1. What Is A Digital Performance?


A digital performance is an event, during which an audience views creations that run on digital media. Here the emphasis is on "event" (an activity which occurs at a certain time and for a certain duration). The single greatest ability of the computer for creation is its facility to affect and reinterpret time. Yet very little has been done to take advantage of this ability. The computer screen flashes at least 60 times a second, the computer audio out at 44,000. Like a television, the computer screen is a manipulable grid of light. Unlike a television, this entire grid can be controlled at any moment in time interactively. Though we are accustomed to television "performances", the event or exact moment at which the performance occurs holds little importance. Any performance can be taped and watched in exactly the same way countless times. In contrast an event on a computer screen is seldom thought of as a performance, though for interactive systems the exact moment of activity or participation is of primary importance.

In his book, "Vision In Motion," Moholy-Nagy eloquently describes the traces of action:

The sea rolls against a sandy beach; the waves subtly corrugate the sand.

A painted wall cracks; the surface becomes a web of fine lines.

A car moves in the snow; the tires leave depp tracks.

Rope falls; it lies in smooth curves on the ground.

A board is cut; it shows the marks of the saw.

In each of these cases we are left with the result of a motion. The quality of the mechanism or actor and its interraction with a medium has left a trace. Yet we would know much more about the actor by examining its methodology over time for creating that trace. Imagine we knew little of cars and were presented with only the traces of tire tracks in snow. How could the cars have created these patterns? What mysterious forces caused the curved, black marks? By replaying and reexamining, exploring the creation in time, we would be able to better understand, relate to the car's processes, intter workings, and emotive quality.

The computational medium provides a hitherto unknown ability to record, replay, and manipulate time. By focussing on selected moments in time and reinterpreting them, we examine and dissect the expressiveness of our actions. Many tools currently exist to capture these actions or strokes. The GUI pointer provides instantaneous capture. Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and After-Effects provide varying levels of capture in time. But these tools focus on the result of the stroke rather than the stroke itself as primary. The process of the action contains unique information of our emotional, expressive state at that moment.

Thus any interactive system that emphasizes the process of action or the event of interaction may be thought of as a "digital performance", though it may only have an audience of one. However, for the purpose of this thesis we will focus on performance systems designed to be enjoyed by a larger audience.