.. devolve into II .. [Peter Courtemanche]

Notes and Project Overview

by Peter Courtemanche

.. devolve into II ..

Produced and directed by Peter Courtemanche and Roberto Paci Dalò, © 2002

Commissioned by ORF Kunstradio (Vienna).
Supported by the Western Front Society (Vancouver).

".. devolve into II .." is an international network streaming project that mixes audio and image streams within an installation space. The project has several components and manifestations that are facilitated by mediums of exchange - audio streams, web-cams, radio broadcasts, publications, objects, mail-art, installation, and performance. The work is interdisciplinary. It is informed by many regional and global artistic practices that use sound, video, sculpture, movement, the page, physical interventions, and social gatherings.

The piece involves contributions from Peter Courtemanche and Lori Weidenhammer (Vancouver), Roberto Paci Dalò (Rimini), Kim Dawn and Scott Russell (Vancouver), Markus Decker and Ushi Reiter (Wien), Andrew Garton (Melbourne), Ken Gregory (Winnipeg), Emilia Telese and Tim Mark Didymus (Brighton), Wolfgang Temmel (Wies, Steiermark), and Fujui Wang (Taipei).

The contributing artists have all done extensive work with digital audio, radio art, and visual practice. They include electro-acoustic composers, sound artists, performance artists, and video and film-makers. Although the nature of the individual contributions varies, there are some common ideas among the artists. These include ideas of mapping, place, and transformation. These ideas aren't directly connected to real places, but exist in a conceptual landscape - sometimes a dream, often a visualization of the network or the technology that is used to create the work. Fujui Wang (Taipei) calls this place the "unknown digital landscape" - a place that we explore when we capture our materials (sounds and images), process them and send them into the network.

As a collaboration between artists, ".. devolve into II .." was inspired by earlier Kunstradio projects including Immersive Sound (negotiating live audio streams in Bregenz, Austria, 1998) and Sound Drifting (generative audio streams at Ars Electronica, 1999). ".. devolve into (I) .." was produced for Kunstradio and Musikprotokoll in Graz, October 2000. The piece was a prototype for a larger system and featured the work of Vancouver artists Shawn Chappelle, Joelle Ciona, Peter Courtemanche, and Lori Weidenhammer.

".. devolve into II .." is informed by the history of telecommunication art - work that uses the media of communications to provoke exchange, build networks of artists, and engage in discourse around the role of global networks in culture (either electronic networks or groups of artists who communicate and collaborate across distance through travel, mail-art, and other forms of dissemination).

Using the telephone line as its basis, telecommunications art has explored sound, music, slo-scan video, conferencing, the fax, and the modem. Works produced for this medium have often been process based, live, and with long-distance collaborative elements. Informed by the idea of real-time exchange over distance, ".. devolve into II .." works with streams on the Internet - the broadcast of audio and image in a text based network. The images are presented as a slide show or slo-scan (as opposed to a "moving picture" or video) - thus referring to early methods of sending images over telephone lines.

Much of the streaming work that exists on the Internet requires the audience to extend their imaginations - to fill in the blanks where the connection fails or the bandwidth doesn't allow for an accurate representation of the sound or image. To create work for this medium, the artists become involved in this process of break-down or breaking signals.

The ".. devolve into II .." web-site provides a central point of gathering and exchange. It follows the streams when they are active and sleeping. It makes recordings - saving excerpts of the work to disk. And it provides a mechanism for the artists to recycle and re-mix these recordings within their individual pieces.

The title - "devolve" - refers to the process of change or alteration that takes place when something in the analog world is digitized - compressed - stored - moved - copied - transmitted - decompressed - and turned back into a physical object (in the form of light waves and sound pressure). Regardless of the process, the material that has been pushed through the Internet is ultimately different than the original.

".. devolve into II .." imagines a point in the future when a significant amount of digital information will become "old" - it will have been copied, restored from damaged originals, altered in an attempt to make "old" ideas "contemporary", etc ..

This idea is referred to in the on-site work - "Cadillac Desert". This is an installation piece that feeds on the web streams and develops an exchange between the physical gallery space and virtual locations. This installation work is also intended as a conceptual departure point for the streaming components. The generative installation software was developed by Peter Courtemanche. The software mixes sound and images from different net-cast streams broadcast by the contributing artists. The result is projected into the space to create an immersive environment that develops an exchange between the physical exhibition space and the virtual locations that exist on four different continents (Australia, Asia, North America, and Europe).

The inspiration and conceptual basis for this work comes from a story by Howard V. Hendrix called "The Music of What Happens". Within this story, Hendrix refers to a book entitled "Cadillac Desert" by American journalist Marc Reisner. In the book within a book, the protagonist is a park superintendent who wants to photograph Yosemite park in minute detail, publish the photographs all over the United States, and then (with the beauty duly recorded and documented) build a dam and flood the valley for a massive irrigation project. This idea returns with Hendrix's character - a billionaire who buys Yosemite Park and hires a leading media artist of the day to record it using virtual reality technology.

"Cadillac Desert" deals with the idea of the capitalist who catalogues (or "makes virtual") the beauty of the wilderness shortly before destroying it for commercial gain. It questions the role of media providing an excuse for ignoring our physical surroundings. Once an environment has been copied into the virtual domain, Man's sense of responsibility for the physical starts to falter.

The piece refers to the virtual, ideas of public versus private, and the connection to the physical places from which the electronic content is derived. Inside the installation, the viewer moves within a rendition of the artist's house. This house is idealized and extended into the electronic domain.

Within the walls, windows, and other spaces of the structure there are places where the outside world enters - in the form of net-cast images and sounds from remote locations. The streams that arrive at the installation site are merged within the house and sent back to their origin. The viewer is able to see the difference between the immediate on-site environment and the remote content. There is a sense of exchange and communication between nodes in the network.

The work has been shown in different versions for installation, radio, and performance in Vancouver, Vienna, and the ZKM in Karlsruhe Germany.

(Peter Courtemanche, May 2003)

List of time based events to-date:

January 17th, 2002 (24 Hours)
Art's Birthday net-cast exchange at the Western Front, Vancouver.

March 5 - 24, 2002
Lori Weidenhammer's on-line diary during the on-site events.

March 8, 2002 (10 am PST to 4 pm PST)
A virtual on-line preview of the installation stream mixer.

March 17, 2002 (11:05 pm CET - 12:00 pm CET)
Oesterreich 1 and Radio Oesterreich International.
Kunstradio Live radio version in conjunction with the on-site installation in Vienna.
From studio RP4, Vienna Broadcasting house.

March 18-20, 2002
An immersive installation at the Klangtheater (Sound-theater), Radiokulturhaus, Vienna.

March 23, 2002 (7 pm CET)
Intermedium 2 in Karlsruhe - performance in the Kubus of the ZKM.

March 24, 2002 (11:00 pm CET, 20 minutes)
Bayern2Radio/ hr2 /WDR 3/ Oe1/ NordwestRadio/ SR2.
Intermedium 2 - radio broadcast (mix from the Klangtheater installation in Vienna).

March 31, 2002 (11:05 pm CET - 12:00 pm CET)
Oesterreich 1 and Radio Oesterreich International.
Kunstradio radio broadcast (mix from the performance at Intermedium 2).

April 21, 2002 (9:30 pm PST)
Link*Age, Vancouver New Music Festival
A performance at E-lounge at the Video In Studios in Vancouver.