sense event [sens ih-vent] n. – a produced entertainment or educational affair that engages participants in an amplified multi-sensory experience and results in enhanced associated memory formation. Synonym: experiential event.
“For a number of years I’ve wanted to become an experience designer
rather than just a musician…” - Peter Gabriel
Over the past decade, I have been heavily engaged in studying, understanding and ultimately creating the future of sensation, both for our TFL clients and for my other company Plutopia Productions, Inc. After the 90s obsession with adding experience to value propositions, we have seen a full-on focus on the power of “experiences” and their integration real or not into seemingly every aspect of our life, particularly when we talk of marketing, the economy and goods. The request to generate “the experience” comes at me from every type of industry and company. One would expect entertainment consumer electronics and gaming clients to seek out new dimensions of experience and of course, those research new potential for living spaces, retail, lifestyle changes or fashion, but recently, it has been the purveyors of everything from education to engineering, kitchenware to kitsch that are looking to generate new dimensions of attachment, interaction and sensation.
So let’s start by discussing the meaning of experiences, why they matter and how to connect them to a human need(s).
In my view, experiences can be physical, mental, emotional and spiritual in their essence or any combination of these and are acquired through knowledge, observation, involvement or exposure. In this sense experiences can be considered at the baseline level.
Experiences can also be seen as: the act or process of directly perceiving events or reality.
According to John Shook, Free Inquiry, April / May 2008: “Human experience is the ultimate source and justification for all knowledge. Experience itself has accumulated in human memory and culture, gradually producing the methods of intelligence called “reason” and “science.” To my mind, this is a rather grandiose expression of the power of an experience and whereas, it rings true to a point, we are concerned here, more with how experiences can be masterfully created and augmented in order to extend the human capacity and holistic wellbeing. As Shook points out experiences are stimulated or sometimes simulated memories and social/cultural signals “living” in both the conscious and unconscious, which can be further provoked by the addition of new dimensions, which the brain often vetoes, if uncomfortable or expands through spontaneous imagination depending upon our mood, environment, expectation, desire or emotional state and engagement at the time.
Lakoff and Johnson in their book Metaphors We Live By (1980) talk about the human propensity to have a natural (possibly universal) kind of experiences (body, physical environment and culture), and that these often vary from culture to culture. Lakoff and Johnson very much link experiences to metaphors and they believe that the “experientialist” account of meaning and truth (as we see it) are based upon human experience and understanding, in which metaphor plays a major role. They see the grounding of metaphors in experience and that creative and imaginative metaphors give new meaning and add different perspectives and dynamics to the experience, thereby often redefining our reality.
A critical aspect of the meaning or acceptance of experiences is whether or not they meet a conscious or unconscious need or volition. It is important to pursuing a depth of understanding of this “meaning” in order to better activate, accelerate or leverage the human propensity to optimize the impact of the experience.
Accordingly, I see the following points of relevance / interaction as pursuant to expanding the potency of the experience.
Interestingly, the film ‘What the Bleep do we Know’ offers the theory that our mind knows no difference between an event we experience, and an event we imagine and visualize. Our body reacts the same way whether we are experiencing something or thinking about it, it triggers the same emotional and chemical responses. (Arntz, Chasse, Vicente 2004).
Emerging experiential behaviors, expectations and attitudes such as multi-media communications, new forms of affiliation and belongingness (new communities, new opportunities for engagement, sharing and creativity, the ability to interface with evolving systems architecture, etc. are influencing the way our senses engage with new experiences and are making new demands on our abilities in that domain, i.e. dealing with seamless fusion between entertainment and communication, both real and virtual;
seamless movement from virtual, to physical, to virtual, the growth in augmented reality, which I have termed “experiensualism” and expansive and deeper forms of collaboration. Our understanding of such experiences is being transformed even further by the fusion of experiential realism, communications, cognitive and neuroscience, ERP (Effective Radiated Power / Energy) and fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging).
“Entertainment and media will form part of our social networks. Their architecture will need to fluid enough to adapt to new models of long-tail relationships.”
Joshua Kauffman, Social scientist
This brings me to ambience in its broadest sense. The ambient experience is beyond the sensory experience. Ambience is defined as a combination of the human experience, the content, the delivery system / interface and the environment. As Michael Chichi, a sensory engagement expert stated at a Frontline Panel I conducted for Philips in Amsterdam: “Ambience is what we let in”. It is when the experience or sensation, (which I’ll come back to) reach the “visual heartbeat level”, going beyond the five senses – even engaging “Jacobson’s organ” – which it is felt achieves optimized intimacy and attachment. By elaborating these thoughts, I have been able to conceptualize and develop what I term the “Sense event”, which forms the substrate for my creative work at Plutopia Productions, Inc.
In addition to my general understanding of how “experiences” manifest themselves, the concept for the “sense event” was driven from two separate influences, namely, firstly, from the futures work I mentioned earlier that I have undertaken over a number of years on the future of the entertainment and gaming industry based around leveraging augmented ambience, and secondly, from the Deleuzian aesthetics of sensation and encounter. Accordingly, in creating future-focused “sense events” for Plutopia Productions, it became an imperative to embrace the interaction of sensation, affect and emotional intelligence, by levering those powers of involvement, knowledge, observation and exposure to fuse the physical, the emotional, spiritual and mental experiences that envelop the holistic supposition. With five years of production experience in creating events that fuel the imagination and generate sensation, I not only understand the elements that underscore our success, but moreover know how to either, capture and deliver the experience or design a framework of integrated experiences that achieve that goal. In doing so, we, at Plutopia have become context-sensitive experience designers, able to harmonize sensory energy and engagement, which gives us a deeper expression of humanness and an overall better sense of well-being and enhanced personal potential. Our ability to map or emotion model, the levels of sensation delivered or cognitive resonance achieved, allow us to better design both the individual and collective performance of our events.
As Plutopia 2010’s headliner DJ Spooky stated “Creating audience interaction is about hooking in to every format of memory we have thought about and then thinking about how we can describe the experience.” This quote neatly underpins the John Shook statement I referred to earlier on in this piece. When taken together with Deleuze’s aesthetics and encounter, we can begin to see how this all comes together to extend what we usually mean by experience, beyond notions of desire and pleasure into the higher order “outcome” of sensation. “In this respect, the concept of body becomes wider and more complex. It is an experience that is premised upon the materialist aesthetic of sensation, where body and mind are imbricated, rather than theories of desire and pleasure, where the body and mind are separated. Furthermore the very term “body’ takes on a new and polysemic definition in this argument” The body in Deleuzian terms is not the phenomenological corporeal body, but is an assemblage of forces, intensities and so on. (Barbara M. Kennedy – Deleuze and Cinema – The Aesthetics of Sensation). Deleuze sees sensation defined by the “encounter” as manifested within the materiality of existence (real or virtual). As he says, “the world and I exist in difference – in the encounter”. Accordingly, ‘in the feeling, being is in sensation’, which lies in the beyond of any fixed positionality. In the Deleuzian idea, the experience is not dependent upon recognition or common sense, but operates as a force and intensity in a differential relationship. Sensations therefore, refer to a whole range of differences of perceptions of consciousness, at a level beyond subjectivity. With the notion of intensity, sensation ceases to be representative and becomes ‘real’. So Deleuzian ideas of intensity and experience, through which the subject is subsumed in the beyond, through becoming and sensation determine the subject to be virtually ‘hystericized’ by the intensities, rhythms, flows and energies. The beyond of desire and affect lies in that sensation. The essence of sensation is rhythm, which at forms an engagement with the body, brain and the environment, as I stated earlier. Deleuze see this rhythm in three types, even stages, which he calls “vibration” – simple sensation that is determined by difference in the intensity of an experience and is often more nervous than celebral; ‘resonance”, which Deleuze also terms the embrace or the clinch as when two sensations resonate together in a state of symbiotic energies or radiating off of each other; and thirdly, “forced movement” – when two sensations draw apart, release themselves and are then brought together by an interface that creates a rhythm across multiple parts. In our ‘Plutopian’ terms: ‘vibration’ could relate to an individual performance or installation that create a unique experiential sensation; ‘resonance’ could be seen as the symbiotic energies that existed at our last event between the unusual combination of DJ Spooky and the woodwind orchestra, and “forced movement’ is hopefully the connected sensations from the seemingly disconnected rhythms that are expressed through the holistic experience / sensation of all the performances, exhibits, talks, installations, etc. taken together under a single theme, such as “The Future of Music” or “The Future of Play”.
My seeming obsession with understanding the complexity of experiences and sensation building, at the specific level, should be seen as a desire to harness all these forces and to create the ultimate, unforgettable sensation for Plutopia audiences, either in terms of our signature events or those for third parties. However, at a more general level, it is about the future of experiences, how they will change as humans are enhanced and evolve to sense more expansively and powerfully and as affect-generating technologies, devices, systems and feedback monitoring begin to design new approaches to enhanced sensation, which beyond purely entertainment, can be used for therapeutic healing and as a way to create new levels of positivity.
So, in creating a ‘sense event’, I am inspired to create the sense of feeling ‘alive’, by The Hero in David Fincher’s Fight Club (1999) when he says “This was a near life experience”. Accordingly, I ensure that the following elements are taken into account in the event’s design:
So what are some of the new ways and environments in which this new definition of ambience:
So while at the basic level, these new experiences and augmented sensations are being driven by a number of relatively simple need transformations and obvious enhancements, such as the adding of geospatial features, which create visual networks, giving us the ability to put copious information into the media space, with added ambient support; or our increasing desire to collaborate, create and share our experiences across the globe in real time; or redefine what we mean by friends, families, anchors, etc. (here we can learn from the development of 3D worlds / social networks, both of which will infiltrate and lead our future entertainment environment); at the same time, emerging developments whether in terms of interactive environments, devices, interfaces, human behavior, sensory transmutation, fusion and engagement by means of total immersion or telepresence, cognitive feedback and the ergonomics of perception; or science/intelligence itself, are taking us on unchartered journeys of sensation. Here are a few developments with which I have personally been involved:
One thing I am finding is that the “social transmutes communications to become entertainment. Accordingly entertainment is taking on a new, richer meaning as so many media, social, communications, environmental, educational, cultural and cognitive technologies and behaviors converge. The seeds for Plutopia were cast on the back of work that Jon Lebkowsky and I were doing in respect of the emerging digital convergence, back in the early part of this decade. Since then we have seen digital convergence and a new concept of ambience take the entertainment world by storm. With triple/quad delivery format (internet, IPTV, VOD, Audio and more ) plus ambience), HD, holograph and 3D penetration, Voice activated interfaces, Video compression technologies (Mpeg 8 – 4 times over Mpeg 4), Sensory driven immersive / responsive (IVVV and ImTV), Fully integrated with common digital formats (growth in mobile TV), Ability to create, interact, select and manage content and of course much of this over social networks.
This is a critical element/aspect of our work at Plutopia, where we are looking to not only extend the meaning of entertainment, but, turn it on its head. I’d like to demonstrate here some of the amazing ways in which we are seeing these new meanings and definitions manifested. A groundbreaking dynamic of these changes is our growing ability to analyze and detect both the behavior of the human participant as well as the ambient conditions in which the event ‘occurs’. We are seeing the rapid development of annotated environments that are able to pick up on interactive awareness, together with the likes of human dynamics and emotion modeling, whereby, we are able to study and ascertain levels of affective and cognitive perception, feedback and awareness that in turn enable us to model the impact of social interfacing and feedback loops upon which we can better create behavioral identities/profiles.
A critical aspect of sensation is the notion of “presence”, a subject I have been exploring for many years and its meaning has expanded significantly throughout the dawn of the internet age: Ken Goldberg’s TeleGarden, Eduardo Kac’s concept of Telepresence, the art robots and “Metamachines” of Marcel Li Antunez Roca, Sven Bauer, Heath Bunting, are just a few of the people I have associated or worked with over the last fifteen years or so, some of whom I referred to in Future Frequencies.
As its notion and context of presence have been augmented by new concepts social change and technologies, new methods of retaining, mapping, signifying, and storing, the realm of presence have been opened up to a plethora of rich possibilities. With this in mind, it was with great pleasure that I came across an exhibition of work by the artist Zach Gage, not long after I visited a Joseph Kosuth exhibition at the Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art in Budapest, Hungary, where the element of presentational simplicity can be paralleled, as well as the essence of holistic presence. Often at the core of technological mediation are presence, absence, and distance.
Gage’s installation titled Data deals with physical, affective and virtual presence. As Gage himself explains in an interview with Rhizome.org: “I’m investigating this situation of humanity transitioning our lives into a virtual space, and how this new space gives sort of a physical property to ideas. That we no longer have to make art objects, because online, a conceptual or theoretical object is just as valid as an actual object. Words or code aren’t just organizations of thoughts that can give rise to objects, but actual things that can be interacted within and of themselves.”
When thinking back to Eduardo Kac, it is interesting to note how in his 2009 show Lagoglyths, Diotopes and Transgenic Works, he managed to create a completely new way of experiencing his infamous GFP Bunny (2000) project involving Alba – the flourescent green bunny by adding emerging media interfaces that have delivered a fresh perspective and dynamic to the work. Expanding forms of engagement through interaction, immersion, sensory transformation, telepresence, embodiment, etc. are leading to new means of expression, representation, communication, semiotics, aesthetics, space, resonance, etc. ultimately resulting in “sensation redefinition” through extension, augmentation, even transportation and understanding of the physical, virtual, affective and spiritual, either individually and collectively.
In creating a “sense event”, we should remember that art and entertainment are presenters of affect, inventors, creators of affect. Through their immediacy we become one with them. Technologies, content and interaction position the intensity of the affect.
Deleuze states that art is the language of sensations. This is what Howard Gardner in his book Changing Minds calls linguistic intelligence. While (DJ-style) further sampling Gardner, we can believe that the more of a person’s intelligences you can appeal to when delivery an event, the more they will experience and be convinced of its personal relevance and value, enabling its impact to stay longer in the memory. This is particularly pertinent when the event is able to expand our notion of what is possible. That is one of the key roles of a Plutopia Productions’ “sense event”, which is themed and designed to primarily expand that notion of possibility through the present into the future, by introducing new ideas, skills, practices and experiences. Augmentation and extension of the experience can stimulate large-scale shifts in the audience’s sense of his / her realm of possibility.
Excerpt from 53 p.p. From Future Flow by Derek Woodgate (Fringecore, 2011)
Flow Three: I am the Experience