Time Flies | Arts & Entertainment | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly
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Culture » Arts & Entertainment

Time Flies

Technology is part of the art behind Another Language’s “InterPlay.”



Time really has flown for Jimmy and Beth Miklavcic. Their performance group Another Language is set to present its fifth “InterPlay” in as many years. The group, founded in 1985, has always tried to present experimental works that pushed the frontiers of artistic expression, but these recent performances have showcased the cutting edge of technology as well.


The term “InterPlay” combines “Internet’ and “Play,” and from their first InterPlay'2003’s Intransitive Senses'each one has involved performers including the Miklavcics and special guests like poet Alex Caldiero broadcast live over the Internet. The performances are then fed back through control stations at the University of Utah, where Jimmy is the multimedia specialist at the school’s Center for High Performance Computing and Beth facilitates Multimedia Design and Digital Video, as well as other sites, where the audio and video could be manipulated and “remixed” in a sense.


Nel Tempo di Sogno (In the Dream Time) is perhaps their most fascinating InterPlay thematically, as it deals with the nature of time itself. Written in theatrical script form by Beth Miklavcic as lead writer with input from each of the performers on their parts, it’s the most linear narrative. But then, like time itself, the narrative is subtle and deceptive. Characters from different historical periods recount their life and times: Madam Genevieve Mystic (Jenni Lou Oaks), a woman of the French aristocracy bemoaning the effects of the French Revolution; and Thomas Chamberlain (William Ferrer), a 12th-century Catholic cardinal wrestling with the dogma that maintains world order.


These characters exist inside the mind of professor David Mockus (Travis Eberhard), in a Stephen Hawking-like role, who creates the partsworking at his desk. But all the characters, including Mockus, are really brought into being by artist Dan Morin (local artist Paul Heath), who is painting a silkscreen of the entire scene in the lobby as the narrative unfolds. And then there are interjections from characters at other sites: Mother May B (Carrie Baker) piped in from the University of Alaska (Fairbanks); the University of Maryland sends the SpinHeads, who put their own spin on the nature of time, as well as TVHead’s nonstop telegenic jargon; and the enigmatic Lady in Red, transmitted from the University of Illinois, who silently marks time by moving back and forth through the video frame.


The narrative provides just one layer of the performance, Jimmy points out. Music will be mixed in, with percussionist Scott Deal (Alaska), David Krnavek’s “virtual theremin” (Alaska); cellist Junko Simons and Robert Putnam’s MIDI patch that manipulates others’ audio (Boston University); and Timothy J. Rogers (Purdue University). Local didgeridoo player Marco Johnson, whose instrument represents the dreamlike quality of time, also contributes. As with all of Another Language’s work, dance and movement will be a large element. And cinematographer Natalie Murdock, along with students from the University of Utah’s film department, will be planning live shots here. Audience members will be asked to sign a release in case they are captured by the roving camera.


Our perception of time is so bound up with our technology, even with simple clocks, that the use of emerging computer technology to create a work about time is both brilliant and ironic. Jimmy’s discussion of new networking technology that allows the transmission of information with “no latency”'meaning it takes no time from data to travel from one point to another'indicates that the effects of technology on time would seem to collapse space as well.


The medium is a large part of the message here. Using Access Grid videoconference software tools and Internet2, video streams of live performances from all sites are sent simultaneously and combined together on a projection screen for live audiences at the University of Utah and other sites'so everything happens at the same time everywhere, in a sense. “This is the only place in the state of Utah that has the bandwidth, network and system support to be able to do this,” notes Jimmy. Whereas earlier InterPlays suffered from somewhat pixilated or chunky video quality due to data compression, this time they are using a technology called Digital Video Transport System, which transmits an uncompressed video stream.


It’s a technological tightrope walk; it could snap at any point. Jimmy recalls that, during the second InterPlay, only two hours before testing with Alaska, that point just disappeared'to reconnect only minutes before the performance began. It turned out that a backhoe 300 miles away had severed a communications cable. To safeguard against problems, Jimmy conducts painstaking troubleshooting, and several dozen technical advisers are spread out among the various sites.


Jimmy doesn’t distinguish between performers and the people behind the technology of the event; he calls them all “technologists.” Beth concurs: “Computer-science people are thought of as geeks, but they’re really incredibly creative.” To which Jimmy adds, “Technology is the new paintbrush.nn

nAnother Language
nPerforming Arts Company
nIntermountain Networking and Scientific Computation Center
n155 S. 1452 East
nUniversity of Utah
nMarch 30-31
n7 p.m.April 14 p.m.