Digital Puppets

How can I be sure, not having read all of the material on this wide-wide, whether the subject of puppets has come up before, and whether there is a discussion group on game design (3D world design), utilisation of game engines, and their relationship to "choreography" or the organisation of movement and of "avapresences" (Klaus Nicolai's term) in these worlds?

I don't strictly see my proposal here as one about tools, although tools and toolboxes are useful here, and i begin with an account......

I watched, with great fascintion, a digital puppet play in Hellerau at the CYNETART festival 2007, created by Friedrich Kirschner and a team he had invited to join him for the performance/enaction (and additional programming and wearable-designing) of the puppet play.

Kirschner's Puppenspiel (live digital animation) - and the tools he adopted from freely downloadable game engine wares as well as a toolbox he created -- might be of interest to others here.

I briefly resume my notes from last November:

"Ein kleines Puppenspiel" (a little puppet play).

This performance was an intimate & exhilarating highlight of the festival's second weekend, carried out with humility and extreme beauty; this performance in the Hellerau east studio featured a brief introduction by Friedrich Kirschner in which he playfully showed a few moments from a commercial game that he had loaded on his computer: "Unreal Tournamen, 2004."

we watched as he maneuvered through the first level ("Death Match"), shooting everything on sight. truncated bodies and mangled parts were flying here and there. blood on the virtual floor. this ended the ego shooter demonstration.

then Kirschner announced that he will take us on a different journey into a mod, a modified game environment in which the creative user can generate her or his own environment, characters, and action. it will also be more friendly, he promised.

introducing his collaborators - Sebastian Zangar (from Düsseldorf) doing live sound synthesis on his Mac and Midi keyboard, Bianca Bodmer (Ludwigsburg Film School) on game cameras and editing, and Mika Satomi, Hannah Perner-Wilson and Ivana Kalc (all from Linz, Austria) on additional puppet / motion capture real time play -- Kirschner opened up the "Movie Sandbox" machinima application he has written, and then stood at a small rack that had a few thin wires running down which he manipulated as one would a live puppet. The wires however sent data to his computer, and Kirschner manipulated a digital puppet figure inside a room -- the puppet walks from the bed to the kitchen table to pick up a spoon -- which later opened up to a vast urban landscape.

in the urban landscape we see Ivana Kalc becoming the puppeteer (mover) of a puppet avatar that walks through the digital city, which we experience from many different angles. all the while, Zangar created the live sound track and the music for the puppet "game" -- and there was a spell-bound silence in the room as we watched this simple and yet complex, beautiful scene: a strangely vulnerable, almost transparent puppet making its way from the privacy of the house into the streets of urban life, manipulated by real hands and the body of a dancer.

After the entr'acte, Kirschner briefly explained the easily affordable (inexpensive) "machinery" behind this live performance and asked audience members to test it, a few youngsters jumped forward to seize the occasion, and a second performance followed, showing how quickly and intuitively the game can be learnt. the kids were amazing.

For starters, if you wanted to tell your ideas, or work with such tools, i will here add some links and references.
First: The blog/link to the Festival, where you can see a video of the performance, and pictures.

Info on Kirschner and his artist residency at Hellerau.

Friedrich Kirschner

In correspondence with Friedrich, he told me us editing a full video of the work, and also wants to make the source code available.

You also need the game UT2004 and and the
modification moviesandbox from:

The artists from Linz have a fabulous website, and will alse make their tools and kit available soon:
Mika Satomi / Hannah Perner-Wilson.


Johannes Birringer

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Replies to This Discussion

hmmmmm - interesting, complicated stuff. need time to digest it.
Further readings has directed me to Stefan Rieger's book on "Kybernetische Anthropologie: Eine Geschichte der Virtulität" (Frankfurt, 2003). and there are some fascinating sections on scientific study of motion, mechanical and human/animal, and especially a neuorologist's experiments with waves (wave motion, pendulum motion): then a suprising reference to the 19th century and the early famous short essay by Heinrich von Kleist on the marionette.

Since Gordon Craig and the Bauhaus artist-designers (Schlemmer, for instance) were equally drawn to these speculations on movement and marionettes (human / non human motion), will, involuntary motion, response patters/reflexes, consciousness and automatism, etc -- i guess this is the science and philosophy context for looking at digital puppets with fresh eyes, particularly within the dance forum here, and also within a transversal range of prfactices now, as have suggested above - looking at how our colleagues (and here i am also thinking of igloo and their new SWAN QUAKE project and Bruno Martelli's and John McCormick's use of the Quake engine.........) in game design and in other 3D world designs understand puppeteering in the digital/virtual sense.

I want to mention Michael T. Magruder's new work, he sent me an email a few days ago, pointing to the website of this work, which refers back to Vitrivius (architecture) and also to the virtual, and specifically make use of interfaces with (1) avatars (2) puppets (3) dolls.

here is the reference:

>>Here is a link for my recent Turbulence commission, "The Vitruvian World",
which is part of the 'Mixed Realities' exhibition now showing in Boston at
the Huret & Spector Gallery, Emerson College. The exhibition will also be
touring to the UK, and will be shown at the HTTP gallery in London at some
point in the future.

thanks Michael --- it is so interesting what i disover there, on the weblinked site, that i wanted to share it with all.

I tried to find the Rieger book on "Kybernetische Anthropologie" for our english speaking friends, but it has not been translated. so please read it in german.

i did find references to it, amongst others, in context with discussions of the digital & consciosuness and "affect" (Massumi)......interesting! A german scholar gave a talk at Simon Fraser in Vancouver, and refered to Rieger: I quote that passage, the whole article is available as:

Marie-Luise Angerer MEDIA [AFFECT]
Kunsthochschule für Medien / Kunst- und Medienwissenschaften Cologne
Academy of Media Arts / Art and Media Studies
École Supérieure des Arts et Médias / Sciences des Arts et Médias

She says:
From the very outset, digital media have been burdened with paradoxical promises. On the one hand, a tactile dimension was attributed to them that supposedly enabled an experience of images that differed from the optical-acoustic experience of analogue pictures. On the other hand, they were denied classical image status. As the logic went, the way they were made (their algorithmic calculation with no “natural” referent/signified) meant they were not pictures in the conventional sense, but only on the surface, while their substrate had long since departed from the pictorial domain. Since then, the many attempts to get a theoretical hold on digital images and their attraction have oscillated between these two poles of the sense of touch and the no-longer-image. According to one current approach, the special quality of (digital) media (art) is the affective addressing of the viewer. As they are no longer proper pictures, these images require a different effort of synthesis on the part of the viewer, i.e. his or her affective-physical involvement. According to this view, the new, immersive situation calls on viewers to organize and structure the visual worlds that surround them. But affective and emotional addressing is not limited to digital images; indeed, affect and emotion are currently at the centre of attention in a wide range of discourses. Media affect immediately loses its special quality, underlining instead the production of the affective, which is the focus here. Media theories, neurophysiology, and neurobiology are working together with digital image production on a politics of the affective.

In recent cultural theorizing, the concept of emotion (along with the notions of affect, feeling and sentiment) has emerged as a key area of scholarly investigation. Drawing on psychoanalysis, psychology, sociology, phenomenology and new materialism, scholars have argued that emotions are crucial to the formation of subjects, bodies, communities and politics. At the same time, an ›emotionalisation‹ of media culture is mentioned as a global trend exemplified by tabloidisation, the primacy of confessional, traumatic and scandalising discourses and the rise of reality television. In addition ›experience‹ has become a major issue in art (where viewers and visitors are asked to walk in, to perform, to be moved and to stop thinking). Not only has emotion/affect emerged as a key topic but at the same time representatives of various humanity disciplines have started attacking their own field, arguing that the concentration on language and structure was much too long and exclusively. >>>

Recent decades in the humanities, and thus also in media and art theory, have been marked by an understanding of the body that defined it doubly, i.e. as a body-knowledge and a body-jouissance>>>

[here she seems to move us toward a gendered theory, of motion/emotion, and bringing in the sexual into discussions of the machine: this is not so bad, it's been missing in our discourse since the headier years of the cyborg-manifestos by feminists, and contra Matt Hough, i do very strongly harbor the assumption that our practices are gender biased, and i see that all around me. perhaps you do too?]
here is Angerer near the end of her talk:

According to Mark Hansen, digital images are aimed less at the optical-visual and more at the tactile-haptic – in other words, it is the affective body that ›sees‹ through feeling. What body? How does it manifest itself? Rather than resolving any of these questions, the implementation of an affective body merely answers them with an instance whose immanence or essentialist character is unmistakeable. But this character also indicates that consciousness can or will be circumvented, with information reaching the brain subcutaneously.

In his "Kybernetische Anthropologie," Stefan Rieger expresses this wonderfully when he writes that the top priority in developing cybernetic machines should be to implant in them a kind of unconscious to endow them with the competency that characterizes the human system of perception, i.e. the ability to oversee and overhear. What John Searle once so euphorically referred to as the hallmark of the 21st century – the »century of consciousness« - now threatens to get in the way of the whole enterprise. For according to Stefan Rieger, it is widely agreed »that human efficiency is based on overseeing and overhearing, always taking place where consciousness is not or is not yet«. In this model, the unconscious is cast simply as the other of consciousness. This is not right, of course, as the Freudian unconscious is bound to language and only ›comes into being‹ via entry into the symbolic order, i.e. the unconscious does not exist as a terrain to be conquered but must be grasped as ›another scene‹.
If artificial machines, recording devices (like those currently deployed on Mars and elsewhere) and computers are equipped with an unconscious that renders them spontaneous and unpredictable, they come closer to being affective life forms.

recent research would suggest you are wrong about the 'gender' issue "Girls and young woman are now the most prolific web users"

perhaps your generation / work still has a deep gender bias but things in 'younger' generations are changing.
not sure i believe it (although i do observe my nieces , yes), and not sure how you want to now define generations and what you think my generation is....; basically, i was not talking about web and youtube users, but about the kind of professional work produced in dance tech or digital performance that was under discussion, thus i was looking at power relations and gender relations in the works, and it was just an observation that also seems corroborated in some or in many instances by women who work in the field and also work in programmer and hacker communities and the tool environments (subject of this group)

see Nancy Mauro-Flude's "Social software: fiction, action-at-a-distance and dolls" -

of course there are many changes. and my comments above (my first post) reflected a very productive non hierarchical relationship between the Kirschner team and the Linz team (Satomi, Perner-Wilson).
the point is your 'observations' are anecdotal. thus, before saying that this practice is 'gender biased' someone should undertake statistical research.

it is possible the people you work with did not grow up with 'technologies' and have learned them as additional skills. what you see is not a bias in dance-tech practice but access / interest in skills.

we are seeing greater numbers of female 'techies' and tech artists, but in younger generations. thus future dance-tech practice will not have a 'bias'. there is also no inherent reason or aesthetic that could lead us to say 'dance-tech' is by nature gender biased.

tools and technologies does include the web. the article also talks about women studying computing. so this is the right place

nor is this an 'open' look at gender relations/power in dance-tech, because the assumption you make is that the 'power' lies in the technology not the performance. and that remains an unresolved question.


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