JAMBORI RIMBA: Audience-Interactive Installation

(Journal SEAMUS, Vol 13, #1, April '98, pp. 7-8) Note: This is a companion article to the above.

by Barton McLean

Upon arriving back in the U.S. in December of 1996, we made plans to adapt "JAMBORI RIMBA" to our touring schedule. The U.S. premiere was given at Southeastern Louisiana University during a two-week residency in October of 1997, and subsequent residency at Siena College in Albany, New York. "JAMBORI RIMBA" is a portable, self-contained audio-visual-environmental-audience- interactive installation which allows over a dozen participants at a time to actively participate (and dozens more to passively participate) in creating sound, movement, and art work (painting, sculpture) within the context of a multimedia environment (sound, multiple slides, video, interactive"virtual" video) inspired by the Malaysian Borneo jungles and its peoples. Although displaying characteristics of an exhibit, it is foremost a composition by myself, Priscilla McLean, and Malaysian video artist Hasnul J. Saidon, and is performed by the participants who come through the space. It can be open to the general public, or classes of 25 at a time can be accomodated in 30-45 minute increments. Like our "Rainforest" and Desert Spring" installations, we are present at all times, interacting with the visitors.

The creative stations consist of (refer to setup diagram) (1.) a 45-minute video loop produced by Hasnul J. Saidon from field trips taken into the interior while living with the Iban (former headhunter) tribe, and incorporating modern video processing techniques. The images of the natural and human environment are made abstract by Hasnul's artistry. This video is not sequential, and can be viewed for any length of time (like all the other stations). It serves to set the visual tone for the whole experience. (2.) the Interactive Dance/Movement Virtual Reality station is a combination of multiple slides and live video processing/projection. The participants enter a space draped with black cloth. Their image is transported, via video camera and video processor, to a screen to the left, where they can see their movements as though they were actually part of the slide images (taken from Borneo jungle scenes) on the screen. As they move, their movements are altered via techniques such as strobe, chrominance and luminence keying, pixelization, etc., to allow for creative interaction within their own movement and also within the jungle image on the screen. The multiple slide images change in a slow fade/dissolve fashion so that one image is always part of the other. The dark spaces in the multiple slide image are where the participant can look for his/her video image. The actual video processing is constantly changing, adding a happy unpredictability to the experience. During its USA premiere, several dancers became quite absorbed in this virtual reality experience, and stayed for hours. (3.) The Cultural Mixer allows participants to blend together music loops from various tribal chants, dances, and instrumental excerpts. (4.) The Ceramic Gongs, beautifully decorated by visual artist Ann Kristen Lindsay from authentic Borneo designs, is struck with mallets, the resultant sound echoing, pitch-shifted and delayed as the participants listen. (5.) The Jungle Wheel is stroked with mallets, or bowed with a violin bow. This often creates an eerie choir quality which blends with the other music. (6.) A microphone is provided for those who wish to vocalize or perform on instruments or provided sound objects. Their creations are echoed and digitally processed to allow for significant creative interaction with themselves. (7.) The Keyboard Sampler contains sounds recorded by us on field trips within Borneo, and serves to add an authentic flavoring. Among the sounds are those of native birds, insects, and amphibians. Participants can "create their own mini-jungle" by playing multiple keys on the sampler. (8.) The Accumulated Painting- Sculpture area is an optional component which is organized by a local art teacher under our direction, and requires whatever types of art materials can be most efficiently utilized (colored paper, scissors, glue, twine, leaves and twigs and branches, fabrics, cloth, light wood, etc.). Participants create various jungle artifacts (masks, natural items,etc.) which are then hung in the main room, and are lit with colored spotlights to provide a stunning visual complement. (9.) Not on diagram: a continuous stereo tape of cicada and bird songs with synthesized composed music by The McLean Mix, the "bed of sound" with which all other music merges.

"JAMBORI RIMBA" is structured so that there are no "wrong" or "inartistic" choices. It is targeted toward adult/university/community-family audiences, and can be successfully performed in museums, galleries, universities, and community arts centers. Of all of our installations, "JAMBORI RIMBA" is the most multidisciplinary, involving artistic creativity (music, dance, fine art), cultural areas, technology, geography, and mixed media. University classes in music performance, ethnomusicology, theory, composition, art studio, photography, art history, dance, environmental studies, biology, cultural studies, etc. can be accomodated.

The equipment provided by the host basically amounts to little more than readily-available furniture, a sound system, video projector, and music stands. We then ask the host to provide publicity and promotion, room completely darkened, chairs, sound system, tables set up, projectors and screens set up, help with unloading and setup. During the opening hours, the host controls visitor access to the room. With a walk-in situation with a large audience this might mean stationing someone at the door to make sure no more than 20-25 people are in the room at any one time (those not participating directly can sit and look at the video and slides and listen to the sounds being created).

The space requirements are very flexible. Basically we need a large (c. 30 x 30 on up) room, hall, gallery, or auditorium that can be completely darkened. For the optional accumulative sculpture component, an adjoining hall or space that can be lit is needed. Also in this foyer space we like to hang a modest introductory wall exhibit about the artistic, cultural, geographical, and environmental aspects of the experience.

"JAMBORI RIMBA" was culminated with a formal concert in the space. It has proven so far to be a very popular event in situations where other departments could be employed, particularly dance, art, ethnomusicology, etc. At the SE Louisiana State University premiere installation, we worked extensively with the dance department, producing a series of mini interactive dance performances, as the dance students interacted with the video processing of their images. We also worked a great deal with some of the art faculty, who helped with the accumulated sculpture exhibit as they brought their studio, history, and education classes in to participate. Of course, its "core" constituency is with the computer/electronic music area of the music department. We have used the installation format now for several years of touring, at first because we were fascinated by it, and now also because so many galleries and art centers are favoring this over the standard audience-seated concert, which seems to be unfortunately declining all over the U.S. On the downside, this involves us lugging around a large amount of bulky "equipment" usually via automobile, or relying upon the venue to pay for shipping or to supply some of the larger items if we fly, as was done in Louisiana. The upside is the creating of a large work lasting for days and involving hundreds of people, almost like a carnival! These installations have become our attempt for self-realization via innovative electro-acoustic music and multimedia in the tough commercial corporate society that we live in today, put a little food on the table, and keep our individual artistic expression and our souls intact.

C 1998 Barton McLean


Permission for copying and use in normal university class work granted.

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