In collaboration with Sol Rezza and Gabrielle Harnouis Blouin                              
This reserch was developed under AMPLIFY Digital Arts Initiative’s Collaboration Fund Awards
on 2021. The starting point of the research was to question high intensities used in electronic and digital audiovisual performances and installations. Our approach was both from a technical and creative perspective.

A common observation emerged: that the parameters producing a sense of immersion (sounds, lights and images in movement, density and intensity) were often forced, as if more intensity - on all levels - could lead to a better sense of immersion. Because of this high level of intensities, the works/concerts would sometimes feel aggressive, intrusive and/or disrupting to us.

Together we questioned the level of intensity generally needed in order to facilitate focus and ease for the audience.

STEP 1: Online surveys and individual research ︎︎︎

As part of the research we shared an online survey with questions for artists, audiences and technicians surrounding these three pillars. The survey was answered by almost 100 people, and after studying their responses we encountered new perspectives. We did receive complaints from almost 50% of the people about intensities and the feeling of being captive and harmed by shows and experiences. But, also a lot of comments were about the enjoyment of being very stimulated by light and sound at high intensities. What these had in common was the necessity of choice/consent for people to feel secure in front of high stimuli. Either with the ability to move around an experience or to choose if you’re willing to undergo a high level of intensity.

Some of our findings on the survay ︎

“As an artist, I love subtlety, my art is based on twisting details more than creating large movements, and I'm the kind of person to mesure the amount of miliseconds of silence between two sounds... so, yeah, silence is pretty important”.

“ Power in performances lies in a sort of balance between the elements (sound, light, movements). I don't think loudness should be a standard for power in a live performance. There's so much that can be
done sonically and visually these days,
especially with technology”.

We also found important to look at how creation in electronic concerts and immersive experiences relate to subtlety, and how this approach could lead to characteristics often associated with femininity, such as quietness and delicacy.

STEP 2: Rafa Roeder’s Intervention in online pannel Mutek, Montreal ︎︎︎

Led by Amanda Gutiérrez


Analucía Roeder
Sol Rezza
Gabrielle Harnouis Blouin

                                We’ve just heard an extract of a                                                recording made to several queer people   with HIV by Ultra-Red (an art sound collective of the 90s). The name of the piece is An archive of silence. The composition is made with moments of silence and sighs from several interviews to these people. Trying somehow to vindicate silence as power in their AIDS activism. So here we are confronting a special manifestation of power. We’ll get back to this in a while. But what do we understand as power in digital arts? Does it have to do with immersion? Or is it more about content or context? I come here with a lot of questions, and attempt not to demonice any practice we develop. But to propose opening a door to questioning: what is intensity to us as creators, what is volume and power and why do we relate to these in some particular ways. All of this in order to be more thoughtful and respectful to our audience and the diversity of it. And also to our practice.

So how do we approach our audience's experience? How do we feel about them? How do we think about them? In the book Immersive Embodiement, Liam Jarvis reflecting on promises we attach to our immersive art pieces says: “The others plunge into an extra normative mode of engagement from our world (for ex. a VR experience) …is emergent from interactive processes and not a given property of either an aesthetic experience or technological apparatus”

With this Jarvis implies that in order for an interactive process to exist there’s a need of a body willing to interact. So he claims that the root of a promise being kept depends only in the autonomous agent making the promise. So its tenuous as artist that we try to promise immersion not being aware of the other several processes involved in each individual’s experience such as trust, context and expectation.  (when it’s not us who are experiencing the immersive piece) So in order to be immersed, understanding immersion as a mentally absorbing process, a change, a passage from one mental state to another, as stated in Oliver Grau’s: Virtual Art, from illusion to immersion, it’s important to first contemplate the nature of the normative world audiences exist in. And how that is beyond our control as creators.

There is a tacit agreement of trust artists make with their audiences, we demand being trusted with wearing an HMD, with entering a room with sound, with attending a visual installation, being aware of what we are dealing with here it’s crucial.

What do we do with that trust we are given?

And there is another aspect to trust in this agreement that I find also interesting, and has to do with the trust we give to our audience. This makes me think that we might sometimes undervalue their disposition and attention thus we feel compelled to control everything that might crosses people's senses. We become overwhelmed creators, overwhelming our audiences. Context, understood as the set of circumstances or facts that surround a particular situation, is central to immersion and has little to do with what we can control. And expectation, control of personal and individual expectation of an experience also goes beyond our possibilities as creators. With these, what I’m trying to express is that the constant desire of encompassing every sense we can, and overwhelm each of them in order to keep our promise of immersion, might sometimes actually play as the opposite in result.
For example. If we think of haptic systems attached to VR headsets, and how do they give a body, the possibility to interact with virtual environments, there is kind of a paradox phenomenon that takes place. On the intent of embody a virtual body that interacts with virtual hands with virtual objects, people instantly become very aware of their own bodies interaction, and that is far from being immersive. Right now as I’m speaking to you and moving my hands and clicking my mouse in the computer, my body awareness is definitely not something on the top of my mind.  So in this sense adding the haptic experience could possibly go the opposite way.

Historically there has been a strong desire in the art expression to produce illusion, absorption and immersion, and there is a strong virtual corelation between images and humans. But this relation and this desire has always been related to power, not only in the fundamental meaning of the image as constitution of presence but also in its representative function.We can think for example of panoramas in the late seventeen hundred’s.

We are looking now at an image of The battle of Sedan, the battle was fought during the Franco German war, this panorama painting was almost 650 squared meters and was shown in Alexanderplatz in Berlin in 1884. Panoramas were large circular paintings that were usually shown in buildings put together for this bourgeois events. The viewing platform had a diameter of eleven meters and the spectator was completely surrounded by the picture depicting the battle field. In his book Virtual art, from Illusion to immersion, Oliver Grau analyses the relation between panoramas and the new 360 image medium, in allusion to the Sedan panorama event he states:

            “The opening of the Sedan panorama on September 1883, the anniversary of the battle of sedan, was a political and media event of the first order. Throughout the German Reich there were processions, patriotic choral concerts and festivals…. But the highlight of the day was the actual opening of the panorama, Von Werner (the creator although not the painter) who officiated at the ceremony extended a welcome to almost the entire ruling elite of the German Reich.”

So as spectators we stand in the middle of a large image engulfing us completely with its power of presence, its scale, and its components. And not only that, the image’s representative function tells us a story of power in war from the conquerors point of view, there’s nothing else for us but the image, and the illusion of being immersed in this battle. So what its actually happening here? What happens with images that are not only monumental in terms of size but also in terms of violence? In the prologue made by Didi Huberman in “Desconfiar de las imagenes” he affirms that TV and newspaper images depicting violence far from being tools that could function to prevent violence, actually grant this violence with a new type of existence, one even more spectacular. In his latter reflections Huberman asks himself how images can contribute in the destruction of human beings?

Beyond panoramas, the pursue of immersion and illusion in the arts its ontologically attached to matters of power and volume. It is true that is simple to think of power, money and amplified presence whenever we think of authority. And it is also true that our societies had constantly configure authority around male, usually white male. But I do not intend to turn this into a debate on feminism, at least not literally, what I’m trying to point here and I think this subject entails it, it’s a mapping of these characteristics we use to compose and to create.

Have we ever question our approach to emptiness, weakness or silence? What about oppression and powerlessness? All these characteristics that for long have been related to women, minorities, people of colour and diversities, what role do they play in our creations? Is there power in weakness? Or smallness? or scarcity? … What kind of power?

On the other side in the article Listening to silence by Amelia Groom, she addresses silence reflecting on the dangers of authority using it:

“The institutions that concentrate power and wealth—such as those of unregulated placeless global finance—are often completely faceless and voiceless. They dictate much of the structuring of reality, but their power depends on their voiceless anonymity. ”

Silence or emptiness is here presented as a tool of power from anonymity, in contraposition to how we’ve been addressing volume and power, so far. So in this approach silence, in its most wild meaning, serves as a tool of oppression, of capturing and controlling. We can think of several interactions in which silence yields power, for example silence as interruption, as disobedience, as avoidance of surveillance etc. Silence for some people could be strategically use as a mean of resisting and surviving. So Amelia says, it is important to distinguish silent from being silenced.

Going back to the audio piece we heard a few minutes ago, here through the use of silence, in this particular case understood as the lack of language, a strong message prevails and that message is fuelled with powerful resiliance around survival and acceptance in a society that constantly threatens through the loud use of language. So going back to the digital arts, is there any possibility for us to really think of these matters while composing our pieces? In a world that is crucially asking for a change of ways, how do we artist keep approaching our practices with manners we don’t even think of. Is there a way to re domesticate our senses? Is there a need to it? If we think that silence or emptiness are invitations to create and to listen, why aren’t we addressing our audiences as curious minds? that are not only in a quest to be amazed but to actually take conscious part of an experience.

︎Read more about what we found on the Survays

︎Mutek Montreal, 2021
Does Volume equals Power?, 2021