AMODA's first fest marks a new start
By Nate Jackson,
5:40PM, Wed. May 29, 2013
The Austin Museum of Digital Art (AMODA) has risen from some obscure but impressive ashes. The non-profit organization, which began in 1997, held its inaugural festival this past weekend.
Yes, this past weekend. Just now. 16 years after the group's inception.
Despite this sudden and seemingly latent blossoming, Protos, AMODA's festival focused on developing new art forms in the digital spectrum, was the first of its kind in these parts – as far as festivals go, anyway.
AMODA is no stranger to the digital performance world in Austin. They've been showcasing electronic music and digital art around town since 2001. Since then, there have been a few slow times of inactivity – times of uncertainty, even. Protos, it seems, was launched to put an end to any apprehension toward AMODA's future.
They're here to stay.
Protos began on Thursday night in the Rollins Theater at the Long Center, and featured programming until Sunday night. The daytime events consisted of a multitude of various workshops, film screenings, tutorials, and speaker panels. (It's not a real festival unless there are panels.)
The panels mostly hit on prototyping, motion graphics, video games, filmmaking, and sound and visual design. And all of that was free. You could have just walked right in, taken a seat, and had your mind completely blown by the endless possibilities of digital expression.
Perhaps some of the more influential happenings of Protos (a closer representation of their day-to-day events) were the nightly showcases of experimental music, cutting edge digital art, and live audio/visual interactive dance performances. While that portion of the fest was not free, it made for some ridiculously incredible shows.
Joao Beira's Sunday night piece, in collaboration with Berlin electronic artist Emika (Ninja Tune), was the closing performance duo of the festival. It hardly disappointed – then again, Joao, aka Datagram, a Portugal native currently engaged in a practice-based PhD in Integrated Media and Interactive Design at UT is no stranger to catching the eye of Austin performance-goers. Recently, a piece he designed entitled 3-D [Embodied] (choreographed by Yacov Sharir) with UT's Department of Theatre and Dance was nominated for Best Video Design by the Austin Critics Table – his second nomination in two years.
“I knew Emika’s previous work," said Joao of his Protos piece, "but she is now starting to tour her new album DVA. I wanted to augment her fantastic presence and physical expression on stage, exploring depth and 3D space. The motion tracking was sensor-based through the use X-Box Kinect.”
This made sense for the occasion, seeing as how Joao never rehearsed with Emika. 3-D [Embodied], presented in UT's closing spring Dance show Roots and Wings also employed the concept of sensor based movement through Kinect. The whole idea is a continuing partnership between Julius Tuomisto from Delicode and Joao.
“All the visuals were controlled by sensors, and I designed a very specific visual display in order to immerse Emika’s presence and movement within the visuals and the physical space,” Joao said. “All vectors and meshes were generated by her motion.”
Every move, even the twitch of Emika’s fingertip, triggered a movement in Joao’s 3-D projection mapping. Emika was placed behind a downstage, transparent scrim and Kinect. About halfway through the performance, the back curtain opened, allowing the visuals to completely encompass Emika in a futuristic fantasy world of digital animation. If it wasn’t a representation of the digital age, then I don’t know what is.
"It was a very rewarding experience,” Joao said. “I particularly like the idea of augmented and mixed reality, taking it from the physical world, filtering and controlling it on the digital arena, and projecting it back to the physical world and the performer. It provides a great opportunity to explore the liveness of being here and now as a performer."
“Augmented reality” is simply one of the most cutting-edge pieces of performance technology in modern time. It flawlessly binds live performers and digital art in a visual, three-dimensional world, creating a masterpiece that has never before been possible – or even experimented with. Until now.
AMODA and Protos stood to expose artists like Joao, and further the involvement and understanding of concepts so foreign, so seemingly incomprehensible to the majority of us. The crowds were strong, the material was interesting, and the effect was long-lasting. Bravo, Protos. Let’s keep checking in with them to see what they have in store for us in the future.