HEATHER RAIKES (in alternation with MAT DAVIS)
“Fluid Architectures and Sample Spaces: Reflections on a Media/Architecture Performance”
April 15, 2002
The production was made possible by the Provost’s Commission for the Arts Interdisciplinary Arts Grant, the Vice Provost for Research Interdisciplinary Research Grant, the Temple Architecture Program, and the School of Communications and Theater. The realization of cosine was a collaboration between the SCAT departments of Theater, Film & Media Arts, and the New Media Interdisciplinary Concentration; the Esther Boyer College of Music, and the Tyler Main Campus Architecture Program.
As conceptual instigator and director of the work, I facilitated a crucible in which the threads of these various disciplines would interweave, clash, and cooperate toward a common goal. The goal was realized in the form of a performance series at Temple August 30 – September 1, 2001, and at HEREArt Mainstage, New York, September 7-9, 2001. However, the interdisciplinary collaborative process of cosine proved to be at least as substantial as the product, and it is with the intention of articulating and sharing that process that we document this new work. cosine was pioneering in its cross-disciplinary communicative scope, and in addition to reflecting on it through the lenses of the various disciplines involved, I believe it is important that we listen carefully to what its messages may tell us about new media interdisciplinary collaboration and the macrocosmic project of evolving our disparate modes of seeing and explaining the world into a symbiotic collaborative framework in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Reflecting On cosine: The Digital Medium & The Architecture of the Rheomode
• • •
By definition, cosine cannot be documented from one perspective. The work is at its core a mosaic, in which no one voice or element is ever dominant. cosine shatters the two-dimensional frame and proscenium vantage point, and frames every element from multiple angles and in relation to every other element. The work is defined by relationship rather than singularity, motion rather than stasis. No one element can be effectively “fixed” in stillness or isolated from any other. It is a depiction of a fluid, complex whole.
This essential shift from a singular statement to plural voices of authorship and multiple vantage points raises new questions about appropriate forms for documentation. The written word is a linear, consecutive, hierarchical medium that meets structural limitation when confronted with the depiction of an interdisciplinary multimedia mosaic. To document a nonlinear expression in linear form is to flatten its dimensionality, and, to refer to modern physics, to collapse the dynamic potential of the wave into the definitive experience of the particle.
Reflecting on cosine, it was ultimately more an exploding question of potential than a depiction of any finite or definitive statement. • • • The work asked: What happens when architectural structure and kinesthetic communication come into direct relationship with one another? What type of resonating plurality can the senses perceive between simultaneous multiple tracks of visual imagery? What do we hear when confronted with a 24 layer collage of sound spiraling around an environment in 360 degrees? What is the threshold of our sensory perception and what happens when we push that envelope?
• • •
How is our context for understanding communication and codifying meaning affected by a frame that is neither fixed nor singular, but continuously changing and dynamically recontextualizing itself and its contents? How are our minds, bodies, and senses reconfigured by Einstein’s pivotal discovery that the speed of light is the only universal constant, and by a communications technology infrastructure that is exponentially accelerating our cultural language toward this end? If Newtonian physics and corresponding notions of space and time provided the groundwork upon which the prevailing paradigms of the 19th and 20th centuries were constructed, what are the tenets of an Einsteinian paradigm that can give rise to 21st century modes of communication and understanding?
• • •
A common ground that unites all of these questions is their relationship to the digital medium and its medium-message implications.
Leonard Shlain, in his book, Art & Physics: Parallel Visions in Space Time and Light, states, “Revolutionary art can be understood as the preverbal stage of a civilization first contending with a major change in its perception of the world”.(1) Comparably, Marshall McLuhan asks in Understanding Media, “If men were able to be convinced that art is precise advance knowledge of how to cope with the psychic and social consequences of the next technology, would they all become artists? Or would they begin a careful translation of new art forms into social navigation charts? I am curious to know what would happen if art were suddenly seen for what it is, namely exact information of how to rearrange one’s psyche in order to anticipate the next blow from our own extended faculties…”.(2)
cosine drew many of the underlying principles of the digital medium out of the box of the computer and explored them in physical space, with physical bodies and a physical structure, in order to provide a substantially more visceral and multi-dimensional opportunity to examine and experience them with our senses. For example, an audio editing program vertically stacks anywhere between 2 and 50 layers of sound on a screen as a user creates a multi-layered, or “vertical” sound composition. Led by composer Todd Shilhanek, cosine brought those multiple layers into space and “embodied” them as a vertical assemblage of audio signals literally traveling in 3 dimensions through the environment.
Similarly, information architectures and virtual architectures in digital space are often referred to as liquid, interactive, ethereal. What does that mean in terms of form, structure and boundary? The physical structure that contained and defined cosine was not a fixed object, but a dynamic collection of faces and video projection surfaces that was both manipulated by its performing inhabitants and framed from multiple perspectives by the audience that surrounded it. It was, in this way, a physical manifestation of virtual architecture.
• • •
Visual compositing – the ability to merge and layer one image with another – is a fundamental visual tool of the digital medium. cosine ‘s imagery included two different multi-layered video tracks projected onto the media/architecture structure from four hanging video projectors suspended on the periphery of the environment. The imagery intersected the structure, the walls, the performers, the audience and the opposing video track in different ways at different times. This shifting assemblage of layered imagery created an experience comparable to jumping inside of a visual digital image composite as it is being created, and experiencing it with your whole body and all of your senses.
• • •
It is common knowledge that digital media is computationally driven. Complex, ethereal imagery, interactive functionality, and orchestration of multiple elements are the product of computer programming, driven by algorithms and mathematical functions. cosine, as I will explain in more depth in a moment, was generated and unified by a series of numbers that mathematically explains a spiral. These numbers affected everything from the tones of the music to the proportions of the architectural structure, to the theatrical staging, to the overall rhythm of the piece.
• • •
Manifesting and realizing these various elements derived from the digital medium in physical space and performative context resulted in something that was, surprisingly, arguably a kind of architecture. When the communicative building blocks of the digital medium – composited imagery, layered sound, dynamic structure, textual elements, paths of momentum, metaphor, and symbolic communication meet in physical space, the sum of their parts becomes a multi-dimensional structure that can only be appropriately contained and described by an expression of space and dimension as well as communicative form. Language, when truly expanded into multiple media, becomes three dimensional, becomes a temporal-spatial dialogue of signifiers and stimuli in a dynamic, interactive, 3 dimensional environment. Structure becomes a transparent vessel for synthesis and a crucible that contains and orchestrates a vast, symphonic collage of individual voices and communicative elements. Form becomes a dialogue between concepts, symbols, and multi-sensory stimuli. The result is a dynamic architecture made of composited language. And at the same moment that language becomes an architecture, architectural expression becomes mobile and fluid, dynamically responding to the fluctuations of language. This liminal synthesis of media and architecture I have termed “the architecture of the rheomode.”
• • •
The “rheomode,” a term coined by physicist David Bohm, translates literally into the “flowing mode” or “flowing language”. The rheomode is an experiment in language in which representation is defined in relation to movement rather than stasis, energy rather than matter, the wave rather than the particle. Toward a discovery of “the language of modern physics,” the rheomode communicates the interconnected flux of wholeness rather than fixed, finite, fragmented parts.
• • •
cosine‘s ultimate communicative and expressive goal was to deliver an experience of the language of modern physics. David Bohm confirms the sentiments of many modern physicists when he states in his book Wholeness and the Implicate Order, that modern physics cannot be fully understood or assimilated by our culture until its discoveries are reflected in language, expression and communication.(3) Beginning with the most fundamental breakthrough, the discovery that the particle and the wave are interchangeable, E=mc2, and recognizing that we are conditioned to perceive the world according to the laws and language of the particle, cosine asked: what is the language of the wave? On a formal level, it approached that question through an exploration of the rheomode, and on a content level, it explored the process of inner transformation required to restructure one’s perception toward this end.
• • •
Therefore, my goal for the cosine collaboration was to investigate the architecture of the rheomode, or the constructs of form and language that enable communication through motion, fusion, fluidity and holistic perception. The investigation was to occur in the spaces between the multiple contributing disciplines, and through the lens of the digital medium. It is my belief that digital medium -- based on light, traveling electricity, abstract computational structures, fusion of media, and dynamic interactivity– introduces an essentially Einsteinian paradigm, and the architecture of rheomode is a structural framework that may lay a foundation for codifying this mode of perception.
To conclude my introduction, cosine was an initial articulation of the architecture of the rheomode. Beyond that, it seems impossible and inappropriate to definitively decide or state what it was, or to draw it to conclusion by collapsing its waves of wide open questions into particle-bound answers. Therefore, in collaboration with Mat, I will attempt to deconstruct its rheomode architecture, and describe its process of becoming, which is, perhaps, its essence, its alpha and omega, its initial and final statement.
• • •
cosine began as an original abstract narrative text and accompanying series of 50 ink paintings. The text and paintings created a poetic structure, which became the foundation for exploration and manifestation through sound, choreography, staging, architecture, video, and production design. The video imagery, 3 dimensional sound environment, choreography, and architectural structure were all being manifest at the same time – no one element had dominance or served as the foundation upon which the others would be constructed. The poetic structure was simultaneously realized as a distinct through line in each of these disciplines, and as an orchestration into a vast, symbiotic whole.
Experientially, as agent of orchestration for this multi-faceted work, I was often thrilled and sometimes horrified by the lack of control and essential “chaos factor” the process afforded. Indeed, cosine’s rheomode architecture was ultimately a product of chaos. It seemed to circumvent every conventional structure that was imposed upon it, and evade every form that tried to contain it. It was created more form dynamic, subconscious bursts than from the methodical outline designed to guide it. It was continuously late. Contributors were continuously baffled by trying to interface with the languages of foreign disciplines, and ego battles ran rampant event among the mature and well-intentioned. More often than not, conflict gave rise to progress, as opposing viewpoints would clash to create new developments almost in spite of themselves. The results were continuously surprising, It was, in a word, kaleidoscopic, a dazzling display of complexity in motion… impossible to contain or “catch” all at once, constantly changing and providing a new lens through which to reinvent and re-frame itself. It employed a language that was emerging as we were creating it, and it challenged all of us to re-align our intentions through a sensitivity to the whole that transcended the individual parts.
Deconstructing cosine/cosine’s metaphors
• • •
The whole of cosine is unified by its metaphors. These metaphors serve as the underpinnings of its rheomode architecture. • • •
cosine ‘s initial metaphor is that of Reflection. The journey begins with an invitation, an interaction, through a collection of visual symbols and the structural idea of a mirror. The series of 50 ink paintings, symbolic and somewhat iconographic in nature, are displayed in the playing space in direct spatial opposition to the entering audience, inviting them to immediately break the fourth wall, and setting up a mirror-like relationship between the audience and the images. Ideas of asymmetrical mirroring and reflection are carried throughout the entire piece.
• • •
The second metaphor is the relationship between the Conscious, Subconscious and Subliminal Mind. The 3 “zones” of the conscious, subconscious and subliminal defined the physical playing space and the architectural structure. These different realms are the “characters” in cosine. They are manifest through the physical performers, the two tracks of video (which reflect the subconscious and subliminal experience), and the flowing vacillations of the sound collage – which depicts a direct dialogue between the three realms that underscores the theatrical dialogue that drives the piece.
• • •
The third metaphor is the Spiral. The underlying scaffolding – or computational engine – of cosine is the Lucas Sequence, a series of numbers that mathematically explains a spiral. Poetically integrating history and progress, each new number in the series is generated by the sum of the two numbers that precede it. 1,3,4,7,11,18,29…
The Lucas sequence, introduced to the work by composer Todd Shilhanek, is prevalent throughout cosine, as is the number 7. The structure is three sided with four points of video projection illuminating the environment in conjunction with four channels of sound creating a 3D sound environment. The piece is 29 minutes in length. It has seven scenes, each of which is exactly three, four, or seven minutes in length. The shift from one scene to the next occurs at the exact minute marks of the numbers in the series. In addition, the climax of the piece is at the golden mean (18). At this point, the exploration transcends itself, the vertical principle awakens, and that which has occurred previously accumulates into simultaneity. In the original music for cosine, the Lucas sequence is omnipresent. Composer Todd Shilhanek used the numbers of the sequence as pitch levels, and as the means by which new rhythmic patterns are introduced. It also plays a prominent role in the architectural environment, generating many of the lengths, proportions, and structural parameters. And it describes the underlying non-linear momentum path through the journey of cosine.
• • •
The spiral leads to cosine ‘s fourth metaphor: a Cosine Wave. As the peak of a cosine wave is “time zero,” cosine explores an accumulation of sensory information leading to an experience of “simultaneity” akin to Einstein’s description of perception at the speed of light. This accumulation is driven by the numbers of the Lucas sequence and the path of the spiral. In the final minute of the piece, every sound heard for the last 28 minutes is playing, and every video image seen for the last 28 minutes flashes into view for a fraction of a second.
• • •
Finally, cosine is essentially about transformation in perception and it utilizes the concluding metaphor of a Butterfly. The architectural structure, which was pivotal in unifying cosine’s metaphors, was initially conceived of as a series of faces and “walls” that initially appear to be a labyrinth, or series of obstructions separating the conscious, subconscious and subliminal realms. As the piece progresses through the spiral and into the accumulation, the walls shift, tilt and lift off the ground, the realms of the conscious, subconscious and subliminal come into alignment with one another, the wave awakens through the particle, and the whole of the structure reveals itself to be a butterfly.
Let me preface my conclusions by saying that prior to this lecture, I had very few conclusions about cosine, and I continue to have as many questions as answers. I do believe that in its essence, this work was about transformation and a process of becoming. It was, and continues to be, essentially a verb.
So, to document the final stages of its manifest process, cosine changed dramatically from its opening at Temple to its closing in New York. It had 12 performances in total, and each of them was entirely distinct and substantially different from the others. The overall progression that the work underwent can be compared to a kind of alchemical cooking. When it opened at Temple, we had assembled a lot of unfamiliar ingredients that did not necessarily have prior knowledge of how to blend with one another. As the work progressed, the hard edges began to blur… the architecture became part of the dance, the imagery fell into sync with the characters’ experiences, the sound came into a sort of resonant harmony with the environment, the colors in the paintings on the periphery of the space bled through into the bodies of the performers and the body of the architecture. Each time such a progression occurred, it felt like shedding a skin, or breaking through a kind of barrier that was encasing each element in a smaller, more guarded, more confined framework. As the elements merged, it felt – from the inside of the piece – like unleashing potential.
I subsequently realized that the absolute key element in allowing this progression to occur – in allowing the architecture of the rheomode to blossom into a free-flowing dance of multi-disciplinary synthesized rhythms and elements, was the performers. When the performers could truly see and feel and understand and embody how all of these pieces came together to create a unified kaleidoscopic picture, they opened a door for the audience and for each other, and the whole thing crystallized as this magnificent, multi-faceted structure. Conversely, when the performers – or even some of the performers – were too tightly focused on only their own tasks and concerns, or, for whatever reason did not have their perceptive shutters fully opened, the door to the heart of the work remained closed or only partially opened, and the various interdisciplinary elements remained distinct and separate, and, even if precisely aligned, did not achieve their alchemy.
What an interesting challenge for a performer, which parallels an interesting challenge for all of us. A performer is generally somewhat naturally inclined and conditioned to hone his/her force and talent into a tightly focused beam with an intent toward a very specific excellence. I believe this is a natural and heightened function of the human ego. However, in order to succeed in the context of cosine, the performers had to circumvent their conditioned tendencies and work with unfamiliar elements and with the whole picture. When this happened, it was extraordinary magic. When the performers were able to soften the edges of their individual focus and open their awareness to the whole, they each became illuminated by a kind of synthesized alchemical gold that was far more rich and fascinating than the sum of its parts. By generously expanding their own boundaries and making the boundaries of their perception soft and semi-transparent, by opening their inner windows and looking outward, they awakened the larger vision and the whole picture came to life and began to shine through them.
The analogy of the performer’s role and experience in relation to the challenge confronting any one of us is simply to say that the whole picture is there if we allow ourselves to see it – and whether or not we allow ourselves to see it makes all the difference in terms of whether or not the disparate threads woven together synthesize into a resonant whole, and whether or not they strike gold. The performer’s experience is also relevant in that a performer works not only with intellect and historical foundation, but also with body and with emotion. A vision of the whole is not something that can be merely intellectually conceived, it must be felt in order to be brought to fruition. In this way, it takes a whole human being to participate with a vision of a whole picture. This takes not just intelligence, but courage, intuition, and heart.
In conclusion, the project of synthesis is undeniable – it is implicit in the paradigms presented by the digital medium, by modern science, and by the questions that face the 21st century. It is my hope that cosine, its rheomode architecture and its alchemical process, can contribute to the scaffolding that will support such future efforts. It is my hope that cosine’s essential verb, its process of becoming, will continue, and that we all may continue to discover our wisdom as to what to do with the invitation.
c. Heather Raikes April 11, 2002
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Ms. Raikes is currently New Media Producer-In-Residence for Temple University’s School of Communications and Theater, 2000-2003 (Philadelphia, PA). As Producer-In-Residence, Ms. Raikes founded the Temple University New Media Performance Laboratory, of which she is Director; and the New Media Interdisciplinary Concentration in the School of Communications and Theater, of which she is Co-Director. Her projects at Temple have included multimedia performance seminars, new media courses, the development of a “broadband content network” designed to distribute original new media expressions via the Internet, as well as the 2001 production of cosine, which included collaborators from the schools of Architecture, Film & Media Arts, Theater, Music, Dance, Visual Art, Photography and New Media. cosine was produced at the Temple University New Media Performance Laboratory, and in New York at HEREArt Mainstage.
In 1998, Ms. Raikes founded Harakti Multimedia, and created its first production, Sine, which was performed at Clark Studio Theater, New York, in May, 1999. Since then, she has been exploring and developing different aspects of The Wave, which is scheduled for completion in Summer, 2002.
Prior to The Wave, Ms. Raikes performed with the Erick Hawkins Dance Company, dancing classic repertory works at such venues as The Joyce Theater, American Dance Festival, and Jacob’s Pillow, while completing a Master’s Degree in Digital Multimedia from New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program in Tisch School of the Arts. She also participated as a founding partner in several innovative media/synthesis ventures, including creative Web development company Media Farm, and performance collective Gemini in collaboration with veteran Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company member Daniel Russell Kubert.
Her work has been presented via such venues as HEREArt, The Temple University New Media Performance Laboratory, Aaron Davis Hall, Clark Studio Theater, Red Dive Artists’ Collective/The Tenement Museum, Rutgers University, The Wagon Train Project, The Lied Center for the Performing Arts, and Word.com.