1In 2006, struggling to think collectively with both others and media, I got together with a group of 12 artists and writers, and a wiki. We hoped to engage in something process-oriented, networked and collaborative that took us away from our local ‘cartographies of exhaustion’, to borrow the title of Peter Pel Palbert’s book on affectivity and the ongoing states of crisis in our contemporary social and cultural milieus1. But we wanted also to remain focused, and develop consistency through process. We wanted media with which to conjoin, not just as tools for interactions, and to be invigorated as a result of our engagement. For a two-week period during June 2006, this group contributed to a structured wiki by responding to ‘tasks’ concerning collaborative thought, relations and art1.
- 2 A discussion of the project and the ensuing performance of the work, Assemblage
- 3 Deleuze and Guattari 2005: 398.
2Material deposited in the wiki space and in external web publishing portals such as YouTube and Multiply was downloaded, reformatted (text was converted to audio, for example) and taken into VJing and DJing packages. It was then re-presented as two different remixes at Isea 2006 (International Symposium of Electronic Arts), as the final performance/event of the Isea Symposium. The process and event became a kind of machine that we called an Assemblage for Collective Thought (Act)2. By ‘machine’ I mean something both technological and nontechnological. We were certainly using software and hardware – the wiki subtended by networked communications technologies and infrastructure. And the wiki was a fundamental component of that machine. It lent a specificity and consistency to the whole endeavor but this was not the element that made Act a ‘machine’ in the sense I want to evoke this term: «It is the machine that is primary in relation to the technical element: not the technical machine, itself a collection of elements, but the social or collective machine, the machinic assemblage…», Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari suggest in their shattering of technological determinism3.
3A machine, whether technical or not, is a generative arrangement of heterogeneous components – people, affects, socialities, economics, technical elements, nonhuman organic and inorganic contributors all constitute the relational assemblage. In Act, what was assembling itself via process, experiment and technique was a little machine for collaborative thought. That experience of working with others, a wiki, with states of exhaustion and exhilaration was important in my future explorations and engagements with collaboration and media. Such experiences have provided me with techniques and modes of thinking the forces of media, bodies and affect as unruly yet welcome associates and for discovering the conditions for making such assemblages and interactions generative. This generativity gives rise to an embodied or felt sense of engagement in which making, especially media-making, becomes joyful and where the process is ongoing, facilitating the next mode or entry point for re-engagement. Sher Doruff, an artist who has worked with media art and collaboration for over three decades calls this generativity “event-value” in contradistinction to the exchange value of commodified forms of art output and practice4.
4I have already suggested that the wiki in this project was a collaborator; it was certainly not a mediator and it never functioned as the interface with which to ‘interact’ for the project. Wikis are notoriously clunky deriving from a history of web development from the mid-1990s when graphic interface browsers became available. They retain a kind of clumsiness in their simultaneous nested and somewhat hierarchical management of user permissions and content coupled together with their authorlessness. Contributing to and editing a wikipage involves writing over, alongside and against all the other authors who are members of that wiki. This inevitably produces varying degrees of frustration and elation when contributions are lost or transformed by other collaborators. The wiki platform generates an odd temporality, too, in which all versions of contribution can be re-accessed (restored, if necessary) and yet the immediate page on which work is being carried out tends to become the one that holds sway… until the next edit!
- 5 Manning and Massumi 2014: 103.
5In order to navigate this fluid and clunky mediatic terrain, the Act group developed some techniques for collaboration that involved setting ‘tasks’ and ‘rules’. The closed and openendedness of the task and rule relationship formed the initial conditions for collaborative work to emerge. Instead of relegating engagement to the relation between interface and user, then, techniques became a kind of condition for and conditioning of interaction. A technique is not disassociated from a technical element such as the software environment but it is not only about nor does it solely develop from this. A technique is also not simply imposed on bodies – human/nonhuman, organic/inorganic – but emerges in and of the relations of those bodies with each other and with other materialities such as computation, software and communications networks. A technique is not the opposite of improvisation, play or free form. Indeed, as I hope to suggest, the oscillating relations that form between technique and improvisation provide the conditions for machines to become generative and for collaborations to take off. Moreover, to set a technique up as conditioning interaction is to invert ordinary task and interface protocol. The derivative of a practice which should be passed on to operate between others, gains its own ontogenetic status, both enabling as Brian Massumi and Erin Manning put it5, and constraining a practice to come.
6In the Heideggerian tradition of conceptualising technology, which has dominated much critique of the Western understanding of technicality and its role in industrialised societies, the problem lies with the reduction of technology to instrumentality. Here, technologies are simply tools for getting things done. We may well agree that such critique of instrumentalism is still relevant for the present context of knowledge production. For Heidegger, the alternative lay with thinking through the ‘essence’ of technology; an essence that is not itself instrumental but can be found by delving into the concept of techne. Techne draws on the idea of both artisan and artistic techniques, crossing the spheres of manufacturing and industry (the techniques of shoemakers and printers, for example) and those of the arts, the techniques of poets and graphic designers, for example. It is “know-how”. But techne for Heidegger cannot be reduced to a making or instrumentation: «what is decisive in techne does not lie at all in making and manipulating nor in the using of means, but rather in the… revealing. It is as revealing, and not as manufacturing, that techne is a bringing-forth»6. Heidegger wanted to restore an essence to technology, an essence that belonged to a transcendental field that is its truth. This field is the condition for the existence for any particular piece of technology whatsoever… techne as technique becomes a way of drawing forth this essence/truth.
- 7 Radical empiricism is an approach that can be traced through the work of the pragmatist philosopher (...)
- 8 Manning 2012: 33.
7Contra this, in the radical empiricist mode of thinking, which emphasises the primacy of experience, technique is a matter of consistency7. Here technique does not aim to reveal a generalizable truth but is operative in the creation of singularities. Technique occurs across all domains of organic and inorganic life – it is not special but it is practiced; it occurs everyday but must take all its pasts, its repetitions and its potentials for the next instantiation into account as it develops. Every technique is both singular and general, as Erin Manning suggests: «There are techniques for hoeing, for standing at a bus stop, for reading a philosophical text, for taking a seat in a restaurant, for being in line at a grocery store»8 There are particularities to standing in line – one stands up straight as one approaches the head of the queue at immigration control despite the jetlag setting in. But the queue is simultaneously a generalised composition where one is attended to one at a time. Specificity and generality imbricate each other in technique. To generate techniques is to already be in the middle of a complex ecology of practices that takes us outside of ourselves, placing us already in relationality. This state of middleness requires both cultivation and inhabitation of a specific space-time that we could call ‘betweenness’.
- 9 See, for example, Jacko and Sears 2007.
8In media theory, still dominated by an information and communications paradigm, betweeness is often overlooked or passed over as getting across the divide between sender and receiver, encoder-decoder, user-computer takes precedence. Neither is betweeness given its due in theories or in a great many, especially Hci-oriented, practices of interface design9. The point of the interface is to facilitate interaction between two pre-constituted endpoints. The interface as such is a point of contact for communication to flow across these givens. The point here is not to dwell in the middle, to dwell in relation but to resolve out toward the origin or endpoints of the flows. But what happens when the ‘inter’ shifts from this to and from set of flows toward a shifting topology of betweenness? To be sure, the inbetween is not an occupiable space but rather a dynamic and moving register of tendencies.
- 10 Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari describe a plateau or plane as entirely constituted by the relati (...)
9In paying attention to these kinds of dynamics, we must give special consideration to the matter of elements in the mix. Yet if we reduce this mattering to a substantialist materialism in which particular technologies, media or kinds of organic bodies (like humans) play a determining role then we have again overlooked the reality of the inbetween. We must be wary of giving technical elements such as media platforms or communications technologies determining functions ahead of the actual process and work that they do in the ecology of collaborative work. What is at play in the inbetween is the dynamic expressivity of a plane or plateau of intensities10. Intensities operate at a molecular level as ontogenetic conditions for and transversally moving across molar entities such as ‘bodies’, ‘users’ and ‘computers’. They are degrees of quality rather than quantity such as the tint and saturation of a colour. Intensities can be felt directly in experience across and in the dynamic tendencies when larger molar entities engage as well. They are always experienced in change as some shift or other occurs to take these dynamics elsewhere.
10I want to now look at two sophisticated media environments and assemblages for collaboration involving customised technical elements, audiences, ‘players’ as well as unwitting nonhuman participants. I am interested in these assemblages because rather than setting up models for interaction as such, they develop techniques instead that recruit a computational apparatus in order to create the conditions for intensities to be given duration. What is crucial for both these aesthetic projects are the ways in which techniques had to be invented in situ, in consort with the technologies and players, and that what has resulted is the generation of novel fields of expression. It is this attention to an ecology of practice that allows the inbetween to emerge as an experimental terrain that can be felt in the encounters that take place through the particular aesthetic processes generated. I’ll then sketch out some current experiments with which I am involved that use lo-fi and consumer-end communications platforms. All of these examples depart from the still commonly accepted conception of media as mediators or channels between communicators and take up a new constellation – that of immediation.
11Before turning to these experiments, I will briefly touch on where this concept of immediation is heading since it is crucial to an understanding of the inter as between and the between as this register of dynamically moving intensive relations. All “media” enact and distribute real, embodied events. Such events cannot but be immediate – that is, they occur directly in experience as percepts. Yet percepts are complex and the work of immediating even more so. As William James argued, the percept’s immediate work is performed retroactively because it puts what is actually experienced in touch, retroactively, with a virtual or potential knowing of the something: «We were virtual knowers of the Hall long before we were certified to have been its actual knowers by the percept’s retroactive validating power»11.
12Immediation, then, occurs as the differential work accomplished across the seeing-knowing, actual-virtual relations and the intervals inhabiting such differentiations that comprise perceiving. All mediated perception is a kind of temporary concrescence of these lived immediating events. Television signal, for instance, involves the standardised interlacing of scanned lines at a particular rate. This scanning must hold at a particular rate for both actual human eyes and interlace/refresh at a particular speed in retroactive relation with each previous field instance in order to generate continuous ‘broadcast’ quality signal. It is the continuity of refreshing or the immediate relating across the different fields that produces the mediation that is television received as percept. Not all media events provide events for encounters with the immediating processes of media. But a certain attention to the production of intensities can allow an immediating aesthetics to come to the fore.
13Many experiments from the late 1980s and 1990s with online platforms for distributed communications generated a particular kind of experience for human participants, at once nonlocal and intensely embodied. What artistic online networking experiments initially made palpable was a kind of stumbling into relation with the differentials of technical speeds, geographical spatial dispersion and the life rhythms of participants in differing time zones. During this period, things, projects and online situations flowed into one another rapidly and moved on just as quickly, building density, intensities and rapid perishings. In discussing the experimental network of artists who gathered and performed using the first online real time multimedia collaborative performance software Keyworx, active between1997-2004, Sher Doruff, its designer, made a similar observation about distributed media and embodiment:
- 12 Doruff and Murphie 2012.
[…] translocal experience, as an embodied experience, is amplified because your body is … you have the sensation of … how can I say this? The effect of intensities of translocal performance when it’s indeterminate and you’re collectively negotiating and making choices together and you’re playing off those choices as a jazz band would or as a dancers might … the translocal becomes incredibly, intensely physicalised, but your feeling of space is non-locally oriented12.
14It is important to understand that the Keyworx environment operated during a period when most people would have sworn that real time collaborative networked streaming and performative media environments were a dream of a utopian wired-up future. But these were not high tech hardware performance events although the Keyworx platform consisted of highly customised and intricately coded software. Performers and media operated with ordinary, publicly available bandwidth and packet switching networks, with all the delays, blips, and glitches of the networking of that time. Indeed, these features of networked transmission became collaborative and affective elements in the improvisations themselves.
15In Interfacing/Radiotopia/Keyworx, a collaborative event using Keyworx at Dutch media festival Deaf, 2003, six performers were paired with each other between Rotterdam and New York where they engaged in ‘co-operative’ VJing. In Rotterdam, in a proximate room with no visuals, the sound collective Radiotopia were simultaneously DJing samples of sound that had been uploaded by audiences in both cities and which were provided as noneditable audio streams to the six performers within the Keyworx software environment on their laptops13. Audience members in both cities could also Sms short messages to the performers that appeared in a plugin within Keyworx for the performers. These were then filtered into ‘keywords’ by the plugin. The keywords became response points for the performers who, in real time, would remix the text with image and video synthesis through Keyworx, in relation to the streaming audio. A complex ecology for the event was at work. Not only are there human performing collaborators, media platforms and audiences in this mix but the design of the performance also harnessed the forces of network communications at their nonhuman technical level; that is, their capacity to generate relays and to unfold and refold information recursively.
- 14 Teran in Doruff 2006: 132; Doruff 2009: 27.
16Both Doruff and performers involved in this event and in the history of the Keyworx environment have spoken of the way in which translocality – that is, embodied distributed experience – amplified that embodiment, generating a ‘zone of the interval’14.
17Actual individual instances of such intervals are perceptible for audiences and performers alike in any networked performance event even at speeds of network transmission today and at current levels of performance and bandwidth. These occur as lags, feedback loops, overlays, repetitions and recursions of sound, image, movement and performative gestures. But the interval in collaborative, networked performance functions more fundamentally as a kind of consistency felt across bodies, media and the space-time of performance. The zone of the interval is grasped more at the level of an imperceptible yet felt experience: across, between, under and over direct visual, sonic or gestural manifestations of a meter, syncopation or delay. This consistency is a rhythm of relation: of the intersecting, overlapping and disjunctive forces at play in the event itself.
18For such expressivity to be generated, repetition – or what we might also call technique, recalling my earlier discussion of the necessary practice involved in its cultivation as an enabler – is a necessary aspect of performative collaborations. What I want to extract for consideration from the Keyworx example is the assemblage that emerges from a series of relational, recursive and nonlinear dynamics oscillating around: collaboration/collectivity, repetition/interval, technique/technicity, It is this assemblage or ecology that calls forth a new field of expression.
19A collaborative assemblage such as the Keyworx event is made possible by the rhythm of all these relations. And it is the rhythmicity that transmutes the mere exchange of knowledge and skills of collaborative work into something else. Rhythm is what allows for collaborative techniques to transform into a collectivity and itself carries over into the new milieu for expression that is this collectivity. Rhythm is not a beat but a binding of the energetics of potential forces, pulsating with a movement of becoming as yet something else, anew. Rhythm needs the relation to the interval as differential; a differential that spaces and temporalizes repetition and which also emerges in any repeating.
- 15 Deleuze and Guattari 2005: 313-314.
20«Rhythm is never on the same plane as that which has rhythm. Action occurs in a milieu, whereas rhythm is located between two milieus, or between two intermilieus, on the fence, between night and day, at dusk, twilight or Zwielicht»15. From the milieu of the practicing performers in the Keyworx event to the milieu of real time audience participation; from the milieu of the organic human body to the inorganic relays, redundancies and recursions of packet switching networks; from the milieu of one city and its time zones to that of another: the passing between these and the consistency that arises in doing so is rhythmic. Rhythm is not confined to the sonic but is a creative process of both consolidation and emergence.
- 16 Stern 2005 and ongoing.
- 17 Ibidem.
21In a rather different performative collaboration, Nathaniel Stern’s ongoing project Compressionism16, expands the ecological field to incoporate the nontechnical nonhuman as well. In this image-composition project, Stern has worked to open up a new field of expression for the digital image. He straps a desktop scanner, laptop and battery pack to his body and moves across and with his body and surrounds, ‘performing’ as he puts it, images into existence17. For Stern, these images are not an end point; rather they allow for crystallisations of dynamics and momentary captures of relationality. These dynamics play off and across the bodies forming through the work, the digital technologies and the milieus that become part of the ecology. They embrace the particularities of a human body moving – its gait, its flexibility, its strength and weaknesses, its energies. The scanning-body here is a technical body – not because it has become cyborgian and assimilated digital technologies nor because it has acquiesced to a transhumanist fantasy of computational disembodiment. It is a technical body because it has practiced and cultivated a technique of moving-with that listens to and transforms in relation to the technological speeds of the scanning software and hardware and the speeds and durations of its surrounds. This moving-with marks the practice as collaborative, where collaboration takes into account the capacity to affect and be affected by all elements, from the technologies, through to rocks and water and Stern’s body.
22In one crystallization of this project, Rippling Images (2014), Stern worked with a human team to construct a marine-rated scanning rig in order to scuba-dive a coral reef and perform the scans in relation with a marine ecology. Engaged in this image-making process for a decade, Stern also works with a range of other media and collaborators. But he notes the importance of longevity in the cultivation of a practice, for here a technique is able to emerge. Technique that is not oriented toward perfection but rather to the full range of affectivities that can ripple through a project, including slowness, failure and collapse of the technologies in relation to both body and surrounds. He says of the underwater scanning performances: «Everything leaked, everything broke, nothing did what I wanted or expected: and this is precisely what must have happened […]»18. Stern’s techniques enable a new expressive field for the digital image through the cultivation of rhythm as it creates a moving-with between human and nonhuman milieus.
23Lastly, I want to touch upon some recent experiments with media and rhythm with which I, and a group of 80 or so people, have been involved for the past two years.
- 19 This is part of an ongoing project, “Immediations: Art, Media, Event”, based in Canada with hubs in (...)
24The concept of ‘immediation’ is yet to be invented and is part of the work set out for us. But the premise for the project is that all “media” stage and distribute real, embodied, that is, immediate, events. This capacity to enact in the immediacy of everyday life is an integral part of contemporary media’s definition19. A major question propelling the project, if creating volatility and frustration as well, is: how do we sustain immediations across the group itself – a group that sometimes locally ebbs to small groups and at other times globally swells to 100 people operating across three to four time zones and multiple environs. We use an online hub environment for text communication, file depositories and date and time information but many of us are engaged in this project because we want to work immediately with others, to engage and experience lived relations of making and thinking together that are passionate, that can be improvised and that are not necessarily ‘outcome’ focused. We want to talk, read, propose, experiment and proffer different modes of generating and valuing what counts as knowledge.
25The project wants to find modes of becoming collective through the cultivation of techniques for collaborative thinking-making-feeling. One of the strangest techniques we have cultivated, out of necessity, is Skype reading groups. Setting a difficult and often complex philosophical or scientific text ahead of time, we meet every couple of weeks in online audio mode only using the Skype platform in order to preserve bandwidth but allow for as many people as possible to contribute. The sessions are full of technical ‘failures’: breakdowns in transmission, signal feedback, network glitches not to mention the ambient noise of people forgetting to mute their microphones when their dog rabidly barks in the background. And yet we have persevered because all this signaletic matter that takes place through the Skype platform together with all the stumbling and interruptions that have occurred when a group of people talks without any visual cues, has facilitated a different capacity across the group(s) to enact in the immediacy of everyday life. We noticed that after about six months of meeting this way, our collective discussions slowed – we said less and listened more; we waited and thought while online; we opened up pauses in the chatter and let the noises of transmission contribute to the resonating sonic space. In other words, we engaged in the generation of consistency through techniques of group relation. This consistency began to aggregate as we paid attention to the rhythms of voice, network transmission, ambient sound and noise. We moved with this polyrhymicity and another kind of rhythm emerged that could not be heard but could certainly be felt.
26This rhythm then allowed us to begin to work with other techniques for thinking-making collectively. Reading one particularly difficult philosophical text – Felix Guattari’s Schizoanalytic Cartographies – we decided that the only way to comprehend the enigmatic diagrams of the author was to shift from discussing to drawing them. How to draw them collectively when we were dispersed? We developed a process where one person began a diagrammatic riff upon one of Guattari’s drawings and would then electronically pass the emergent image on to another member of the group. The technique that enabled this was not one that simply duplicated a Surrealist Exquisite Corpse protocol (all the while being aware of the history of such rich techniques within aesthetic practices), lay with the deeply felt and immediated work that had emerged for the past year of meetings within the Skype platform and the cultivation of listening processes. The group had already lived through and invented a milieu for itself. Importantly, the technical element in this milieu had played a role but not because it functioned as ‘interface’. Instead, its role was to produce a betweeness that was a dynamic force for the group, allowing it to generate different modes of thinking and working together.
27In the process of diagramming one of Guattari’s diagrams, this force took off and became diagrammatic, something with its own tendencies and movement that moved us. An email would be sent out from someone who gifted the newly (re)generated diagram onwards to another all the while allowing the new diagram to unfold in relation to an aspect of thinking through something of a section of the Guattari text. At no point did this process constitute a remix, unless one wants to radically rethink the concept of remix as novel generativity. The force of the diagramming never paused with a remaking, but rather created novel avenues into thinking textually, manually and aesthetically.
- 20 Deleuze and Guattari 2005: 328.
28What had value for us in this mode of collaborating was not the actual ‘drawings’ per se but rather the process of passing, or what we called ‘gifting’ one diagram to another in the group. You would wake up in the morning and there would be a link in your inbox to a whole new video that someone had made with your material. The point was not simply to remix but rather to transform in order to think through the text of another – Guattari – and in transforming the diagram and gifting it on to another in the group, to generate a rhythm for thought. This rhythm came from translocally co-habiting an ecology of humans, technical elements and aesthetic practices. This in-the-middle is an intermezzo where things really get going; where things do not begin so much as move via what Deleuze and Guattari call: «intercalary events: ‘densifications, intensifications, reinforcements, injections, showerings […]»20. This is a kind of rhythm that cannot be heard without the technique of attunment but it can immediately be felt. It is a rhythm of relation. And with such rhythms, the ‘inter’ gains a whole new set of potentials as it reterritorrialises and takes off from betweeness.