distributed virtual urban worlds

(edited by Johannes Birringer)


1. Dérive (game situationism)

The research and production production rehearsals at Interaktionslabor 2006 opened a new avenue for experimentation with digital media and live performance, integrating a "game" scenario with documentary film materials from four urban locations as well as live webcam interpolations into the real-time programming and sensor choreography of the live performance installation "See you in Walhalla."

In light of the urban contexts and the playful yet poignant dis-orientations experienced by the "avatar", this complex project and its use of hypermedia and communications technologies vis-à-vis the contemporary "society of the spectacle" might benefit from analysis with historical references to situationism (on one hand) and current locative media practice (on the other), in order to allow an aesthetic and a political critique of the use of the 'game engine" in live performance. Such analysis could be particularly helpful at the current stage of development and asswemblage, even as the final phase of production is not yet completed, film materials are still being edited by Ioanna Tsinividi, and webcam actor rehearsals are still under investigation as the final rehearsal/tech runs at Interaktionslabor Göttelborn proved challenging issues on the level of the dramaturgical realization. With realization is meant the interactive programming, the live onsite performance with sensors by Ermira Goro, and the live webcam streams coming to us from Amsterdam (Nancy Mauro-Flude) and Sofia (Ivo Dimitrov) and the distributed teams supporting the telematic links to the cities off-site the main performance of the "urban" game. It is not even completely satsifying to speak of an urban game, since Walhalla also has psychological and mythical dimensions, but primarily the urban footage used in the digital film materials show concrete documentary sites from Athens, Sofia and Amsterdam, with additional scenes filmed last week in Göttelborn's cité de la culture industrielle.

I will seek to unravel some of the conceptual implications of "distributed virtual urban worlds" in the following, but let me begin by citing some of the online discussions among team members concernig the role of the webcam avatars and their "locations" in the general drift of the game-world.

Monday, 31 July:

hello all:

there has been a dramatic change in the "scenic presence" that the two webcam-characters have gained after their respective departures for their bases. Since then, we have had to re-think and, to a degree, adapt the way they are directed - although this reflects on Ivo's setup rather than Nancy's.
We did some quick tests, trying out different camera angles. Our starting point was to try to avoid the security camera angle and feel. Also, we noticed that the slightly blurry/out-of-focus webcam images achieve a weird, poetic quality and so this could be utilised.
In extension, there was brief discussion as to the usage of the term "webcam" as opposed to "camera" or "live-action", i.e. impying that we all approach a webcam that is not to be used as an ordinary visual feeder (camera), but rather as a lo-quality, obvious-angle, preset tool. Or could it be used as a classic cinematography tool (albeit a low quality one), that requires a director, cinematographer and director of photography? What is your take on that? Do you feel that the more complex usage is appropriate? Should we stick to the point-and-click approach? Any other suggestions?
Meanwhile, (as you will see in the attached quicktime movies) we had a look at playing at the latter - the more complex, staged, rather filmic views for Ivo's character.
As far as the "portrait" scene goes, we tried using a seperate keyboard, placing the camera behind it so that you get:
- first layer of fingers typing, which are out of focus
-second layer of Ivo's face and
-third layer of his environment.
Have a look and comment.
In our effort to dissassociate the security camera view, we did a floor-view test (also referred to as dogs-eye-view). In which the activity, nervousness, involvement and movement is seen through an intimate, almost voyeristic, under the table view. In addition, we found that part of the storytelling could be told in this way.
Also Paul suggested that we utilise more classical lighting techniques in order to provide a depth and texture to the Sofia imagery. This can be achieved by using room or theatrical lighting (or any other ideas that can be thrown in).
While viewing on the large screens, it was suggested that the parallel views are v.interesting - see the attached photo(triptych simultaneous activity.jpg). The idea is that we have a static view on Ivo (maybe face) and another travelling camera that, as the piece progresses, moves around the space (similarly to the changes in the pre-recorded material). Is that possible? How do you find it? Could we get 2-3 streams from Sofia, if we agree that we like it?
Sorry, not many comments as far as the A'dam stream goes - everyone seems satisfied! The usage of zoom I thought was interesting, as well as the high angle. The only issue, on my part, is losing Nancy out of the frame for too long (it's fine if it's for a short time). Please add comments for Nancy/Bonzai, if you have some.

Christopher Brellis


Monday, 31 July

hallo christopher,
i think these are good attempts at addressing the pov from sofia. i believe though there will be a real technical problem with more than one stream from bulgaria or a'dam for that matter. the addition of each new stream seems to slow the system down exponentially.
i might suggest a cameraperson, as we have in a'dam who can change the angles and zoom of one camera. there's plenty of time between on screens moments to do this. i would also suggest that we see ivo early on with a game controller in his hands. johannes brought this up several days ago and i also feel there's a need to better establish that aspect, as stated, but perhaps you already discussed this yesterday.
so the side angle could easily achieve this. the dog's angle is nice and could, maybe, give a view to energy, nervousness, anxiety, gameplay through jittery feet but it might not come through with dropped frames. 
anyway, nice work in trying to find ways to solve the problem.
Sher Doruff


Monday, July 31

hello Johannes, hello to all of you.
I just arrived back home.
It was really inspiring to start conversations and raise questions regarding the concept and the technological tools that are involved. I realized the different ways that the cameras can be used. It is a whole new exploration that was not there before the lab.  
I really like the new suggestions of Christophoros but at the same time i agree with Sher's concerns and the idea of a cameraman. It is also a question to Galia and  Stoycho if they believe that this is possible. I want to do few more test with the cameras and send samples to you. 
I am going to take few days off in order to get some strenght and digest and mature all of your inputs. I mostly want to dig in, in Nancy's and Ivo's role and how they will reveal in the piece and how these three parallel stories will connect to each other. 
Since with most of you, we didn't manage to talk face to face about the last run/rehearsal, could you please send me your notes and thoughts?

Tzeni Argyriou


Tuesday, August 1

Hi Nancy
I think we are getting close now.
your behavior in the role is good, and to the point of  characterisation as the script seems to require, and the performance was emotionally convincing both Friday and 
Saturday, to the extent that we see and feel a connection from woman avatar to woman avatar (Ermira to you, you to  Ermira).

When Ermira is not acknowledging you, or lost on a tram somewhere,  or in a trance of her central console/space,.when she is not moving, so to speak (in a dramatic sense), we do no 
longer know exactly where you come from and who you are. In a way, this is my first question. where do you come from, how can you be established (exposé) as a character,
in the same way in which Ivo enters the frame and "identifies" himself as a game player.

Since we cannot just leave everything to the imagination of the  audience, in a new work, certain conditions have to be explained. In Macbeth or in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof we may know where the action  is set, or how the context is illuminated. In our case, when the "center"  is a virtual computer game, the  context is Ivo on one hand   (player in his home/office/somewhere where we can see the regular man),. (I strongly support Chris's new camera angles, and strongly recommend camera persons in both locations  -  this is a big 
production with a big production budget, and so it should not be difficult to find camera people) ---- and Nancy on the other hand in the city, Alice in the City.
So I think the character in the real night time city streets is very interesting, but needs to be  established. Why can't we see Nancy go into the street, go out,   from close up to wide angle shot?

She is the one who does already what Ivo is afraid to do, she goes into the streets, amongst people.  we need to see her go out. We  need to see her get dressed, get her bag,
her umbrella, and go out.  Can this be done?  Ivo at the doorframe/ windowframe, smoking, and Nancy, during the nice 10 minute prolog ,when audien ce enters the theatre, she is
preparing herself (at a mirror, thus a doubling of Ivo's starting at  computer screen), dressing, getting ready, going out,  and ........ now the play begins.

. .

Ivo Dimitrov (left), Ermira Goro (center), Nancy Mauro-Flude (right)

what do you think? please check sequence of prolog images from last rehearsal.   Ermira stands in shadow. Ivo stage right, Nancy stage left on screen.  it is not logical to have a street shot in prolog2. Nancy can be inside like Ivo, in transition to go outside.


> From: nancy
> Sent: Sun 7/30/2006 3:30 PM
> To: Johannes Birringer;
> Subject: formerly know as an avatar

Hi Johannes

Yes I really like your interpretation of my role, and of course the cross-roads, vestible of that actual space in amsterdam from the public world to the  netherworld. it feels very good to perform there. and with a body guard like i had on saturday i felt very safe.

more space to be creative and embody an avatar who has once been an avatar >and now lives amongst people in a districtof A'dam.
yes i feel like that anyhow :))) a bit stuck in netherworld of  amsterdam trying to get home but can never quite manage it.
a former avatar now living in A'dam.  But you seem lost on the street corner, so , trying to make contact, where are you and do you know  where you are?

this interpretation i'd like to stick with . i really can relate to that on many levls personallay and artistically.: "she lives in the interstices of the world" was a text i used for a 
solo performance i createed last year.

Nancy Mauro-Flude

Wednesday, August 2

hi again,
i was just musing ... as it does seem that the situationist aesthetic backgrounds the piece, intentionally or not, the dérive of the player (ivo) is played out by the avatar (on her dérive) and climaxes in the dérive encounter of nancy (on her dérive) and the avatar. the kink is that the drift encounters are controlled by a master "hero" so the spectacle inverts at a metalevel (virtual, affective  "psycho"geography brainmap of ivo). in a situationist aesthetic even protests are subsumed into the spectacle so i guess the "no logo" animation works in that respect.

note: there's been so much attention given to debord and the situationists in media art for the past five years or more that i wonder if the piece can afford to NOT reference this genre.

Sher Doruff


Wednesday, August 2

hello all:
thanks fvor writing down all these comments and suggestions, Christopheros.  Your intervention on Saturday/Sunday, with the test images your produced of the differently placed (web)cam on Ivo's character was very welcome......... and I wish we could have rehearsed with the new constellation a bit.
I say this also in  regard to my last comments (in separate mail) on Nancy's "avatar" in NewMarkt, her departure into the street level.
I suggest we carefully look at the triptychon configuration again.  We all noticed how the rehearsals changed over the last week.

Perhaps we can re-visit the triptychon as a film screen/computer word/panorama.  In the stage designer's vision, the screen is 12 meter wide, a very large panorama. I only know of one such artwork (static), painted in all around by painter Tübke in East Germany,  a perplexing large panorama view of the workers' revolution. Perhaps other references are to the murals in the Mexican tradition of such realist urban portrayals.   In film history, i remember Abel Gance's Napoleon film triptych, and more recently Mike Figgis' film Timecode (split in four).    What are we contructing in our program with Ioann's film material?  often the camera tracking shots are of the same street/divided into three forward moving views.
Tram shots are similar, there is a simultaneity (split focus/perspective) and a next to next, side by side parallel kinetic motion.  I think it would be good to hear Ioanna on this (i also would like to publish such notes on film/programming in our theory pages).

Now, it turned out, we have also some other scenes, which isolate (e.g.:  centre:   tram scene).  color field (avatar building scene).  and others when, after the programming of our patch was fine tuned, allowed for confrontation Ermira-avatar with Player. 

Nancy (A'dam) street avatar often was brought up on either side (left - right).  The left - right  (turning of the head, the tennis court scenes) also is prominent in the "billboards" sequence.  (I cannot comment on the basketvall commercials etc which start in middle and flow outwards to cover the whole screen, i never understood those scenes, even though the film aesthtetic is powerful).  then there are scenes when, in the solo/duet confrontation of gestural copying/imitation/mirroring,  we see Ermira facing laterally the lone figure of Nancy on Newmarkt on all three screens.  

We also see Ivo, occasionally right screen, oftem left screen.  and at the end in the middle (hair, confession).
The placement, shifts, and doubling. tripling of the webcam live characters are enormously challenging, and also need to be carefuly reflected upon.
Can you continue your suggestions, Christopheros, and tell us how you see the dramaturgical "panorama" of the home player Ivo enter the game, start up the game, and make us familiar with the game?   I think it would work well in the beginning (left - right), but the middle is the color field of the silhouetted Ermira to become avatar.  So the suggested three LAYERS need to be distributed carefully.

The other dramaturgical question (also imminently related to Ermira;s use of the sensors) concerns the flow and relationship/alternation between lived webcams and prerecorded (synthetic digital world of urban images, the game world).  Which is the game world, which is the player world, which is the real street level?  and WHY do they come up when they come up? 

what motivates which "distribution",  when are masks used, blending, and what causes the overlays?    this is a very complex visual choreography, required here,  and it will determine to a large extent how our motifs, the narrative dramaturgy, conistency and the development of the plot are perceived by the audience.
Do we have a plot (game engine)?  what is it?    what is the Walhalla plot?   how is the player rewarded?  why would an obsessional game player have anything to confess?
and how do we see any development on part of the webcam characters?   I think we are not sure what happens to Ivo.   I lose him half way through.   The final monologue (female voice over) is not identifiable with Ivo,  even though Zoe insists it can be done.   Can it be identified with Nancy?    we never really see her face close up?  why?  is ti possible to see her face in the beginning, when she prepares?   Do we become distanced from both Nancy, lost in the streets,  and Ivo,  whose character blurs? Perhaps it comes down to Ermira and her character to connect all three, pull them back,  and --- rather than run over by a car --- she crawls from the floor to .......... well, Walhalla?   concrete to water?  what is this?

where is the gathering place at the countdown /twilight (to evoke Wagner)  of the game?   Any associations made (music) with Wagner?  however ironic?   cartoon Wagner twilight of the gods?

Johannes Birringer


Thursday August 3

Hello all
When i get a moment (next week) I am going to install a blog, Ivo, and of course if Emira wishes! and I can respond, provide
documentation. So at least we all can keep track of each others creative processes, documentations as performing artists so far and for the rest of the project.

As Tzeni writes:
> Nancy and Ermira are having a very interested and intense relationship in the section of "trial of communication" they need to sync how they develop the movement
but i think with a some chatting a better estimation of the time of this scene and the right moment of giving the cue this will be there and it 's a very nice interaction ( two inventions with similar need ( to communicate) are confronting each other with no success. Also in the disorientation section when Nancy and Ermira look lost in one of the runs it was very nice that both of you were lost but it happens like you where chasing each other but without meeting and that also gave the other idea of repeating this scene, but then for  nancy to start with her back to the camera and Ermira to the screen and having a slow half turns look at each other.

. .

Apart from obvious danger element. I had some pretty intense experiences in the street on friday and saturday night, having some space around me to
try out some movments for myself within the structure of the choreography I felt very (for the first time) connected to the other remote performers &
the energied event that was occuring in this translocal space within the cue structure. I will write about that also on this blog.

> One idea to think of is to have a fish eye view camera for Ivo, in order to include a bigger spectrum of his living environment.

This will also bring its own aesthetic language with it so test first and really see if that is needed. My 2c.

> Sher can you please clarify to me if your concerns are related to the internet or to the one computer heavy duty?
I hear bandwith is very unstable and more than 3 streams is really pushing
it, but Sher can clarify that.

> Now Nancy 's role is really close to getting stuck in nether-world of A'dam not being able to go home.(exactly the opposite of ivo and that's why you could definitely be his fantasy)
As i responeded in some other personal emails from feedback from Johannes who said:
>it is like you are a former avatar now living in A'dam.  But you seem lost on the streetcorner, so, trying to make contact, where are you and do you know where you are?

This interpretation i'd like to stick with. I really can relate to that on many levels personallay and artistcially. "she lives in the interstices of the world"

> Nancy sitting down in the pavement also really worked for me just before and when the car crash happened.

Great. As lying down in that area just asks for someone to come and either piss on me or something else abusive to that manner, as I proved on friday
night getting slapped on the ass, or people walking over me going to kick me in the head. Clear to whoever was watching the video stream on cue 10
friday evening. This bring me to my cue's for firday night 'cue 11: crawl like a dog', as the next cue after this experience I chose not to do it, but i still
wonder how a dog relates to an avatar or human in between world. Or is sadomasochism for a moment a part of it?

sorry to be always the contraversial one but please explain. from whom did this cue and action come & why?> ideal world that we all live for : the beautiful looking woman, the
> ideal house of your life, the beautiful beach,  the amazing muscular male, walhalla game...
The title. My position still stands on that the title is heavily loaded: Nazi fascist iconicity and it needs to be addressed.
Having that said Johannes brings up some very good questions about the
tryptych. some of which I'll repeathere about concept dramatugy:

>Do we have a plot (game engine)?  what is it?    what is the Walhalla
plot?   >how is the player rewarded?  why would an obsessional game player have >anything to confess?
........ where is the gathering place at the coundown /twilight (to evoke Wagner)
>of the game?   Any associations made (music) with Wagner?  however
ironic?   >cartoon Wagner twilight of the gods?

As a performer I find there is a big contrast to me as performer from director and dramaturg (this might be a problem or not) for the remote
rehearsals. But it was a problem in Germany for my understanding and ability to interpret the role and also timing when there would be endless discussions between these crew members.
I hope for everyone's energy i wish for the best that this is acknowledge and worked through efficiently for the best dramatrugy for the performance as a whole.

>A'DAM: A'dam stream goes - everyone seems satisfied! The usage of zoom I thought >was interesting, as well as the high angle. The only issue, on
my part, is >losing Nancy out of the frame for too long (it's fine if it's for a short >time). Please add comments for Nancy/Bonzai, if you have some.Both friday and saturday reherasals were 4-5 friends of mine jumping in last minute working on their goodwill to either maintain stream, shout cues,  zoom camera and do security in the street.
The only reason I was missing on Saturday between cue 5-6 as I ran upstairs to fix the night shot in my DV camera and missed cue 6. since sunset occured. I am expecting I will have more support not my  friend volunteer work, as all of the Amsterdam production team are due to be there during the September scedule, for my saftey and of course a smooth rehearsal and
production support.

Nancy Mauro-Flude

* * *


2. Virtual Urban Worlds (game situationism)

The spectacle is the moment when the commodity has attained the total occupation of social life.

Not only is the relatio to the commodity visible but it is all one sees: the world one sees is its world.

(Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle, Detroit: Black & Red, 1983, #42)


The Situationist approach or dialectical view of everyday life in the city, if one could speak of a method derived from the texts and activities of the Situationist International (1960s), implies a critical awareness of capitalist economies and mass mediations. A key concept, important to the SI, was defined in their journal as "a moment of life concretely and deliberately constructed by the collective organization of a unitary ambiance and a game of events." As the SI embraced dialectical Marxism, the situation came to refer less to a specific avant-garde practice than to the dialectical unification of art and life more generally, but rather than trying to understand the activities of the Situationists in their historical moment, it might be more useful to ask whether their notion of the "construction of situations," and the methods that became well-known through subsequent theoretical and political texts (notions such as concentrated and diffuse spectacle, integrated spectacle, unitary urbanism, recuperation, detournement, and dérive), can today be applied to a critical artistic "installation" of a computer game that is not in fact a computer game but a live performance using certain techniques and the "system of organization" in a game world.

The first dialectical principle in the project "See you in Walhalla" is the derivation of a Second-Life like game, here adopted for live performance with interactive digital media, live webcams in various cities in Europe (east and west), and a paradoxical cinema verité (documentary video) approach to the construction of urban situations screened in the performance space. The second dialeectical twist in the project concerns the roles of the players and avatars, who are connected through a melancholic and cynical avatar consciousness, on both an autistic and a social realist level.

A closer description of the nature of the "virtual" urban worlds projected onto the screens, and the behaviors of the real and fictional avatars, will follow below.

(to be continued)