Can a temporal artwork involve compositional participation from an audience member?
One potential avenue for audience participation is Stochastic Art: non-deterministic procedures within predetermined structures.
This has been done in performing (though perhaps not in “listening to”) music, but it has not yet been done – to my knowledge – in viewing cinema (though, PolarisDiB mentioned here that Sans Soleil is available on interactive CD-Rom; I have not seen this yet).
First example: String Quartet No. 1 by Krzysztof Penderecki
Normally, musical time is written with predetermined rhythmic structures and relationships within “bars” – for example, a “whole” bar can be divided up into: a “half” note followed by two “eighth” notes and finishing with a “quarter” note.
i.e. 1/2 + 1/8 +1/8 +1/4 = 1 whole bar.
In Penderecki’s quartet, each bar is instead assigned a time length of 1 second. In other words, each instrumentalist performs the written notes at their own rhythmic leisure, but within the predetermined parameter of 1 second.
Second Example: Metastasis by Iannis Xenakis
This is a better example of an artist utilising Stochastic techniques in a wider structural sense. Xenakis uses the Fibonacci sequence and the Golden Ratio for structuring sections of his artwork, but in-between these sections specific pitches and rhythmic values are not precisely notated in a traditional temporal sense, even if we are given a “graph” indicating the general texture and pitch values (see the embedded video for the score).
From Wikipedia: While most traditional compositions depend on strictly measured time for the progress of the line, using an unvarying tempo, time signature, or phrase length, Metastasis changes intensity, register, and density of scoring, as the musical analogues of mass and energy. It is by these changes that the piece propels itself forward: the first and third movements of the work do not have even a melodic theme or motive to hold them together, but rather depend on the strength of this conceptualization of time.
I think that audience participation may have the potential to expand the cinematic medium into a new and different language, so long as it remains within controlled environments with specific options and purposes from the artist, in a structural sense, with a kind of “blueprint” guideline designed by the artist.
I know that the above musical examples are not “performed” by an audience, but by performers. What I am talking about is less to do with large public audiences and more to do with “single” private audiences i.e. a single person watching a film at home on the computer or television. In such circumstances, artists may have the unique opportunity for creating films which involve individual audience participation and interactivity in how a film is “played out” i.e. in how we individually perceive a film in temporal terms.
To take the Xenakis example, a filmmaker could potentially give a “rough” outline, or a “blueprint” for how their film is to be played out in time, leaving an audience member with a license to navigate the film at their own leisure within specific predetermined paramenters for artistic and aesthetic purposes.
Do you think that audience participation would be possible to achieve in cinema, and if so, how do you think it could be done effectively without seeming like a gimmick?
Or, do you think that such a process would destroy the fabric of what makes an artwork an artwork, a film a film?
Thanks for the link Gloria, I’d not heard of that film before.
It is a bit different to what I was trying to get at, though.
I’m not so much interested in an audience participation which chooses the direction of the plot and story (like a “choose your own adventure”); I’m more interested in techniques such as Stochastic or Aleatoric time outlined above which could have the potential to subtlety alter one’s perception of an existing story structured by the artist, and thus elicit poetic feelings which could potentially “colour” or “flavour” the expression of a story or narrative.
“Can a temporal artwork involve compositional participation from an audience member?”
Immediately makes me think of 4’22" by John Cage.
Yes, John Cage is famous for using Aleatoric elements in his compositions, and for “challenging” the notion of what makes a composition a composition. I studied one of his pieces with written notation a few years ago but I can’t think of its name off the top of my head, though I do remember it involving performer participation in making various structural decisions from a range of options.
There are quite a few composers who utilise these sort of techniques, I’ve only limited myself to a couple of examples.
Third example: Workers Union by Louis Andriessen
Performers decide the instrumentation and specific pitches, whilst the short, robust rhythmic cells are precisely notated by Andriessen. The composition is structured into various sections, and each section is to be repeated a set number of times by each instrumentalist. The resultant aesthetic is meant to evoke an angry workers union protest or some such thing.
Again, this musical example is not “performed” by an audience, but by performers. And so what I’d like to discuss within the realms of cinema is less to do with large public audiences and more to do with “single” private audiences watching a film at home on the computer or television.
Other composers such as György Ligeti and Steve Reich have explored “time phasing” and “micropolyphony” techniques in manipulating time, but these techniques do not involve the kinds of audience participation I’d like to discuss.
“Do you think that audience participation would be possible to achieve in cinema, and if so, how do you think it could be done effectively without seeming like a gimmick?”
Coppola had suggested something somewhat like this with his most recent film Twixt, tinkering with the idea of doing roadshows with the film during which he would perform live, on-the-fly editing of the film with an iPad app—the idea being to “tweak” the film based on audience responses:
“Gee, what I’d like do is go on tour and actually perform the film, a different version for each audience.’ In the old days, when the audience was loving what was happening, the conductor would [signal the orchestra] and they would do it again,” the director said. “Because cinema is now digital, no longer a long strip, they’re digital files. So if the director were there, they could essentially change what was happening. I could give you more of something you like. In a ten minute promo there’s not that much to work with, but in a whole movie…”
So if the director were there, they could essentially change what was happening. I could give you more of something you like.
Ah, now this would be interesting! The director as conductor, responding to the audience…
It also reminds me of the attitude of the Italian composer Giacinto Scelsi, who said that no piece of his music ought to be performed or listened to in the same way twice.
Though, there would still possibly be a kind of “choose your own adventure” flavour to it, though of course a bit different with the director in charge and with more nuanced changes possible (as opposed to changing entire scenarios and endings, etc), which is fine, but is just one avenue for exploration amongst others. I wonder how much footage one would have to shoot in order to have enough material to work with in “on-the-fly editing” roadshows? Presumably quite a lot for the sake of having enough variety in “tweaking” a feature film for its duration.
I always thought it’d be neat to “perform” a film live by remixing it on the fly, cutting back and forth between channels (or NOT cutting?) etc much like a DJ or electronic musician performs his work. I think Peter Greenaway had this idea a few years ago and it’s probably been done a number of times in some capacity. We certainly have the technology…
I always thought it’d be neat to “perform” a film live by remixing it on the fly, cutting back and forth between channels (or NOT cutting?) etc much like a DJ or electronic musician performs his work.
What we seem to be getting into now is improvisational performance, which reminds me of jazz too.
Jazz performers will play a composition within specific predetermined structures i.e. a “skeleton”, but will “flesh out the meat” by improvising solos and stretching/shrinking time, etc (apart from genres such as “Free Jazz”, which have no predetermined structures).
I think Peter Greenaway had this idea a few years ago and it’s probably been done a number of times in some capacity.
Yes, it’s probably been done here and there, even if it would be fairly obscure.
“This has been done in performing (though perhaps not in “listening to”) music, but it has not yet been done – to my knowledge – in viewing cinema (though, PolarisDiB mentioned here that Sans Soleil is available on interactive CD-Rom; I have not seen this yet).”
“I always thought it’d be neat to “perform” a film live by remixing it on the fly, cutting back and forth between channels (or NOT cutting?) etc much like a DJ or electronic musician performs his work.”
“What we seem to be getting into now is improvisational performance”
All of this already exists. If we were to generalize it, it would be called ‘projection art,’ and it exists in both interactive and improvisational form.
In fact I’m going to a showing tonight. A local group of punk/experimental filmmakers have been steadily collecting footage from decommissioned film processing companies across the United States, who have had over decades scores of unclaimed footage ranging from unaired television commercials, student works, personal home movies, and so on. As these companies have gone out of business they’ve literally just thrown this garbage in the garbage, to be reclaimed by the Basement Film folks for ‘curation’, their term for a variety of styles of projection. Half the time when they organize these events, they are unsure what the content of the footage may be — a family’s Christmas footage may suddenly be intercut with amateur pornography.
Varieties and styles and, significantly, structures vary depending on venue and whether someone gets an idea to try something; some of them have specific skillsets. One of the members owns the local movie theatre I’m always talking about, and so knows how to create looped projections set in such a way as to degrade over the course of the projection. Most of them just feed footage into a projector as fast as they can, and project two or more images at once, sometimes over each other or in some other structure. There was a medical documentary they once found that was meant to be projected over itself so that you could see the inner workings of muscles and such (animated) while a figure exercised and ate (live action). They mistimed it, so they used the mistiming to improvise and create ‘gaps’ and shadows in the projection for new effects.
Oftentimes they have musical accompaniment but this is never really necessary. Most of the time when they do have musical accompaniment, it is live and improvisational.
One of the members of the group did this really cool thing with her boyfriend’s help (both of them are my friends; her boyfriend has been my friend for over 20 years) where they took her car and coated the windows in a film to be projected on. Each window had its unique projector and so the audience ‘rode’ inside the ‘movie’ by getting in the car and looking out the windows. A tape deck played the score for the movie. Some ideas were thrown around about if there is some way she can replicate the experiment with more interactive elements, such as having the person in the driver seat command the footage’s speed and possibly even content with some of the operations of the car such as the gas pedal and such. That is for later.
When I was leaving the university over three years ago, the electronic arts department was experimenting quite a bit with dome projection and how to create more immersive environments and animations, as well as simply figuring out how to change narrative procedures when the eye isn’t confined to a horizon line. They were also experimenting with interactive projections through programs such as Maya and motion capture programs, where footage of for instance a panorama will tilt, pan, and zoom based on the movements of the person in a room in which the footage is projected.
Furthermore there are many Internet experiments being developed such as Mubi Garage’s own Ergodic Cinema Project where narratives are determined by an audience’s choice of linked content. This project has been silent lately but is still in production; four segments have been completed, two are nearly done (it is reported), a third is finding funding and if it does so, can possibly fund the rest. Nevertheless the hope is to get 13 interconnected sequences.
As I said, all of this is interesting to me. I still like the idea of “tradiotional” cinema as a piece of work viewed by an audience from start to finish. To me (and pretty much everyone else) cinema has to do with time and memory so playing the same film over and over seems like part of the art’s charm.
In any case, call me old fashioned, but “audience’s choice” is a phrase I tend to run away from. I’d never let an audience choose anything, especially on the fly.
Thanks for the info, PolarisDiB, there’s much for me to consider.
I think that I may have been a bit too vague with my primary interest (amongst others) for this thread, but on the other hand there’s probably not much more room for elucidating the idea, which is my problem to consider. Not that I’d necessarily be interested in pursuing the concept myself, but I’m certainly interested in imagining how it could possibly be accomplished on a technical level and with a unified aesthetic too i.e. not as a gimmick.
To be clear (I hope), my primary interest is not so much in audience participation which chooses the direction of the plot and story (like a “choose your own adventure”), nor is it even in “improvisational” cinema. I’m much more interested in a single audience member at home (on the computer or TV) who is given the ability to “stretch” or “shrink” or “reorganise” or “interpret” – in other words, to “navigate” – time within given set structures for aesthetic purposes, but only within a specific “blueprint” designed by the filmmaker.
The “car” idea and “electronic arts department” experiments are most interesting to me at the moment, but are still a bit different to what I am imagining I think. Of course, I’m not even convinced that what I am saying makes much sense on a technical, or even artistic, level; I’m just trying to explore potentials and possibilities in translating some musical ideas into cinematic ones.