david bithell
experimental music theater
the liminal surface  (ongoing)
interactive table top environment

description:  As part of an ongoing collaboration with Ali Momeni (University of Minnesota), I am helping to develop a new instrument for the creation of experimental music theater.  Inspired by our previous collaboration (Table Setting), this environment uses a portable “table-top” construction to integrate audio, video, analog and digital sensors, and computer-based control of external media (i.e. musical robotics).  This environment will enable the composition of a series of new works exploring interactive computer music, intermodal relationships, and collaborative  performance on a visually stimulating and technologically sophisticated platform.  We are now in the process of creating the first compositions for the liminal surface - the first versions of which were completed in the summer of 2009.
These interactive tables allow for a manner of tabletop musical theater that combines contemporary music and theater, performative sculpture, percussive musical practice, and interactive software-enhanced performance and builds on an existing collaborative practice between Momeni and  Bithell.  Known as the liminal surface, these table-top miniature stages are outfitted with sensors and actuators as well as  sound and video hardware.  The tables are designed to accommodate a wide range of sensors that provide our specialized real-time audio/visual software with information about our physical gestures. 

Similarly, the tables allow  connectivity with a wide range of actuators (i.e. electromechanical components like motors and solenoids that are  integrated into small moving sculptures).  These actuators are controlled by our specialized software according to precomposed rules as well as interactive translations of our gestures.  Concurrently, contact microphones attached to the  table and small pin-hole cameras that can be positioned around the table allow the performers to present a rich and  immersive audio/visual perspective of this miniature stage. 

These inputs (sensors, microphones, cameras) and outputs  (actuators, loud-speakers, video projectors), together with the specialized real-time software we create to connect these  components, allow us to compose a wide range of pieces that explore theatrical performance with an interactive audiovisual instrument. The above technology creates a rich world of theatrical, musical and real-time interactive possibilities for performance.  

The strength of the liminal surface as a performance instrument lies in its combination of physical objects that  autonomously take on musical and theatrical roles, and the power of the performers to theatrically intervene into this  autonomy.  Another important performative strength is our ability to use audio and video amplification and perspective to  instill musical and theatrical meaning into the actions performed by the table's machinations.  In this regard, the  commissioned work approaches the newly emergying genre of Live Cinema, where performers play the role musician  and visual artist, as well as actor and cinematographer.   

Portions of the work on the liminal surface has been supported by a Faculty Research Grant from the University of North Texas, a Graduate Division Faculty Summer Research Fellowship from the University of Minnesota, a McKnight Summer Fellowship, and a commission from the Ammerman Center for Arts and Technology at Connecticut College. 
paper: "The Liminal Surface : An Interactive Table-top Environment for Hybridized Music - Theater Performance"  Published in the Proceedings from the 12th Biennial Symposium on Arts and Technology, Ammerman Center for Arts and Technology, Spring 2010.
development blog: ls.alimomeni.net