The Ars Electronica Special Edition
|First Stop On The Journey||GeorgL Stars in Oudeis Blackout|
|It was another day at the AEC Festival ´97. My
schedule was a simple one -- another workshop, "Oudeis -- a
world wide odyssey," in the afternoon; and a film, "Spawn,"
as a closing event in the evening / by Leonid Filatov
A "workshop" normally is a form for acquiring some skills, a situation where someone teaches something. Although this form was totally inappropriate in this case, I found myself learning a lot by the end of the day. (I will talk about this a little later.)
Before going to the "workshop," as a preparation for it I made room in my head by putting together all the thoughts I had accumulated during the Festival. I had seen mostly everything, but surely not all the web projects. Web projects cannot be as valuable when seeing them on AEC´s computer monitors thousands of miles away from your home. In any case, it would take more than one week to look through them all thoroughly. Being an artist in residence at AEC, I knew what many projects had to go through in order to be presented at the Festival. Budgeting, support, space limitations and administrative problems were far from the excitement of the Festival. Nevertheless, my expectations were still for high quality, innovative approaches, radical thinking and challenging realizations of the projects presented at AEC Festival ´97. (Let's not forget that we are talking AEC in its second year, with 18 years in Festival experience.)
Yes, there were many projects, but in reality there was not much to see, if something can be seen in many other places. Few of the experimental projects were more than "works in progress." But, for today anyway, I was ready for a challenging combination of theatre, multimedia and networking. From the announcement in the Festival's program it looked like the "Oudeis" group was taking this challenge seriously. The "Oudeis" project beckoned to me because of my long-standing (unsatisfied) interest in theatre and technology. To be more specific, I wondered what has theatrical performance to do with computer and network technology; or better, what has technology to do with theatre?
Instead of repeating the project´s statement here, though clear enough as far as it goes, I would rather focus on what I experienced that day. The presentation part was straight- forward and self-explanatory: how we started, what it´s all about, who is who, and of course, how to get on- line with us. Just one small disagreement -- why this way? "Do we have to buy something?" This is a question that arises in a situation like that. For me this format created some difficulty in trying to get through to a much deeper level than the one that was (well-) presented in the Festival's publications. At this level I had an understanding of a concept -- multiple staging, time zones, virtual actors, etc. (this is why I got interested in the project in the first place.) Many things were addressed in detail; some were left out. Are these issues conceptual or purely technical? The discussion that evolved during the presentation gave answers to only some of my questions.
The most difficult part was to comprehend the group´s vision for the merger of a long theatre tradition and an evolving Internet experience. The structure of the play was well suited to the project and was adapted on very elaborate level. Odysseus´ travels from island to island justify the "multiple stages" approach in the project. Each stage is not only located in different parts of the world, but also in different time zones. Time difference and live performance together added a new aspect of time travel, as well as the light cone used on one location as a representation for the actor located at another. Using the sensor and Internet technology to power up the virtual actor the "Oudeis" group offered an innovative solution to complete the travel aspects. The Internet also provides voices for the chorus, which here will be formed by the worldwide audience in front of their computers. Each spectator on-line will be able to trigger some of the preset chorus voices. This very promising marriage of theatre and technology does not, however, help me to paint the picture of the whole project. The timing and dynamic of the performance appeared to me to be the crucial moments in the live play. Spectators not present at the locations are passively engaged during performance and, hopefully, may vote on their computers as the chorus in the breaks between episodes. The actors on stage and everyone else are left only to guess on the collaborative effort of the world audience not present locally. The "virtual" actor will have to deal with a "latency effect" that cannot be avoided. The screen design for the on-line audience is still an open question. All these aspects will dramatically affect the development and design of "Oudeis," as well as any other interactive tele- system. The prototype performance had planned to address those aspects. However, due to unexpected technical limitations at the AEC location, the performance presentation was not be able to include the "virtual" actors and to demonstrate the group´s approach in those conceptual and technical issues of the project. At the same time, the prototype revealed many things needing to be addressed.
Multimedia are very difficult to deal with, in the first place. Each content element has to work as a piece in a mosaic. It is not enough for an element to work well on its own; all elements have to work together supporting the dynamic of the whole piece. Just putting monitors in a play without meaningful visual content and placement will create unwanted effect on the spectators. These conceptual issues have to be analyzed for each particular situation, based on experimentation and technical expertise. Each element establishes a relationship with the other, and with the audience, all becoming the part of "theatre." Two actors are on stage: actor One is real and actor Two is "virtual." One is human, another is the cone of light. They interact in almost "real" time. What will be the indication of it from actor Two? Actor One cuts the head of actor Two and 5 minutes later the body of actor Two falls on the stage. None of the present systems has a latency period of 5 minutes, though computers are getting much faster every day, but even 30 seconds has to be staged carefully and, hey, accidents are happen: crashes, delays, bottlenecks, etc.. Light is usually associated with many different qualities: energy, moods, emotions, feelings. It is one of the essential elements in an artist´s arsenal. The light cone is the best metaphor for the "virtual" actor on the real stage, and it requires very gentle and precise handling. In many cases, technology dictates the form, and finding the right technical solution will help the "Oudeis" group to breathe life into the "virtual" actors. This is beyond question to me. Although telepresence technology is nothing new, an actor´s "virtual" presence adds new dimensions to "Oudeis." The Question is about the "virtual" audience.
Implying another metaphor in performance, the "Oudis" group includes the audience in their collective collaboration effort of creating the play. The chorus represents the people, in this case the on-line audience. It is a very powerful application for a collective on-line work in live performance. In many cases, for instance "Brain Opera," on-line participation did not have any significance for performance and required some advance explanation. The chorus covers one of the functions offered to the audience. Another is to post the comments that will display on screens. At first, this may appear to be even a more powerful audience presence in a play than the choros. Yes, it will be more powerful if the text organically interweaves with the visual elements to support the art direction of the play. Several monitors were displaying text hardly comprehensible because of its breaking nature -- read the text or enjoy the acting? Commentary lines cannot override the play, turning it into a chatroom. This element showed its insignificance during the AEC performance. If the "virtual" actor is a more technical issue, the audience presence in the play, aside from the chorus, is a totally conceptual one. Any theatre needs an audience, "feedback" and response, and an actor´s interaction with it. Telepresence is much more than television with a voter´s push button and commentary lines on the button of the screen. The "virtual" audience has to have its own metaphor, character and part in the story of the Odyssey. What will be the relation? It is up to the director and the rest of the group, and I am sure the story will provide rich materials for a solution.
Listening to a presentation and having a discussion, seeing the work in progress and meeting the team, turned out to be my most interesting experience in whole AEC Festival ´97. Exploration of the world on a long journey could not be a better metaphor for the meaning of the Web. The choice of the "Odyssey" for the merger of theatre and Web was excellent. "Instead of traveling along the sea-routes, Odysseus will journey along the lines of the Internet." This can become a reality depending on the next steps that the "Oudeis" group will take in building their "ship." Just as in the "Odyssey," they will continue to face the challenge of a journey.
Rainer Fügenstein is "somewhat off"Due to some changes in his life, long time oudeis tech master Rainer Fügenstein is going into "stand by" mode. He does not officially leave the project, but will not keep track of the ongoing discussions nor actively take part in them. Yet, he stays related to oudeis. We would like to thank him for his participation and valuable input.
My MissionI joined the team because the concept was more creative and more aware of the nature of the internet than what I had seen so far in other projects. I had the feeling that there are people involved who really know what they are talking about: experience in theater and experience in the net combined / by Monika Wunderer
Also the idea of bringing REAL stage and VIRTUAL stage efficiently together seemed reasonable. When I found out about oudeis, I thought that only MOO theater can call itself "theater" - nothing much has changed in my opinion since then!
That could be the groundbreaking nature of oudeis.
That also caused my frustration when thinking of MMK and Ars Electronica. Especially after MMK, but also after Among Immortals 2.0 it occurred to me that what we had been doing was not so different from all those projects that I had never taken for full:
We basically had a RL event - with "some" input from the net.
We did also not fully succeed in "sending out" the RL performance to the net (as far as I know - but I have never participated on the "other" side of the line).
Another drawback: people who originated parts of the idea have left the team - have others consciously taken their positions or are we still thinking of "the" omnipotent, all knowing creator?
Oudeis intends to bring the real stage and the virtual stage together. Thus it has to explore not only the nature of the real stage when combined with the virtual world, but also explore or create the virtual stage. In order to fulfill this purpose, the idea of creating virtual actors through lightcones on real stages was born.
The initial idea of a worldwide cooperation of several stages lead to an intensive, collective work between individuals, rather than having 5 or 7 organizations with seperated budgets and resources. As if leading to the final goal, we started creating our own virtual environment, our working place and relationships (Here ATHEMOO as well as IGW comes in - as they provided us with the "reality" that the virtual wolrd needs: disk space, program, (human) resources).
Oudeis did not start with a playscript. It still has to define and create such a script. However, the ever - present Homer and the emotions we can share with Odysseus have always been with our work.
In order to continue the journey on the route oudeis has taken it needs to:
Responsible for the contents: Monika Wunderer and Georg Leyrer
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| "Anybody can say they are thinking ´globally,´ but very few can
actually take a worldcentric perspective. To actually live from a
worldcentric or universal perspective requires five or six major
interior stages of transformation and transcendence."
(Ken Wilber, A Brief History of Everything) / by Jim Terral
When I first heard about the Oudeis project, nearly a year and a half ago, I was immediately interested in the Odyssey theme. But the concept of doing five (now seven) simultaneous performances seemed to be a delusion conceived by someone who had no idea at all how much work it takes to put on just one performance.
So was it Better than MMK? Some things improved, some got worse.