University of Wisconsin rockers from the band "fore", Luke Skoug (Bass) and Josh Pierce (Drums)

This essay was written after Erick Gallun asked me to write a piece for their quarterly drawn from my experiences of taking my performance-multimedia shows on the road. Sometime after July 23, 2000 it'll appear in Omnicetera: journal of the Omnimedia Artists. If you're interested in performance-multimedia their site is definitely worth a bookmark and repeated visits.



Omnimedia On The Road

Ron Pellegrino, June 30, 2000

I happen to love the expression Omnimedia, mainly because it's all-inclusive. What it refers to has been called many names over the years - mixed media, multimedia, intermedia, interarts, integrated media, new media, leading-edge media, emerging media, performance-multimedia - with each generation developing its own flavor of the notion based on the tools available to them.

It was through the collaboration door that I came to Omnimedia working as a composer/performer/producer with choreographers and dancers, experimental projected light artists, musicians of all stripes, filmmakers, theater folks, poets, electronic circuit designers, and software designers. During the 1960s all my Omnimedia work was under the umbrella of the university system in one context or another. Early in the 1970s I began to find the campus setting a bit too limiting. There are always good people wherever you go but after a while there are fewer and fewer surprises, less and less new information - a serious reduction in synapse fuel. So early in the 70s I decided to establish my working base in the San Francisco Bay Area, a fertile area where the art and technology scene was already full of action and promised even greater things to come. And they did come and do keep coming.


University of Wisconsin dancer, Mary Darcy

Beginning in the early 70s I began creating events in a format I consider an "open system" - a way of thinking that seeks harmony with anyone in the arts, any media, any venue, any context. I draw my performance materials from a huge collection of my electronic arts modules (music, video, lasers, and other temporal structures) that are anywhere from 3 -15 minutes in length. Some of those modules are almost three decades old, some were born yesterday, and others are in gestation. The most important compositional problem I face when I'm on the road is finding the best fits of module-to-individual/situation while on a very tight production schedule.

I design public Omnimedia events around materials I create inspired by the idea of visual music. The seed for the visual music notion was planted in 1967 when I discovered how the Moog synthesizer worked by hanging an oscilloscope as well as loudspeakers on the ends of Moog wavetrains. Those connections enabled me simultaneously to see the images and hear the sounds that the wavetrains produced. A log of what that combination of transducers taught me became one third of my Ph.D. dissertation project. It also started me on the path of exploring psychophysics - first psychoacoustics, then psychooptics, and then all things related to psychology and senses especially in the context of the performing arts. In those heady days the interdisciplinary approach was king; it was actually encouraged and supported unlike today's prevailing educational emphasis on developing specialists to serve as industrial and economic cogs.

From 1975-1981 I used the name The Real* Electric Symphony as an identity for the "open system" approach I was using to put together bands of artists from across the performance art and art research spectrum for gigs in the USA (easily over 100 in the San Francisco Bay Area) and tours in Europe and South America. Events happened inside and outside at art museums, science museums, universities, computer fairs, galleries, large and small concert halls, civic centers, libraries, etc. For many gigs I used the program title Ephemeral Forms: Mother Musing's Flight Patterns because I applied the "open system" approach to the performances as well as the performance groups. All I asked of the performers was to show their best side and bring their best work to gigs and be harmonious with other members of the band. The participants in The Real* Electric Symphony ranged anywhere from 3 to 50 performers and there was plenty of news media attention - newspaper articles, prime time TV, TV talk shows, radio shows, and the like.


University of Wisconsin storyteller, Shannon McCarthy

My reason for taking my Omnimedia events on the road was to get deeper into the Omni, to probe and to experience the extent of what total integration means in the performance arts. The operating principle is to exclude nothing; include everything and do what you can to integrate it and harmonize it. It's a great educational principle but not a bagatelle to implement. Not everyone appreciates the idea of being part of the Omni, of creating their own unique contributions to a collaborative piece. Some performers donÕt want to make the effort to imagine what to do; they want to be told what to do. There are musicians who are wedded to traditional notation systems, dancers who want to be shown how to move, technicians who want only to use their tools as they had in the past, theater folks who want to work from a script, film and video folks who want to work from a storyboard, house and stage managers who can't imagine going beyond their job description, and presenters who want everything fixed to the letter of the contract.

I approach every Omnimedia production as the design of an experimental social system with the purpose of a public showing of all participants in their best light given the available resources. With the attention span of the audience in mind and respect for their time, I normally build an Omnimedia show of two sets of from 40-50 minutes in length. Again, with audience time in mind, the performance space is normally organized in stations that serve particular performers, groups, or sets of performers. If necessary a station is positioned so it can be moved quickly out of the performance space. The intermission is normally used for longer more complex set changes.

On the road I rarely spend more than an hour and half total time with any performer or group before we do a public show. While the event is initially open to all comers, occasionally a few folks only make it into the first rehearsal when it becomes clear that performing in a public event would be a source of embarrassment for them and the audience. It rarely happens but I do decide from time to time to filter groupies and noodlers. I sometimes program borderline performers but I surround them with outstanding performers, keep their time slots very short, and give them a special theatrical visual music coloring; the fact is that it's possible for borderline performers to make it into the "most memorable" category because of the heightened spirit they often bring to the performance space. Including them boils down to an intuitive call.

Wherever I find myself I just play the cards dealt to me - the people, the talents, the space, the equipment, the support, and the time. The key is to have a good local contact person who can publicize my purpose for dropping down into their community. Toward the end of the first day of an Omnimedia residence, after scrambling to configure enough of the performance setup to give a sound and light demonstration of my intentions for the coming Omnimedia event, I address a meeting open to anyone in the community. The purpose of the meeting is to attract the right people to get involved in the process of preparing for a public Omnimedia event and to draw the attention of the local news media. After three decades the basic plan for my Omnimedia events remains the same - to showcase the unique talents and perspectives of local performing artists in a visual music context that reflects the evolution of my personal work in the electronic arts of sound and light.

Over the course of three decades, a number of especially memorable occasions continue to stick to the map. Like the time I had to chase the French organizer down the staircase and had to literally engage in fisticuffs to get our full fee for a State Department sponsored gig at a festival in Bourges (he was holding out on us because he didn't like the birthing film of the artist I hired from Munich nor the plucked uncooked chicken used by the dancer from Berkeley). Or the time we played electronic sound and light all full moonlit night long for some dancing crazies in the Napa hills (pre-rave time but similar urges at play) and one of them decided to lace the smoke. Or my never-ending negotiations with house technical staff over all things artistic (see the piece on my site called An Audio Horror Story). Or the time I composed a quadraphonic score (for a Vietnam war protest outdoor media event produced by theater director Herbert Blau) that was performed in an Ohio windstorm that blew everyone and everything, including the sound of my music and his giant masks, in ways that were amusingly unpredictable but worked perfectly for international media exposure. Omnimedia - all-inclusive. Great game, now and in the future.


University of Wisconsin space bassist, Daniel Feiler



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