2. AN INTERNATIONAL MEDIA DISCUSSION
MUU RY, HELSINKI
OF PRESENTATION 'GAME SET MATCH'
Amanda Steggell, 17 May 2003, at 12.30
First I would like to thank the Muu-people for the invitation to come here, which is quite nice for me, because it’s Norway’s national day today, the 17th of May, so it’s wonderful to be in Helsinki!
I’m a choreographer, well, that is my formal training anyway. I also co-direct the art group 'Motherboard' with my colleague, Per Platou. His background is as a musician, but he also has wide experience in various forms of alternative music- and art production and distribution. Since about 1995 - 96 we have been working together making installations, performances, holding seminars, worklabs, etc. Quite often we use the Internet as a mediating and modulating instance in these events. Our work is mainly live art, performance based. If you go to our website, which you can find on the Muu page, you won’t find any actual current work exhibited there. However, you will find documentation of the work we have done.
Today I’m going to talk about a project that we are developing called 'Game Set Match' - and I’m going to talk about it in seven phases; 'The Seven Phases of a Project'. It’s quite funny in some ways. It was circulating on the net about 1997.
I’m first going to open some visual aids.
Here’s the first phase, which is called 'Wild Enthusiasm' and this is based on our original project description.
So, 'Game Set Match' is a dramatized, split-location game of tennis. One of the points of departure of this project was Rauschenberg’s performance, 'Open Score', which was in 1966 and part of the infamous 'Nine Nights' performances in New York. These 'Nine Nights' performances were initiated as collaborations between artists and engineers. Rauschenberg made his version of a dramatized game of tennis by equipping the players with rackets that had radio senders that sent signals to the lights in the space. Each time the players managed to hit a ball, a “pong” sound was heard and one of the lights in the theatre went out. In this way the game ended when all the lights in the space had gone out. At this point a crowd of people entered the dark space, and infrared cameras picked up their ghostly image, which was projected on screens high above the court. I’ll just show you a few images from this performance. I personally find it very inspiring to see these images, though I wasn’t originally aware of this project when Motherboard was developing the idea for Game Set Match. That was something we found on the way, but it was interesting to discover.
I’m quite interested in these aerial projection screens here, that were hanging over the tennis court, and I also found another image that interested me, which is a painting, and I’m sorry, I didn’t write down the name of the artist who painted it, but it’s from 'The Tennis Court Oath', from The French Revolution in 1789, a fascinating little anecdote where a tennis court became the arena for a battle of political power. There was a group of people who were contending the king at that time, but because of their oppositional ideas they were not allowed into the regular court meeting places, so they chose to hold their own meetings in a tennis court - to have their own political discussions. But what I was most interested in regarding this image is these aerial bodies here, that are kind of floating around, coming in from the outside – or at least that’s how it looks to me. This is my interpretation of the image anyway. Heavenly bodies floating around, above, in the air, in the ether.
I’m going to move on now to a description of the project. Game Set Match is a performance that combines the virtual with the real. It’s got competitive aspects of both sports and electronic gaming that play a quite significant role. These elements form a common ground for the audience because people know, or generally know, what tennis is about. One of the things that we are interested in is making a system where two people can play tennis from two locations, connected via the Internet - here is a little illustration of this. So here is the tennis court, split in two, and then we place each half of the court in a different location. For example, half of the court in Oslo, and the other half in Melbourne, represented by these little red dots. Melbourne is chosen simply because it’s a place I would like to go, it’s just an example. We plan to make a system were two real people can play tennis in these separate locations, which are connected via the Internet and the drama that evolves is a result of what happens when you try to do this. What happens when incompatible systems try to communicate (that’s already come up in the discussion, machines and people, how they communicate) in this set of rules? A fuzzy-logical interplay of hard- soft- and wet-ware, where glitches often occur.
I want to go back to this original image from Rauschenberg to try to illustrate what we plan to do. As you can see, I’ve made the ball yellow, to make it a bit clearer where it is. This is basically a regular game of tennis. What we would then do is take away half of the court, put it somewhere else, and swap the human opponent with an automated ball machine, like so. It’s an electronic ball machine that simulates the shot of a player in the other location. Is that clear? In addition to the ball machine we may use a telematic presence of the other player, and for this we would use just use a normal kind of shareware such as Realvideo for transmission from the other location. Okay, let’s say that the player on the screen is in Melbourne and the player on the court is in Oslo. The player in Melbourne will be represented as telematic presence but the time of the transmission is slightly out of sync because of the time it takes for the video to be encoded and the signal to arrive in Oslo. Seen from Oslo, it will be kind of out of sync with the time of the actual motion of the person. So as the time is already out of sync by introducing a telematic image, it makes it more difficult to play a regular game of tennis. This is one of the kinds of deviations from the regular game that, as a choreographer dealing with movement in time and space, I find interesting - how the physical movements of the player in Oslo are then affected by the stress of not quite being in the same timespace as her or his competitor in Melbourne. It has a physical consequence, and this I have found out from previous works in this kind of telematic situation.
I’m now going to add some video cameras - one, two, three. The set-up for each half of the court is identical, it’s duplicated. So I’m showing you now the set-up in Oslo, but the same set-up is mirrored in Melbourne. The idea is to get these video cameras - I had a lot of fun making this! - to try to monitor the 'whole' of the half of the court, like this. They are going to be used as tracking cameras, so they will attempt, in combination with software, to track the flight of the ball and the position of the player. This would result in three sets of data that have to be combined, and out of this we have to have an algorithm, those wonderful algorithms! and this analysis of data will then be sent via the Internet to Melbourne - into the ball machine in Melbourne - which will then translate the signals and shoot out the ball as a representation of that person’s shot.
I've made some more illustrations for you.
So, the Oslo player plays her ball and this motion is tracked. Here you see the ball emerging over the tennis net in Melbourne - shooting out from the darkness. The player in Melbourne then has to react and send a shot back. The process is repeated. The ball and the player’s position is monitored by the cameras, the data is collected, analyzed, sent out over the internet into the ball machine and then the shot comes back to Oslo, like this. Just to make it quite clear, if we take away the telematic image- this screen here, then the player is actually playing tennis into darkness, into a black hole.
I would like to describe what I think about the ball.
When a shot is played, and the ball travels through the space, it’s a physical ball. As soon as it goes over the tennis net, it ceases to be a physical body and becomes a databody, and it remains as a databody only in this passage to the next location. As the data is translated and transmitted to the ball machine a conversion has occurred, and the ball machine shoots out a new ball, but in fact it’s not exactly a new ball, because it’s been released according to the data that has been sent over the internet, and in this way it retains some of the kinesthetic properties of the original ball. In this way, conceptually, it’s not really a new ball - well, it’s a new ball but it also has some of the kinesthetic properties of the old ball as well.
- Does the
ball machine stay in the same place?
Some of them do, some ball machines don’t, but this one does. I have some examples from our ball machine research that I'll show you now. This one stays in the same place but it’s able to shoot out the balls at different angles, heights and some different strengths. As that question came up, I’ll just show you some other examples in the 'Illusion of Progress' phase of my talk - the second phase of a project. Here are some ball machine models that we were looking into. They’re very different in appearance and price, as you can see. The one that we actually like best is this one. It’s called Shotmaker Deluxe, and you can see specifications here. We have chosen it because it has a more comprehensive control panel and it also has a remote control. It’s got a ball capacity of 300 balls, trajectory groundstroke to lob with maximum speed 95 MPH, statistics, and a ball feed interval of under six seconds - it’s pretty fast! Spin control too! This was the most advanced machine we found, and it was also the most expensive.
As we heard in Andrea’s talk, once you have a database - a collection of data - you can do lots of things with that data. In this split location tennis match scenario we also envisage using the tracking data to control sound elements, and to accentuate the concept of the 'final frontier' between the tennis net and the Internet. As the ball passes over the final frontier, because the data has already been collected we can convert the tracking data and use it to control and manipulate sound. The ball becomes more animated by using sound to accentuate its flight. What we hope for is an explosive audio experience when the ball enters one location from the other location. So it kind of shoots out from the abyss, you know, you can make it quite dynamic, then swish! So there's a real impact as the ball enters the space.
- Can the machine
do the sound?
Well, there are various ways of doing it, but you mean the ball machine? We haven’t actually got hold of a ball machine yet, but when we do we’ll definitely look into this aspect of mechanic sound and what we can do with it. Maybe that could be amplified; there are so many possibilities. You can also manipulate samples, or you could generate sound with this data, this is really the fascinating thing with it, the conversions between different media and mediated elements that are possible.
What we have been working on previously, and this is coming back to your question, is glitches in systems. What happens when things don’t go as you planned? And then you get into the situation when you might as well just accept this and incorporate potential glitches into the work itself. We use glitches in the system as part of the artistic expression that transforms this thing that would otherwise be more of a regular tennis match into something that could be called a dramaturgy. When glitches in the system occur - when signals that have been sent are interpreted wrongly, or take a long time to arrive, or the ball machines don’t deliver as expected, how does this affect the expression of the work? How does this affect the players who are already quite vulnerable by being in these two locations? This question has come up quite a lot regarding Game Set Match. Is this interesting as a performance? Quite often WE find it very interesting, but will an audience feel the same about it? This performance is built upon expectations and anticipation. There are amazing tennis positions and postures that are adopted as players wait for a ball to be served. I’ve been watching a lot of tennis matches recently since I can’t always remember the rules! What do they do with the racket while waiting? Some might twiddle it around while waiting for a serve; they turn it, turn, turn. Just think what this could be like if they had to wait for, like, one minute - or two minutes, even. However sophisticated the ball machine may be, it is also very restricted in the number of shots it can deliver compared to a human player.
Two people are playing tennis together, but also two ball machines and a lot of data through local and remote networks. This causes a lot of disturbance and delays, and I find this an interesting situation to be in. For the players themselves, I think this unusual situation is enough to bind them together, even though they may not see each other. I think this situation will be nervous enough to make their connection strong. One of our concerns is about the audience, because even though I can really like this kind of idea as a performance concept, I also want people in the audience to be engaged with the performance as well. The question of how to bring the audience closer together is one of our considerations. At the same time as we were developing the first draft for this project, we spoke to a friend called Stuart Rosenberg who lives in Berlin. At that time he was developing a project called 'Public Vote', a public betting system for Transmediale 2002. When we started to work with this project in 2001 we asked him if he was interested in making a betting system for us where the audience in these two locations could place bets on the outcome of the match. Instead of buying a ticket for the performance you buy a betting slip. We will also make visible the bets and the odds for the audiences in both locations. Maybe this element of competition would bring them closer together and create more common ground, more drama. This is one way we thought about involving the audience. We also thought it would be quite interesting if the project had it’s own kind of economy system, rather than ticket system - so it didn’t feel so much like a paying for a performance but rather that by purchasing a betting slip, as an audience you become involved in the performance.
I'd like to move back to the cameras that I showed you earlier. We considered the tracking possibilities that we are capable of doing it at Motherboard without external help, and we realized that to make a make a viable tracking system we would probably need high-speed cameras to be able to track the ball in a manner that would actually catch the ball’s speedy flight path at all, and this would require writing a new software for video tracking. We need data in a form that we can work with ourselves on our own machines rather than an industrial solution. This programming is something we can’t do ourselves, even though we do use other types of video tracking software. This would entail taking the project to a kind of higher technological level than we’re used to. We are used to figuring out how to do things ourselves. Regarding development and being able to try things out ourselves, I think we really need to be involved in the development of the software and the hardware, which also involves hacking into the expensive ball machines so they can interface with a computer. We also need some kind of engine to be able to send the data to the other location, but I don't think that would be so much of a problem. At the moment we consider midi as our control protocol. We can send midi over the Internet, and even though the resolution is not that high regarding the video tracking, it is enough information compared to what the ball machines can actually do - the number of shot options that are available.
This is really how the project stood according to the first project description. I’m now going to move on to the next phase, unless anybody has any questions so far?
- You mentioned
that random accidents gives the dramaturgy in this system, but what about the
time scales, how long can the people be interested in this kind of randomly
It’s less random, I mean, there are these random elements caused by glitches, but as that is the concept, I’m not sure if you can really call it 'random'. Can intentional use of glitches be called random?
To be perfectly honest I really don’t know how long people would be interested. You don’t know that until you put the theory into practice, it’s something you just can’t predict. Basically I would need to set it up first, and try out with people to be able to find out exactly what their reaction would be. For me, this whole thing is a way of making choreography. I’ve been working in a similar situation, but with fencing, for example. But it was much easier with fencing because we weren’t working so intricately with video tracking of the fencers themselves. We were using the electronic light display that tells you the result of a fencing match - when you touch, strike your opponent, when you get your point, a green light comes on. The point-loser gets a red light. Actually we were using video tracking, but tracking the light, using red/green light on/off to trigger media events.
- How was the
time scale on that system?
That went pretty quick - not so much delay. The light comes on and something happens a second or less after. This wasn’t actually an Internet thing, so maybe it wasn’t such a good example.
Seconds. I think each match lasted for about five minutes. In this little scenario the fencers were from different countries, so we were playing on this international aspect. We had some pre-made projections such that when someone won a point an image of the fencer was projected behind them with some text that said 'Hurray' in their own language, and when they lost a point it became a swear word. If the swear words got too heavy the judge could have said, 'ok, your game is over, you are too rude'. So it’s also this human intervention coming in. It’s not just the computers that are doing everything. There is someone there who is in the drama, who is also making decisions, like a game show host, or a talk show - 'sorry, we have to stop here because your language is too bad' - or there's a 'peeeep' that censors obscenities on the TV. It’s a kind of reference to mainstream media. I like this kind of 'movement that is already there' - found movement - idea. I started to find with dance that there was so much movement going on all the time. What does it all mean? What is going on? The more I watch theatrical dance, the less sense it seems to make to me. I wanted to work in more simplified situations, movement-wise, where people are trained in quite a specific movement way that is not necessarily 'dance' and see what I can do with this choreographically, combining it with other media....
- I have a
question, because when you describe the project, the interesting part of it,
I see it like if you are playing chess over mail for example, you have the same
kind of delay, but as an advanced player you are used in the ball coming back
very quickly, you are used to a very fast action, a professional player is very
sensitive to what is going on, so I think in this time delay to think strategic
at the same time, I don’t know exactly what my question is...
This would be the point of interest with regards to that aspect of the project, basically it's hard to tell before trying it out.
The players would not know exactly when or how the ball would appear. It should 'act' with some relationship to how the previous ball was played, and the consequent shot is returned. As the player plays a ball across the court, there should be some logic about where and when it arrives as the ball would be played out by the ball machine according to specific data. Maybe a professional player would have an idea what shots are played back after a while - a sensitivity. There are a lot of maybes; this human glitch that such networked environments create, in addition to the technical glitches that are bound to occur. I personally think these aspects make it quite exciting.
- One more
question, will they see the other side of the court, or does the ball suddenly
The telematic presence is disputable - whether or not it should be visible to the actual players, just to the public, or if it should be there at all. This is why I showed the last picture. It could be an option - this total darkness. They would probably be able to see the ball if there was a telematic presence, but as the image would be out of sync, that would create a disturbance. Whether the player chooses, in this situation, to watch that screen at all is also an open question right now. That is also something that I don’t know before we have tried it out, whether or not they will use it as a visual tool to be able to play the game.
- How important
is it to fulfill a project like this? Because it’s a beautiful vision,
but it could stay there, how important is it to fulfill the technical aspects?
Could I carry on through my phases? Because I wanted also to go into the different production issues as well, and how they affect this kind of work. I want to say that this is the second time that Motherboard applied for one project, one specific project - instead of a series of events organised around a general theme, with a project of this size, because it’s expensive, it is expensive! We need money! And we need to involve many people to actually run the show. We need external people, possibly outside our current network to help us with the software, we need industry partners to help with the high-speed cameras. There are a lot of things that seem to move out of our control, out of our usual way of working, on the practical side of things.
- When are
you planning to show it?
Well, we had made initial plans to show this work in two venues, but also the organisation of this is taking a long time. In our original project description we chose the Black Box Teater in Oslo and Teater Garagen in Bergen for the first try. These locations were picked out because in Norway both of these cities are competing to be the cultural centre of Norway. It is important contextually, who plays who, and what the competition is about. It adds another layer of drama. So, that was where the original locations were planned. However, since then Black Box Teater, which is the main arena for independent theatre and dance in Oslo, will be temporarily closed down as it is changing location. The time aspect of this project is as yet uncertain.
- You are not
focusing on art venues, more theatres?
I’ll tell you a little bit about how we apply for funding, and how this has affected production and deciding on venues. We sent as an application to the Norwegian Arts Council, to a committee called the 'Committee for Visual Arts and New Technologies', as we heard rumors that they wanted to support large-scale projects. As I said before, we don’t usually applied for one large project; we apply for thematic projects. We usually invite groups of people to work with Motherboard, and make events - quite often improvisations, symposiums, installations, worklabs, and work in some field of interest for a year or two without having to make specific statements about one project or defining exactly where it should take place. It was a strategic decision to do differently this time. So we applied for money from the Norwegian Arts Council, and we got very much less than we applied for.
- How big was
It was about NKR 800 000, which in Euro is …?
- 80 000 Euros, 87 000 or something like that.
The Norwegian Arts Council won’t completely fund projects; you have to have money from other places. So I think we asked them for NKR 500 000 and we got NKR 150 000. This money was restricted to production costs only, it wasn’t for developing anything, and as you have heard me describe the project we have not been in a situation where we can develop the necessary hard- and software we need to do this at all, because the requirements stretch beyond our capabilities. We need to bring in external help with regards to hacking the ball machine, for example, and as you saw, the ball machine is very expensive. You don’t start hacking into one of those without knowing what you are doing. So, NKR 150 000 was not enough. We also had to provide hard information about where and when this production would take place before we were able to get the cash out. At the same time applied for a 'Future Physical' competition, a competition for commissioned work produced by 'Shinkansen' in East England. We got to be in the runners-up of the competition. At this point we didn’t know how much money we were going to get from the Norwegian Arts Council, and the competition demanded a budget as well. So we had to apply to both Future Physical and to the Arts Council with a budget that was kind of realistic. We did get a positive answer back from the Arts Council as I said before. However, the funding they gave us was by no means realistic in relation to our initial budget, which was a realistic budget as far as we could envisage, if you know what I mean. Then we got into the situation where the Future Physical competition organisers told us that they really liked the project, but were worried that we wouldn’t get enough money to make the budget we sent them realistic!!!! So we ended up in a problematic-production-budget-loop. However, Future Physical wanted us to contact them if we were able to get more funding as they were interested in talking about a possible future co-production.
I contacted Mr. Bill Green, the inventor and producer of our chosen ball machine, and asked if we could have the technical specifications for our chosen model. I told him about our project, and, of course I was very friendly and very nice and kind of warmed him up, but at the end of the day he wouldn’t give them to us. He basically said something like of course you can buy the machines from the States and ship them over to Norway - they are quite large and heavy and everything. You have my permission for hacking into the machines, go ahead and do it. As long as I know about it, it’s fine, but I’m not going to tell you anything about the ball machine other than what is on the website and what comes in the manual. But you can't find the kind of engineering information we needed there. So, we were left in the dark about that. However, we were invited to the Steim Institute in Amsterdam for a month's residency in October/November 2002. The Steim Institute, do you know about that? It actually started as more fluxus place for musicians and artists working with electronic tools, digital tools, and it’s a place were some software for artists has been developed that you can use on, you know, reasonable platforms, not high end, expensive equipment. While we were there we had several meetings with the Director of Leaves and Petals, NN, who was very supportive of the project and suggested that a video tracking software they had developed previously - also one we had been using for several years - called 'Big Eye' could possibly be rewritten for our purpose if we could make a contribution for the development costs. This is kind of a nice situation to be in because the deal would be that we would get custom-made software for this project, but at the same time a software for general use would be developed. I think this is a good way of using funding, because it’s not this ego, exclusive way of working. We wanted this project to be Open Source in nature. Rauschenberg had 'Open Score' and we wanted an open source attitude in the way that our project would be developed through a learning process, an information sharing process. That was one of the things we discussed during this time. At Steim there is a guy who is extremely good in hacking into hardware, and getting the interface going between different hardware, software - what ever. This was a very promising situation to be in. This was more like our kind of process. In addition there were other people who were very interested in the project. One of them was the Baltic Arts Centre in Visby (Gotland, Sweden), who were keen to host one half of a match and possibly find another Baltic host to provide the other location. This was very promising.
From the position of all this potential, I’ll now move on to the third phase of the project - 'Panic'.
Having got into this situation where we received NKR 150 000 - and this is not meant as a winge or a moan, but it simply seemed to be impossible to continue with the project. Doubt started to creep into our discussions about whether or not we should proceed with game Set Match. Do we just drop the project and give back the money to the Arts Council? We didn’t have enough cash or co-production partners to keep going. We actually got in contact with the Norwegian Arts Council and said ‘this isn’t on, can you explain how you think we should complete the project on the terms you have given us?’ They said that we could re-apply for money! This time we had to re-apply to another committee. They couldn't give us project development money, but we could apply for money from the 'Committee for Theatre, Dance and New Technology’. We thought, ok, we’d do that. That’s actually where we usually get our funding from anyway. Another thought we had was that we didn’t really want to re-apply for funding at all - it’s all to much hassle, let’s just make a simple solution, spoof up the project and go for the little person in a box option!
Instead of having all this technology, tracking system, software, hardware, high-speed cameras, complicated algorithms and everything, we can communicate between the two spaces with a little man or women hidden in a box, and give them mobile phones so they can talk to each other and report to each other about what is going on in the court - where the shot should be placed. If they get to learn how the ball machine works they can talk in terms of which shot they should release from the ball machine using a remote control. It would probably be very easy because there aren’t that many shot variations. With some days’ practice I think everyone in this room could control a ball machine in this way. But we wouldn’t tell anybody about what we were doing, and the funny thing is that I think, as an art project that is somehow related to wo-man/machine issues, it would be perfectly acceptable that there wasn’t a lot of custom-made, technical stuff going down. It is some kind of viable solution because it’s still putting a network environment into action. It’s mobile, cable-free technology and everything, and as we’ve discussed previously in such problem solving situations, it may be considered as a trick, but why the hell not?
also an interesting reference to the first chess player, a dwarf in a box.
A little person you have to say! Or the Bored Mother! Here. I have made you a little diagram with a little person in a box, a peephole, a mobile phone, and a remote control. This was sort of in the panic situation – in the 'Panic Phase'. We also started to talk to other people about the project, if anyone would like to host the project, to be co- producers, because we really needed to work with co-producers.
This is phase four. ‘Disillusionment’.
We eventually re-applied for money from the Norwegian Arts Council, and we got NKR 200 000. So now we’re up to 350 000, and no support from Bill Green. We had the Steim residency where we discussed all these technical issues, and we were kind of in this period where we were waiting for feedback from people to see if we are able to continue with the project, because if we get the software written, you know, it’s a positive thing. If we managed to do this together with the Steim Institute it seemed as if it was still possible to do. Then I was going to talk about Game Set Match at ISEA 2002 in Nagoya, but my plane was delayed by 26 hours. Can you believe it! So I arrived one and a half hours late for my presentation. Future Physical was represented there. I hadn’t heard anything from them for several months even though I mailed them, saying, ‘ok, now we've got some more funding, do you want to move forward with a co-production?’, without getting a reply. I met them at ISEA by coincidence and they surprisingly informed me that they were still interested in the project. They asked for a breakfast meeting where plans were made for a possible co-production, and I went home quite happy, and told my partner ‘ok, these Future Physical people are really interested to go in as co-producers. They have industry partners that can provide us with high-speed cameras and they have locations and everything’. So our original scenario was back in the game. But after I got back to Oslo, we are now in November 2002, I emailed to Future Physical. No reply. I waited a while and I mailed them again, and they still didn’t mail back! It felt very bad, because it seemed like we were being drawn into something that is a production situation we actually usually avoid doing, to be without having the freedom of working in our own pace. So these external things came in and they delayed the process. It was a very disillusioning time to be in, especially when the Future Physicals had another project going on called 'Respond'. They were sending me what I consider to be spam mails, saying ‘please respond to this and that’ when all I wanted was a response to an email regarding what was supposed to be a co-production. I got very annoyed with them. That was part of our disillusionment phase.
We also found that the Baltic Art Centre had chilled off the project. They were not up there supporting us. In addition, the Director of Leaves and Petals from Steim moved to Montreal. She was kind of the main driver of this project at Steim. Steim continue to be supportive, but they were not convinced of possibility of being able to write the software in time, although we could get help to hack into the ball machine if we want to. They were very supportive in that they are willing to provide us with space to work and their guesthouse to live in, but the bit that would really have elevated the project would be the software bit. However, as the Future Physical co-production didn’t come through we hadn’t any high-speed cameras to test the proposed software on anyway.
So, now I have actually gone over to the fifth phase, which is ‘Search for the Guilty’.
We got angry and bitter! Future Physical and the Baltic Arts Centre were not supporting us. The Norwegian Arts Council would not finance this project on the basis of a realistic budget, but still wanted it to be done, and we blamed ourselves for thinking that we could co-ordinate working with different institutions and co-producers in this manner. We haven’t worked like that before. We have worked more on a commission basis with people that want our work and we put their money, or other resources together with our own to make things work. What became obvious was that even when you talk to, or work with institutions you are still talking to individuals. I think the social aspects of a project are fundamental in affecting how it develops.
I’m going to move onto phase six, which is ‘Punishment of the Innocent’.
We started to get angry with ourselves for going so far into this situation. Now it’s 2003 and we started in the beginning of 2001 in February, straight after we initiated and produced an International Glitch symposium and performance event in Oslo. This symposium had made us very enthusiastic about Game Set Match; all the interesting discussions and approaches to the glitch thing. We were mad at the Norwegian Arts Council too. But later we actually found out that in this application round we were the people that got awarded the most money. They didn’t have any more money to give, but without a dialogue with them we weren’t able to know this. How could we know? I’m trying to involve these social relationships and show how they actually shape the development of a project.
You end up sitting with an idea that is quite lively and full of potential, then a number of years have gone, and suddenly you start to think that the whole thing was actually a red herring - the concept, the intended collaborations - everything.
- It is such
a complicated process.
Yes! So, at this point, we just had to say, stop it. Just stop these negative vibes, doesn’t get you anywhere, stop arguing with people, stop complaining, let’s go back to the drawing board and see what we can do. Let’s make a prototype. We have enough money to work independently with one ball machine. By this time we had a rehearsal space to work in too. I got a Ph.d. research position, starting on the first of May 2003 - the workers day! At the Academy of Figurative Theatre in Fredrikstad just outside Oslo. So now we have a space and some technical backup to start work and are able to go ahead with the prototype version of 'Game Set Match'. We'll start to work with one player to try to find out answers to the questions that we have all been asking - how long can you watch this kind of performance, etc - and starting really developing things; working in the space, hands-on, jamming, with the physical activity going on, because otherwise it just becomes a concept, theory, and technology thing. We are going start work in August, so this phase, phase four, gets changed to 'Enlightenment', positive vibes!
Instead of 'Search for the Guilty', I’ll now change this next phase to 'Seeking New Possibilities', and describe one of these new possibilities we are going to have a look at in this prototype stage.
Even though we are working now in a prototype mode, we still have to show something for our funding, we still have to show a result of this work, and I must say that I do really enjoy working with performance. We have an actor that has been working with us before who will join us. We are looking into different theatrical scenarios for this performance. We are looking into the possibilities of introducing various texts, asking if it would be appropriate to introduce a Beckett-style text, for example, in here in some way - and work with an actor in this respect who also happens to be an extremely good tennis player. What is his relationship to the machine? To the other? Would it even be appropriate to have a little man in the box controlling things? I’m quite interested in tracking movement, and movement traces and all that stuff, but at the end of the day I can do that anyway in another context. It is very relieving to not have to concentrate on technical solutions. I think in a way it’s a pity, somehow some vision would be lost if we don’t manage the performance as we originally planned, but at the same time, and as someone said before, the concept is as good as a concept! Maybe it should stay just as that. I don’t know.
I’ve also been getting interested in watching the TV! I have been ill for almost three months, not been able to go out. I’ve been watching the BBC World Service coverage of the war in Iraq, and I started to draw the TV in relation to my flat, or to the hospital room. The telly studios with live transmissions from the war zone. I am wondering if the aesthetics of such TV studios could be incorporated into Game Set Match. I write down what people say on TV. A kind of 'monitoring of things'. For example, take detective programs. When I start writing down the manuscript, because its on TV I don’t have time to write down everything. I leave out names of people, and the dialogues, and especially the interigation scenes, seem quite formalistic to me. Would such texts be appropriate as some kind of thematic content for Game Set Match? The committee of Theatre and Dance would love it, at least. I have already described the original concept as choreography, but the question emerges that if, having made a prototype, we are eventually able to realize a full-blooded version of 'Game Set Match' in the future with appropriate funding, would it be a good idea, strategically, to make it more accessible for a theatre world, the general public? I think it would be easier for an audience in this situation if another kind of thematic material is integrated, and we could develop this through project phase six that would be changed form 'Punishment of the Innocent' to 'Fun, Games and Hard Work for the Participants'. It would be an experimental situation, without having a predefined, very refined, very conceptual project description to start up with.
Having gone through these phases, and renamed some of them from the original list, we can click on to phase seven, which was originally 'Praise and Honour of the Non-participants', but as this one has been filled now with positive energy, the same has to be done for number seven. This one becomes 'Gratification for All', and this is as much as I planned to say!
So, you can play ball with me now, ask me questions!
- I have a
question with the camera once again, a couple of weeks ago I saw a film, a French
filmmaker together with a Danish former tennis player, and it was about playing
against the wall, actually I think that could be interesting for you, but also
your description is little bit like a tennis game, that adds a layer to your
concept, it’s kind of playing tennis with the things you are doing. You
throw your ball against some opponent and then you get it back after some time.
With the fun, games and hard work, it’s working in an open situation where we can feel more free to try out different ideas. What if the ball machine just fires tones of balls, you know, at a certain point in time? What happens if the ball machine just shoots out 300 balls in one-second intervals as hard and fast as possible? I think it would create a very dramatic situation.
- I just wonder,
how much can you user your education as a choreographer for this project? Most
of the matters are technological or something else than choreography.
Well, in our trial period - and the example above - it would involve a more traditional use of those skills because as a choreographer one is working with, you know, a traditional rehearsal situation with performers, etc, but not just that. Dance has always been a hybrid kind of thing involving some form of mediation and technology in development and production. If you are in a theatrical situation and you are working with a combination of using sound, lighting, stage design, etc, and especially if the project is initiated by a choreographer, you can guarantee that the choreographer has quite a lot of say, and competence in all these matters. Even in a Cunningham/Cage collaborative way of working that relies on chance elements coming together finally in performance, you do your work and I do my bit and then we put it together, that is then a decision - a strategy and concept in the making of performance. I consider my way of working with 'Game Set Match' in the same manner. Here are the rules, and the rules lead to the generation of the choreography. The movement of tennis is very specific. I think the movement will become even more characteristic and dramatic in this piece than it is in a regular game of tennis because of what happens to the players psychologically in the networked environment, and how this is expressed physically – through the body. So I feel that I am using my choreographic qualifications. I’m just talking about my own experiences and opinions, and my attitude may have more to do with my process than anything else, but I don’t find much direction in the dance that I see right now. It seems like movement diarrhea to me - I can’t read any sense in it any more. It does not seem to reflect or resonate the times we are living in now. Theatrical dance seems to me to only reflect on itself - so that is why I moved on. I just can’t find any reason to continue to work with 'pure' dance, but I can find a sense in this kind of work from a choreographic point of view.
- Have you
made any other works related to sports?
Yes. As I mentioned before, fencing. And we had also made an installation called 'Botball' in 1998, which also used video tracking. It was a fuzzy-logical football match with very simple toy robots as botplayers. The pitch actually looked like a billiard table, you know, a little football pitch. Ketil Nergaard, an artist, designed the pitch for us. So it became an assimilation of two kinds of sports. The little robots were very cute and lovable botplayers, or performers if you like, with microphone “snouts” sensitive to sharp sounds. At the ends of the pitch we had two TV sets acting as goals. We used a combination of the Image/ine, a video processing software, and Big Eye software, which is a video tracking software, both developed by Tom Demeyer at Steim. The video-tracking camera was used to monitor these little board players from above and as the botplayers were monitored by the camera their movements were tracked and used to generate and manipulate sound. Image/ine is a visual synthesizing-vj-what-ever-you-want-to-call-it-software, so we had two little webcams that monitored the match from either side and captured the image of these electronic toys as they whizzed around the pitch. The webcam output was shown on the TV screens, and they became 'media goals'. We had a little orange ball that the botplayers nudged over the pitch - this is really a random thing - the botplayers had a triangular movement path, they start moving when they hear a sound, and then they swing into a change of direction before moving on. If they hear a loudish sound, or bump into something they change direction, but the movement is basically a triangular pattern. There is only one team on this football-like billiard-like table and a little orange ball that gets moved around by the botplayers when they bump into it. As an audience you can enter the fuzzy-logical game. You can clap and you can shout and you can kind of make more energy on this board until eventually the ball gets nudged into the goal. The tracking is used to generate sound, so the more the botplayers move, the more sound is made, which consequently makes the botplayers move more, so the game will keep going even if there are no people there. When the ball goes into the goal area it is registered as an object by Big Eye and the usual football fanfare sound is triggered with additional cheering and shouting. Images from famous football matches are keyed into the image of the miniature football pitch and shown on the TV screen goals. So, that is the answer, yes!
- When I first
met you in Oslo, there was a seminar at Atelier
Nord where you’ve made a piece related to Lara Croft.
That came actually out of a theatre and performance that was called 'Switch Bitch, Search for the Cyberfemme'. We attempted to make a documentary performance about cyberfeminism. We actually interviewed twelve women and one gentleman about cyberfeminism and made a documentary video. We built the theatre performance around this video adding, amongst other things, various images of the cyberfem, from media, from art actions and projects, from the gaming world, what ever, and jammed together performance. Oh yes, I have to say that this was the other project where we applied for money for just one performance! It was also a problematic production, and in retrospect, rather over ambitious! We had one very professional dancer called Kristine Øren in this show playing Lara Croft. Her job was to learn the movements that Lara Croft did in the game Tomb Raider, precisely, so she was able to reconstruct them as exactly as possible at any given moment, on command. Then we just made a simple sound console through which you could tell Lara what to do. In the theatre performance Switch Bitch the evil controller eventually destroyed Lara. This part of Switch Bitch became the basis of a performance called 'Lara Croft. Listen: Do', and was made for public spaces where people were walking around freely. Kristine looked just like Lara Croft in her costume. We made samples from the Tomb Raider game tutorial that told Lara what to do, so the public could control her movements. When they pushed a button on a console a command was heard. If they pushed the “walk forward” button, for example, Lara would walk forward. She will run and jump, but if there was a barrier in her way, if the person controlling her doesn’t stop her - push the stop command on the console - if there is anything at all in her way - it could be a person or it could be a wall, or what ever, she crashed into it. She breathes as Lara Croft does, she shoots just as Lara does on an action command, you know, she does everything she could physically do to be Lara Croft. It’s not really complicated as a concept, but somehow it works. It especially worked in a bar at a Live Art event called Stand Art in Gothenburg. Lara had alot more options in a bar setting compared to a gallery setting. When she was directed to a table, she crashed into it, and when she then got an action command she interpreted what that action should be - jumped up on the table, for example. She took glasses and drank people's beer, and she is very true to her character. She threw beer over her shoulder if she didn’t have enough time to drink it. She just did the action. So beer went flying everywhere. But what we experienced was that people wanted to misuse her. More specifically, the people that wanted to misuse her were - I hate to have to say it - generally men. In this little bar this situation emerged where women started to argue with the men about how Lara was being treated, and quite rightly too, because they were trying to trick her, they really wanted to shake the dancer called Kristine out of her role as Lara by crashing her into walls. This seemed to be the aim, to destroy this character. She didn’t give up though, and eventually several women took over the command console and navigated her out of the bar. I think that was quite interesting but it was very demanding for the dancer.
Transcript by Rita
Leppiniemi and Amanda Steggell, 2003