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Songs of Sorrow, Songs of Hope - Background Information

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In July, 2001 I met with Professor John Gilbert (NYU), Tom Beyer (technical director at NYU) and John Crawford (videoartist, Canada) in the Greenwich Village section of New York City to discuss collaborating on a multimedia Internet 2 performance between University of California, Irvine and New York University. The performance would incorporate the participation of Luigi Vierni of the Design Institute, John Craword of electricFX. We set November 29th as the performance date. Following the September 11th terrorist attacks, we reconsidered the theme of the project and John Gilbert, sent this message to our planning listserve:

"The events of September 11th have shaken us quite profoundly and created new sensibilities that we are just now beginning to process. In light of that, Dinu Ghezzo mentioned to me that he felt that our multimedia event should be shaped in a new context, and we will start to orient our narrative in that direction. Any ideas, text, visuals you have in mind should be shared with us on the listserve. We were just in the midst of scheduling a meeting to examine narrative and content when the attack on the World Trade Center took place. We lost almost a week and in some cases maybe more because even though we were back in our classrooms and offices, the wold had changed and we had changed. For me, I found it difficult to focus and to concentrate and each time I walk from the Education Building south on La Guardia Place I look at the gaping hole where the Twin Towers once stood in a kind of modern majesty. Now there is only the smoke that continues to rise from the smoldering ruins that serve as a marker for so many dead and lost. Fires continue to burn far underground. Rescue workers refuse to give in to the reality of the enormous calamity that has befallen us.

And yet there is a strong, gentle quality that I have seen in the vigils in Washington Square Park and at Union Square. A quality that says I am there for you and you are there for me. People have slowed down and seem to regard each other with a new sense of worth. We feel the vulnerability of our humanity and we feel the unio of our spirit and sensibility. We all have suffered a loss. The buildings themselves seem like they were part of our family, they were proud and beautiful. Now they are gone and the visible loss of their structures reminds us of the even greater loss of human life.

All of us have stories to tell of our sense of loss, of our outrage, and our wish to make meaning out of chaos and destruction. Order has exploded into disorder, life into death, security into fear, and yet we know that this time has made and is making many heroes of a different character than we have thought of in the past...heroic deeds spring from the common desire to help one another...to place others above ourselves... For a moment we pause as we consider how fragile and brief our encounter with life appears to be...and I think we each find something new in understanding who and what we are."

As a "transplated" New Yorker now living in California, I wished to return to New York and be with family, friends, and to help in families of the victims. But then there was work to be done at here, at UC, Irinve. Then I realized how lucky we were to be working on an Internet 2 project ...and what better time to to really try "being there for you". In response to the events, I altered my teaching and involved graduate students who were enrolled in my Dance and Digital Technology course into the process of making the Internet 2 performance piece. The dancers would take on a three-fold assignment: work with still images to create collage images revealing and concealing aspects of themselves, direct and shoot 60 video sequences of choreographed phrases of approximatey 20 seconds each, choreograph for each of the sections planned for the program. The dancers worked intensely on the integration of still imagery (use of flags in the collage, candles, symbols of spiritual connection) structured improvisation, music and technology during the Fall quarter, including session where we would test the VBrick hardware connections with our NYU participants. Out of this work with computer-based technology and choreography a new performance dance groupemered, UCI Dance and Digital Performance Ensemble.

One of the visual threads running through the NYU-UCI Internet 2 performance is "The Machine Meeting Its Reflection". This concept of the machine meeting its reflection was a significant source of inspiration for the dancers and consists of a number of short animation sequences that originated with video clips of the dancers taken in rehearsal. The video imagery was created by John Crawford in collaboration with the UCI Dance and Digital Performance Ensemble and myself. Crawford used computer graphics techniques to transform these clips, creating imagistic animations where the movement of the dancers intertwines with shifting shapes and colors abstracted from a series of national flags. There are 88 flags, symbolizing the 88 countries that lost citizens in the September 11 tragedy. The image processing involved is called "displacement mapping" where a dancer becomes the force field that distorts the flag...the warping and twisting is based on the dancer's movment. John and I agreed that a flag, an abstract image, would be used as a base for visual exploration and what we wanted to have key touch phrases that we agreed on would be used as inspiration. The video material was also used as a way of collaborating on a level that was not solely technological. The phrase, the machine meeting its reflection" is about the recurring image of the airplanes crashing into the World Trade Center...its reflection in the windows...the plane seeing / meeting its own reflection...but it is more than this...the reflection of technology, the disaster and the power of technology bouncing back on us and effecting us.

The Machine Meeting Its Reflection is designed to be played live on computer during the performance, through a process of selecting the sequence and timing of the imagery in response to sound and images from other performers. The resulting imagery is projected simultaneously on stage at NYU and UCI.

In the weeks following September 11th, composer and Artistic Director at the NYU site, Dinu Ghezzo wrote:

"We live some extraordinary moments, somehow trivialized by the overrepitition of every imaginable form of media. If we are going to pay tribute to all who disappeared, and all who transformed this enormous disaster into an extraordinary display of human nobility, then we have to find a very different and very personal approach. Before anything, I ask every participant to reflect and react in your most personal and most profound way to a very special moment in our lives. We all changed, but we don't know yet either the dimension nor the direction of this change. Can we reflect on this and try to define it? ... symbolisms, flashbacks, transformed recalls from our photograpic member...colors, shapes, anything related to our new weeks, lives reshaped. ...Overlaps of artistic reactions, with no planned drama, just very sincere and deeply felt contributions. ...Overlaps of parallel and unrelated narration of poems, clips from papers, Union Square anonymous writings, our own photos, images, as a patchwork of humanity at its worst and at its best."

About the Technology:

I sought participation from the UC, Irvine Networking and Academic Computing Servies early in project planning (August, 2001). We needed to know the speed of our connection to the I2 and trace the 'last mile' stretch of network from there (UCI) to the performance space in terms of speed and bandwidth connection.

Internet 2 is still at a formative stage, expecially with regard to the arts. However, the institutions on Internet 2 that connect with each other generally use I2 as the priority channel as long as the traffic permits...otherwise the regular internet channels are followed. Apparently most institutions on I2 have this policy. If an event is designated as an I2 event by participating institutions, then they work on prioritizing the channel and bandwidth for the event.

On Wednesday, November 21st at approximately 6:00 p.m. fiber optic networking was installed in the School of the Arts, Winnifred Smith Concert Hall. At the time I was rehearsing with the dancers, technical Director, Mike Miller was setting up equipment and John Crawford had just finished demonstrating the flag animations to the dancers.

Response from Colleagues:

One of the greatest pleasures of this collaboration is to discover such extraordinary levels of artistry and musicianship of our colleagues in California. The musicians are inventive and creative....the choreography and dancing is inspired, and the imagery is astonishingly vivid and sensitive. The technical commitment has required extensive hours and testing on all levels...from the music mixes, the video exchanges, and of course, the incredible accomplishments of the Internet II technicians who have helped to elevate the technical applications to establish creative and artistic input. Every person is contributing uniquely to this production which is really quite unlike any other event.

In New York we have made discoveries of colleagues and friends and their special talents...our collaboration with European Institute of Design, which began with Aeneas and served as an impetus to extend that project through Internet collaboration, has brought fresh energies to our own process...and the interaction with UCI has deepened that process with added layers of significance.
Tonight's performance will come out of the moment and will be uniquely shaped. The spontaneity and vivid immediacy reflects the origins of our conception as September 11th caused us to veer away from our Aeneas theme in order to find a framework to creatively respond to the tragedy of 9-11-01. It is a source of inspiration to me to see such heartfelt expression and a willingness to take enormous risks artistically and aesthetically. Last night I saw a vision of what we could become as opportunities of collaboration and creative expression become more available and more frequent.
Thanks to everyone!!!
..john g
Dr. John V. Gilbert
Program Director of Music Education
Director of Doctoral Studies
Department of Music and Performing Arts Professions
The Steinhardt School of Education
New York University