Technology waits for no one

PIPS:lab

Local actor, singer and writer Helen Stephens shares how her mind was blown, put back together, and blown once more as she learned Lumasol with Dutch theatre troupe PIPS:lab at the recent technology masterclass they hosted at The Edge.

“Technology waits for no one” they say, and as a young Brisbane theatre maker I have always felt this to be true, I got left behind somewhere between portable CD players and the iPod revolution. The realisation that I now had to reacquaint myself with modern technology was always just a little too much of an inconvenience, especially when I had brothers and boyfriends who were happy to acquiesce my every technological need. “I have to use a computer to do what?? I have to think about that?? Could you just do it for me?…Please?” are all questions and requests I made frequently.

Due to my dismissive and unadventurous attitude towards all things technical and the tight waisted budgets those of us in the arts are used to working with, my approach to theatre making was always to keep things simple, use minimal if any lighting states at all, maybe a few audio tracks if I couldn’t create them live and to not even dream about using projection or other forms of multimedia. This attitude of mine which says that technology is too hard to use was however, strongly challenged when I met up with 2 members of an out of this world performance troupe last week at Brisbane’s, The Edge.

Let’s go back ten years. It is 2001, Amsterdam, the Netherlands, “master of the impossible, image wizard, media genius and natural-born inventor” Keez Duyves who after years of technological creativity, problem solving, programming and conceptual design launches PIPS: lab, a theatre company consisting of a group of musicians, actors, sound engineers, programmers and technicians who share his passion for mind blowing technological experiences and real, visceral, interactive performance.

Now back to 2011, November 29. I who at 25, have gone through QUT’s Creative Industries Drama course, trained in many different forms of performance and am highly aware of the contemporary theatre movement which threatens to leave me behind, decide to head along to a technology in performance workshop to see if I can learn a trick or two. All I know is that it is to be run by a Dutch theatre company and is sure to be a great experience and a steep learning curve. Over the course of the next 4 hours my mind is blown time and time again and I realize that I am in the presence of a man whose mind and ideas are so far ahead of his time that he has no choice but to wait for technology to catch up with him.

Keez and company member Fred Rodrigues, originally from Adelaide, worked to introduce themselves and their company to a group of ten willing creatives ranging from circus performers, actors, musicians and filmmakers to teachers and community workshop facilitators. We were each given a small LED light and asked to draw out our name, letter by letter with the light, on to the large, white wall at the back of the room.  Little did we know that this was the exact method PIPS: lab use with their audiences in their show Diespace and a fitting introduction to a technique they have aptly named Lumasol. Before our eyes each letter of our name, dutifully written in order, was captured, layered and then presented back to us as a floating, revolving 3D image, an example of which you can see online. The effect is nothing if not impressive and eerily surreal. The concept of Diespace (created in 2007) is fittingly matched to this luminescent tool as the show explores the idea of souls living on in a virtual space after their human counterparts have passed away.

Something I would like to stress at this point is that Keez and the rest of the PIPS: lab team, are devout believers in using whatever equipment is readily available, accessible and affordable. They use a mixture of well-worn MAC and PC laptops, switching between them as the need presents and really were inspiring in their demonstrated ingenuity and resourcefulness. They rely on free software such as MAC program Quartz Composer for a lot of their programming needs and fashion musical instruments and lights from broom handles, PVC pipe, coloured plastic bottle tops and anything else they can lay their hands on. They believe that where there is a will, there is a way and foster this attitude with vigour and excitement when attacking new ideas for instruments, sound design applications and motion capture and live animation programs. No matter what they develop each tool has one universal commonality and that is that they are built with a high audience interaction function.

From Lumasol, to Bullet Time animation, I learned that PIPS: lab were successfully creating this effect long before The Matrix made it famous. Not only did they do this, but they achieved it by using a circle of modified disposable cameras in a darkened room with a centred, raised flash. Their work with Graffiti Artists in this clip is an example of this unique yet simple technique.

Discussions moved from Musical Instrument Digital Interfacing, (MIDI) to Motion Capture, however, due to technical difficulties we were unable to really see these in action. Herein lies one of PIPS: lab’s golden rules: never expect that technology will work, in fact, expect that it will fail.

So after a morning of playing and experimenting with lights and cameras, bodies and computers I want to thank The Edge and PIPS: lab for providing the opportunity for such profound learning.  I walked away having seen the impossible made possible and knowing that I could do the same.

“Daring to fail is the best way to learn, create and experiment”. Keez Duyves

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