New Islands: The “Manifold” of Performing Gestural Electronic Music

New Islands is an entwined, manifold, physical, sonic, gestural, electronic, mediated, yet immediate musical performance.

The performance’s main issues are presence, agency, and mediation. This manifests in an interwoven, complexly folded situation of physically performing with electronic sound processes and technological instruments. At stake are the relationships between the artist’s body, actions and affects connected to the resulting soundworld, abstract narrative, and the imagination triggered in the audience. This happens in the social situation of the concert space, the period shared in co-presence with the audience, by sharing the moment of shaping the sounds and the overall musical form.

The performance is tied to the key elements of the physical actions, the perceived intentionality and agency of the performer, yet also the invisible presence of the “machinic” agency, and the interaction and dialogue with the musical processes and structures. Algorithmic, rule-based processes are counterbalanced by a state of pre-reflective, intuitive “surfing” of the piece.

The stage situation represents an “island” in the flow of everyday life, which comes naturally for the audience but is equally true for the performing artist. The moment onstage represents the tip the iceberg, a singularity, a focal point, the compression moment of a practice that spans a considerably larger scope. This compression results in a “manifold,” a “fold,” and a “millefeuille” of elements that are infinitely entwined. Yet, given a beginning and an end in a performance, this multiplicity of elements becomes finite, at least in time, and can be perceived and experienced as a unified object, created and shared in the presence of the audience/viewers.

The metaphor of the “manifold,” a concept from abstract mathematics, serves to point toward a state of affairs where many dimensions intermingle, explode, and get wrapped and enfolded in such a way as to render nearly impossible the task of identifying, isolating, and evaluating the individual constituent parts; or at least it only permits approximations to singular exemplars of the experience in question.

This abstract model represents the multiplicities of implications, operational domains, and significances present in any musical performance situation, particularly when applied to non-predetermined or non-textual practices.

New Islands investigates a core question through “showing/doing”: whether and how the signifiers, act(ors/ants), and shifting scopes that get (re)present(ed) in the stage situation are organised hierarchically and how they represent a gridded cultural space; whether and how they embody a decentred, shifting, and enfolded web of relationships and strata that we are forced to continuously traverse in multi-perspectival, shifting perceptions.


Digital Folds, or Cinema’s Automated Brain

The digital etching of the film image brings forth what this image already contains in a virtual state. It submits the linear, discrete flow of space and time to a modulating wave that reconstitutes this flow as a new entity. The digital thus gives new birth to the cinema by extracting, intensifying, and thus liberating certain qualities that were repressed or concealed under the requirements of a classical epistemology.

My presentation will look at two digital experimental videos by multimedia artist Gregg Biermann, Magic Mirror Maze (2013) and Iterations (2014), respectively based on the films The Lady from Shanghai (Orson Welles, 1947) and Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954). I will consider these digital videos as instances of an algorithmic appropriation of cinema that is modelled on Leibniz/Deleuze’s concept of the fold and its fundamental double tendency towards continuation and differentiation. The foldings and unfoldings of film images in these works modulate an aesthetic structure that still is, and yet is no longer, cinematic. Through a combinatorial assemblage of images that breaks away from both classical and nonclassical forms of film editing, Magic Mirror Maze and Iterations part from the time-based figural expression that is cinema by carrying to a literal extreme the pursuit of the time-image: to make peaks of present and sheets of past coexist in a single image.

Applying rigorous algorithmic modulations that seem to resonate immanently with the aesthetic and conceptual principles of their respective films, these videos carry out a double, indivisible process—on the one hand splitting the self-contained film shots, on the other hand forcing into these split images a temporality of impossible simultaneity. This new temporality of simultaneous wholeness suggests a possibility that is also characteristic of Leibniz’s monad: the expression of the whole within the singular.

Algorithmic modulations are programmed in advance and applied to the film from the outside, and yet, once this programme has been entered, human intervention is at an end, and the automated code is left to do its work on and with the images in ways that are entirely autonomous and indeterminate. The digital code paradoxically releases a multiplicity of images in a state of continuous variation and immanent modulation. Transitions from moment to moment are almost imperceptible, yet they ceaselessly arise from the trajectory formed by the images themselves.

It is in the inherent capacity of moving images to bind time and affect together that we can identify the unique ability of cinema to liberate and intensify affective potentialities. But the digital can go further in some respects. As opposed to the arborised paradigms of editing identified with classical and disjunctive styles in cinema, the serialised, algorithmic style of digital composition preserves the chaoid states of the brain and precludes the formation of familiar paths of recognition. When following a logic of experimentation, the digital appropriation of cinema performs with exactitude the task that Deleuze assigns to art: to give rise to a composed, sensory chaos, a materiality that is synonymous with sensation.