23 June 2007


Klaus Obermaier is a media artist, director, composer, and lecturer. Working in dance, music, theatre, new media and creating interactive installations, video art, web projects, computer music, radio plays, and large scale outdoor performances, his work has innovated, inspired, and has been well received by critics and spectators.

On Tuesday(26.6.07), Klaus with conductor Marin Alsop and the London Philharmonic Orchestra will perform a 21st century rendition of Igor Stravinsky's 'The Rite of Spring'(Le Sacre du Printemps) at the Southbank Centre, London. Dancer Julia Mach will perform within the virtual spaces created by Obermaier and interactive designers from the Ars Electronica Futurelab. Wearing 3D glasses, the audience will see Julia within the virtual world and her body itself will expand beyond reality.

I am extremely grateful to Klaus for sparing some time in the run up to this performance to answer my questions.

You have found ways to fuse and extend performers bodies. First, how do the performers themselves approach these fusions and how much control do they maintain in their performance? Second, is it important to you that the result looks natural(organic) and/or is an aesthetic of artifice an important part of the interpretation?

Both questions depend on each particular piece, as there is a big difference in the approach of for instance VIVISECTOR, APPARITION or Le Sacre du Printemps.

In Le Sacre du Printemps, I was doing the choreography and therefore was able to create my own kind of balance between real body (natural) and virtual. I was going for an aesthetic, where the human can interact with the digital environments generated in real time , in a very natural way. The dance should work on its own, but also seamlessly fuse and interact with the digital environment. There is plenty of space for improvisation, but also the more strictly choreographed parts don't restrict the dancer regarding her performance, not more than in any conventional piece. Julia Mach keeps control.

"I realized that I am able to 'think' in new technologies - in the same way as I can think in music/instruments as a composer"
There is a general perception that there is a separation between science (and mathematics in particular) and art. What have your experiences been with and what do you think of these proconceptions? And in working on the programming for your works, do you approach it in a manner that is unique to your perspective as an artist?
I never think about that particularly. But in the center of my work stands the interaction between humans and new technologies/virtual environments. As this is a question of our times and the future, I feel very natural in using and fusing these technologies with performance and hence research the consequences and possibilities that come out of that question.

In some of the more process intensive computer generated arts, is there a danger in becoming detached from the original vision while working for extended periods in the programming and/or construction?
APPARITION and Le Sacre du Printemps are very process intensive, but I usually have a very clear idea of what I want when I invent a new piece. And I know the limits or where we can push the limits of the technology which I use. In my talks with the developers and programmers of the ARS ELECTRONICA FUTURELAB, I always try to find out and clarify the aesthetic and technological framework at the beginning of the work. The original vision always worked out, but of course there are (and should) be interesting surprises while working.

I realized that I am able to think in new technologies - in the same way that I can think in music and instruments as a composer, or as a stage designer thinks the performance space ... That allows me to plan and combine the many different mediums I use in a very efficient way and straight forward way.

What do you feel about your work being described as “driven by technology”?
... and driven by human performance, and by music, and by stage design ...
That is how I feel about it.

But I understand that because I invented a lot of new technologies in performance art and people see that part first. It is just not the case for myself.

You have worked in a wide variety of mediums. Would you briefly tell us about the mediums for which you have worked and what you feel are their strong points in terms of expression?
I worked with music, which I think, by its abstract apparition, had a big influence on all my work with other mediums. Sounds and rhythms do not have any particular meaning, but are moving us a lot. Here I see similarities with dance, which is also a very abstract medium for me. Movements cannot really tell us something concrete, but like music, they can open new ways of perception and experience.

I worked with many visual mediums like video, web-projects, installations etc. But for me these are just variations or extensions of visual art. The same goes for dance: As a musician on stage I always was aware of the performing aspect. So it was a natural development to work with dancers/performers/actors.

In your performances, how would you describe the relationship between your work and the audience? Does the inclusion of 3D glasses as a worn object help make a connection? How does it compare to the relationship between audience and show in a more spartan setting?
Theatre is a way to combine my different interests - and that is very important for me. Without really thinking about it I realized that theatre/dance/performance pieces became my main focus.

I also enjoy the direct communication with an audience - which is not possible in a painting or web project.

In Le Sacre du Printemps, the stereoscopic projections (and the 3D glasses) create an immersive environment, which permits the audience to participate substantially more intimately to the communication between a performer and the digital environment than in traditional theatre settings.
"The most common mistake is to think too complicated..."
What do you think of the tendency to categorise art with labels like “high brow”, “low brow”, “street art”, or “outsider art”? And in general, are labels and gradations of art in any way beneficial?
Most of them I don't even know. I think if you are creating, you don't care about that.

Since 2006 you have been a visiting professor at the University IUAV of Venice teaching new media in dance, music and theatre performances. What have you learned from your time teaching and lecturing?
No idea what I have learned particularly, but it is a very interesting work.

And what would you say is the most common mistake or misconception among your students?
The most common mistake is to think too complicated, which never lets you come to a point. And I mean both: technological and contextual.

photo: Gabi Hauser

In regard to your work with the Kronos Quartet and Robert Spour, how did this collaboration develop and what was the impetus behind the The Cloned Sound and its genetic structures?
How to create rhythmic structures out of genetic patterns and the real time transformation of the natural sound of a string quartet. At that time, this was a very new thing.

Have you had time recently to work on new compositions?
I recently composed for another string quartet, the Balanescu Quartet. It was performed in 2005 in the Queen Elisabeth Hall.

At what age did you feel that art was your calling?
I think I was 12 when I realized I want to become an artist. A painter and a musician.
My father was painting for himself when he was a child. When I first heard the White Album of the Beatles I knew I wanted to make music.
"I have a special idea about a new technology which I hopefully will start to work on soon."
Would you choose a colour and explain the ideas and feelings it generates for you?
Sorry, but I like all and no colours.

Also, would you select an image that you feel is powerful and explain why it has an impact on you?
Same as above. The most powerful images are always the last ones I created.

Do you feel the art world is somewhat slow in adopting new technology?
I think this is going on a lot in art, adopting new technologies (and it always was).
New technologies are just one way to express yourself. But for me there is no difference to other (older) ways. It is just what you prefer.

Do you have any concepts for which you are waiting for the right technology?
Usually I try to develop the technology I need with collaborators like the Ars Electronica Futurelab, or Hirokazu Kato (Osaka University). I have a special idea about a new technology which I hopefully will start to work on soon.

And is D.A.V.E.(digital amplified video engine) an evolving program?
D.A.V.E. is not evolving, but because it was so new when it came out, there is still a lot of demand and buzz for the piece.

As well as the performance of 'Le Sacre du Printemps' on Tuesday (26.6.07) in London, a performance of 'Maria T' is scheduled for 13.7.07 at the El Espiritu Del Sur in Huesca, Spain. A new collection of Klaus' compositions from 1985 - 2005 is out now and available HERE.

Klaus Obermaier
Ars Electronica Futurelab
Conductor Marin Alsop
The Southbank Centre
The London Philharmonic Orchestra
Igor Stravinsky Wiki
The Balanescu Quartet
The Kronos Quartet
Hirokazu Kato's ArToolKit
University IUAV of Venice
Le Sacre du Printemps - biographies

** NOTE: All images link back to their source.

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