MIND, THE GAP. SYNAESTHESIA AND CONTEMPORARY LIVE ART PRACTICE.
Project Summary – Research Fellowships in the
Norwegian Theatre Academy
University College of Østfold
09 June 2006
1. PROJECT SUMMARY
Mind, the Gap is a practice-based arts research project dedicated to developing Live artworks that are inspired by the notion of synaesthesia - the cross wiring of sensory perceptions. The manifestation of this research is an experimental instrument with synthetic synaesthetic abilities - The Emotion Organ.
I have been employed at The Norwegian Theatre Academy as a research fellow since May 2003, initially for a 3 year period. However, I was not accepted into The Programme for Research Fellowships in the Arts until January 2005. Based on my previous education, work experience and the ground work that I carried out at The Norwegian Theatre Academy prior to joining the Fellowship Programme, it was agreed that I should complete my project Mind, the Gap within the framework of the Fellowship Programme in a period of two years. My term of employment at The Norwegian Theatre Academy was therefore extended for a period of 7 months to accommodate these conditions. The work that I carried out at The Norwegian Theatre Academy prior to joining the Fellowship Programme is therefore included in section 3.2 Documentation of process.
Synaesthesia is the name given to a medical condition where sensations are joined resulting in unusual experiences such as the sound of colours, the taste of shapes or the feel of aromas. Synaesthesia in art is the creation of one media out of another. In synaesthetic art the aim is to transmit sensations to the public. The result may be expressed through one media - such as Kandinsky's abstract paintings, the combination of two - such as Scriabin's Prometheus, Poem of Fire, or the combination of many - such as Wagner's gesamtkunstwerk vision, or the psychedelic happenings of the 1960's. Synaesthetic performance aspires to transmit sensations to the public while it is being made. It is a live process. It is live art.
During its sporadic peaks in history, often connected to periods of rapid developments and social and cultural change, synaesthetic art has generated questions about the separation and integration of the senses, art disciplines, science, culture, body, mind, technology, reality and imagination. In its troughs the radical ideas of the artmakers have become assimilated in the mainstream, or simply been forgotten.
Curator and researcher Annet Dekker has mapped the journey of synaesthetic performance to the history of the live image, its connection to sound, and the circumstances that led to the emergence of the VJ in the underground club scene of the late 1980's – 90's (1). It is a period that I have direct experience with, initially as an avid choreography student working out on the dance floor with my friends. Later as a VJ using my computer, MIDI devices (2) and video equipment to make live video mixes, gradually combining existing media with live video and abstract, generative visual media in keeping with the development of technology and the post-modern attitude of the time. Working mainly through the live art group Motherboard (3), I left the traditional dance scene to collaborate with others with backgrounds in visual art, music, dance, theatre, light design and film creating installations and performance events, not only for clubs, but also urban spaces, galleries and theatres, often using the internet to join spaces from several continents together. Though I hardly new its name, synaesthesia was working for us.
By the end of 90's the club scene was taken over by an industry bent on maximizing dance floor experiences with fast changing, synchronized sound, visuals and flashing lights, emptied of ideology and sensitivity. Today the integration of technology in everyday life seems to have created little Vegases everywhere and I sometimes wonder what my senses are worth, except a few bytes in an electronic bank account.
1.4 Mind, the Gap
The main aim of my project Mind, the Gap is to focus on synaeasthesia as a potential strategy for making art, both in the light of my past experiences and in response to my current research. In general terms I have looked at synaesthesia in relation to art, science, culture and media.
From this research I have drawn the following questions:
How big is the gap between "true" synaesthesia (personal) and synaesthetic art (created by artistic intention)?
If synaesthesia is something that all of us have but only reaches consciousness in a minority of people (4), can artworks that apply synaesthetic strategies awaken that consciousness in others?
Is it possible to evoke, even for a moment, an experience comparable to true synaesthesia - without using psychedelic drugs? (5)
More specifically I have explored the relationships between the public, the performer and the technologies and media used to create performances.
To address the issues described above I have invented an experimental instrument with synaesthetic abilities for creatively exploring the intersections of the sensory domains (6). I have called it The Emotion Organ, and through its ability to transmit unusually cross-wired sensations, it aspires to evoke the deepest emotions in those who touch it. I have then attempted to build it (7).
1.5 The Emotion Organ
Practically speaking I have taken apart and restored a pump (reed/parlour) organ from 1895 and, drawing on the organ's original mechanisms and the physical gestures that must be performed to create sonic mood changes, I am re-engineering it to give it synthesized synaesthetic abilities. I am enhancing the organ with a combination of past and present technologies for audio/visual production (analogue and digital hard- and software) as well as custom-made sensors and devices so that it can produce fusions of sound, light, colour, projected imagery, aroma and kinetic elements (8). In principle equal priority has been given to familiar and less obvious media, such as aromas that adhere to the chemical senses and are consequently more difficult to create, identify, capture and control. But in order to explore the organ's synaesthetic potential a player must experiment with the way in which various combinations of its 61 keys, 2 foot pumps, 2 knee levers and 8 stops can produce different results.
For those familiar with the history of synaesthetic art the archaic appearance of The Emotion Organ should provide a direct aesthetic link to early attempts to build colour organs.
The process of developing the organ has intentionally pushed the boundaries of my own experiences to the limits, requiring me to seek the help and collaboration of experts in diverse fields (music, scenography, instrument building, physical computing, neurology, biochemics, aroma design, metalwork, and so on) (9). I have tested principles and techniques generated from the process of constructing The Emotion Organ - from prototyping parts to working with various artistic strategies and sensory experiments - by participating in collaborative Live artworks in diverse contexts that do not involve its physical presence (10). As such, The Emotion Organ has already succeeded as an artistic device for generating new approaches, concepts and aesthetic potentials. However, what I am currently most keen to find out is what the results will be when different people play The Emotion Organ. Will it inspire noetic (11) improvisations that explore both synergies of media, the affect of them (on emotions and perceptions), and the means of producing them? Can it, for example, lure an organist to give up creating “good music” for the sake of exploring other media? (12) Will it be as enticing to child as a contemporary gaming console? Will it disturb a true synesthete? Do greater ammounts of time spent with The Emotion Organ produce the most evocative results?
I do not intend to employ scientific methods to answer these questions, but rather explore them by creating artlab situations where experiences can be shared, documented appropriately and disseminated to wider audience via my project website (13). The main challenge for me at the curent stage of my project is to complete the hard- and software connections of the organ that allow one media to be created from another in a way that is not necessarily entirely controllable, but eventually makes some kind of sense. My aim is to complete this process by the end of September 2006.
The Emotion Organ will be presented in public in January 2007, as briefly described in the next section of this document. Additionally, current interest in my project has resulted in several requests for presenting The Emotion Organ in 2007-08 both in Norway and abroad.
1. Annet Dekker, Synaesthetic performance in the club scene, Cosign 2003, Computational Semiotics, University of Teeside, Middlesbrough, UK. (www.cosignconference.org/cosign2003/papers/Dekker.pdf)
2. MIDI - musical instrument digital interface. The first and only technical protocol to be designed purely for artistic purposes.
4. Richard Cytowic, neurologist and author of several books on synaesthesia, has posed questions as to whether we are all born with synaesthetic abilities that diminish as we grow older. See Synesthesia: Phenomenology And Neuropsychology, A Review of Current Knowledge, PSYCHE, 2(10), July 1995 (http://psyche.cs.monash.edu.au/v2/psyche-2-10-cytowic.html).
5. The connection between drugs, creativity and art is centuries old (as described by Sadie Plant in Writing on Drugs, 2001) . Perception-changing drugs such as LSD, magic mushrooms or mescaline can temporarily cause synaesthesia. These drugs often have a much milder affect in people with synaesthesia than in people without the condition. The psychedelic happenings of the 60's often involved the use of drugs such as LSD to induce synaesthetic experiences, and in the 80's the designer-drug Ecstacy entered the acid/house club scene, creating temporary intermedial zones where the dance floor experience of clubbers and ravers was accentuated to the pre-hallucinogenic. In Synaesthetic performance in the club scene Annet Dekker describes the latter case as an immersive experience, and the first attempt to escape from the confinements of the CAVE (Cave Automatic Virtual Environment).
6. The expression creatively exploring the intersections of the sensory domains is borrowed from artist, performer, composer and engineer Goran Levin, who has used variations of it to describe his own work.
7. The Emotion Organ is partly inspired by a simulacrum contraption called the Mood Organ that features in Philip K Dick's novel We Can Build You (1977), but Dick's Mood Organ first featured in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (basis for the film Bladerunner) published in 1968 - just a year after the Moog synthesizer was on the market. In We Can Build you the Mood Organ is a theraputic keyboard instrument designed to alleviate the psychological pressures of a future society where emotions are otherwise moderated by state-controlled drugs. However, I have also been inspired by the life and work of Louis Betrand-Castel, who, in the 1700's, attempted to build an ocular harpsichord, as portrayed by Professor Maarten Franssen in his article The Ocular Harpsichord of Louis-Bertrand Castel. The Science and Aesthetics of an Eighteenth-Century Cause Célèbre, Tractrix - Yearbook for the History of Science, Medicine, Technology and Mathematics 3, 1991. (www.tbm.tudelft.nl/webstaf/maartenf/).
8. While, at a first glance my method or technique can be primarily read through the lens of an extended, enhanced or prepared instrument, it is equally, if not more viable to relate it to a practice Professor Erkki Huhtamo describes as media archaeology in Ressurecting the technological past. An Introduction to the Archeology of Media Art, InterCommunication No. 14, 1995. (www.ntticc.or.jp/pub/ic_mag/ic014/huhtamo/huhtamo_e.html).
9. While I apply a working-alone-together approach to my work, seeking assistance as new issues arise, in addition to my supervisors Laura Beloff and Carle Lange, two people have followed and assisted with my project since I embarked on it, namely Erich Berger (physical computing consultancy and workshops via Atelier Nord - www.anart.no) and Motherboard colleague, Per Platou (musical, technological and conceptual consultancy and assistance).
10. Relevant artworks are listed in Section 3. Material for evaluation.
11. The word "noetic" comes from the ancient Greek “nous” and has no exact equivalent in English. I use it to refer to an "inner knowing" or intuitive consciousness.
12. This question can also be applied to artists from other disciplines.
13. Mind, the Gap: http://www.notam02.no/motherboard/synaesthesia/
2. PROPOSAL FOR THE FINAL PRESENTATION OF ARTISTIC RESULTS
I plan to put the Emotion Organ to the test during a two-day Live art happening at the Norwegian Theatre Academy, University College of Østfold in January 2007 to co-inside with the appraisal of my project. My plan is to create a subliminal salon-like atmosphere open to the public where guests from diverse backgrounds are invited to try out The Emotion Organ. I envisage that the first day of the event is programmed to allow a selected range of people to play the organ, while the second day should be kept more open, allowing for adhoc improvisations. I also propose that the oral review of my project take place on this day.
As part of the staging of this event, an informal social space will be created for observing and discussing this string of intermezzo improvisations as well as providing access to materials and artefacts related my project. This will include my accumulative web-based documentation of process, dvd documentation of collaborative works, and my reflection in the form of printed media.
3. MATERIAL FOR EVALUATION
3.1 Artistic material
From initially applying conceptual approaches to synaesthesia and working with audio-visual correlations in a variety of contexts, the collaborative works I have participated in have gradually involved experiments with aromas and tests of prototype parts of The Emotion Organ. Time-based projects that need to be experienced directly are always a problem when it comes to documentation. I have therefore chosen a combination of media to document these events, as indicated below. (I have included supporting images from these events in the reference section of this document.)
The 8th Sister. An exercise into the depths of Freudian perception
Participants: Motherboard/ Per Platou and Amanda Steggell. With Annesofie Norn, Neptune Sports Diving Club and the people of Husøy, Træna.
Description: Underwater sculpture, Træna, Nordland, Norway. A site-specific Live artwork that investigates the practical and contextual implications of creating an underwater sculpture in which its "true" form is manifested as an image on an echosounder display. It is conceptually related to synaesthesia as ultrasound waves are solely responsible for generating screen image
Production: July 2005. Motherboard in co-operation with Træna Festival.
Documentation: DVD and web-based documentation.
Imagining St Mary Magdalene
Participants: FUNK.CO.UK art collective led by Dean Frederick and Motherboard/ Per Platou and Amanda Steggell.
Description: Collaborative site-specific event in St Mary Magdalene Church and Gardens, Holloway Road, Islington, London. This inner city church hosts a group of asylum seekers.
For this event I transformed a plain church windows into a "living" stained glass fresco that shone out at night by projecting video onto the window. Sounds from within the church generated and animated the visual expression of the projected imagery.
Production: July 2005. FUNK.CO.UK
Documentation: DVD and web-based documentation.
Participants: Composer Ole Henrik Moe. Performed by Sigyn Fossnes, Einar Henning Smebye, Einar Fjærvoll and Amanda Steggell.
Description: Audio-visual performance for the release concert for Sigyn Fossnes’ latest album at the Nowregian Academy of Music, Lindemansalen, Oslo.
(I originally commissioned The Eraser's Edge in collaboration with Ole Henrik Moe in 1995 for a more traditional dance production. However, it took over 10 years to realise.) In collaboration with the musicians I performed a visual choreography using live sound to manipulate projected live video mixed with generated abstract imagery, and designed the performative space.
Production: October 2005. Produced for Ultima 2005 by Ny Musikk.
Documentation: CD and Web-based documentation.
Ikon (see Img 01 in the reference section)
Participants: Created and performed by Hauk Heyrdahl, Runar Hodne, Annesofie Norn, Per Platou and Amanda Steggell with original text by Jon Erik Riley.
Description: Theatre production at Grusomhetens Teater, Scene, Oslo.
For this monologue I designed the live video set-up involving 4 cameras and monitors, the sound-controlled lighting system and the aroma design in a manner that allowed us to improvise with combinations of these elements in relation to the text.
Production: December 2005. Motherboard.
Documentation: DVD and web-based documentation.
In Death Valley, everywhere we looked, gently waving stands of
desert gold blossoms danced in the wind, their daisy-like faces punctuated
with vibrant orange centers. (See Img 03, in the reference section)
Participants: Motherboard/ Per Platou and Amanda Steggell. Sound by Geir Jenssen/ Biosphere. Flower construction by Aslak Nygren.
Description: A kinetic/synaesthetic installation inspired by first-hand experience of the blooming in Death Valley, Califronia, for Galleri F15's jubilee exhibition Prosjektrom 93 06.
This medative installation includes a rotating “flower” sculpture based on the electro-acoutic sound system for the Emotion Organ, 3 algorithmically controlled lights, the synthesized smell of an Egyptian mummy, 1.5 tons of sea salt and a rotating mirror ball that throws fragmented projected footage (filmed in Death Valley, California) around the space.
Production: May 2006. Motherboard in co-operation with Galleri F15, Moss, Norway.
Documentation: DVD and web-based documentation.
The Emotion Organ (in progress) (See Img 02, in
the reference section)
Description: An experimental instrument with synthetic synaesthetic abilities.
The Emotion Organ will constitute my final artstic work and be presented in the context of a Liveart happening of the same name at the Norwegian Theatre Academy (as previously described in section 2).
Production: Planned January 2006. Norwegian Theatre Academy.
Documentation: As a tangible art object, the Emotion Organ itself should constitute a durable form of documentation. However, supplementary and more easily distributable documentation will be provided in the form of web-based material and DVD.
3.3 Documentation of process
A website, called Mind, the Gap (http://www.notam02.no/motherboard/synaesthesia/) constitutes the primary format of documentation of process, and includes activities undertaken at the Norwegian Theatre Academy prior to gaining acceptance into the Fellowship Programme. It comprises of three main sections:
1. Formal documents submitted to The Programme for Research Fellowships in the Arts, including my initial project description (November 2004), my project summary/application for appraisal (June 2006), and eventually my reflection in a print-friendly downloadable format (January 2007).
2. Documentation of process - an accumulative diary of significant activities, including text and audio-visual material such as diagrams and photographs of work in progress, technical specs, reference links, reflections and reviews of works presented in public.
3. Documentation of Artistic Results (descriptions, reflections, technical diagrams, photographs and video documentation).
For visual a representation of my website, please see supporting image 04 in the refernce section of this document.
3.3 Critical reflection
I plan to present my refelction as printed media that can also be downloaded from my project website. In this document I will discuss the questions I raise in my project in relation to my process and the outcome of my work from both broad and specific perspecvtives. That I have chosen to publish this document on my project website also allows for the possibility to make cross-reference links between my reflection, my process and the documentation of artworks.
4. COMPULSORY ACTIVITIES
In accordance with the regulations for the compulsory part of the Fellowship program I have sought to gain comptences and knowledge that can stimulate personal artistic reflection and insight, and develop a critical awareness of my project in relation to the diverse fields it touches. I have developed communicative skills by playing an active role in both the obligatory meetings of the Programme for Research Fellowships in the Arts as well as several external conferences. I have also attended several competence-building workshops, and have contributed to the working environment at the Norwegian Theatre Academy. Through these activities I have contributed to a broader public discourse in both art and science.
4.1 Attendance of Fellowship meetings, Voksenåsen Conference
I have attended all the compulsary Fellowship meetings to date, and have presented my project in various contexts during each meeting.
Presentation: Mind, the gap. Synaesthesia and contemporary live art practice.
Working group presentation: What constitutes knowledge in an arts research project, and how is it disseminated?
Working group presentation. What is burning in my project right now.My final presentaion at the Fellowship meetings will take place in October 2006 where I will present the transformations that have taken place in the duration of my project.
4.2 External Conferences/seminars.
During my Fellwoship period I have attended several lectures and conferences related to my work, notably:
Sonic Acts XI Conference and Festival, produced in association with Paradiso, De Balie, and Bitforms NYC.
Professor Erkki Huhtamo's lecture on Media Archaeology at Open Forum, Oslo National Academy of the Arts.
Aroma designer Joel Leonard's lecture, The Scent of Money, at The Oslo School of Architecture and Design.
Professor Norman Klein's lecture, The Future of Forgetting: The Imaginary Twentieth and Twenty-First Century, produced by Rom for Art and Architecture in co-operation with Oslo National Academy of the Arts.
In addition I have visited the exquisitly staged, part fiction, part fact Museum of Jurassic Technology (http://www.mjt.org/) and visited the archives of The Centre for Visual Music (www.centerforvisualmusic.org) in Los Angeles, both of which I consider relevant to the obligatory part of the Fellowship programme.
I have also been invited to participate in various capacities at several
conferences. Significant events are listed below.
23 Sep 2005
Moderator of panel debate at the 1st Generator X Conference, co-produced by Atelier Nord and the National Touring Exhibitions of Norway. (www.generatorx.no)
27 Oct 2005
Joint presentation of The 8th Sister at the Sold Out seminar and Liveart event, organised by the UK media art collective C6, Shoreditch, London. (http://c6.org/soldout/)
10 Nov 2005
Presentation with researcher Aslaug Nyrnes in her keynote speach Lighting from the side at Sensuous Knowledge 2, an International Working Conference on Fundamental Problems of Artistic Research and Development. Organised by KHiB, Solstrand, Norway. (www.khib.no/khib/ku_fou/konferanser_seminarer/)
23 Apr 2006
Presentation: Mind, the Gap, at the UK Synaesthesia Association Annual Conference, University College London. (www.uksynaesthesia.com/agm.htm)
4.3 External workshop particiaption
17-24 Jan 2005
Writing and debate workshop arranged by Oslo By Forum to improve communications skills when debating in public forums - from newspaper articles to TV debates. (www.oslobyforum.org/)
2-5 Mar 2005
Making Sense IV. Physical computing workshop led by artist Peter Voltova (Aka DJ Pure, AUT), directed by Erich Berger/Atelier Nord.
25-28 May 2005
Making Sense VI. Physical computing workshop led and directed by Erich Berger/Atelier Nord.
6-9 Jun 2005
Tangible Dreams. Project-based physical computing workshop led by Erich Berger and Peter Voltova (Aka DJ Pure, AUT), directed by Erich Berger/Atelier Nord.4.4
Activities at the Norwegian Theatre Academy
Since my employment at the Norwegian Theatre Academy I have been involved in developinging the Multimedia module, a compulsary part of the education of both scenography and acting students at BA level. This module is taught through a series of worklabs that aim to teach theory, principles and practices through performance, and likewise inform performance through theory, principles and practices. The main software I have used with students in my worklabs is Keyworx (www.keyworx.org). It is a networking software built along synaesthetic principles for connecting media. In addition, I have acted as consultant for student projects, and maintained a website dedicated to this module, including teaching materials, worklab documentation and resource links. (http://www.notam02.no/motherboard/PHD/workshops
Below is a list of workshops/lectures I have undertaken since being accepted into the Fellowship Programme in January 2005.
An introduction to media (tion) and performance.
2 week, hands-on worklab for actors.
An introduction to media (tion) and performance.
2 week, hands-on worklab for scenographers.
Lecture: Mind, the Gap. Synaesthesia and contemporary live art practice.
5. THE FINAL RESULTS AND APPRAISAL
5.1 Final results
The final results of my project (documentation of artistic material, process
and reflection) will be made public to co-inside with my final artistic presentation
and appraisal, currently planned for the second weekend in January 2007. As
indicated previously, this documentation will also feature in my final artistic
presentation, and be available to a wider public for viewing and downloading
via my project website.
5.2 Presentation of The Emotion Organ
I propose that the presentation of The Emotion Organ should take place at the Norwegian Theatre Academy as a two-day Liveart event open to the public on 13 and 14 January 2007. (Please refer to section 2. Propsal for the final presentaion of artistic results, for the description of how I envisage that this event will take place.) This event will be produced by the Norwegian Theatre Academy.
5.3 Proposal for appraisal
I propose that:
The deadline for submitting my documentation and reflection to members of the appraisal committee should be set to December 15th 2006. This date is set earlier than the public release of my project to give the appraisal committee enough time to review my documentation.
All three members of the appraisal committee should be present during the Liveart event.
The oral review of my project should take place during the second day of this public event.
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Franssen, M. (1991) The ocular harpsichord of Louis-Bertrand Castel: The science and aesthetics of an eighteenth-centure cause celebre. Tractrix Yearbook for the History of Science, Medicine, Technology and Mathematics. www.tbm.tudelft.nl/webstaf/maartenf/
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Physical Computing. Sensing and controlling the physical world with computers.
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Collect medical antiques. Quack Medicine. Imagination goes wild.
Center for Visual Music
Flong, works by Golan Levin and collaborators
Media Art Net
Museum of Jurassic Technology
Museums of the Mind
Reed organ repair. A generic Approach.
Sonic Acts XI. The Anthology of Computer Art.
The Midi Specification
Uk Synaesthesia Association
(click on images for higher resolution)
Img 01. Ikon
Img 02. Visualising The Emotion Organ
- with help of visual artist Ketil Nergaard.
Img 03. In Death Valley, everywhere we looked,
gently waving stands of desert gold blossoms danced in the wind, their daisy-like
faces punctuated with vibrant orange centers.
Installation - Moss Bryggeri Utstillingshallen, Norway.
Img 04. Mind, the Gap
- website entrance.