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Archive Reference

VOL. 10, NO. 4 / APRIL 1984 / PAGE 164


Whispers in a Plane of Light Live Performance

Digicon 83. Paul D. Lehrman.
Complete Article:

Jo Ann Gillerman (video) in Live Performance with Jean Piché (music)

Whispers in a Plane of Light


It's not easy to picture Todd Rundgren, Robert Moog, David Em, Herbie Hancock, and Ed Emshwiller in the same place at the same time--even a place with the postcard appeal and glorious August weather of Vancouver, British Columbia. But imagine, if you will, a convention--one that draws on a particular segment of the audience that would attend NAMM, or SMPTE, or Siggraph. Now shift the emphasis away from the dealers, the DP freaks, and the hardcore hackers, and invite only artists and musicians, serious ones who are using the latest in computer technology to extend "the edge of the art." That was the idea behind Digicon 83, the first International Conference on the Digital Arts. The three-day conference this past August was the result of three years of planning by the Computer Science department of the School for Continuing Education at the University of British Columbia. Why Vancouver? For one thing, that is where the University is. Maybe just as important, it is probably the only city on the continent with civilized weather at that time of year. But for me, the conference was as terrific excuse for visiting a place I have wanted to see ever since I saw this jeweled city appear just beyond the mountains in the 360-degree Canadian travelogue film at EPCOT. Digicon was not a big conference; although attendees came from as far as Japan and South Africa, they totaled only about 300, although the one public concert drew an audience of some 700. Despite its relatively small size, it was an intense experience, with lectures, demonstrations, public performances, commercial and artistic exhibits, and plenty of high-tech partying.

Late Tuesday Morning: Jody Gillerman Takes It Off.

"Performance in Visual Media" doesn't exactly sound like a strip show, but it's about as close as this conference is going to get to anything on the prurient plane. A corner of the ballroom is filled with Jean Piche's music equipment, a mean-looking aluminum patch bay, and TV cameras, monitors, and lights. California video artist Jody Gillerman is walking around dressed in black leather and a huge red LED bracelet, and Piche shoos away a flock of photographers.

Gillerman sits down on a stool and takes off her jacket, revealing a black leotard, Piche starts playing string-like drones, punctuated by tiny explosions. A tape of computer graphics can be seen on a small video monitor and on a projection screen, and slowly the image on the larger screen starts to change. Cameraman Jim Whittaker is tightly focusing on Gillerman's neck, and the image of her caressing her bare skin starts to mix with the taped graphics. The music builds, and Piche begins to coo and sigh into a microphone. The camera angle of Gillerman is so tight that unless you can see her in the corner, it is hard to determine exactly what she is doing. It is an exciting, very sensual performance, and the audience applauds enthusiastically when it is over.

The patchbay, Piche later explains to us, is a custom image mixer that responds to incoming sound as well as its own internal program. "We rehearsed everything on headphones," he says, "so an unexpected thing happened just now-- the sound coming out of the speakers was getting into the microphone and setting up an extra loop. Actually, I think it came out better."


Epilogue: And so Digicon comes to a close. Although Cindy Noakes is exhausted, and although she says the attendance figures didn't fulfill her "dream scenario," she is mightily pleased. "Art and music people were talking to each other," she says. "I heard someone say, 'Boy, I would have stayed on the same track the rest of my life if I hadn't met the guy sitting next to me.'" And of course, that is what it is all about. Computer artists and musicians are a solitary bunch, and any opportunity for them to come out of their basement laboratories and see what everyone else is doing is welcome. "I don't know if Vancouver was ready for this," she says. "But this one won't be the last. And we can't see giving it over to somebody else to do--that's like giving away your baby." A few weeks after it is all over, she calls me to announce that Digicon II will take place in Vancouver, in August, 1985. She makes me promise to show up. And I'm pretty tired too. Now I go home and digest 100 pages of notes, no doubt exhausting the capacity of my word processor. I also have some ideas about tricking my AlphaSyntauri into making sounds it is not supposed to be able to. But first, I think I'll head for those mountains.

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