Documentation of some improvisation in Very Nervous System by dancer Leslie-Ann Coles in 1987 in Rokeby's studio. These improvs were entirely unrehearsed one-offs.

Very Nervous System is an interactive sound installations I created in the 1980's. In these systems, I used video cameras, image processors, computers, synthesizers and a sound system to create a space in which the movements of one's body create sound and/or music. It has been primarily presented as an installation in galleries but has also been installed in public outdoor spaces, and has been used in a number of performances.

This version used very low resolution, high coverage hand built cameras (the grey boxes seen in the image). These had a resolution of 8 x 8 pixels for each of the 3 cameras, but the pixels (actually large light dependent resistors) covered almost the whole field, and I digitized them in 8-bit grayscale so I was able to respond to small changes in the light-level at each pixel. This contrasted to the approach by people like Myron Kreuger, who focussed on higher resolution images (i.e. 128 x 128 or 256 x 256) but thresholded the image to either on or off states. My approach led to a very different kind of interaction.

I created the work for many reasons, but perhaps the most pervasive reason was a simple impulse towards contrariness. The computer as a medium is strongly biased. And so my impulse while using the computer was to work solidly against these biases. Because the computer is purely logical, the language of interaction should strive to be intuitive. Because the computer removes you from your body, the body should be strongly engaged. Because the computer's activity takes place on the tiny playing fields of integrated circuits, the encounter with the computer should take place in human-scaled physical space. Because the computer is objective and disinterested, the experience should be intimate.


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