Morphology / Face Shift

A performance of "algorithmic choreography," involving computer-controlled movements of the human face


Fields of Knowledge
  • Aesthetics / Media
  • Performance

Organizing Institutions



Aaron Levy, Sarah Drury

Opens to public



4017 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19104


75% Formal - 25% Informal

Slought is pleased to announce a special performance by Arthur Elsenaar and Remko Scha on Friday, September 30, 2005, from 6:30-7:30pm, with introductory remarks by Thomas Zummer. Elsenaar and Scha will perform "Morphology" and "Face Shift," two new "algorithmic choreography" pieces involving computer-controlled movements of the human face.

Thomas Zummer begins his introduction by posing a question: "What is an interface?" He continues by explaining that "The Oxford English Dictionary dispatches this entry with uncharacteristic brevity as 'A surface lying between two portions of matter or space, and forming their common boundary. Perhaps it is because the term interface, which came into English usage in the early 1880s, is one of unparalleled ambiguity, apt to be employed as a verb, adjective, or noun, in a remarkable array of circumstances, with an equally diverse range of often conflicting connotations. For example, with the development of early sonogram technologies for medical imaging and diagnostics, a medium was needed to secure a continuum between the body of the subject and the imaging apparatus. The patient had to recline inside a large metal tub or cylinder, which was then filled with a water-soluble gel. The patient had to lie still as sound signals were propagated through this medium and a picture of the resonant densities was made. As this technology evolved it became apparent that all that was needed was a minimal an sonically 'clear' surface to establish a continuum between two heterogenous bodies, one human, one technical. In this sense, KY Jelly™ aptly fits the definition of an interface.

But the most common notion of an interface is as the visual representation, on a computer's screen, of its operating system and applications, with the secondary connotation that it is by way of the interface that human users interact with the computer. To this we might add that the term has come to bear certain abstract or conceptual connotations as well. And, since the interface is a surface—physical and/or conceptual—where two or more (biological and technological) entities meet, the term has also acquired a general sense in which it connotes a connection, hierarchy, or relationship of some sort, between or among diverse, heterogenous, elements. In this general sense all of the elements of a projective/interactive environment —ourselves included—constitute an interface, a common boundary within which sense and reflex, simulation and cognition, history and psyche interact.

One may also take an etymological or philosophical approach: the original meaning of the word face is form, visage or appearance, from the Latin facies, which also means front, or surface, a sense retained in the notion of a façade; Inter, also from the Latin, means among or between (others, or ourselves, or things). Arthur Elsenaar's face, a face among others, is also between others, a face animated by interest or desire, compassion or indifference, traced upon its surface, like a rhythm upon a tympan, something that must be closed, opaque, in order to open onto something that ordinarily remains hidden. What does it mean—to Arthur, and to Remko, but also to us—to be 'between faces' or to be 'among' faces? What or who is between us, or among us, as we watch? What is interior, and what is exterior? As Derrida notes a tympanon is a cloth stretched tightly over an absence, the open mouth of a drum, which amortizes impressions, which makes types (typoi) resonate, which balances the striking pressure of the typtein, between inside and outside. Sound, emission, transmission, communication, the tympan is the limit which enables all of these, the surface, the face."

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Arthur Elsenaar is an artist and an electrical engineer. He used to run his own pirate radio station, and he built the transmitters for many illegal radio and television stations throughout the Netherlands. His early work is concerned with radar-controlled interactive sculptures. Since 1993, he investigates the artistic possibilities of the computer-controlled human face ("ArtiFacial Expression"). In his recent piece "BuBL Space" (with Taco Stolk), he launched a wireless device for disabling nearby mobile phones.

Remko Scha is an artist and a computational linguist. He built an automatic electric guitar band ("The Machines"), designed an image generation program ("Artificial"), and developed a language-processing theory ("Data-Oriented Parsing"). He has worked at Philips' Research Laboratories (Eindhoven, the Netherlands), BBN Laboratories (Cambridge, MA), and Tel Aviv University. He is currently a project manager at the Institute for Logic Language and Computation at the University of Amsterdam.

Arthur Elsenaar and Remko Scha cooperate in the "Institute of Artificial Art Amsterdam" (IAAA). They jointly developed a series of automatic performance-pieces, video-installations and audio-installations. At the 1997 Ars Electronica Festival they premiered "Arthur and the Solenoids": an "algorithmic choreography" piece which displays computer-controlled motions of human facial muscles, accompanied by computer-controlled electric guitars.

Their lectures on computer-controlled facial expression (with computer-voice "Huge Harry") have been presented at many scientific conferences, theatre festivals and art exhibitions, including the Dutch Electronic Arts Festival, the Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association, and the Research Colloquium of the MIT Media Lab. Elsenaar and Scha also carry out experiments with automatic broadcast radio and with new forms of internet radio. Their theoretical and historical reflections on technological art have been published in journals such as Mediamatic and Leonardo Music Journal.

This event has been organized in conjunction with The National Alliance of Media Arts and Culture (NAMAC) 25th Anniversary Conference in Philadelphia ("Taking Liberties: Creativity, Freedom and Risk").