Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Machinima in the Making

The Avatar Orchestra and its extended family has been busy rehearsing and preparing for a machinima of Rotating Brains / Beating Heart, the mixed reality work originally made as a collaboration between  Stelarc, Pauline OliverosFranziska Schroeder, Tina Pearson and members of the Avatar Orchestra Metaverse for a premiere at Brunel University in the UK.

Pyewacket, Free, North, Stelarc, Gumno and others on location.
Photo by Yael Gilks (Fau Ferdinand)
This is the most complex project of the Orchestra to date and involves the coming together of global multi-disciplinary team living in six timezones and three continents.

Artist, videographer and Soup Radio host Steve Millar (Arahan Claveau) is filming and editing the machinima from London, England. Steve / Arahan also operated the Second Life camera for the UK mixed reality premiere of Rotating Brains / Beating Heart.

Second Life curator and artist Ze Moo has also been assisting with the project from Amsterdam, Netherlands, as has Yael Gilks (Fau Ferdinand) from London. Yael is an artist and co-curator of the Second Life Odyssey Contemporary Art and Performance Simulator.
Videographer Arahan Claveau (aka Steve Millar)
on location at RMIT
The machinima will present a virtual reality version of Rotating Brains / Beating Heart that focuses on the performance of avatars and automatons within Stelarc's giant brain and heart installation located at the RMIT simulator in Second Life.

The automatons, operated by Stelarc (Stelarc Luic) and his associate Daniel Mounsey (Pyewacket Kazyanenko), both operating from Melbourne, Australia, were created by Pyewacket to perform a series of animations and make the sounds of a robotic arm. Text particles, also created by Pyewacket, float through the installation and the performance, while the rotating brains and beating heart contain performing and tech avatars (hidden) respectively.

The collaboration has inspired the development of innovative audio-visual instrument design and developed the practice and skill of Avatar Orchestra performers, who each manage simultaneous sound, visual and movement controls in tight formation throughout the piece.

AOM avatars and USA - based Pauline Oliveros (Free Noyes) perform with a collection of new instruments made by AOM members Andreas Mueller (Bingo Onomatopoeia) in Regensburg Germany, Norman Lowrey (North Zipper) in Madison New Jersey and Tim Risher (Flivelwitz Alsop) in Durham North Carolina.

Stelarc (Stelarc Luic) with robotic arm on location
at RMIT in Second Life. Photo Sachiko Hayashi
One of the exciting developments for this work is a "mixer" interface, designed by Norman Lowrey at the request of Pauline Oliveros for her performance in the piece. The 9-channel Drone Mixer contains nine looped drone sounds:

-- The drone (D4) from Pauline's virtual reality piece Heart of Tones, also made for AOM;
-- The amplified alpha brain waves of Pauline and composer Alvin Lucier vibrating percussion instruments from a performance of Lucier's 1965 piece "Music for Solo Performer" (incidentally, this was the first known work in history to to use brain waves to make sound);
-- Brain wave sounds recorded by Stelarc during one of his robotic arm performances;
-- Saxophone multiphonics played by Franziska Schroeder;
-- Inhaled and exhaled vocal sounds from Viv Corringham and Tina Pearson.
The 9-channel mixer, as seen in the photo, has a volume slider that allows for increasing amplitude settings for each individual drone. The mixer appears as a HUD interface on the computer screen of its operator. The sound is emitted by invisible "receivers" located in each of the five brains in the installation - 9 drone receivers per brain.

HUD instruments used by AOM and Pauline Oliveros (Free Noyes)
L-R Womb HUD; Thump HUD; 9-channel Drone Mixer;
AOM animation HUD; Five Brain mixer.
The 9-channel Drone Mixer is but one of the many audio-visual and animation instruments designed specifically for this collaboration. Others include a Five Brain mixer (also made by Norman), used to control the rotation speed, transparency-opacity levels and sound volume of the five giant brains in the installation.

Another is the Thump instrument, built by Andreas Mueller from a concept by Tina Pearson and containing samples of his daughter's in-womb heart beat in increasing frequencies and rhythmic patterns. This instrument also contains the processed sounds of Tim Risher's circulation system, and intricately crafted samples from Andreas' vast field recorded collection of mechanical scrapings, whirrings and clicks.

Completing the instrument set is the Womb instrument, with sine tone samples by Tina Pearson (Humming Pera) tuned to the harmonic series of 50hz and 60 Hz (up to the 25th and 29th harmonic respectively) and constructed into a HUD by Andreas Mueller. Each instrument's controls appear on the screen of its operators, and include variables for particle emission and volume.

"Rotating Brains / Beating Heart is one of the most important and exciting mixed reality performances that I've ever witnessed."
- Steve Millar (aka Arahan Claveau)

AOM animations for the piece were made by Tim Risher to keep the avatars off the "floor" of the installation, and able to float in subtle vertical movements; or to traverse in larger distances through the virtual space while the avatars are emitting sounds and particles. And finally, Pauline Oliveros' avatar Free Noyes floats in horizontal geometric patterns in and out of the central giant heart above the other performers - achieved with an animation instrument designed by Norman Lowrey.

Giant brains with sounds and particles emitting. Particles from
images of amoebas. Designed by Norman Lowrey.

The performance of Rotating Brains / Beating Heart is not possible without the careful participation of time keepers. Following a 30-minute score by Tina Pearson (see below) while operating animations, sounds and visuals within a constantly transforming environment is not an easy thing. The performers owe a debt of thanks to Dennis Moser, the original time keeper for the premiere performance of the piece, and Leif Inge (Gumnosophistai Nurmi) in Oslo Norway and Brenda Hutchinson (Groucho Parx) in San Francisco for holding the time during the making of the machinima.
Rotating Brains / Beating Heart
score by Tina Pearson (Humming Pera)

Lovely Avatar Orchestra performers participating in this project include

Bingo Onomatopoeia, aka Andreas Müller (Regensburg, Germany)
BlaiseDeLaFrance Voom, aka Biagio Francia (Agropoli, Italy)
Carolhyn Wijaya, aka Carolyn Oakley (Boulder, Colorado, USA)
Flivelwitz Alsop, aka Tim Risher, (Durham, North Carolina, USA)
Free Noyes, aka Pauline Oliveros (Kingston, NY, USA)
Gargamel Frequency, aka Peter Wong (San Francisco/Oakland, CA, USA)
Groucho Parx, aka Brenda Hutchinson (San Francisco/Brooklyn, USA)
Gumnosophistai Nurmi, aka Leif Inge (Oslo, Norway)
Humming Pera, aka Tina M. Pearson (Victoria, BC, Canada)
North Zipper, aka Norman Lowrey (New Jersey, USA)
Paco Mariani, aka Chris Wittkowsky (Regensburg, Germany)
Pow Zero, aka Ryan Ross Smith (Berkeley, CA, USA)
Saara Edring, aka Seidi Palonen (Helsinki, Finland)
Zonzo Spyker, aka Viv Corringham (Minneapolis, MN, USA / London, UK)

Stay tuned for updates about the Rotating Brains / Beating Heart machinima, and about the soon to be released AOM Heart of Tones machinima made by videographer Brigit Lichtenegger (Evo Szuyuan) of Creative Machinery in Rotterdam.