What if film, rather than being projected from start to finish and proceeding in a straight line, could be reconstructed and performed? Every live visual performance involving video has more or less asked that question. But not every performance tries to convey a narrative in the process. Toni Dove’s Spectropia, coming this weekend to the storied Mixology Festival at New York City’s Roulette, does just that, interweaving a sci-fi storyline across imagined future and past through gesture-controlled, computer-vision activated remix.

Just one friendly piece of advice: if you start thinking and feeling the way these main characters do, maybe it really is time for you to leave the Internet.

You can spot some of the action, mixing theater and “scratchable” digital visual performance, in excerpts at top or the trailer below. As the creators describe it:

Spectropia is a sci-fi hybrid featuring time travel, telepathy, and elements of film noir in a drama set in England, 2099 and New York City, 1931, following the Great Crash. Live performers orchestrate onscreen characters through a mix of film, performance, and a system of motion sensing that serves as a cinematic instrument. Spectropia is part video game, part feature film, and part VJ mashing.

Now, like a lot of digital media performances, this one sees the artists stowed behind familiar silver laptops. But there is a twist here: working with artist and software maker R. Luke Dubois, Dove makes the entire performance gestural. Film and video crews have long used gestures to communicate with each other, but here, computer vision tracks physical movement that controls the performance. It adds additional theatricality to the performance, and adds to the illusion that the video, and time itself, might be manipulated magically by the performers.

True to that spirit of remix, Roulette will present two different versions of the piece this weekend. Tomorrow Friday, they’ll present the piece itself; Saturday, it’ll be reworked as a musical suite with a score by Elliot Sharp. Unlike silent films accompanied by live music, here, they imagine that the live music is accompanied by an improvisatory video – an ideal dear to the hearts of many a visual performer. More information for those of you in the NYC area:

The rest of us can take in an episodic release online; no bridges or tunnels required for viewing. Watch Dove’s Vimeo account:

The trailer:

Those videos are coming to “Web, DVD and mobile devices.” (“But, old timer, what’s a DVD?”) R. Luke Dubois is known for his own digital remix-inspired artwork and his involvement in the world of Max/MSP/Jitter.

New Yorker Toni Dove is a name worth knowing, a pioneer over the last couple of decades in pushing forward the notion of interactive cinema, which she expresses as a kind of cybernetic noir.

  • Paul

    Thanks for posting this Peter.  I’m going to try and make it to these.  Especially the 2nd time around w/ 31 Band:  live mixing the video to the movie score is a great concept. It takes the composer’s vision as the temporal motivation and adds sonic and visual performance.  Less excited by the Friday night version: sort of a live “director’s cut” view inside the heads of the performers.  Seems a bit too meta for me.  But I’d definitely like to experience both.

  • Harrisonpault

    So, I made it to the 2nd version, May 5th.  Very interesting.  The Elliot Sharp suite is fantastic, and the 31 Band led by Elliot, tight and nuanced. Dove and Dubois’s scratch setup worked well and the three-screen projections came off as a great film noir accompaniment to the music.  They’ve got the scratching/cutting down pretty smoothly using their gestural control system.  However, I will say that for me, the way they interposed themselves as performers was more of a distraction than an enhancement.  I think that aspect could be improved, especially if they could appear to be more a part of the band, rather than a dislocated force off to the side of the stage.  Now I’m sorry I missed the Friday show, where the visuals set the tempo.  If Dubois makes his gestural tools available maybe others will experiment with this intriguing multi-media approach.