Plam. A Modest Physical Theater for a Digital Era


Nick Tobier

Assistant Professor

School of Art and Design, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA






What by products of  commerce and industry are there that offer a counterpoint to the 20th century's fascination with the machine's sonics? Today's Buster Keaton and Jacques Tati rolls, falls and folds inresponse and reaction to the sound composed strictly

from stock software accompanying Power Point. Substituting the moving physical body for the image, these generated and rearranged disembodied whirrs, drumrolls, ricochets and barks are the soundtrack for a new era of physcial performance.




A speaker stands still at a podium, clicking the projector's button gently with an index finger. Still images fly across the screen and screech to a halt accompanied by the sound of squealing brakes. Charts and tables appear to thunderous applause.


Drop and drag applications, such as PowerPoint, easily animate the inanimate. Their effortless action sets us up for canned effect. Add a soundtrack to family vacation photos and, like magic, you have a movie.  Apply a directional wipe to a series of bullet points and, by the same magic, a dry presentation comes alive.


While all this occurs, our bodies stand still. The synthetic sound effects are surrogates for our own movement and for the actions of another time -- a typewriter clack-clacking or the rising and falling tone of a 1930's space fiction laser. The real and anticipated industrial effects accompanying those early 20th century machines engendered physical performers, such as Buster Keaton and Jacques Tati. They recognized that we experience the world somatically, and that the human body is always in motion, responding to the sources emitting these noises and affected by the corresponding forces that surround us.


The Plam performance derives from a 21st century awareness that while today's machines might create temporary automatons out of sentient bodies, the rhythm of the finger clicking the mouse is infectious.  As these animated effects affect their operator, the metaphorical movement suggested by the woosh, the bang, the clack and the screech makes its way off the screen and into the world.