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Clarisse Bardiot

9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering

Introduction

9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering
9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering web publication's navigation interface

The texts and other documents that you are about to see are the products of a research project that focused on the technological aspects of 9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering, a festival that took place in New York in 1966 and that brought together 10 artists and some 30 engineers from the Bell Telephone Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey, U.S.

This work owes much to the joint efforts of the various members of the Daniel Langlois Foundation. I would particularly like to thank Ludovic Carpentier, the web designer who did the online layout for these many documents, along with the archivists Éric Legendre and Vincent Bonin, who steered the project through to completion. And I am grateful, as well, for the collaboration of Jean Gagnon, Jacques Perron, Sylvie Lacerte, Chantale Lavoie, the translators Pauline Côté, Cory McAdam and Don McGrath, Julie Martin, Lowell Cross, Robert Kieronski, Yvonne Rainer, Deborah Hay, Robert Whitman and Alexi Hervé:
http://www.fondation-langlois.org/e/9evenings/

This study grew out of, and around, diagrams (1) that were published in the program for 9 Evenings. On the cover, a veritable palimpsest of all the diagrams superimposed over one another, a tangle of lines hints at a dense weave of electronic components and stage directions. Presenting documents of this sort in a theatre program is not a very common practice. Completed by Herb Schneider, a Bell Labs engineer, between the end of September and the beginning of October 1966, the diagrams give visible form to the presence of technology in the performances, without, however, going so far as to explain how it was used. (2) They are above all a visual affirmation of the festival’s mandate, the symbol of an encounter between the artist and the engineer.

An analysis of these diagrams in the light of visual documents (particularly the film footage shot by Alfons Schilling (3)), personal accounts and archival documents (4) enables us to understand each artist’s concept of technology. It also shows quite clearly that combining the same elements did not impose an identical aesthetic on all the performances. Finally, it allows us to consider 9 Evenings as one of the very first experiments to apply computer science principles in the context of live performances — even though the technology used was analog. This event was the precursor of today’s “virtual theatres.” (5)

Viewers wishing to explore different facets of this material can navigate through it along three main avenues connected by numerous paths:

1) A description of each artist's performance (written by Vincent Bonin and Éric Legendre), including an introduction to the work placing it in the context of the artist's career before 9 Evenings.

2) An analysis of the performance diagram covering four main points:

- A general introduction (to the diagram proper);

- The “architecture” of the piece, comprising the location of the inputs, outputs and black box, and their distribution between the central control and the stage. The term “black box” is employed in the fields of electronics and computer science to designate a device whose reaction to an input signal is known, but whose internal workings are not. In other words, it is sufficient to be familiar with the external characteristics, namely, the relationships between the inputs and outputs;

- The “components”: the main components of each performance, which take us back to spec sheets on the instruments;

- The “operating mode,” which comprises the operating systems, the paths taken by the different signals, and the ways in which they were processed and transformed.

2) Themes that draw upon aspects shared by all the performances to shed light on various facets of the pair made by “theatre and engineering.” Such shared features include collaborations between artists and engineers, the Theater Electronic Environmental Module (TEEM), adaptive uses of technology (that sometimes took it far from its original functions), telepresence and real time, perception and the body, diagrams and images.

3) Detailed specifications of some of the technical components used in 9 Evenings.

I must mention one final point: putting this material on the Web provided an opportunity to explore a form of writing conceived specifically for this medium. Fragmentary and discursive, designed to integrate smoothly with the structure of the database on which the Daniel Langlois Foundation’s Web site is built, this writing is an attempt to articulate and weave together a fabric of short texts, digitized archival documents, stills from the factual footage shot by Alfons Schilling (that show certain details more clearly) and interactive animations of diagrams.

Clarisse Bardiot © 2006 FDL

(1) Diagrams for 9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering / Herb J. Schneider (1966, 10 sheets: paper with pencil; 41 X 28 cm). Collection Robert Rauschenberg. Courtesy: Robert Rauschenberg.

(2) In this respect, the diagrams are emblematic of the lack of explanations bearing on the use of technological procedures in 9 Evenings. This was the direct result of a decision taken by Bill Klüver, one much debated by the engineers and artists involved. See Sylvie Lacerte, 9 Evenings and Experiments in Art and Technology: A Gap to Fill in Art History's Recent Chronicles, 2006:

(3) 9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering [factual footage] / [produced by Billy Klüver; camera operators: Alfons Schilling and engineers of Bell Laboratory] (Shot between October 13 and 23, 1966), 24 film reels (ca 9 hr.): original, b&w; 16 and 35 mm + negatives. The factual footage was edited by Alfons Schilling in his unreleased 1967 film entitled “9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering” and in Barbro Schultz Lundestan’s series of documentaries on each of the 10 performances (production started in 1996; to be released). The Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science, and Technology, 9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering fonds. 9 EVE 00031602.

(4) From the abovementioned fonds, we will name the following documents: Herb Schneider, A glimpse or more at some technical aspects not seen by the third partner of Nine Evenings – the public; A View from Central; Robby Robinson, What Really Happened at the Armory. Experiments in Art and Technology. Records, 1966-1993, Research Library, The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, California (940003); Interview with Per Biorn / produced by the Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science, and Technology; interviewers: Vincent Bonin, Éric Legendre, Julie Martin (recorded August 25, 2004), 4 videocassettes (3 hr., 45 min.): master, col., sound, Mini-DV, 2004. Interview conducted August 25, 2004 in Berkeley Heights (N.J., U.S.A). Interview recorded simultaneously on audiotape (3 Minidiscs). The Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science, and Technology, 9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering fonds. 9 EVE 00032223.

(5) Clarisse Bardiot, Les théâtres virtuels, Ph.D. thesis, Université Sorbonne-Nouvelle/CNRS, 2005.