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

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2YouTopia / Vertical City @ Nuit Blanche Toronto 2014

Vertical City’s “YouTopia” Project

YouTopia promotional flyer

It’s not that the island needs more of me…

The Beacon Room, Gibraltar Point Centre for the Arts…it’s that I need more of the island in me (and my work).

I’ve been working with Bluemouth Inc these last few weeks on the first breath of a new immersive performance project – so far a kind of hallucinatory take on ‘summer camp’ – through a short residency at the Gibraltar Point Center for the Arts, Toronto Island. I think the last time I worked on an art project here was with electroacoustic composer Darren Copeland (New Adventures in Sound Art). We were making a radio documentary about the history of Toronto’s soundscape, on the island, in the dead of winter, 1999. The island is an insanely beautiful place to come to work to every day. Everything about it – the constant surf crashing against the shore, the expansive blue sky, the wind that rushes through everything – it all insists that you leave what’s past behind you and move forward. Although a lot of the things we experimented with during this residency reminded me (perhaps too much) of many past (and in some cases very early) projects, the island itself  insists that I am only as good as my last work and so would I please mind moving forward and not repeat myself?

Cherry Blossom Promise 2012 Live Set

As spring approaches every year, the blossoms in the grove of cherry trees at High Park are carefully tracked. During their peak blooming period (a 2 or 3 day window) hundreds of people gather to take in the blossoms on the hillside. As if by magic, a sound system appears and a collection of no-beat ambient dj’s immerse the grove and its visitors in sound.

This ambient set evolves through the playing and then processing of vintage – and seasonally appropriate – tracks from my record collection.

Performed on Friday, April 13, 2012 in the cherry blossom hillside grove in High Park (Toronto)

‘HABIT@’ — FINGER opens up a cardboard box in order to figure out what makes a house a home.

Still from HABIT@When is a house a home? Or when is it not? And when or how does a structure (like even a cardboard box in an underpass) become a ‘home’ anyway? On the surface, the owner or occupant moulds the house to their needs (through renovations, decorations, routines and rituals), while the house secretly moulds the occupants to its needs. HABIT@ seeks a deeper understanding of this experience. FINGER opens up a cardboard box in order to figure out what makes a house a home.

Ingredients:
1 cardboard box
a handful of sensor technology
several digital recall devices
machines for crunching data
luminence tools
sharp things
small things (including fingers)
…and one cat.

 

Finger performance of ‘Habit@’ (excerpt) from richard windeyer on Vimeo.

An excerpt from ‘HABIT@’, a Finger performance created by Cameron McKittrick, Cameron Davis and Richard Windeyer.

Presented by New Adventures in Sound Art as part of the SoundPlay Festival’s Homescapes performance + screening November 20, 2010 at Theatre Direct’s Christie Studio, Artscape Wychwood Barns, 601 Christie #170, Toronto.