Flock (2017)

Setting up Flock in the NDC, Singapore.

Setting up Flock in the NDC, Singapore.

Ten years ago Tom Wexler and I conceived of Flock, an interactive installation in collaboration with Tom Sapsford (an ex-dancer with the Royal Ballet and choreographers, Wayne McGregor, Will Tuckett and Michael Clark).

Flock combined sound and projections with live motion tracking technology to place pedestrians within an ethereal corps de ballet. It was based on music from the opening of Act IV, when - in a staged version - all the principal protagonists are off-stage - an absence which, in our digital representation, helped bring the impromptu pedestrian performers to the fore.

The piece was originally commissioned by the Institute of Contemporary Arts in association with the Royal Opera House and premiered in February 2007 in Trafalgar Square. Flock received extensive media coverage including a live broadcast of the launch on BBC R4’s PM programme and, in the words of the then artistic director of the ICA Ekow Eshun, ‘offered a whole new realm for ‘live’ artistic experience’.

When asked to revive the piece for this year’s Singapore Night Festival, itself celebrating its Tenth Anniversary, we were faced with a choice; do we present an archived ‘original’ of the 2007 version of Flock, or do we revisit it and, if so, how radically?

The question is perhaps a temporally compressed analogue of the debates about ‘authenticity’ in early modern theatre and music, amplified by the audience’s role in Flock, where they act as both audience and performers.

It’s clear that the people who engage with a 2017 version of Flock have a distinctly different set of expectations about a digital experience than their 2007 selves did and, as their responses and engagement drive the work, the only option we felt was open to us was to make a new work in the ‘spirit of version one’, retaining the original’s length (dictated by the choice of score) and sharing a similar thematic intention - of putting the audience centre stage.

The 2017 version of Flock is at the confluence of three principal sources of change from its ancestral source; 1. the development of Tom and my creative thought, 2. A decade of technological advancements, and 3. the piece’s staging.

Flock was one of our first interactive works. In it we first explored the possibility of a theatrical engagement with impromptu performers, and examined, for the first time, the fluid relationship between those who interact as performers and those who watch as audience. We have since made a decade’s worth of work that has developed these ideas. Meanwhile, our vocabulary has been enriched by borrowing ideas and techniques from our parallel work in theatre and film. The result is that Flock 2017 is a genuine hybrid of theatre, film and interactivity.

The ten years of technological change since Flock's premiere are indivisibly entwined with the development of our ideas. Most of what we do now would have been impossible in 2007. Although the basics remain unchanged, (projection, sound and thermal imaging have all seen small, iterative developments), the speed of the computers that process the generative elements and the heavy media load has advanced exponentially.

Finally, the staging. This is the first full-scale interactive work that we’ve produced indoors. The performance space is the beautiful atrium at the National Design Centre in Singapore. It will be interesting to see what effect moving the work indoors has on the demographic - there undoubtedly will be fewer neutral bystanders to be drawn into the experience - but the most immediate benefit is that Tom and I finally have a rehearsal space and some time to use it. All our previous installations have been produced in public spaces and required a crane or similar with 30m+ height. As a result, there is no ‘back-stage’ and, by the time the equipment is all installed and night-time falls, there are inquisitive recipients for whatever we output (line-up grids, etc., all included). This opportunity for discreet rehearsal time is a huge luxury for us. Not continually watching the weather forecast is an additional benefit.

We open to the public on Friday evening (the 18th August) and Flock runs every evening (from 7.30pm to 12 pm) until the 26th August.