Can You Hear Me Now?

I just got finished performing in Emily Jiang’s telepresence choir. I have to say, that is one of the strangest performing experiences I’ve ever participated in. Half the choir was physically present at the venue in Palo Alto, half was Skyped in via tablets from places as far as four time zones away. The music Emily composed was deliberately designed to turn issues like lag and dropped connections into features. It was all kind of a brilliant and terribly innovative multi-media project/commentary on technologically-enhanced communication.

But… here’s why it was strange for me. My experience of it was sitting in my office on my laptop, singing from sheet music on my screen and trying to remember to look into my laptop camera instead of down at the minimized Skype screen, which showed me only a thin slice of the venue from the perspective of the tablet I was calling in on. I couldn’t hear any of my fellow singers while I was singing (and I couldn’t hear much when I _wasn’t_ singing because of noise conflict). I had a tablet shepherd whose job (in addition to singing) was to reconnect with me when my Skype dropped and to move me around and give me hand signals. I only saw her a few times when she turned the tablet on and off. Whenever my tablet shepherd moved me around, it was like I was in the Blair Witch Project. It required _so_ much active attention to parse together what was going on at the physical venue.

We did a video shoot of one of the choral pieces earlier this week, and it’s going to be so interesting to see that experience of the project because it will be so different from MY experience of the same event. And that’s the weirdest bit. Most shows I’ve performed in, when I see recording of it later, I can point to it and go “Yeah, that’s what it was like. I remember that.” This time, it’s like I only saw one slice of the elephant. It makes me think about how deeply alienated we are from really understanding each others’ experiences and perspectives, how deeply different those worldviews are. And how wonderful that we’ve managed to create tools (like language, stories, and music) to communicate despite (metaphorical) lag and bad connections and dropped calls.

I will totally be sharing the video when/if it ever is made available. Also, Emily Jiang is brilliant.

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