We all know that no-one life escapes death; life and death are given together in chirality. As a writing form, computation is technical and unnatural. Computation describes the world on its own terms and intimates the worlds most ecstatic excesses. Media art often stages computation as an imitator of life, but it is dead. What does it mean to take computation carefully by the hand? And how do we care for its own icy grasp, its own spectral care?
Well, Interactive Performance developed asynchronously and incongruously across the various artistic mediums. As an example, Post Modern Dance, followed by its derivatives in the latter part of the 20th century, with the kinesthetic body as its instrument, movement vocabulary as its language, deconstructed it’s embodied multidisciplinary identity further, including, in its thinking’s, technology and computational applications. Hence we could or should probably ask, not just what escapes computation, but what’s also omitted from it…
– Manjunan Gnanaratnam
In non-digital performances almost everything escapes computation. In digital ones a lot of things still escape computation for 3 reasons. There are human behaviours that: 1. (Knowledge): we cannot characterise from a biological/anthropological perspective; 2. (Modelling/AI): we can characterise but we do not have algorithms to process them and 3. (Sensing): that we cannot even capture.
This question could be interpreted as computation failing to capture, categorise, and process the ‘whole’ of human movement, in all its multi-modal expressive, dynamic, and ecologically-entangled qualities. By failing thus, it cannot perhaps properly interact, dialogue or improvise with the performer in ‘a two-way, co-extensive process’ (Sutil 2015). But what if the ‘escape’ is not a ‘failure’ so much as a ‘difference’ of perception? What if we use the differences to create affordances for interaction? Calvert et al. discuss the lack of a ‘consistent, unambiguous way […] of representing human movement with a machine-readable ontology or grammar’ (Calvert et al. 2005: 9). But with Tools that Propel, a digital choreographic and improvisational system co-developed with Adam Russell, new creative potential was found not in solving the terms on which we create a shared ontological understanding of ephemeral, embodied concepts and relationships – movement, for example – but on using our inability (and refusal thereby) to reduce the ‘voluminousness of the experience’ to a grammar that would produce ‘instrumentalized action-reaction circuits’. (Massumi 2011: 46). Not striving for the greatest degree of accuracy in the categorisation of choreographic information digitally can be creatively productive – with Tools that Propel the discontinuous, the fragmented, the gaps, actually provide a source of defragmentation and continuity with the past: that is, the possibility for the past to recur in ways that surprise us in the interaction, make us look at ourselves and our movement anew, and offer possibilities of new ideas within them. So, what if instead we ask: what can we discover in our embodied understanding of ourselves when we interact with computation with an acceptance and embrace of the fact that it ‘perceives’ and ‘understands’ our movement differently from us?
– Sarah Levinsky
Computers are usually really good at following instructions. Even when one randomizes a task or output, there is a set of possibilities that the computer will choose from. Computation does not do well at breaking rules. Fringe cases, outliers or other things beyond the rules are not dealt with.
Agency allows a human to make decisions in a moment that may be outside of the rules. Working from a sense of embodiment, social, historical and other subjective knowledge that lies beyond following the rules.
The humanist escapes computation. And this is what makes performance interesting.
– Kate Sicchio
The past and the future. The context in which the work was imagined, refined, practiced, polished, as well as the influence and effects it has on its performers and audience. Intention. Computation may be able to accurately represent much of what actually happens, but it’s much harder to imagine how computation could divine an artist’s intentions for even the exact physical performance of a piece, especially if that artist is not the performer. Insight. Insight arising from novel perspectives unlocked by performing or witnessing, which require the background context of an individual’s life.
– John Harlow
Movement and human interaction can be therapeutic. Playing music, dancing, singing, drawing, writing as embodied acts, can be therapeutic. Can computing be therapeutic? Can the act of coding or engineering make us feel better in a way writing a diary does? Can the process of making an “interactive performance” be therapeutic? Can the process and tools for working on an “interactive performance” be accessible, tangible and satisfying ? Can this process really make us feel embodied, grounded and connected (with our self and others) in the way walking barefoot on the beach does? or simply be compared with an embodied creative experience?
– Katerina El Raheb
If “computation” is “in-formation” processing, I would like to suggest that on-going “trans-formations” escape computation in interactive performance. To suggest this, I offer the following:
1. A coyote passes through your backyard on a rainy day, leaving a footprint in a patch of dirt in your garden. The “act of passing” that left the footprint in the patch of dirt is the “trans-formation” of a substrate. The footprint left behind in the dirt, as the “residue” of the act of passing, is the “in-formation” of the trans-formation of the substrate.
2. “Trans-formations” or “acts of passing” precede, exceed and succeed “in-formations” or “residues of passing”. Returning to our example above, the coyote’s act of passing through your yard began before it left the footprint in the dirt, it continued as it left the footprint in the dirt, and it continued after it left the footprint in the dirt.
3. In-formation processing (i.e., computation) involves retrospection on past trans-formations and prospects of future trans-formations, but it does not involve “on-going trans-formations”. Of course, in-formation processing is itself an “on-going trans-formation”. That being said, however, in-formation processing does not “involve” itself, it does not “turn on itself” as an on-going trans-formation. Rather than turning on itself, in-formation processing turns on and evolves from in-formation. In other words, in-formation processing is an “act of passing” that turns on and evolves from “residues of passing”.
4. Beyond computation as information processing, let us consider emotion as trans-formation processing. Emotion is self-situating and self-motivating information processing: it is the ongoing trans-formation coming to “involve” itself, to “turn on itself”. Returning to the anecdote of the coyote’s act of passing, the emotion that one experiences upon seeing a coyote’s footprint in the dirt goes beyond one’s processing of the in-formation that a coyote has passed and may (or may not) return. To be brief, the emotion goes beyond the retrospect and the prospect of trans-formation by adding a situation and a motivation (real or imagined) to the mix. First, one imagines the circumstances under which one might hunt the coyote and one experiences one emotion. Next, one imagines the circumstances under which one might be hunted by the coyote and one experiences a second emotion. Next, one recalls the circumstances under which one last encountered a coyote and one experiences a third emotion. Finally, one imagines oneself as a hungry coyote searching for food and one experiences a fourth emotion. Alternatively, one might consider all four of the aforementioned circumstances simultaneously and one might experience a fifth emotion that is the superposition of the four different emotions evoked by the four aforementioned circumstances.
5. If one wants to attend to on-going transformations, one ought to attend to emotional problems that are beyond computational problems. Otherwise, if one only attends to computational problems, one will always be dealing with trans-formations in retrospect and as prospects.
– Muindi Fanuel Muindi
What escapes computation?
No idea a priori. Google gave me one answer “The escape velocity is the minimum velocity required to leave a planet or moon”. This reminded me when, holding my daughter on my shoulders and watching the moon, I was telling her: “let’s jump together to touch the moon”.
Sharing this memory with her, she told me once, smiling: “dad! I was little; I didn’t know at that time this was not possible”. Sure, I could have computed this was actually not possible…but I remain convinced we actually did touch the moon.