance one might not be aware of now — and what the future of such experiments will bring we don’t know at this point. but in the dance world, and in performance and music culture generally as well as in historical, archaeological and ethnographic research, the computer-assisted 3D modeling/visualization and recreation of material artefacts, sources and architectures is a technologically enabled science. visualizations of course also find some of their most remarkable manifestations in the medical field and the bio-technologies.

i had seen recreations before (in dance), and remember seeing a large exhibition (sponsored and supported by IBM and the Italian government) at Houston’s MFA that recreated the destroyed city of Pompeii constructing computer-generated models of its urban habitats, political, economic and social lifeforms as one could deduce them from sources that survived from calculations and approximations.

here at Hellerau we witnessed an encounter of the third kind, a world premiere that is not easy to describe. the scientific and artistic research project derived from Magruder’s view of Appia’s original rhythmic space designs as conceptual explorations of space, not as illustrative plans for possible stage constructions. his reflection on Appia’s spatial theories coincided with King’s Visualization Lab’s start up of the Theatron 3.0 project, which began with the reconstruction of Hellerau in Second Life. The interdisciplinary nature of the project gathered together people with expertise ranging from theatre history and performance to advanced 3D modelling and scripting techniques. for the Cynetart07 premiere, the creative partnership also involved live performance realizations in Dresden composed by Prof. Christine Straumer and seven rhythmic students of the Carl Maria von Weber Music Academy.

the local group of music/rhythm students — Florian Maser, Katarzyna Gorczynska, Thu Trang Nghiem, Elisabeth Lochmann, Ulrike Spörl, Stefanie Richter & Astrid Eisler — performed an improvised musical choreography inspired by Emile Jacques Dalcroze’s gestural sequences (plastique animée). these sequences were taken from his writings and sketches, not from of the 1912 production of Orpheus here at Hellerau (originally envisioned and realized inside the Adolphe Appia designs for “Rhythmic Spaces”), of which no scores or film footage survives, to my knowledge, although here it would be good to consult Richard Beacham (King’s College) , whose expertise scholarship guided the project and whose seminal book on Appia paved the way for this partnership with Magruder and Drew Baker (3D modeling and programming). Richard Beacham’s book is entitled Adolphe Appia: Artist and Visionary of the Modern Theatre (Philadelphia, 1994; Adolphe Appia – Künstler und Visionär des modernen Theaters, Berlin: Alexander Verlag, 2006).

first picture/scene

speaking to the dancing musicians, i gathered that they were in fact inspired by the musical ideas their teacher, Christine Straumer, developed with them for finding movement material that corresponded to Appia’s drawings and sketches of rhythmicized light and space. the group developed three “Bilder” (scenic pictures), which were named “staircase,” “transformation,” and “orpheus.” these pictures corresponded to the “Rhythmic Spaces” Magruder had built, and they also corresponded to different colors (green-yellow for Part I; blue for Part III, the “transformation” representing the deformation and reformation of the digital space).

Straumer, in turn, improvised on the grand piano and created the improvisational musical sequences after the movement material had been found. Straumer sees her playing as live improvisation, and the music students perceive their dance in the same way, but they are fully conscious of the signficance of the spatiality of Appia’s vision, the rhythms of space (terrains) and staircases . there are three levels of symmetrical heights (66 cm, 132 cm, 198 cm in height, 8 m in length, 3 m in width), and the scenographic environment was built at the tall end of the Hellerau Festpielhaus, with Magruder’s digital set (inside Second Life) projected onto the architecture.

Umformung / transition

so we were able to see the performance on the very location where the 1912 production of Orpheus was created, except that we are now in the real/renovated historical building with Appia’s set and scenography digitally created and projected by Magruder. but rather than using VRML or a game engine, Magruder’s 3D digital “Rhythmic Spaces” metaversal environment has been transferred to a large SIM in Second Life.

3.Bild / 3rd scene

the real musician-dancers performed their Dalcroze improvisation on the real and projected/virtual platforms and staircases of Magruder’s digitally re-elaborated Appia set in front of a sinking “Appia” sun which is actually the atmospheric nature environment in Second Life, so I am told. the night before i sat quietly in the studio to watch Magruder work inside Second Life, and noted the slowly, subtly changing colors of the horizon, misty clouds drifting in the distance, surely, i thought, some kind of latre night consensual hallucination caused by lack of sleep. Magruder here seems a kindred spirit to Olafur Eliasson, whose Weather Project had a strong hyperrealist effect on our perception through the use of powerful, monochrome orange light. he welcomes the natural-artificial oscillations of light (daylight, sunlight, clouds drifting by, the mist in the distance…) in Second Life, and during the presentation he performed some uncanny maneuvers to transmutate the Bilder (scenes) for the musician-dancers, as he was able to make the Appia 3D sets slowly disintegrate and change into different spaces of scenic- rhythmic lighting. a choreography of light and slow mutation, a mesmerizing thing without name.

the exploration here points to the interrelationships between real and virtual worlds, connected through the network and the technologies (positional tracking, motion tracking, etc) that connect physical performance rhythms and motion behaviors of avatars in tele-plateaus and their second-life versions.

in a post show discussion, Magruder pointed to data in/data out issues that he is examining now, and inspired by the experience of the audience participants in the tele-plateaus (responding to abstract shapes they generated on the floor projections), he suggested that it might be interesting to transfer (simultaneously) the generative algorithms of the motion-tracked tele-peformers into a Second Life environment where the performers can see their representations (their “physical gaming” action) as avatars in the virtual environment.

johannes birringer

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