The Videonervous project

by hc gilje.
originally written aug 98 in norwegian as a project proposal

I want to develop video as a stage- and livebased medium, and explore the aspects of video in time, light and space. this will happen through three projects where I collaborate with people from already established stagemedia: music, dance and theater.

I want to give the videomedium a spontanity which often lacks in a field heavy dependant on technology: It´s quite a cumbersome process from the intial idea to the final result, because the material first has to be recorded, then edited/transformed. A live setting will also depend on an immediate presence, depending on a communication on stage between the players, and where the experience is created in facing the audience.
These criteria have not been been fulfilled by using video technology from the very near past: way too expensive equipment, lack of flexibility and bad equipment.

Digital technology has made it possible to work in a totallly different way in production and screening/performance. The digital revolution has made the video technology cheaper, better and most important, it has given the user instant access to the videostream. Through digital video technology, applications supporting MIDI control of video and new projector technology video will become a powerful medium in the crossover field of performance/live art and visual expression.

Digital technology transforms the analog videosignal to pure digital information, making it possible for the computer to relate to video as any other type of data, meaning that digital video can be stored on a harddrive the same way as a textfile or soundfile.With a powerful computer the video can be played back from the harddrive as well.

Sampling is a familiar tool in music: you take pieces of soundsources, either own recordings or other material, digitize, manipulate and use it in new contexts where the samples become like a new instrument that can be played by the performer.
This possibility has finally become a reality also for video: The development of small and cheap cameras with good quality, the possibility to transfer the video to a computer, faster machines and better compression codecs has made it possible to work with videosampling.
Videoloops are a result of the infancy of digital video where the technological limits in storagespace and cpu power made it possible only to work with stampsized loops (my first videoloop fit onto a floopydisk, but because of technology moving too fast, I now don´t have the equipment to play back these old loops). This has evolved into a new estethics: a videoloop worships motion, repetions create rhythm.

The immediate: from playback to playing
The beginning and end of a videotape has both a physical and timebased limit, which gives a search time to find a certain videoclip. This physical restraint vanishes on a computer: It will take the same amount of time to find a videoclip on a harddrive no matter where it is located: Random Acces Video. Any videoclip is then instantly accesible and can be fetched with a keypress or a click of a button.
To make use of this immediacy an adress system is needed: a way of making a relation between a keypress and which videoclip to be played. MIDI is an adressing protocol used in the music world for coordinating keyboards, samplers, computers and other instruments, which can also be applied to video used with the right software.
In principle, a MIDI based system for video makes each key on a MIDIkeyboard connected to a videoclip on the computers harddrive. So when a key is pressed, the corresponding videoclip is played instantly.
There are many sources of MIDI input, a keyboard is the most usual type. VideoNervous will also use other types of midi controllers/triggers/sensors.
From being a mechanical tapebased playback system, video has now the possibility to be a reactive organic medium, an extension of the performers actions.

From illuminated screen to enlightening projector.
Video in a stage context becomes interesting with the use of video projectors. An evolution from big, expensive and dim projectors to cheaper, handy and bright units gives the possibility to work with the projector as a source of light, and thus as part of a light design/scenography. Space can be created by projecting on walls,floor,ceiling, other surfaces and elements, including people.

conceptual background
videonervous is a system where the border between technology and fades out. The performer becomes a cyborg: the instrument is an extension of the human actions, at the same time the human is the senses of the instrument. My perception of the world makes me do certain actions through the technology, which again influences my perception of the environment.
Videonervous becomes like an extended central nervous system,in which many of the prosesses parallells our daily processing of reality: Samples from reality, transformation of the samples. The harddrive as a memory bank ,videosamples as pieces of a reality. Memories, dreams and thoughts which are triggered by impressions from the outside world.
Thus the brain and and the perception apparatus becomes the arena for this project, working with concepts of memory,dreams, subconscience,cyclic train of thoughts, feilkoblinger,information overload, fortrengning, flashbacks,extending/numbing the sensory system.

the 3 projects

a jam between videonervous and musician.
collaborator is Aksel H. Tjora, with background from classical, rock, jazz and technobased music both as a performer and a composer.
The main focus is to explore video as an instrument, and the similarities in the structure of music and video: samplebased, loops, rhythm.
There already exists several projects where video has been made for music, or music played/improvised to moving images (in the tradition of silent films).
We claim to have a different approach: A mutual influence on the others material from the starting point of collecitng/making material to the actual improvisation in the live setting. Both the musician and videograf plays, sometimes the video leads, sometimes the music, as two parallell thoughts. Sometimes they entangle, fight for the attention, and spin off in diffferent directions. Video and music is mutually inspiring each other in the moment, and the energy from the audience pushes them forward.

the setup wil basically consist of drums, miditriggers and samplers for Tjora. My setup will consist of 1 mac running imag/ine and xpose and a laptop controlling a video swithcer, a videocd player, 3 projectors, midi keyboard/controller + some homemade miditriggers.

Collaborator is choreographer Eva Cecilie Richardsen/Demodans and with subgud doing the music.
We worked together on the danceperformance/concert Bøffel, where I did the video scenography and light design. During ther rehearsal period we became aware of the many similarities in the language of modern dance and film/video, that we didn´t get the possibility to explore during this production. This exploration + combining the movement of the dancers with the videoprojectors´ light and motion to create spaces will be the focus of this project.

Videoprojection in stage context has a tendency to end up as a passive scenographic element. We want to work with a more active relation between video and dance, where dancers and video communicate. This has become possible with digital video and midi trigging, which makes it possible to synchronize motions in the physical space with sequences of video.
Elements as repetition, filtering of motions, reversal and freezing of motion in choreography relates to similar concepts in the experimental filmlanguage. We want to focus on the relation between the content of the projection and choreography, and how they interrelate. Physical action in relation to the perception of a physical action could be similar to the dancers´ motion relative to video.
A choreography can be based on a video sequence and opposite, you could combine live video with recorded material, you could mix recorded dance with live dance (the dancers could dance with recordings of themselves)
Another approach is to work with the videoprojection in relation to the dancers to create a stage space. Motion over time creates space.
There are different solution as how to project the video on stage: On screens, walls, ceiling,floor other stage elements or directly on the dancers.The dancers could relate to the space in relation to the video in different ways: Partly hidden behind screen, in front of projection, as shadow on the projection etc.

We chose to combines the fall project of Demodans with this project, making it bigger, but making it a bit less flexible in regards of testing out different elements.

Collaborator is writer Lise Gundersen, and initially a small theatre production team which was cancelled.
Textual and visual loops where the images becomes part of the unfolding action, and the action on stage influence the images. We will focus on situations based on perception/reality, memories trigging actions which again triggers new memories, information overload/fortrengning, synaesthetics.
The challenge will be to combine video as a scenographic element which suddenly is transformed to an active storyelement in the communication with the actors on stage. Theatre productions that combine video and theatre often end up saying everything through the text and not using the video as an important story element. We will try to avoid this by working directly with the actors and video during the development of the text. We want to experiment with virtual actors in projections,actors which interact with the real actors in realtime, which thus will add a certain element of unpredictability to the performance.