Recent binaural field recordings

For best results, listen on headphones…

The difference between science and art — a potentially useful explanation

IMG_1666 (1)
Perspectival photo of the spiral staircase at the Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences, Toronto, Canada 

This explanation comes from a recent conversation between artist/musician Brian Eno and architect Bjarke Ingels (see partial transcription below). It’s an explanation that I’ve been contemplating while devising possible experiments in the field of information/data art and performance (i.e., my dissertation research). Eno’s explanation seems (to me) to be not only insightful, but also approachable and — perhaps more importantly — useful. Not only do I think this because my own research is forcing me to oscillate between the sciences and the arts at ever-increasing degrees of intensity, but because so many artists (myself included), tend to do a poor job of explaining why everyone else should care about what they (we) do. 


“Why don’t we all do science? Science obviously produces results — we all live with those results; they’re all around us. Science is practical; makes good sense, and it’s very inspiring too, it’s not unimaginative or anything like that; it’s not dull. So I started thinking about this question of what do artists do and why do we want artists? Why do we want art? […] I started to think that the difference between science and art was that science was really interested in trying to find out how this world works. If you ask any scientist what they’re doing they’ll say, “Well I’m just fascinated by spectacles, so I just really want to see how they worked,” or “I’m just fascinated by water; I really want to understand water.” If you ask artists what they’re doing they generally tell you to ‘bugger off’ or they don’t really have an answer to the question. They say, “I just like doing it.” So you say, “But why do you like doing it?” And what you realize is that what artists like is to build new worlds of some kind; unfamiliar worlds. They want to build other possible realities and in doing that understand something about this reality; reflect back on this reality […] That was really where things like Music For Airports came from. They came from projecting a future that I hoped to create by building some of the objects that belonged in that future. I thought, if you put the objects there, even though the rest of the future didn’t exist, it would start to grow around those objects…. And it seemed to work.” 

Nevertheless, I remain curious as to other possible distinctions between what science and art do for us. I’m especially interested in explanations which emphasize the complimentary nature of science and art rather than those that continue to promote opposition or divisiveness.    

You can view the entire conversation below. Eno’s explanation begins at 2min:58sec in.

Brian Eno & Bjarke Ingels — ‘On Instruments Of Change’ (Heartland Festival, 2016)

Selected links:

Chalk line futures

Talking about dissertation cycles


The next two+ years of (my) academic life, cast in chalk (courtesy of Dr. Peter Coppin, OCADU).


On interdisciplinary studies in knowledge media and the performing arts

Here is a brief profile interview I did for the University of Toronto’s Knowledge Media Design Institute, one which I think (hopefully) begins to explain my research focus as a doctoral student with the KMD collaborative program.

What department are you part of and what is your research focus?

I come from the Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies (CDTPS) with a background in music technology and sound design for theatre and performance. My research focuses on how our ability to capture and process certain forms of data (i.e. ’big data’, biodata, etc.), are transforming how artists create immersive and/or participatory theatre and performative experiences.

Why did you decide to join the KMD collaborative program?

I’ve always tried to position myself at the intersections between disciplines. Working this way is not easy, but it’s always rewarding and ripe with opportunities for innovation and cross-fertilization. I first heard about the KMD/CDTPS collaborative program through Dr. Bruce Barton (a former CDTPS faculty member now at the University of Calgary), just after it had been established. Being one of the first KMD/CDTPS students was a little strange at first — in my KMD classes, I usually ended up being referred to as ‘the drama guy’, which I think was actually a blessing in disguise. It motivated me to clarify (for myself) and to articulate (to others) what I thought the most important connections between knowledge media design and theatre/performance are — or should be — and how these disciplines might benefit most from collaborative cross-pollination.

How has KMD impacted your research?

The prerequisite KMD courses helped me develop a solid grounding in the contexts and practices surrounding ‘big data’ and ‘open data’ while providing me with an opportunity to begin researching the methods and practices of contemporary artists specializing in data visualization and/or sonification. KMDI’s Human Centred Design course was particularly valuable in expanding my understanding of the methods and practices employed to cultivate meaningful user participation in the design of products, services or systems and — by extension — theatre/performance experiences.

How is your research related to the KMD collaborative program?

People ask me what contemporary knowledge media design has in common with the traditions of theatre and performance. It’s a great question and while I am not a specialist in the theatre of Ancient Greece, scholars such as Derrick de Kerckhove[1] (McLuhan Program, University of Toronto) and others have attempted to demonstrate how a primary function of the ancient Greek theatre was to provide the predominantly illiterate spectator with models for processing, integrating and communicating their perceptions and experiences of the world as knowledge. Theatre has always served as a form of knowledge media. More specifically though, I tend to view theatre as a kind of ‘reality simulator’ — a place where complex or chaotic situations or scenarios can be conceived, enacted and rehearsed and new personas, behaviours and perceptual models can be prototyped and tested, all in a comparatively safe and controlled environment.

How did you find the transition to KMD and how compatible is it with the goals of collaboration and innovation within Performing Arts studies?

I found it was relatively easy. Sound design and interactive technologies have always been essential components of my work in theatre and performance. Yet, I’ve always been equally interested in exploring how this particular design knowledge could be transferred to other fields, such as the design of sounds produced through a user’s interaction with a physical object, system or environment.

What words of advice would you give a future Theatre and Performance Arts Student who thinks about pursuing further studies with KMD?

If you focus on the places where KMD and theatre/performance overlap and intersect meaningfully, opportunities for cross-pollination and trans-disciplinary insight can be discovered and explored. Part of this involves thinking beyond the more popular definitions of ‘theatre’ (i.e., plays, musicals, dramatic texts, etc.) until you begin to see how most people engage some form of ‘performance’ as part of their daily lives.

[1] for example,see the article Theatre as Information-Processing in Western Cultures by Derrick de Kerckhove

The Digital Voice Lab in Paris

Bodies On Stage: Acting Confronting Technologies conferenceAs June busts out across the European Union, I have just joined fellow Digital Dramaturgy Lab member Sebastian Samur in a hot and humid Paris, France to co-present a paper at the Bodies On Stage: Acting Confronting Technologies conference held at the Université Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris 3. Our presentation — Moi qui parle à moi-même dans le numérique / Auditory Alienation and Liberation for the Intermedial Performer — documents the results of our recent Digital Voice Lab experiments — a component of Sebastian’s ongoing Voice Exchange forum at The Centre For Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies (University of Toronto), in which we explored the creative and dramaturgical potential of actors working with electronic voice modulation (a.k.a. ‘voice mask’) tools — such as pitch-shifting and time delay —to develop new characters or (alternatively) new approaches to performing well-known characters, such as Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Here is Sebastian explaining our digital ‘voice mask’ research (in French) during a conference break.

Practice-as-Research in the Arts

Practice-as-research book piles
Week 4, year 1 of doctoral studies. You will know me by my piles of books!