workshop 2

Workshop 2: Richard Haley, ‘Experimenting with Extreme Cold’

Richard Haley (Physics, Lancaster University) started by thanking the organizers for a chance to talk to a totally different community, emphasizing the experimentality and importance of this interdisciplinary workshop. Furthermore, he invited the participants of the workshop to visit and explore his lab. Haley opened his presentation by explaining that the pursuit of extreme cold is a never-ending quest towards the “infinity” of the absolute zero of temperature at a very chilly -273.15 degrees Centigrade. He argued that the historical development of low temperature physics is a long story of cooling things down to see how they behave, with the hope that new physical discoveries will be made, and recognised. When the experimenters get lucky, Haley pointed out, these new discovered behaviours can be further exploited to create new technologies and tools to cool lower, and the cycle continues.

Workshop 2: Nicholas Gebhardt, After the event: listening to Miles Davis’s “My Funny Valentine”

Nicholas Gebhardt (Lancaster University) opened his presentation by explaining that in it, he intends to provide a few thoughts on jazz improvisation and what it offers us in terms of thinking about the nature of artistic events. Gebhardt argued that perhaps more than any other aspect of music today, improvisation has particular significance for how we explain or account for changes in musical experience, across all the forms of contemporary music: not just jazz, but also within classical, electronic, experimental, modernist, pop, rock, and non-western music as well. He claimed that the reason for this is that as a way of thinking about musical forms, improvisation poses fundamental questions about the process of deciding what to play — that is, what counts for us as music in any given social situation — and how to organise or shape musical events.

Workshop 2: Wolfgang Ernst, Experimenting media-temporality (Pythagoras, Hertz, Turing)

Professor of media theories Wolfgang Ernst (Humboldt University) opened his presentation by stating that the subject of this workshop, ‘experimentality as event’, touches a crucial figure of contemporary epistemology, especially when we take epistemology in its processual, time-based meaning as defines by cybernetics which is – taken by its original self-definition – the insight into ‘Circular Causal and Feedback Mechanisms’ (Heinz  von Foerster, 1949). Consequently, Ernst proposed that we investigate the processuality and eventuality of media-enhanced experimentation.

Workshop 2: Jonathan Bird, Open-ended Research in the Wild

Jonathan Bird (Pervasive Interaction Lab, Open University) gave an overview of three projects which involved rapid prototyping novel technologies and testing them ‘in the wild’, rather than in a laboratory: a wearable tactile vision sensory substitution (TVSS) system; a participatory curation system for a film festival; and an interactive art installation for a music festival. Bird explained that the motivation for developing the TVSS was scientific whereas the two other projects had artistic goals. However, he argued, the development process in all three projects was very similar, suggesting that there is some common ground between art and science when they adopt an open-ended experimental approach. Bird consequently referred to the project ‘E-Sense’ ( which promotes speculative, interdisciplinary research, combining HCI, philosophy, computer science and psychology. He explained goals of the ‘E-Sense’ project in terms of building useful sensory augmentation devices and generating novel insights into sensory, bodily and cognitive extension.

Workshop 2: Jussi Parikka, Nature as Experiment: Eco Media as a Probing of Potentialities

Jussi Parikka (ArcDigital, Anglia Ruskin University) opened his presentation with a reference to Whitehead, positioning speculative thought as a specific discipline. Parikka then proceeded in presenting two initiatives: Harwood, Wright and Yokokoji’s Eco Media ‘‘Cross Talk’’ and Garnet Hertz’s ‘Dead Media lab’. He explained how, the “Cross Talk” project tries to find processes in the natural world (“natural technics”) that could function as carriers of signals or messages. The title of ‘‘Cross Talk’’ corresponds to the prospect of these processes (in the form of materials or forces that were common to the habitats of animals) being accessible to the non-human realms as messages. Jussi Parikka argued that Garnet Hertz’s Dead Media-initiative (2009) aims towards very similar issues at the crossroads of media archaeology and ecology. Parikka positioned his presentation around the intriguing rhetorical question concerning non-human media: “Can ‘natural media’ with its different agencies and sensorium help to rethink human media, revealing opportunities for action or areas of mutual interest?“

Workshop 2: Henning Schmidgen, The Interval as Event: Helmholtz's Physiological Time Experiments

Henning Schmidgen (Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin) opened his paper with a brief introduction of his position and field of expertise. Schmidgen, as a Berlin-based historian of science with a background in psychiatry and Deleuzian philosophy, voiced a special interest in the history of the experimental life sciences of the 19th and early 20th century. He explained how he is currently finalizing a larger project concerning the history of short time measurements in physiological and psychological laboratories, roughly between 1850 and 1930. Schmidgen described how the corresponding time experiments are well-known under the name of ‘reaction time measurements,’ and they have a routine existence in contemporary neurophysiology, brain research, psychology, and more broadly the cognitive sciences. He followed in arguing that the emergence and evolution of physiological and psychological short time measurements is intrinsically connected with the advent of social and cultural modernity.

Workshop 2: Charlie Gere, Ruskinian experimentalism, or the historical roots of experimental art

Charlie Gere (Department of Media, Film & Cultural Studies, Lancaster University) opened his presentation by describing how the window next to where he writes faces directly towards Ingleborough, one of the famous ‘three peaks’ of the Yorkshire Dales, along with Pen-y-Ghent and Whernside. Concomitantly, he explained how, John Ruskin gave the name ‘Looking Down from Ingleborough’ to the first issue of Fors Clavigera, the series of letters addressed to ‘the workmen and labourers of Great Britain’, which also was intended to support the work of the Guild of St. George, the utopian society Ruskin, then 50 years old, founded at the same time.  

Workshop 2: Day 1 - Discussion

Discussion following the presentations of the first day of the workshop focused around six main themes: a dialectical tension with structure, non-idiomatic, use of the term experiment, unpredictability, image-breaking and image-making in terms of the end of art, and similarity and difference between genres.

Workshop 2: Karen Juers-Munby, Events between script and freedom: improvising with text in contemporary experimental performance

Karen Juers-Munby (LICA, Lancaster University) in her presentation focused on the eventness of experimental (postdramatic) performances. She argued that the phenomenon of the event often arises precisely through the openly exhibited tension between script and performance.  Juers-Munby explored some contemporary experimental performances that openly exhibit text in performance and in which text or script becomes an acknowledged ‘player’ in improvisation. Using the examples of ‘Forced Entertainment’ and Julia Barclay’s ‘Apocryphal Theatre’ she illuminated the issues of presence and identity in terms of presenting and dis/placing identity. Juers-Munby argued that this new aesthetic forms are not merely formal innovations but can also be seen as political aesthetics.   

Workshop 2: Antti Saario, Free Improvised Music: Recording Perspective

Antti Saario (LICA, Lancaster University) opened his presentation by emphasising the importance of looking at particular challenges set forth by recording free improvised music. He described this in terms of a quest for a more tactile sonic experience: “the turning point from mechanical explosion to electrical implosion” (Marshall McLuhan, 1964). Saario followed by posing critical questions: Why do we want to record this magical event of improvisation? Why do we want a fixed perspective and what would it be?

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