image: illustration from the POWEr technical rider
In discussing fruitful interdisciplinary collaborations Edward Einhorn identifies a pair of independent theatre collectives that incorporate advanced projection technology and even a Tesla coil into their performances. These groups (3LD and the Collective Unconscious) exemplify how far production and set design has come since the era of Einstein on the Beach—science is not only the stuff of inspiration, or a means to create illusions onstage but experimental technologies can be directly incorporated into a production and foregrounded as part of the performance. An excellent examples that echoes the "weird science" of the Collective Unconscious theatre group is POWEr, a project presented by Alexandre Burton and Julien Roy of Artificiel at the 2009 edition of the MUTEK festival (held in Montreal this past spring).
Even amongst the impressive selection of experimental multimedia projects presented at the annual electronic music festival, POWEr made a distinct and visceral impression. An excerpt from a review of the performance that I wrote approximately a week after attending this idiosyncratic concert:
To be reductive, POWEr is electronic music in the purest sense. The project utilizes a custom made Tesla coil as the driving force in a dynamic musical performance. This concert was completely improvised and set out to explore the possibilities of using "electricity as a subtle but pressing instrument". Subtle is not the first word that comes to mind in attempting to describe POWEr as the Tesla coil device took up approximately half the stage and emitted violent arcs of electricity throughout the entire performance. The resulting crackling, buzz and uncanny sound of current became raw material with which Artificiel assembled on the fly electroacoustic sketches. In addition to modulating the electricity, "playing it" as if it were a rudimentary instrument, an array of cameras and microphones were used to collect and process the sound and images of the arcs. The concert was structured as a series of short vignettes in which Artificiel switched the focus between the device, their sound sketches and a range of simple but effective video sequences. These varying perspectives foregrounded different aspects of the electricity which moved and sounded so quickly that it was difficult to process in real time.
POWEr wasn't exactly a musical performance, nor was it a scientific experiment. This tension created an excitement that captivated the entire audience that was present that night—everyone in the room knew they were experiencing something truly unique. Artificiel's other projects are worth examining as while they often work as audio art or in an installation context they tend to have a performative presence as well. Unfortunately POWEr is not that well documented (it is still a fairly new project) but there are some intriguing photographs and video documentation on a dedicated project page on the Artificiel site
So a question to RevMinds readers: are you aware of any similar projects that deploy advanced, or fringe technology in a musical performance or a theatrical context?