Still is an interactive memorial inviting the audience to explore the duality of war: the destruction of lives and the construction of a collective future.
Still is an interactive memorial inviting the audience to explore the duality of war: the destruction of lives and the construction of a collective future. Presented simultaneously in Auckland, Christchurch and Poitiers in France, Still aims to commemorate the First World War but it also offers an opportunity to connect with people from countries involved in the war, 100 years ago.
When the audience is still and meditative in front of the main screen, the face of each person watching the screen is captured in real time and added to a collage on the screen. This collage draws both from the pool of modern faces that grows as more people interact with the work, and an existing pool of archive images featuring people photographed at the time of WWI. Unlike the archive images, the library of modern faces will grow from multiple locations, as well as multiple cultures, shrinking down the distances that exist and creating a family tree of connections. The collage grows and a sound track delivers music from the time of the First World War.
If the audience moves in front of the screen, then the memorial will react and will be replaced by a collection of dark geometrical shapes. Noise will disrupt the musical tunes and will provide a more aggressive sound environment.
The contrast of these two types of interaction showcase the dual nature of war, which the artists, Johann Nortje and Tane Upjohn-Beatson, wish to highlight. Still, will generate content that is either silent and intimate, or dark, anonymous and violent.
Johann Nortje is an interactive performance media and digital experience designer from Wellington. His creative focus lies on the creation and live digital content, live performer interactions and digital engagements. International collaborations include projects at the New Zealand International Arts Festival, European Festival of the Arts (Rome), New York River to River Festival, the Venice Architecture and Arts Biennale, and the iLight Festival in Singapore. Locally, as previous Creative Director of The Interrupt Collective and through other collaborations, Johann is involved in a large range of digitally interactive theatre and performance, commercially based interactive installations and digitally interactive art works. Over the last four years Johann has worked on many local, national and touring theatre projects, particularly contributing large scale technology and AV design to these shows. In 2011 Johann received a Best Design Award and the Chapman Tripp Wild Card award for AV design in theatre.
Tane is an award winning New Zealand composer and sound designer, specializing in unique scores for film, theatre and digital media. With a full spectrum of genres at his fingertips from traditional classical to left field electronica, Tane’s work has been applauded not only for its passion, diversity and quirk, but also for its distinct ability to propel a narrative and enhance an emotional journey. His film scores have gathered critical acclaim, with short “The Sleeping Plot” being awarded the Grand National prize in the 2013 New Zealand 48Hours filmmaking competition as well as Best Original Score in Wellington. In 2012 he received widespread attention for his work co-scoring and sound designing the runaway New Zealand Film Festival feature “How to meet Girls from a Distance”, as well as for his sweeping orchestral score to short “Broken Glass”. In 2013 He was the recipient of the Park Road Post Sound Designer award for his work on surround sound tour de force “Broken River” and in 2012 “Vance Fontaine: Command Performance” – which he musically directed and performed in, swept up the Critic’s Choice Award.
Joe is a creative coder from an arts and design background. He sees code as an artistic medium and an empowerer of design – a means through which ideas can be enhanced, rather than simply implemented. Off the back of an accolade-studded university career he was picked up by OLM Digital, and worked in Tokyo developing tools for Pokémon animators. On returning to NZ he continued as a freelancer, filling the role of designer-developer on projects ranging from government webapps to international installations. Joe is currently working in Wellington with Storybox, helping bring rich story-driven ideas to life.
Johann Nortje’s Creative Process
For me the “Memory of WWI” revolves around the people and soldiers that went to war and possibly never returned. For everyone that stayed home, and even now people that were not involved in the war, there is a real sense of anonymity and distance (time and place) associated with the people that went. Soldiers and messages are still being connected to this day, and with this in mind Still was designed to highlight this part of the Memory of WWI. It was important for me to connect the images of the people of WWI to our images today, especially in this case the images of the people that attend the memorial. By interacting with the work, your image will become part of the work, alongside the portrait images of the Soldiers. The dichotomy of the images, placed in parallel is meant to be reflected on as part of a whole, a connection that spans over time. As the work operates across the globe at the same time, both countries add to the larger organic sculpture of faces concurrently.
Classical memorials and interactive works can be said to stand at opposites in terms of interaction, where memorials generally encourage a sense of quiet and reflection, and digital interactive works generally encourage a lot of movement. Still uses both of these techniques; for if you are still and reflective on the work you become part of the collection. If you are aggressive you dismantle the digital sculpture, having to wait for the sculpture to settle and rebuild again. Reflection as a form of interaction opens up a unique challenge for our usual understanding of interactive works. My hope is that my creating an opportunity for such reflection in a digital work, a real connection between the content can be created, especially in a situation such as this, where the subject matter is really important and sacred to a lot of people in our lives.
Tane Upjohn-Beatson’s Creative Process
I began working with Still by musically analyzing popular songs during the WWI period from a range of countries, and found there were several pronounced common traits. The emotions are overwhelmingly positive, resolute and grounded – created by steady predictable rhythm, ubiquitous major harmony, and pronounced perfect cadences, often rocking regularly between chords 1 and 5, a pattern that also occurs prominently in lullabies. This to me is a form of musical propaganda – a belligerent patriotism of harmony and structure, reassuring the men in the trenches and home front alike that everything is going to be ok.
100 years on we are more aware of the realities of war, and have the opportunity to understand it through a different musical lens. In Still I wanted to strongly gesture the musical traits of the period, but repurpose them to create a space in which participants can have a personal reflection on their connections and role geographically, and in time.
Musically it is an environment that generates itself by pulling apart and smudging harmonic and melodic building blocks derived from the wartime songs I studied. Virtual instruments were built from recordings I made of acoustic instruments, which are played by the program in repeating patterns based on interval probabilities and data from the Kinekt. I chose the piano as a focal element, as 100 years ago the piano in the home was the primary mode of delivery for popular music, and also as it allowed for a high degree of intimacy with beautiful subtleties like pedal creaks and out of tune keys. Granular processing of the patterns smudges notes across time into a mist, which creates dissonance with future patterns even within the traditional diatonic framework. Out of this mist, snatches of original 100 year old recordings pop up their heads and disappear, a constant presence but notably distant and ungraspable.
Still is like a shy animal, in that the music can only be properly observed if you approach it slowly with respect. If one rushes into the space the musical environment is washed away by a cascade of gramophone crackle, the false assumption that the issues of yesteryear are no longer relevant. If one approaches carefully however, and spends time gently in the space the musical landscape will respond positively and bloom.