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Mapping Human Gesture into Electronic Media

Dawn Stoppiello
Dawn Stoppiello.

Saggini: In your hi-tech works, technology is used to enhance human body possibilities. But sometimes one has the feeling that the same technology is some sort of burden for the body, which is forced to measure its strengths against the blind force of technology.

Coniglio: We think about this constantly. In the past I have referred to our technology as “parasitic”, in the sense that it feeds off of the live performer, and has no cannot survive without this host. But this parasitic relationship goes both directions: do we modify the movement of a dancer who is being monitored to satisfy the needs of the technology that is reacting to her movement? The answer is yes, but, and I feel this is important, not unconsciously. We try to be hyper-aware of the ways in which we are accommodating the technology that we choose to make use of, so that these limitations inform the piece itself. I must point out at this point that there is a similar limitation, however, when I choose to write music for the violin or the tuba. Each has “technological” constraints that I must address if I am going to create music appropriate for the individual instrument.

Saggini: Much has been said and written about body’s obsolescence and it seems that for some people could be desirable to get rid of the body to overcome its material limitations and demands, think about people like Stelarc or Hans Moravec. And you, in The Electronic Disturbance and also in The Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz, depict the effort of the physical body to transcend its very nature becoming electronic. But the reality we experience in our everyday life – be it good or bad – can’t be separated from the body, and we can transcend our body only upon death. Is this attraction towards technology a desire for death?

Coniglio: We don’t advocate dematerialization. I like the human body and its failings. The “electronic” characters in the Electronic Disturbance are in search of this very thing: a limitation! To be able to change yourself into anything at any moment, to be unburdened by gravity or time, these are things that are possible to the “electronic body”. But for them, death might be a gift. So in the course of the piece, they attempt to enter into the physical world, to see what it means to be unable to do something. I cannot say that one state is better than the other, because I have not been in both. But I can say that we tend to seek that which we do not have, and it is the seeking of this (perhaps) unattainable goal that creates crisis. Crisis the basis of drama, in my way of thinking. So this is why we have both the “corporeal body” and “electronic body” represented in the Electronic Disturbance, because it is the opposition of these two states that provides the possiblity for a drama.

Saggini: Italian futurists celebrated the man becoming a machine, but to them, the machine was the metaphor of a spiritual condition, a path towards transcendence. Do you think that the relationship with technology could become a “mystic experience” or your approach is totally rational?

Coniglio: Well, if by “totally rational” you mean do we believe that technology will provide some form of utopia, then I would say no. On the other hand, we do not feel that it will in some way destroy us either. These kinds of polarities make for dramatic thinking, but, in actuality, things tend to happen somewhere in the middle. What we do believe, and of this we are certain, the presence of ever expanding technology in our lives will change us, it will color the way that we treat one and other, and how we live our lives from day to day. It does so now, and will continue to do so in the future. Few can really see where this influence will take us, but it will surely mean that our children’s children will be people that we can hardly imagine. It is this future that interests us, and that we are curious to examine.

Though I want to step back to say that the idea of technology as religion is one that we considered a great deal when we were making the Electronic Disturbance. Is cyberspace a spiritual world? I would say that for some (hackers certainly, but for many others too) it is. But I cannot say that my personal relationship with technology is mystical, except in the sense that, because it is so much a part of my way of being, it is an extension of me. But any artist who has developed an intimate relationship with their chosen discipline would say the same, so I do not find this unusual.

The Electronic Disturbance.
The Electronic Disturbance.

Saggini: Since you not only use technology, but you also create it, can you tell us what comes first: art needs technology to express itself or technology needs some art to make its own celebration?

Coniglio: Dawn and I work in various ways depending on the technology that is being used. The most demanding collaboration is when we use the MidiDancer system, because we must be together to create the piece. Since her body causes the generation of music, or the recall of video images, it is difficult to work without her. Similarly, because the choreography is informed by the way in which these devices react to her movements, she cannot fully explore the movement without me there to provide the linkage between limb and media. In this case, everything is being created at the same time. When the term collaboration is used, it sometimes means that the artists came together only in the last phase of creation. This is not the case when we work with the MidiDancer: the intensity of collaboration that is one of the wonderful side-effects of using this device.

Saggini: If you think about it, technology has always been used in theatre. But in the past, it was transparent, while now often happens that technology itself becomes the main subject of the representation.

Coniglio: For some artists, it is true that the subject has become technology that they are using right in front of you. But, if you look at the history of the cinema, I think that you will see that this is a natural tendency when a technology is young. Think of the very earliest films, the ones that would frighten the audience by showing a train coming right at them. One could say that these were sensationalism only. But in fact, they were allowing the public to understand what a film was. In many ways, I feel this is the state of much of the experimental performance technology I have seen. There is a need, on the part of the artist, to make it clear what is happening. Once the audience understands these relationships, and once the technology itself moves from one of a kind prototypes to the “off-the-shelf” stage, you will see less of this kind of work.

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