Live Expression From Bayreuth to the Cloud

Randall Packer, the underground studio bunker, Washington, DC

After several years of configuring the studio bunker in Washington, DC into a stage for Internet Broadcasting – deep in my subterranean world of media alchemy and transformation – I began to think about the idea of a peer-to-peer broadcast network of live expression, a collective of artist-broadcasters, a new form of cloud-based theater: the Third Space Network.

Thinking back to the Wagnerian spectacle, where in Bayreuth, Germany, Richard Wagner realized his vision for a new theatrical edifice in his ground-breaking theoretical treatise the Artwork of the Future (1848): the composer conceptualized music drama as the high art of the gesamtkunstwerk (total artwork) and the synthesis of the arts.

Trauerfeier für Wolfgang Wagner in Bayreuth
Festspielhuas, Bayreuth, Germany

Wagner was the architect of his theater, the Festspielhaus built in 1876, an epic house of festivals that to this day brings the public together from around the world in celebration of Wagner’s sprawling and timeless mythological narratives. Despite the controversy surrounding the composer and his family’s anti-semetic leanings and association with Hitler during World War II, the Festspielhaus constituted a radical departure from 19th century opera, with its amphitheatrical seating borrowed from the ancient Greeks, surround-sound acoustics, and darkened house, immersing the spectator in a virtual world of music, movement, poetry, stagecraft and scenic design: opera as a ‘collective artwork’ that unites all the arts. Productions of Wagner’s music drama have been the pinnacle of opera design for nearly 150 years.

The Ring: Das Rheingold, The Metropolitan Opera, 2009

But we live in a different world now, and Wagner’s construction of the idealized opera house that focuses the virtual experience on a physical stage has been supplanted by digital forms that shift performance to virtual realms in entirely new ways. (And rightly so!!) We are all potentially part of a globally connected theatrical edifice situated on the network through which we can experience theater, performance, media and spectacle, contained within the screens of our laptops and mobile phones.

Alan Kay, whose research led to the invention of the graphical user interface in the 1970s, referred to the personal computer as a ‘metamedium,’ a stage for music, animation, video, and interactivity: a new digital gesamtkunstwerk, or gesamtdatenwerk, in which cybernetic systems integrated with desktop space and digital networks constitute the new synthesis of the arts.

“Out of this technological complexity, we can sense the emergence of a synthesis of the arts. The question of content must therefore be addressed to what might be called the gesamtdatenwerk – the integrated data work – and its capacity to engage the intellect, emotions, and sensibility of the observer.” – Roy Ascott

The gesamtdatenwerk, a term used by the British theorist Roy Ascott, suggested that dataspace or what I refer to as the third space (networked local and remote proximities), could be a new idealized platform for ‘music drama’: a connected, geographically dispersed performance (or installation) space that draws from Wagner’s concept of music theater as a medium for social and collective engagement.

Third space Happening led by Annie Abrahams, California Institute of the Arts

The idea of networked performance and installation has operated on the outer margins of the media and performing arts since the 1970s through the work of artists such as Kit Galloway & Sherrie Rabinowitz, Nam June Paik, George Coates, Paul Sermon, Stelarc, Helen Varley Jamieson, Annie Abrahams, Ken Goldberg, Mark Hansen & Ben Rubin, Lynn Hershman, Atau Tanaka, Adriene Jenik, Jeffrey Shaw, Steve Dixon, Jon Cates, to name just a few: bringing the synthesis of language, music, spoken word, technology, and media expression to live audiences via far ranging networked technologies including satellite, television, closed-circuit, Internet, Web-conferencing, cloud streaming, etc.

Paul Sermon, Telematic Dreaming

What’s next? A live interconnected 24/7 curated artists network: what I envision as the Third Space Network, a new spatial concept for music theater, live performance, and installation that eliminates the need for a centralized physical space, rather, a virtual edifice that is accessible to all corners of the globe, a 21st century Festspielhaus designed for artist broadcasters for the performance of actions, ideas, dialogue, and media transmitted directly from desktop to desktop. This is not science fiction, although for reasons beyond my comprehension, it has yet to be done on a large scale involving artists pushing the boundaries of live networked art. So here is the technological proto-platform for interconnecting broadcasted art seamlessly, continuously, always on:

Wowza Streaming Cloud

It is the moment for the realization of an artists network. The technology is here, and there is a tremendous need to collapse the space of the world to bring artists and audiences together from all corners of the globe, countries large and small, developed and developing, culturally dispersed. All without the excessive cost and carbon trail of travel, empowering artists who might not have the means and resources to circulate their ideas, yet have a critical message, a unique cultural perspective, a revolutionary idea, a desire to reach beyond: afforded by the network and a connection to the Internet.

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Randall Packer, underground studio bunker, Washington, DC