Timing is Everything

Part of the text of the lecture by John McCormick for the Future Moves 3 workshop at DEAF00.

The difference in the time it takes for sound to reach one ear or the other aids in rendering a 3 dimensional view of our environment, the objects and people around us, where they are positioned in relationship to us, and us to them, the path of danger approaching, the source of a kookaburra. A similar view may be taken to light falling upon the retinas. The differences in reflected light reaching the eyes cues most of us in the formation of a stereoscopic visual representation of our immediate landscape, giving added perception of depth and the relationship of the other participants in our environment. As sensations travel across nerve endings we can conjure a picture of water trickling down our back, a breeze across our face, breath entering the nostrils and filling the lungs. The tracking of time through our senses is one means of engaging with our waking existence. The brain is able to synthesise vast amounts of sensorial input, sifting out that deemed non-essential, filtering these through a mask of experience to arrive at a personal rendition of that moment.

In the electronically mediated sonic environment that is the telephone conversation many of the normal cues exchanged in a face to face conversation are missing or altered. The prompts that govern whose turn it is to speak are carried through a slightly different kind of silence or intonation. Similarly in the videoconferenced performance many of the normal cues for interaction are changed. The timing of action may be affected by the inability of the electronic medium to cater to some senses, requiring greater dependancy on other senses in order to communicate. In shared network performance environments, such as in the performance Escape Velocity, the interaction between performers is mediated largely through the shared screen space. The performers are not only waiting to see how their counterparts are inhabiting the shared space, they are also having to note their own inhabitation and juxtaposition within the shared environment. This role of being both performer within the work and simultaneously viewing oneself from an external position (watching yourself on screen to see how you fit in) in order to guage avenues for proceeding can be both disorienting and extremely engaging.

Whilst you could say that the representation of yourself and your counterparts in the shared network environment are only electronic proxies for the real people, and rather pared back versions at that, it seems incredibly easy to attribute the kinds of emotional and physical responses to that electronic represenation that one would experience in face to face dialogue. (For me anyway) it seems inately desirable to make as full a picture of the people engaged in the environment as possibleand seems to extend the experience beyond the range of the senses seemingly directly negotiating the interplay. Strong physical and emotional responses to the interaction with self and others are not uncommon.

The senses and their synthesising agents work fast. The kinds of delays inherent in many network environments allow the use of different strategies to cope. And the delays are not all the same. In Escape Velocity the two dancers share the same mediated space, yet the delays they encounter are many and varied. The compositing of the dancers into the shared space occurs largely at one (this) end. The dancer at this end sees herself on screen almost immediately and takes some time to note orientations. The dancer at the other (that) end is delayed in their appearance at this end to the degree of the lag in transmission medium. However while the dancer at that end is delayed in reaching this end for appraisal and reaction by the dancer at this end, the dancer at that end must wait doubly long for her own image to return along with the image of her counterpart if she wishes to proceed based on the accrued new juxtapositions. Add to this the variable that the representations are being governed by two other humans scrutinising your actions from behind video cameras, making their own autonomous decisions regarding your represenation and you have to wait and see how they are going to portray you to the world.

What strategies are available for negotiating these spaces with new distances inherent in them? The fm-tt workshops will be a great place to explore such. One of my favourites is prediction. It can be very nice to have the opportunity to predict the future.




John McCormick works mainly with the company in space. They are engaged in a new perfomance, Incarnate, a shared performance environment between Melbourne Australia (Dancehouse) and Hong Kong (HK arts Centre). The performance begins on November 30 2000. They will be performing a linked version of Escape Velocity between Melbourne and Monaco for MDDF2 on December 13 and 14 2000. Also in December will be a responsive internet performance, This Here Out There. In 2001 CIS will be performing Dream? A networked performance animation work (networked motion capture) linking Florida State U and the Interactive Information Institute in Melbourne, as well as a new movememt opera, Architecture of Biography to be performed at the Melbourne Festival 2001.



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