BIFEM: Ensemble Vortex, Kinecticut

Vortex Ensemble
Bendigo International Festival of Contemporary Music
Bendigo Art Gallery
7:00pm, 5 September

Daniel Zea’s Kinecticut is “a sonorous choreography played by three or four naked dancer-musicians in front of their laptops” or, from the audience’s perspective, behind their laptops, which illuminate their bodies in glorious short-wavelength blue light. It is the sort of lighting most commonly experienced in private, but is here used in an exploration of the relationship between bodies and technology, a fitting complement to the Bendigo Art Gallery’s exhibition of Ancient Greek art, The Body Beautiful.

Each performer follows a score of movements that appears on their screen. The choreography is then captured by X-Box Kinect cameras. The position of different limbs determines different characteristics of the sound including envelopes and filters. Volume is controlled by the amount of the field of computer-vision occupied by the body. the sounds being controlled are banal enough, Zea’s sound palette moving through prickling grains, seething waves and electronic bleeps. An artificial voice occasionally offers snatches of text referring to social relations and digital technologies.

The performance was beautiful: Ensemble Vortex appeared as moving statues in the middle of the Bendigo Art Gallery, appropriately placed in front of four of Bill Henson’s less controversial photographs.  However,  the conceptual conceit of the work soon wears thin. As the composer writes, “[t]he musical instrument thus becomes the distance between the body and the machine: the space of relation between the man and the computer. The dialogue is composed of the choice of the movements of the man and, on the part of the machine, some temporal and verbal impositions. The man and the machine are actor and spectator, active and passive at the same time. The supremacy of the one over the other is not established or determined.” But it is determined, as was laid bare (no pun intended) when one performer’s laptop malfunctioned at the beginning of the performance. In what I think was an admirable decision, he would not touch the computer himself, but waited for another performer to intervene. What that event showed was that, ultimately, our relationship with machines is completely one-way. We program them, switch them off and switch them on. Only in very special sci-fi scenarios can a machine turn off a human. Perhaps more pointedly, Kinecticut shows that our relationship to technology is contractual. We decide to be drawn, sometimes naked, to them like moths. Perhaps the more important question is whether this contractuality pertains to our relationship to other parts of our society: to politics, class and gender. They can break down, yes. But which of these things can we switch off?

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