Sunday, 30 September 2007

Interactive Interview...

...with Damian Stewart aka Frey ( via skype

... first, how would you define interactivity? (sorry for such a question on a sunday morning...)

no worries
gimme a tick.

a tick means a minute?

interactivity is when an object responds to the things that you do to/near/within it
in an art context,
some people reckon that everything is interactive - actually i was talking to Kathy from NIP (Kathy Hinde - the other day who was passing this idea on - because when you look at say a painting it engages with you and you engage with it
but that kind of removes the point of using 'interactivity' as a descriptive word, because it means all art is interactive to some extent
which is what she was saying as well ...

i can see how one engages with a painting, but how would you say the painting engages with you?

well, because it has been created by the artist to do so..
if a painting doesn't 'call' you to look at it then perhaps it's not such a good painting..
i subscribe to the notion of good art as being something that actively calls up an emotional/psychological response
and if something doesn't do this then it's not so good.
case in point - lisbon's monuments. they're expressive in a way i've never seen a monument elsewhere be..

but then is there a difference between interactivity by virtue of content and interactivity due to a "live" in the moment experience? i.e. does a work have to have those characteristics you describe above in order to be interactive? does it need to have a content?

gosh. good question
no, it doesn't.
'interactive' can also mean (although i really think this sort of stuff is a waste of everyone's space) a website (or worse, a 'cd-rom') that has 'hyperlinks' that you 'click on'
not to say that net-art is all rubbish, it just mostly is

would you say your work is interactive?
but hold on, now
i want to go back actually to what you just said

to me what makes an artwork interactive in an interesting fashion is that it has physical bits that do something in response to me when i do something. this pretty much requires an installation context, and electronics and stuff...
umm, should i answer yr next question on my work? or stick around a bit..?

ok, i was trying to get a better sense of your idea of interactivity as a definition

re content/no-content

but you just clarified a, let me see if i understood...
right, re content, no-content
and also re form and context
so, in other words,

i think the process of interactivity is necessary - the 'live' in-the-moment experience is v. important, and this is practise-wide for me, even if the 'interactivity' only actually appears in my installation/electronics/nerd stuff

interactivity in "art" can be an emotional response
yes, i was going to ask you about process just now...
but hold on a's where this interview process is getting interesting for me now

several questions tangled up at once huh
asynchronous communication

trying to keep one's own thread going and yet responding to a question that pops up..
heh heh
ok, wait a sec...
so interactive can be an emotional reaction, or it can be a participatory (yet passive too) experience of playing with buttons to get to certain places, but also it can be - and this i think is the concept we're mostly addressing here - a very present, active (interACTIVE) experience of engaging with technology to create ephemeral experiences?

yeah, all those i'd agree with, but to me the important and interesting one is the last
ephemeral's where it's at..

but what about interactivity with regards to a spectator's relationhip to a performer?


as in...rather than a painting
a live show
being the "object" contemplated

although i don't think performance is primarily a one-way activity, to use the term 'interactive' for performance might be confusing things
a theatre show where the players actually interact with the audience and

this is good
could you elaborate

incorporate their ideas/feedback into the fabric of the show

i mean the idea of performance not being primarily a one-way activity

could be called 'interactive'
oh, ok
to invoke some hand-halding hippie ideas there's a kind of an energy loop that is set up
between a performer and an audience
where their presence inspires further expression by the performer... my flatmate Linda in Wellington
used to talk about loving the moments when she was playing her guitar and the whole room
full of loudly talking people would gradually fall silent to listen

what if there is a technological component between the two?
what, like a guitar and a PA system?

does this inform the loop or break it
well, either, but for the sake of specificity let's say a computer

depends. is the performer treating their equipment like a musical instrument? can the audience tell?
it's very difficult to use a computer like a musical instrument i think...

yes, i am here assuming that the computer is acting as instrument
ok, why?
because (oh-ho-ho! i like this conversation) an important part of performing with a musical instrument is enabling the audience to understand where the music's coming from..
that's body language etc..
even if you're in a rock band it's easy to be boring on stage
if you don't excessively jump around and throw your head about etc

ok, but why is that? why is it important for the "audience" to understand where it's coming from?
is that the interactive bit?

because then they know that it's happening in front of them
i don't think that's interactive. i think that's performance.
they're different

what if it's happening behind them?
that's a serious question

again that's performance
it's considering what the audience is going to think/feel based on decisions you make as the performer

so you're saying that performance and interactivity are not the same, is that right?

acknowledging that you have the power as the performer, and then treating that power with respect and giving the audience something back for giving the power to you
yeah i am saying that.. i think they could be made the same using clever language, but i'm not so interested in doing that
performance requires a performer and an audience

do you think it is possible to have this kind of give and take in a live vj/dj type of situation?
interactivity i think requires the audience and the performer to be the same

woah! that's interesting
but can it be between a human and a human as well as a human and a machine or object? or is that a different relationship

i think it's harder for dj's (this applies to laptop musicians too) because in a lot of cases the actual noises coming out of the speakers are pre-made and there's little moment-by-moment control - good dj's work with this, bad ones just play 'tracks'
the object/machine needs to disappear somehow

what about vjs?

i don't understand 99% of vjing

great! can you say somethign about that then?

umm.. i think video is far too dense a medium
i usually just find vj sets irritating, and mostly there's no real connection between the sound and the visuals
exceptions: laetitia+vitto's (MIO ( set at Bomba on Saturday

now we're getting somewhere...

sure, our friends are always an exception...

they used the same setup as on the other Tuesday, but the music was less informed by genre (they weren't trying to make electronica, just make noises) and the visual/sound connection was exquisite

i wish i could also copy these little icons onto the page when i transcribe for the blog...
oh you mean rui
he played too? oh snap! i missed him...

yeah, it was super-hot

hmm, back to the question though.

do you think they were at all reacting to the spectator/audience/"vidience" present, or just on their own with each other?

they were reacting to each other. intensely concentrated. their stage presence wasn't so great - two folks with midi controllers, sitting behind laptops - but the visuals more than compensated for this.
i'm not sure the audience played any direct role except as an audience

right, so in general you'd say no
yeah. in general i'd say no.

ok, well listen i think i've got what i was looking for

i mean, there's the added pressure of an audience being there to pay attention, to watch, which is always an adrenaline/sorta thing..
ok cool

thanks so much for taking the time and all

Monday, 24 September 2007

What does VJing say about our world?

If we look beyond the purely formal implications and questions raised by VJing, we can ask what does VJing say about our world and our culture. We can be certain that VJing did not emerge only because of the evolution of technology, but also because it reflects particluar changes that have happened in western culture. What are these changes?

It would take a whole thesis to talk about them, but we can try to make a short list of things that have radically changed:

1. The crisis of the narrative format: while narratives are still going strong, they exist almos exclusively in the realm of entertainment. Narrations are no longer the way in which a (western) culture makes sense of reality, basically because lies and half-truths have taken over, in an overwhelming way. Narratives have fallen almost completely under the shadow of fiction.

2. Information overload in our daily lives, and our incapability of grasping everything. Lower attention spans and fragmentation are direct and visible consequences of this.

3. Crisis of leadership and a growing questioning of authority. If the author is no longer the authority and everything has been (at least potentially) opened to questioning, can we seriously expect to have the final word on anything, even our own "inventions"?

4. The desire to break up the old, establsihed assumptions. The deeply capitalist desire of being new and original. Why make cinema when I can re-invent it? In western countries, individuals have the illusion of being self-sufficient, but also face the pressing dilemma of "coming up with something different and exciting", or being condemned to rot among the grey masses.

5. According to Vilém Flusser[1], we can imagine culture as a gigantic transcoder, which has texts for inputs and images for outputs. Our images no longer represent the world directly, but rather they represent ideas about the world. An image does not correspond directly to a thing, but to the cultural discourse that has grown from that thing. Images, then, have become a new way of writing in western cultures.

What else?

[1] Vilem Flusser "The future of writing", in "Writings (Electronic Mediations)". University of Minnesota Press, 2002.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

If technology is mirroring us, then what does that say about us? Are we deliberately turning ourselves into machines? Are machines turning into us? An old question, I know, but one that's not been satisfactorily answered in my view, and one worth asking again, specifically in this context of Vjing.

Roker's piece, and even some dictionaries (see definitions below), for the most part define interactivity as having to do exclusively with technology. Do people interact with each other? Do VJs interact with spectators?

VJs specifically, interact not just with spectators but with DJs - sound primarily affecting visual (though in some of my work recently I've been exploring the idea of reversing this (by default) hierarchy) and visual primarily affecting spectator; can the spectator's response to sound in turn affect visuals and vice-versa, making the spectator, the non-wired, purely receptive human, a conduit for the audio and visual signals to reach each other transformed, and in turn transforming the wired, active "player"- acting as go-between in the relationship between sound and vision, and in turn synthesizing the two within him/herself (synaesthesia)? Here I would tend to say "of course", but on the whole, as far as spectator affecting VJ, my own observation is that VJs are usually intently focusing on their own computer and/or the projection screen(s) to determine whether the image jibes with the sound they are hearing- or maybe not even that, in the extreme cases of ego self-involvement, but the question arises for me nonetheless of whether, if we lift our heads up to watch the audience (vidience?) watching our work, whether there is another dimension of observation and intuitive reaction we can tap into that can be explored through this medium. Just a thought...

1.acting one upon or with the other
2.of or pertaining to a two-way system of electronic communications, as by means of television or computer: interactive communications between families using two-way cable television.
3.(of a computer program or system) interacting with a human user, often in a conversational way, to obtain data or commands and to give immediate results or updated information: For many years airline reservations have been handled by interactive computer systems.

American Psychological Association (APA):
interactive. (n.d.). Unabridged (v 1.1). Retrieved September 12, 2007, from website:
Chicago Manual Style (CMS): interactive. Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. (accessed: September 12, 2007).
Modern Language Association (MLA): "interactive." Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 12 Sep. 2007.

the extent to which something is interactive; the extent to which a computer program and a human being may have a dialog

American Psychological Association (APA):
interactivity. (n.d.). Webster's New Millennium™ Dictionary of English, Preview Edition (v 0.9.7). Retrieved September 12, 2007, from website:

Chicago Manual Style (CMS): interactivity. Webster's New Millennium™ Dictionary of English, Preview Edition (v 0.9.7). Lexico Publishing Group, LLC. (accessed: September 12, 2007).
Modern Language Association (MLA): "interactivity." Webster's New Millennium™ Dictionary of English, Preview Edition (v 0.9.7). Lexico Publishing Group, LLC. 12 Sep. 2007.

1.reciprocal action, effect, or influence.

American Psychological Association (APA):
interaction. (n.d.). Unabridged (v 1.1). Retrieved September 12, 2007, from website:
Chicago Manual Style (CMS):
interaction. Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. (accessed: September 12, 2007).
Modern Language Association (MLA):
"interaction." Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 12 Sep. 2007.

Interactive Manifesto

Here is a "manifesto" from 1996, so it's old and been around a while.

I'm offering it for consideration as an example of participatory work and self-criticism as a work of interactivity. (It's also a little bit fun...)

What is interesting about participatory works is that they seem to offer a great lattitude in what can be done, as with interactive works, but ultimately they for their users to work within some very tightly defined parameters, much like the blanks in the manifesto--there are only limited options actually available, creating a work that is ultimately subservient to the creator's designs, whatever those designs entail. The reset button is the ultimate invitation to self-liquidation that interactivity demands in an uncritical fashion. Is this manifesto then critical? Not necessarily.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Models and Frameworks

Narrative and Anti-narrative; linear and non-linear; author and audience--all these dualities seem to clearly define positions in advance of our consideration, and the questions these positions all appear to raise about audience and artwork and interaction have already been asked and various answers have been found--all of which are readily available as the "common knowledge" of so many of our collective assumptions about media and how media do/should act.

The underlying problem we have is that these models and the questions they generate are all already old, heavily discussed and well-known. There is little challenge made to the idea that "aura" is diminished by "reproduction." It is an established fact, to question it is to suggest a heresy. That this situation obtains means that these models are thoroughly academic in nature, and the history they support (or supports them) is no longer open to question.

Simply put, then, is the problem: we need new models that are independent of these assumptions, and specifically question the established frameworks themselves, rejecting them as appropriate.

Why does "participation" really matter--and how is it different from "interaction"? My feeling is that this may be the site where things can begin, but only if we start by rejecting the intellectual-ideological baggage of established theories and be willing to question (if not entirely reject) what has been previously accepted. To participate is very different than to interact. Participation implies a high degree of equal, peer to peer engagement where all the agents are involved in the creation of the parameters (constraints) of the work.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

VJing as anti-narrative

I believe that the work of a VJ can be characterized as being an anti-narrative, which can potentially generate a "meta" level of interpretation. This "meta" level becomes a narration about the VJ, and of what she is doing in the context of her own images. Let me explain:

The work of a VJ goes against all the traits of narrative. It does not constitute an alternative form of narration, nor a protonarrative, since it systematically breaks all the grammatical constituents of narrative. In fact, it essentially destroys grammar itself. According to Jerome Bruner[1], the required conditions for a narration to exist are:

1. A means for emphasizing actions performed by agents to achieve goals
2. A sequential order that must be established and maintained. Events and states should be linearized in a standard way
3. A sensitivity to what is canonical, and what violates canonicality in human interaction
4. A narrator's voice or perspective

VJ'ing escapes from all of these four conditions. In a performance, the VJ's actions become meaningless under the absence of a goal. The images on the screen appear as a sequence to the audience, thus blurring the line between linearity and non-linearity. True non-linearity is not achievable by human perception: we can not experience more than one sensory environment at a time. Yet, the performer generates sequences of images which can potentially be ordered in many different ways, so the idea of a narrative order becomes useles. This absence of a normalized development through time, along with the meaninglessness of action, have the effect of vanquishing the narrator's voice. In fact, it is quite possible for the VJ to perform without appearing in front of the public, and even without any intention to engage in active communication with the audience. Indeed, this is what most VJs do. Finally, if we understand human interaction as a form of communication and encounter, we can say that the non-communicative nature of VJing breaks, either consciously or unconsciously, the canonical relations between performer and audience.

Bruner also argues that humans have a predisposition to enter and understand the world through narrative. We tend to construct narratives in order to explain (to ourselves or to others) our experience of the world. We even use narrative to create fictions. If it is true that VJing breaks all narrative conventions (and yet it is presented in a stage and is viewed by an audience), then we could think that people will still tend to construct a narrative around it. In this case, it will almost necessarily be a narrative about the VJ act, a narrative "meta" level that emerges from anti-narrative, and possibly defeats it. A VJ show, or VJ set as it is often called, can become a story in itself, with all the elements that Kenneth Burke[2] distinguishes as appearing in any dramatic discourse:

1. The act. Q: What happend? A: "The VJ got on the stage and started to play some images, along with music."
2. The scene. Q: Where did it happen? What is the background situation? A: "In a club, in an art show..."
3. The agent. Q: Who is involved in the action? What are their roles? A: "The VJ and we, the audience. The VJ plays, and we look, listen and imagine."
4. The agency. Q: How do the agents act? By what means do they act? A: "The VJ might be trying to synchronize image with music. Maybe he is using a special interface that allows the incorporation of gestural language in her performance... how does the interface work? What software does she use?"
5. The Purpose. Q: Why do the agents act? What do they want? A: "Maybe the fragments that the VJ presents are trying to tell us something. Why does she say that? Why is the performer doing this? Well, I think that ..."

My conclusion is that the audience plays an active part in VJing, but in a level which trascends the contents that are being played. I believe that the audience constructs a story about the act of VJing, within a context provided by the content. The audiovisual objects become a mere scenario.

But, of course, the audience is always free to just feel the images and drift away...

[1] Jerome Bruner, "Acts of Meaning". Harvard University Press, 1990
[2] Kenneth Burke. See: "Burke's Pentad",

Monday, 10 September 2007

Interactive Ideology

[These are simply some notes prompted by David Rokeby's piece.]

It has become a commonplace assumption that when something is interactive, it is not only more democratic, but is also "open" as part of a general "questioning of authorship." Both these interpretations of interactivity may be not only inaccurate, bu specifically misleading, providing a mask for the reassertion of traditional modes of working while creating an illusion of the opposite.
Rokeby writes "The question of domination raises an important issue. For many people, interaction has come to mean 'control'. People look to interactive technology for 'empowerment', and such technologies can certainly give the interactor a strong sense of power. This is clearly the attraction of video games. In these games, the mirror transforms the interactor's gestures largely by amplification, but what is actually offered is the amplification of a gesture within a void, a domination of nothingness, the illusion of power. In particular, this is a fantasy of power bereft of responsibility. In the recent Gulf War, the video-game fantasy of power was reconnected to the power of actual armaments. In the process, the sense of responsibility was lost; the personal acountability of the pilots was cleverly amputated, dissolved by the interface.

"Interaction is about encounter rather than control. The interactive artist must counter the video-game-induced expectations that the interactor often brings to interaction. Obliqueness and irony within the transformations and the coexistence of many different variables of control within the interactive media provide for a richer, though perhaps less ego-gratifying experience." [1] It is unclear how the set of concerns with ironically divesting his audience of the sense of "control" that typically accompanies interactivity can be seen as other than an assertion of control by forces extrinsic to the audience--in this case, the author via an automated system. Expecting his audience to accept this passively is a basically authoritarian stance.

At the same time, we are expected to believe that interaction offers a breach to the apparent control and dominance of authorship. There is a paradox here that becomes evident at the level of praxis.

The big question we should be asking of all these "interactive" systems is in what way do they teach us to accommodate the status quo? Interactive systems are inherently domineering--they allow certain actions, disallow others and teach their users into positions of accommodation and adaptation to the parameters of a human-designed system that does not allow variances or enable most alternative uses. The image of artist within such a system is demiurgic (demagoguery) assertign its dominance while denying its presence.