This past weekend, EMPAC hosted Daniel Teige and Volkmar Klien in Studio 1. The two-act show created by these artists was designed specifically for a 360 degree experience. It drew an interesting crowd—reeking of pot and pretension—and was sold out for the weekend, with an extra performance added on Saturday night to accommodate the small capacity of the theater. Walking into the darkened studio, one was forced to experience the concept of audience in a whole new way. Because of the 360 setup, the best audio was near the center of the studio, and audience members were encouraged to move their stools (that’s right, no comfy chairs here) closer to the center of the room. This arrangement pushed many out of their comfort zone, as they were forced into a close-knit and undefined shared space.
For the first act, Austrian artist Klien submerged listeners in a tornado of sound in his presentation of “Start-Ziel-Sieg” (start-to-finish victory). It wasn’t music—just a cacophony of pitches and noises. But arranged in such a way that when the other senses are obscured (thank you, dark EMPAC studio), the symphony of noise had an incredible effect—inducing a kind of trance-like state on the listeners. The 25-minute set flew by as listeners walked around the room, spun on their stools, or lied down to experience the sound from a different angle.
The second act, “Parade of Artificial Things,” presented by Teige, Simon Lee, and Eve Sussman, combined visual and audio effects in the same 360 degree manner. The visuals added a lot to the technology of the 360 room. While most of the 25-minute set was composed of repeated images, the grand finale showcased a freight-train running around the circumference of the room. The sound of the train combined with the changing images truly was an impressive display.
Following the show, there was a discussion session with the artists. While this was mainly dominated by a few outspoken hippies, the mediator still gave the audience ample time to have questions answered, and the discussion was very intimate and enlightening.
The problem with EMPAC is that “experimental” means something different to an RPI student than it does to an art curator. So while these shows may very well be awesome and groundbreaking in their field, they are still a little beyond the grasp of the average engineering student. Furthermore, many of the shows that come to EMPAC are experimental performances that are still in their experimental stages, newly developed by their experimental artists who are using EMPAC as a testing ground. While there is nothing wrong with this, sometimes it turns out well, and sometimes it turns out badly. It’s all part of the experiment.
Overall, the show was a little bit disturbing and frightening. It was specifically designed to disorient and confuse the audience by robbing them of a few of their senses. And while it could still be called a good value at the student price, it may not be entertaining to most RPI students. Going to one of the more abstract shows at EMPAC requires a leap of faith from the student—hopefully they’ll go home with a successful experiment, but sometimes they’re just left fabricating data.