PHD PROJECT - ARRAY INFINITIVE
GESTURAL AUDIO-VISUALS IN VR
GROUP ALTERED STATE EXPERIENCE
Emeritus Professor David Toop
Professor Sarah Smith
Array Infinitive is a practice-based research project that examines audio-visuals and audience experience in virtual reality art practice. This PhD investigates the ways in which art performance in virtual reality (VR) affects and impacts an audience, and to what degree the audience is aware of the live setting whilst immersed in the virtual space. This studio-led work draws upon ambient audio and colourful VR visuals generated, processed, and ‘played’ via gesture to a locally networked audience. Acting as researcher, lead artist, composer and performer throughout this project, I used hand gestures and bodily movements to create sounds and VR particle trails, which broadcast to audience VR headsets in real time. The development of this content for live performance was established and tested in a variety of settings, including both public-facing interactions and controlled research studies.
The aim of this project was to create an altered state of consciousness (ASC) experience through ambient soundscapes and mesmeric VR visuals, which could then be studied to determine if the audience had an awareness that ‘the instrument’, by which I mean sonified and visualised VR-responsive gestures, was controlled by a human. In addition, I have examined and reconfigured the architecture of spectatorship through what I have termed the ‘hybrid-audience’, when Array Infinitive was shown to a mixed crowd, which included observers both in and out VR as part of the same collective.
Methodologically, to understand audience experience in the context of this project, I undertook case studies, research studies and field work to investigate response by way of impact of VR audio-visuals, ASC reaction and gestural performance as a form of instrumentation in VR. This research took place through the Glasgow School of Art with supervision team: Francis McKee (Director, CCA Glasgow), Dr. Marianne Greated (Dept of Fine Art), Ronan Breslin (Dept of Simulation & Visualisation) and Dr James Hutchinson (Fine Art Critical Studies). To measure ASC I utilised the MODTAS and 11D-ASC questionnaires and was advised by Dr David Luke of Greenwich University and Breaking Convention.
This PhD research project builds upon important contributions to the field of performance research and the notion of 'enchantment' presented by Erika Fischer-Lichte, regarding theatre and performance as a spatial, embodied event: something which has energy and sensation. As well as Fischer-Lichte’s exploration of ‘enlivening’ a room into a performance space, live action also widens potentials in perception, according to Fischer-Lichte and expands the relationship between performer and audience. The Transformative Power of Performance (2008) by Fischer-Lichte was a foundational reference. Throughout this research I intended to activate dual spatial planes, both of virtual and real-world dimensions; to create a group experience and to explore affect by way of live audio-visuals. Maaike Bleeker's 'Bodymind' (2022), Shi Ke's, Embodiment and Disembodiment in Live Art (2020), Mieke Bal's Endless Andness (2013) and Jonathan Weinel's Inner Sound, Altered States of Consciousness in Electronic Music and Audio-Visual Media (2019) were also relevant texts for this research. In addition, essays and published papers such as 'An inventory of shimmers' (Gregg & Seigworth, 2010) and 'Group VR experiences can produce ego attenuation and connectedness comparable to psychedelics' (Glowacki, 2022) were also referential material for the thesis. Array Infinitive takes inspiration and reference from many artists who work with a variety of media such as Ann Veronica Janssens, Haroon Mirza, Rashaad Newsome, Hilma af Klint, James Turrell, Jacolby Satterwhite, Pauline Oliveros, Éliane Radigue and Catherine Yass: artists that make work which is less about what it ‘means’ and more about what it ‘does’.
As a result of the Array Infinitive project, it has been ascertained that the fully immersed VR participants were not cognisant that the audio-visuals were being conducted by a human or that it was happening in real-time within their physical environment. The cybernetic is present in this performance piece, through a corporeal, biological conduit, which does not utilise algorithms or artificial intelligence to generate content. The majority of test subjects could not distinguish or innately recognise that the shared AV experience was being driven by a person, and as part of a live proceeding. Furthermore, this project was studied as part of an expanded form of spectatorship, which reconsiders the audience framework and allows room for paradox within a collective event: a multidimensional encounter that deliberately involves isolation, solidarity as well as heterogeneous subject positions and realities simultaneously.
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4 Person Full VR Experience, mockup.
Larger Group Experience Hybrid-Audience Performance, mockup.
Participatory Experience, Spectators become Performers, mockup.
Happy to have shared the airwaves with Radiophrenia 2023 and collaborated with Tom Mudd, who did vocal processing. Array Infinitive as a radio project. Multidimensional in a new format = audio-visual performance in VR to an audience listening through radio stream.
Info about the broadcast:
Colour Organ Cycles, Environment as a Drone
The transmission combined, for the first time, vignettes of speech inspired by Margaret Tait's film Colour Poems; a meditation on Scotland’s changing landscape in the form of short quotes and passages from locals interspersed with live ambient improvisation, created through real-time gestures in the studio. The broadcast referencd Oliveros' humanitarian intentions with listening and 'sonic energy' as she defined it, reconfiguring the subject / object, performer / audience relationship, triggering auditory fantasy, memory and healing.
Array Infinitive was installed in the Glasgow Project Room in November 2022. During this time I experimented with a new participatory version of this work, letting audience take turns in the host VR headset which controls the audio-visuals. In addition here we had colourful visual lighting fx, haze machines and a full sound bath collaboration with Glasgow Sound Bath, which I also co-run on Monday evenings. Special thanks to the University of Glasgow Psychedelic Society for taking part and for all the visitors who came down.
The public beta for this project was at the Centre for Contemporary Art Glasgow. This was directly after the first official research study which took place in the CCA Intermedia Lab. Film below by Paradax Period.
On Tuesday 26th July 2022 at Iklectik London three artists presented a night of innovative work and research into technology, performance, film and sound. Anna Nazo, Josefina Camus and Leslie Deere presented major new projects that explore live audio-visuals, AI, VR and moving image through practice-based research. AI generated poetry with CGI brainwaves, an ambisonic VR colour/sound bath, and an autoethnographic film navigating the coastal forest of Valdivia, Chile with live feed from South America.