We believe that electronic audiovisual arts still demand great experimentation and further insight into their fundamental search. Flaxus is a field work, a statement that privileges visual over musical performance. It uses network capabilities to create elements that simultaneously react to different environments. It fosters collaborations between people working at a distance, programming codes and live interpretative processes. We seek to investigate the boundaries of live visual performance.
For the last couple of years we’ve been researching the live performance potential of electronic audiovisual arts. Trying to explore the similarities between playing a musical instrument live and generating visual contents in real time.
At first we turned to Visual Jockey or VJ, a visual performance in which an operator displays images that accompany audio. But we found that Vjing is closer to what a DJ does, since it involves mixing rather than composing. Even when the mix incorporates pieces of the VJ’s own authorship, it’s not quite what we’re looking for. Given that there is a huge difference between playing a tune live on a guitar composing a melody note by note, and mixing something, determining which previously recorded samples should be heard at a certain time. The same is true for VJing. This kind of performance is never 100% live, as playing a piano would be.
We then determined it was important to define the smallest visual unit, comparable to a note in music. The problem is music only has one axis of data, whereas a digital image contains a lot more information. A note is a wave moving in just one direction, with different values over time, while a flat visual display has at least two axis that run perpendicularly to make up a grid of pixels.
Additionally, the surface is related to a fraction of visual time, around 1/30 and 1/12 of a second. By attempting to make a metaphorical translation from music to image processin, we could only control minimal data in a timeline, we were only able to turn certain elements on and off, slightly shifting color or shape.
We then realized we could not metaphorically translate the wave creation process to an image. Otherwise the visual composition would involve different values of only one color occupying the whole surface, or in the best case scenario, offer a slightly more complex variable that could not fulfill our expectations.
At this point we noticed an indirect relation existed between playing an instrument and writing computer code. Researching further into this, we came across the TOPLAP manifesto. It originally began as a musical trend, but currently also has a visual branch.
The manifesto deals with the same issues that we are interested in, mainly concerning the performance potential of electronic arts, and it arrives to our same conclusion. TOPLAP sets a platform for programming visual content. Code is written and structured in way that is understandable to the machine, which in turn translates it into images. Hence, the performer is compelled to constantly act out in order to keep the image flowing in an esthetic way.
This solution is very similar to the act of playing live music, and may even be considered a return to the origins of electronic music and the ideals of pioneers such as Varesse. In the early stages of electronic music there was a keen interest in achieving a way to replicate a performance through electronic means. Since at the time the final outcome of the execution of a musical piece was influenced by many variables, such as the musicians, the location, the conductor, the audience, etc..
We are interested in rescuing the factor of error implied in live performance, as well as its ephemeral quality. Conveniently for our purposes, under the TOPLAP manifesto the code produced in the act is lost, pertaining the fleeting aspect of live performance.
Another principle stated in the manifesto, is that the code should remain visible to the public at all times. Pretty much in the same way as the guitarist’s movements are a visible part of the music he plays, even if the straddling fingers make no sense to the audience.
Consequently we decided to create a soft that responds to all the principles in this manifesto. We are not the first to do this, the choice of name acknowledges this fact. There is a previous software, named Fluxus after the homonymous artistic movement. We chose the name Flaxus, to honor the same genesis but replaced the initial syllable for “Fla” a common suffix in software when the program in question has some kind of relationship with Flash. And of course this is the software we developed our application in. But instead of stopping there we went one step further with our software, by incorporating network capabilities, particularly the concept and atomic dispersal Internet allows.
Our software was built with the aim of reformulating live visuals. It basically allows someone to generate visual sketches by composing them live, while somewhere else on the planet another person can watch them live. Though, the contents aren’t passively transmitted from one place to the other. A passive transmission would imply taking the whole data from one point to the other without alterations or major distortions, except for the unavoidable loss of quality that transmission provokes. This is the case, for instance, of radio and television transmissions.
Rather our software has as in its core a series of elements that react to audio stimuli. Thus, the visual composition is altered by the interaction with the music applied to it.
We propose a shift in audiovisual practice by establishing the image as an engine of the whole experience. The different users can apply to it any music they want. Consequently, as a user writes live code, it is reinterpreted everywhere else in the world and react to the sound or music heard in that particular place and time.
As a result, visual compositions cease to be rigid and become adaptable to various circumstances. But the flexibility attained is not limited to the sort of linear transmission consisting of a transmitter and a receiver. Digital channels allow a circular performance.
Flaxus makes performance a collaborative affair. Instead of there being a single performer, a spectator can act out and modify the piece for the rest of the audience (who at any time can become performers) to see. Thus, the performance becomes a group dialogue between many parties. The opposition between the performer and the audience is dissolved and can even be inverted.
The esthetic error is incorporated as a basis of the system. In each place the final perception of the execution can be completely different without altering the piece’s artistic composition at all.