Emerge | Commons

This year I was fortunate to have the opportunity to contribute to the performance schedule of ASU’s conference about art, science, and the future. This is the second year that Emerge has happened at ASU, with the final night being  a culminating festival of performance and art. In the Fall of 2012 I worked with a group of artists to put together a proposal for creating a performance in Neeb Plaza on ASU’s campus. This courtyard that sits nestled between Neeb hall, the Art building, and Design houses a new student generated installation called X-Space each year. Looking to solicite the creation of new works, the Herberger institute put out a call for artists interested in organizing a performance that occurs in X-Space. Called X-Act, applicants were asked to consider hw they would use the space and engage the campus. Early in January my team found out that we our proposal, Commons, was selected. One of the stipulations of the grant was that we would have a showing during the final showcase of Emerge. With this news in mind, our team started the process of creating the installation we had proposed.

One of the elements that our team was committed to realizing was finding a way to integrate projection into the performance on this very geometrically interesting space. I started by measuring the physical dimensions of the space in order to determine the distance required for the projectors that I had available for this project. Using a bit of math one can calculate the throw distance of a projector. Alternatively it’s also easy to use Projector Central’s Projection Calculator in order to lock down approximate distances that you might need. With the numbers in front of me I was able to start making a plan about potential projector placement, as well as my options for the performance given the constraint of the size of image that I could create. With the limitations of distance roughly mapped out I headed to the space after dark to do some initial tests. The hard truth about the amount of ambient light in the plaza, and the limits of the InFocus projectors meant that I needed to shy away from projecting large in favor of being brighter. The compromise of brightness and size was to map the front surfaces of X-Space. To accomplish this, I needed to connect two projectors with a Matrox TripleHead. This piece of equipment allows for multi-monitor work where the computer sees the two projectors as though they were a single canvas. 

It took about 4 hours to pull of the necessary equipment, install, and  focus the projectors.  Once I had the projectors up and in place I was finally able to start mapping the surfaces. I had decided early on that I was going to use a piece of software called Modul8 to control my media playback. Modul8 is a VJ software software package that’s robust and easy to use. Unlike other pieces of software, Modul8 is more like an instrument than an autonomous agent that can run independently. While there are a bunch of functions that you can automate inside of the software, it’s largely built around the idea of live-mixing the media that you’re using. In terms of automation, Modul8 allows the operator to use audio input to control a number of playback triggers. For this project the team used a track by DJ Earworm for audio, largely motivated by the desires of the group recruited for the dance performance. One of the additional benefits of Modul8 is it’s ability to send Syphon out media. This means that this piece of playback software can be easily integrated with the mapping tool MadMapper. Here it was as important to know what media system (projectors, hardware, and software) I was using, as the conceptual idea around the performance itself. 

Media System Diagram

After getting the hardware installed I started mappping the surfaces of X-Space, creating individual quads and masks for each plane. All in all it took me about three hours to create the maps and masks for the architecture. At this point I was finally able to start experimenting with what kind of media I wanted to use, and how I wanted to arrange it in the space. All in all I budgeted about 16 hours to get this project up and running. Implementing the plan I had created ended up taking about 16.5 hours. This meant that I had one night where I worked on this installation until 3:15 AM, and another night where I was working until just before midnight.  We also had a rather unfortunate miscommunication with the Emerge planning staff about this installation, and the importance of having a security guard available to monitor the site over night. Installation started on Thursday evening, and each of the team members took a shift over night to monitor the outdoor equipment. Luckily we ended up with security for the second night, and didn’t have to pull any more all-nighters. 

Finally, while this project looked beautiful on the empty space, there was a miscommunication about audience placement and how stanchions were going to be used at the actual event. While the team had discussed the importance of roping off the performance space, that request was lost on the actual event planners. Consequently the audience largely obstructed the projections as they used the actual stage space as seating. Additionally, the space was filled with stage lighting and projectors rented for another performance which only served to wash-out Commons media, and distract audience members. While this was certainly not a failure, it did leave a lot to be desired given the time, planning, and sleepless nights that implementation required. It’s just another lessons learned, even if learned the hard way.

Tools Used

Commons X-Act Proposal

Ethan Jackson | MSD New Production Innovation | College of Design
Chelsea Pace | MFA Performance | School of Theatre and Film
Kris Pourzal | MFA Dance / School of Dance
Matthew Ragan | MFA Interdisciplinary Digital Media and Performance | School of Theatre and Film & Arts, Media + Engineering

Activating a campus of this size is a challenge. With so many majors across so many schools, it would be impossible to activate the entirety of the campus with only arts students, or any small group of students for that matter. We propose Commons.

We are excited to propose a 100 person ensemble comprised mostly of non-performers. This ensemble would be assembled by the team over the next several months by contacting graduate students and undergraduates from various departments and schools across ASU, both inside and outside of the Herberger Institute. The inattention is that the sample of students would be a proportional and accurate representation of the population of the Tempe Campus student body.

This project is ambitions and we are not ignorant of the challenges presented by gathering an ensemble of this size. The difficulty is doubled with you consider that we intend to bring mostly non-performers into the ensemble. The groundwork fro the process of contacting graduates students to enlist undergraduates from across campus is already being laid through contacts in Preparing Future Faculty and the Graduate and Professional Student Associate. 

The piece inherently activates the campus by reaching out across so many disciplines and getting people together, working together, and making art. The choreography will be created by the team and also crowd sourced from the assembled ensemble and the music (potentially) will b a remix of music surged by the group.

Not to be confused with a flash-mob, Commons will be a collaboration with all 100 performers. Created as an ensemble, the performs will truly have ownership over the piece and more than just regurgitating choreography, the piece will be brought to life by the population of Arizona State University.

The piece will use the X-Space, the cement plaza to the south, and the wall of the building west of the X-Space. When the audience enters the cement courtyard immediately south of the space, the floor will be lit with interactive projections triggered by the movement of the crowd. After the audience has gathered, the ensembles will emerge from the X-Space installation and begin a choreographed sequence. Theatrical lights, projections, and sound will be utilized to create an immersive environment for both the audience and the performers.

As the choreography builds and more performers are added, a live video feed will begin and will be projected several stories high onto the textured wall of the building to the west of the courtyard. THe projection will be live video of the performance and of the the audience.

The piece is approximately 30 minutes in duration and would allow for various groups of students who are professional distanced from performing to express themselves in a performative and expressive way. The piece ends with the performers exiting through the crowd and out onto campus where they will continue to perform choreography for 10 minutes in a space that is significant to their experience at ASU.

Rather than making something with HIDA students that only HIDA students see and perform in, Commons will truly activate the campus to come together, make something, and take it out into their communities across campus.