Duration: ca. 2 hours
Commissioned by iMAL, Brussels.
As part of the EU funded EASTN-DC network project.
RAVE SÉANCE is a live-installation for myself as live performer. The project creates an audiovisual environment that fuses aspects of Rave culture and esoteric séances. By combining aspects of techno music -- a form of music characterized by electronic sound production and mechanical repetition -- with pseudo spiritistic practices, it thematizes the coupling of scientific discovery and magic, which has existed since discoveries in the field of electricity have entered popular culture in the 18th Century.
Although the project RAVE SÉANCE offers place for more visitors, up to 12 people at a time can sit at small tables that enables them to interact with the performance.
Watch an excerpt of a performance:
1. Three Threads
1.1. Electricity and the Paranormal
During the 18th and 19th Century fundamental discoveries in the field of electricity and magnetism were accomplished by scientists such as Luigi Galvani (1737-1798), Alessandro Volta (1745-1827) or Michael Faraday (1791-1867). In popular culture it was perceived as something enigmatic and mysterious. This entailed a number of occult practices to emerge in fields related to electricity and – even more so – magnetism. Interestingly, this apparent contradiction was sometimes practiced by the scientists themselves. Nicola Tesla (1856-1943) for example supposedly attended spiritistic scéances.
1.2. Electronic Music and Magic
In 1973 Arthur C. Clarke formulated the bonmot Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. It can be argued that a large portion of innovations in the field of media art and electronic music draw their motivation from a fascination with the magical. For example, ever since the invention of the Theremin Vox – an electronic instrument that is controlled by waiving two hands in front of two antennas without any physical contact – the idea of tele-kinesis has been an ongoing source of fascination in the invention of new interfaces, as can be seen e.g. with the Wii controller, Kinect system, LeapMotion or Mio.
In Electronic music we thus also find a close grouping of new inventions accomplished with – on one hand, sophisticated technology based on scientific precision, and – on the other hand, a fascination for the supernatural.
1.3. Rave Culture and Spirituality
Techno music is not per se spiritistic. However, rave culture carries many attributes that are typical of spiritual practices. Techno music is fundamentally electronic, in the sense that it is based on repetitions that are as identical as they can only be when reproduced electronically. Also, the duration of ongoing sound at high energy levels is beyond human stamina.
Rave Culture provides a 'rupture with reality' (Gauthier 2004) which is characterized by a sense of community, and a heightened state of mind, induced through dancing to the mechanically pounding music, if not through the consumption of drugs.
2. A Rave Séance
In this audiovisual live-installation I am combining and amalgamating these three thoughts (1.1-1.3). I am converging technology and the spiritual in a pseudo-ritualistic experience as an invocation of a techno ghost.
The performance makes use of the following elements:
2.1 Arrangement of Space
2.1.1 Arrangement of Tables and Laser Projections
Five small tables are arranged in a circular fashion with a diameter of approximately 5 meters. One of the tables is used by myself, as performer and "master of ceremony" (see the 3D model on this page). The entire equipment for the performance is positioned on my table.
The other 4 tables offer altogether 12 seats for the audience (3 per table).
In the middle of this circular arrangement laser projections are displayed on the floor, coming vertically from the ceiling.
2.1.2 The Tables
Three large buttons are built in each table, which will offer the audience the possibility to influence the performance. The tables are also equipped with solenoids and shaker-motors, which will be turned on at key moments during the performances. In those moments the tables will start to knock, shake and move - akin to a table-turning séance.
2.2 Musical Elements
A total of 7 rave hymns are heard during the complete performance. These hymns are inspired by female chants in a style that was typical for rave music in the 90s. This style of singing evoked a sense of other-worldliness, often combined with esoteric imageries.
In this project, all hymns are produced with the advanced voice synthesis program Vocaloid and the texts have been derived from esoteric oracles based on animal spirits.
The synthetic female voice here is a representation of the ghost that is evoked through the Rave. I am deliberately giving in to the gender clishée. While the typically female voice of rave hymns evokes a sense of ephemeral eroticism, the position of the ghost in this project is a place of empowerment.
3D simulation of the performance space of the Rave Séance
2.2.2 AI generated Rave Music
A soundtrack is used that was generated by AI (SampleRNN). A neuronal Network was trained with techno music from the 90s and the soundtrack was generated by the AI based on the training. During the performance this sound track is manipulated by myself.
The AI soundtrack was realized through the generous help of Frederik de Blezer and Sint Lucas University Antwerp.
2.2.3 Modular Synthesis and TR909 sounds
A response to the Hymn will take place as a live generated pseudo Rave, which is generated algorithmically with a modular synthesizer setup. The synthesizer components contain modules that are emulations of the Roland TR909 drum machine, that defined the sound of techno beats in the 80s. In contrast to original techno music, these pseudo raves have constant tempo instabilities. The severity of the instabilities depend on whether I -- as performer -- selected a particular rave that functions as a response to the hymn that was played just beforehand.
Image of the setup (photo Katja Goljat):
2.2 Visual Media - Laser and Lighting
The laser will produces shapes based on forms that consist of 5 points, which are then multiplied and distorted in a variety of ways. During the hymns (see 2.2.1) the individual words of the sung text are also displayed.
While the laser projection is confined to a relatively small space in the center of the table arrangement, there will also be a light design that is going to illuminate the space in different colors and intensities, depending on the state of the performance.
Video of laser experiments:
Photo gallery from the premiere at Ljudmila in Ljubljana/Slovenia on August 27, 2020. All photos by Katja Goljat.