RESEARCH PLATFORM

Academy for Theatre and Digitality

They Call Us Users

completedFellowship

Summary
Our project 'They Call Us Users' deals with one of the most significant technological advances in consumer electronics in recent years; the booming area of A.I. supported text, chatbots and ‘virtual assistants’. 'If You Tell Me When Your Birthday Is' serves as a text for a piece that combines the possibilities and aesthetic qualities of virtual reality technology with those of the theatre and is also to be realised as an installation in future exhibitions.

Introduction

A.I. supported text and chatbots, and especially the development of 'virtual assistants', can be understood as part of robotics, a field becoming more and more prevalent in our lives. We would like to focus on the characteristics of this bot language at the user level.

The machine seems to be entangled in an endless effort to show human qualities, while we try to learn the “semi-sophisticated”, simplified language of the smart tool so that it can understand us. On the basis of our research we have written a text in the form of a dialogue that poetically reflects the current peculiarities and differences, the shortcomings, and also the similarities of this type of communication with the one from human to human.

Interaction and feedback loops of increasing algorithm-based communication with our analogue ‘offline world’, our bodies, our language and our behaviour, but also our wishes, imaginations and aesthetic production methods are still largely unexplored. Starting from the assumption that not only A.I. and its machines are becoming more and more human-like, but retroactively also human beings are becoming more and more machine-like, we would like to work with the aspect that a ‘becoming machine’ of humans, not only has to be realized in ‘functioning’ but could be extended to resistant practices.

First Week Project Pitch

'If You Tell Me When Your Birthday Is'

'If You Tell Me When Your Birthday Is' (installation version)

16mm film projection with audio, part of a project in production

We worked on two different approaches to staging the text. Both are based on the transfer of our dialogue into what at first sight seems to be a completely different world. In the very well known computer game Red Dead Redemption there are many longer scenes in which cowboys ride through endless landscapes and talk and shout to each other. The feeling that came to us while watching this specific way of communication was immediately associated with the feeling that we had while communicating with the various A.I. and the idea of combining these two moments seemed very exciting to us.

Furthermore we had the idea for a media transfer, which seems rather absurd in its approach within a logic of increasing perfection of image world generation via digital technology. We transformed a short loop of the footage from the game (which is famous for its breathtakingly realistic and high-resolution landscape graphics) into the aesthetics of an old, already slightly faded black and white film and abstracted the scenery to something more ghostly.

Ideally, this loop should then be exposed on 16 mm film and shown in exhibitions by a film projector. The dialogue, which lasts about 30 minutes, is to be heard in the room so that a multi-layered and media-reflective installation is created.

'If You Tell Me When Your Birthday Is' (machinima version)

4k, colour/sound, 11:30 min., part of a project in production

A BMX cross practice course populated by office chairs and mugs pending in a palm-fringed cinema entrance hall, an uncanny ruins of staircase in midst of a bunch of partly gold-nugget similar meteorites in the universe, a gigantic pair of socks in an enchanted comic-like forest filled with lots of likewise huge different pills and a wild west ghost-town like little hut with a barbecue station on fire are the landscapes in which two desperado-like figures strangely move along, shouting to each other in the form of a very special dialogue.

Their intimate talking is marked by very ambivalent qualities – misunderstandings, repetitions, loopholes, intellectual hubris, exaggeration, mutual care and loyalty.

Their movements are, likewise their dialogue, based on actual developments of digital world building, mostly prefabricated game engine movement patterns downloaded from internet platforms or are animated with motion capture technique. The protagonists animated by this movements are assembled avatars combining prefabricated 3D characters with scans of the heads of the two actors who have spoken the text. The dialogue is based on the script »If You Tell Me When Your Birthday Is«. The cinematic ‘machinima‘-production, made with a computer game engine, is also being filmed in this digitally generated world.

Even though these two versions look quite different, they both use a collage-like technique in which the boundaries between digital and analogue become blurred. The aesthetic qualities of a fusion of analog and digital elements seem to make a certain form of contemporary reality appear and problematize it: the conflict between the analog physical and the virtual digital world is inscribed and the glitches, the mistakes found at the “cracks” of the interfaces between the two areas and the insufficiencies of these techniques, remain transparent, instead of striving for a complete clean-up and a perfect product.

Equipment & Setup

For our research we collected a vast number of conversational footage from chatbot conversations that served as the basis for our text. We also cross-linked the chatbots.

The text 'If You Tell Me When Your Birthday Is' exists as printed version in a booklet and is the basis for installation and michinima version, and can serve as a text for further pieces that combines the possibilities and aesthetic qualities of virtual reality technology with those of the theatre and/or is to be realised as an installative version .

'If You Tell Me When Your Birthday Is' (machinima version) 4k, colour/sound, 11:30 min. is part of a project in production

Credits

  • Written and directed by: Stefan Panhans and Andrea Winkler
  • Voices: Lisa Marie Janke, Uwe Schmieder
  • Avatar Heads: Lisa Marie Janke, Uwe Schmieder
  • 3D-Scan Operator: Andrea Winkler, Friederike Wörner
  • Programming / Avataring: Nils Corte
  • Unity Operator - World Building, Visual Design, Animation: Max Schweder
  • Sound recording and postproduction: Gertfried Lammersdorf
  • Sounddesign: Nils Corte, Stefan Panhans, Andrea Winkler

Technical needs for presentation: Flatscreen (at least 76in), sound system

'If You Tell Me When Your Birthday Is' (installation version) 16mm film projection with audio, approx 30min. is part of a project in production

Credits

  • Written and directed by: Stefan Panhans and Andrea Winkler
  • Voices: Stefan Panhans and Andrea Winkler
  • Editing: Stefan Panhans and Andrea Winkler
  • Sound postproduction: Gertfried Lammersdorf
  • Sounddesign: Stefan Panhans, Andrea Winkler

Technical needs for presentation: 16mm projector, sound system (eventually to be extended for headphones)

Any further ways of presentation are still in research. A combination of both so far existing versions to be shown simultaneously in one space is also negotiable. The 11:30-minute machinima film is also thought as inspiration for a possible realization as a theatre piece using digital presentation techniques combined with traditional stage settings.


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