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People sitting in a darkened theater stare at a large reflective surface, while cell phones ring randomly throughout the room. The typical moviegoing experience at Times Square? No, it's a musical piece called Dialtones, which I recently learned about on dratfink's page. This "telesymphony," performed in connection with the Ars Electronica festival and funded by Swisscom Mobile, etc, is a half-good idea that just doesn't know when to quit. Check out the exhausting spec sheet--it's a social sculpture, it uses corporate switching systems as a found medium, it employs a lot of clever programming and hardware, it's electronic music, it's live performance, it's an audience participation piece, it has flashing lights, it has graphics, it has Mylar!

This kind of MIT Media Lab product (at least one of the performers went there) just pounds you with technology. It's essentially a loss leader for the tech industry, crafted by geeks whose art sense derives from rock concert multimedia shows. Audience members are asked to register their phone numbers when they arrive for the concert, special ringtones are downloaded to their cells, and then a musical ensemble "plays" the phones in an auditorium by punching buttons on a graphic display. So far, so good, I guess, but do we really need spotlights hitting the audience members when their cells ring? Keychain lights distributed to everyone that glow red two seconds before the tones go off? To see all this activity in a reflective mirror? The visual element is as gimcrack-filled as a Spielberg movie.

The piece assumes an audience with near-infinite time, patience, and trust. You have to be willing to queue for a seat assignment, surrender your private number (to whom exactly?), and accept the downloaded "custom ringtone," all for the sake of one concert (to remove the tone, you're presumably on your own). Thirty minutes of antiphonal chirps, climaxing in the inevitable "crescendo of sound," might be pretty interesting to sit and listen to in the dark, if you weren't also being forced to "participate." The authors dispense grant-panel-friendly nonsense when they say this participation is "active," though. Your creative input consists solely of choosing a ringtone (doesn't the phone company also call this "creativity"?) and deciding what exotic handwaving motion to make when the spotlight hits you. The spec sheet doesn't mention another option you have that would definitely affect the "texture" of the piece: turning off your phone.

- tom moody 10-10-2002 2:47 pm [link] [1 ref] [3 comments]