Live Cinema

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Media objects – live cinema

-What is live cinema?

Live Cinema can be described as any performance involving the presence of a human performer manipulating moving images projected for an audience.

According to the Transmediale Press release for its live cinema program in 2005 the term “Live Cinema“ has hitherto been used primarily to describe the live musical accompaniment of silent movies. But that was yesterday. “Live Cinema” today stands for the simultaneous creation of sound and image in real time by sonic and visual artists who collaborate on equal terms and with elaborate concepts. The traditional parameters of narrative cinema are expanded by a much broader conception of cinematographic space, the focus of which is no longer the photographic construction of reality as seen by the camera’s eye, or linear forms of narration. The term “Cinema” is now to be understood as embracing all forms of configuring moving images, beginning with the animation of painted or synthetic images.

-The elements of live cinema?


Live cinema performances occur in a space shared by the performers, tools, projections and the audience. There’re several different spaces within live cinema space.

a. Digital space, optimizing and compressing are two essential activities in digital space. They are specially relevant for live cinema artists who work with video material, as uncompressed digital video occupies huge blocks of digital space.

b. Desktop space, desktop space is the work space for laptop performance artists, as it is the background for the interface of the software. Desktop space contains invisible and visible spaces depending on the needs of the performer.

c. Performance space, performance space is where the performance takes place. Everything that is included in the performance belongs to the performance space.

d. Physical space, physical space is the space shared between the audience and the artist. All the other spaces of live cinema lay inside the physical space. The space can have arcs or other architectural elements which can limit the visibility of the projections for the audience. Physical space is the starting point for planning the performance.


a. Real- time live. Normally the effect of “realness” or “liveness” is enforced by certain reality effects, like a hand-held camera or technical problems eventually which makes us recognize the output as more real-time controlled by the artists. A performance can be effected by the weather conditions and human factors such as nerves. In the live cinema context there are different levels of “real-time”. Mixing video clips can happen in real-time, as the performer makes simultaneous choices. The visuals can also be generated in real-time.

b. Loop. The production of electronic music is based on samples, and their repetitions and variations. Similarly, video clips or algorithmic programs are the basic elements of real- time visual performance.

3. Screen

In live cinema performances, the cinematic set-up is common, although there are many other ways in which to use projections. Unlike cinema, live cinema incorporates the setting up of projections as part of the creative process. it can be wide screen or 360° screen.

A projector is not the only possibility with which to show visuals. Computers can be directly connected to LED screens which are more powerful light sources than projectors.

- Performance in live cinema

1. The role of laptop performer

In most laptop performances the audience sees the performer standing or sitting behind the computer, watching the monitor while moving the mouse or controllers. The physical expression of the body is reduced in comparison of general performance art which sees the performer’s body or body movements as an important element. In live cinema, the laptop performer is an operator who carefully performs tasks with the machine more than a performer in the traditional sense of the word.

However, it arises a further question -- how to form a relationship with the audience and create "liveness" during the performance? This can be a challenging issue in a laptop performance, as the audience can not see what the live cinema artist is actually doing with the laptop. How would the audience know if they were watching a recorded film or video footages? It is also challenging for the performers, to perform and use the software at the same time, as the live situation requires their total attention.

2. Liveness

As a person who’s interested in as well as trying to work with audio-visual art, it could be understandable for me to know those artists are doing actually live performances. Meanwhile, I’ve asked by friends around me who’re not familiar to this art form, their main concern is how could you tell it is live or just playback?

It is quite obvious that a laptop is not the best tool to bring the body into the performance, as concentrating on what is happening on the screen limits the physical actions to moving the mouse, or turning knobs on a midi controller, which might not be the most interesting sight for the audience. On the other hand, the necessity to “prove” liveness can lead to performances where live becomes the content of the show rather than the material of the performance.

3. Composition and abstraction

In Sandra Pauletto’s paper <Audiovisual Discourse in Digital Art>, she demonstrates that general film relates the audio and visual mostly to form a narrative. Audio visual works that are developed by programming and coding (in a way which is also live cinema performance) do not essentially present some possible reality outside the work. The relationship between audio and visual parameters can be mathematical, metaphorical, or intuitive. So what is the composition of live cinema if it’s not necessarily to be narrative works? Apparently, abstraction prevails in live cinema.

Abstract elements have one other, quite important role to play in live cinema: they defeat the conditioning to interpret audiovisual pieces as narrative or representational. Music, specifically in non-melodic forms, brings to live cinema elements of non-representational and non-narrative, evolving structures that form a frame of reference for abstract time-based audio-visual work. The early abstract cinema pioneers, such as Oskar Fishinger’s <An Optical Poem>, tried to create a cross-sensory experience by visualizing music with simple graphical elements that were composed with a rhythm and spatial disposition that mimicked musical form.

Contemporary abstract cinema is closer to generative art and algorithmic composition than to traditional musical structure, like Tina Frank’s “Vertical Cinema” film. To the audience, recognition is a fundamental aspect of the gratification process from perception. In an abstract art-form recognition will occur less on an object level and more on a level of resonance and self-reference.

Another important aspect in the use of abstraction is the creation of a utopian space. The abstract elements and their primarily surreal appearance tend to generate the notion of a separate space populated by entities that do not obey the laws of physics. These elements often exhibit behaviors that will seem utopian or hallucinatory such as metamorphosis, merging and spawning. The levels of abstraction obtained are comparable to those in contemporary graphics, modernist painting and earlier abstract cinema.

4. Being present and immersive

In live cinema, it’s possible for artists to create an immersive environment by both manipulate the virtual space and physical space. Artists are able to create powerful aesthetic environments that enable audiences to experience alternative realities.

Artists in live cinema sometimes create immersive spaces that enable the audience to escape to other realms and experience genuine emotional responses. The power of artistic illusion, as well as the human desire to create realities within realities, enables us to suspend our belief in our physically situated world and accept artificial constructs.

In German artist group MFO’s audio visual performance at Sonic Acts’ vertical cinema night. They applied work (imagery, light, space, sound) in both screening and the physical environment, to create a different dimension or virtual space for audience. Additionally, what happened in the physical space as well as happened in the virtual space synchronously.

- links to my projects?

During the “Klankvorm” night at V2, Rotterdam, I got the chance to watch three audio visual performances. In addition, these three performances somehow showed me three different types of audio visual performance.

The first performance by Joost Rekveld & Andrey Smirnov, I could feel the great synaesthesia and perceptions (both vision and hearing) corresponding. Moreover the whole piece of film seemed to be complete and metaphorical.

The second performance by Saåad & Klara Ravat was more dreamlike images with analogue 16mm film projections. The visual was abstract and complete, however, the sound was not perfectly created according to the visual. In that case, this performance is more like live cinema in the early age, which was mentioned in the beginning of the essay.

The third performance by Tijs Ham & Birk Nygaard was more like VJ. By saying that, here it means the visual is consisted of different video clips rather than a complete film. Visual artist might did those visual clips purely to correspond with the sounds.

As for my own future work, I would spend time and energy on exploring my visual language, abstraction and metaphorical images on audio visual art. The integrity of a work is eventually more important than the synchronously corresponding between audio and visual to me, however, not essentially. In that case, the way how the first performance described and expressed could be the ideal direction.


Apparently, live cinema has different definition, elements, effects and demands with traditional cinema. Live cinema doesn’t essentially reply on developing digital technology since it existed already before computer age. However, the development of computer technology in a way led live cinema to a new era.

Furthermore, I was asked quite often that if it is truly necessary to make a film work into a real-time live? The answer could be no, meanwhile, it is obviously that live cinema is just a different way to express and offer different audience express. Therefore, it’s not the issue about necessity, do or not to do instead.


Mia Makela, <The Practice of Live Cinema>

Jan Schacher, < Live Audio-Visual Performance as a Cinematic Practice>

Sandra Pauletto, <Audiovisual Discourse in Digital Art>

Bonnie Mitchell, 2010 ,<The Immersive Artistic Experience And The Exploitation Of Space>