Ecstatic Computation

Virtual reality ritual and performance


DESCRIPTION

Ecstatic Computation is a technoshamanic virtual reality ritual that addresses the intersection of spirituality and computation.

Traditionally, computers and computation are just tools used by humans to accomplish complex digital tasks. Some of us now live in a world where the social and personal role of computation is playing an inextricable part in our lives. Computation is a window, a portal through which we see information, see entertainment, do our work and experience each other. Computers now create amazingly immersive screen-based experiences--I almost forget about the hardware entirely. That, however, is the root of my inquiry: what does it mean for me to spend so much time with this device what is my relationship to it?

In cognitive psychology, there is the idea of the Body Model. It is how your brain maps your body and this model is malleable. For instance if you were to lose a limb and replace it with a prosthetic limb, your brain can re-organize this model to incorporate this object and map it similarly to your previous real limb. I have a smart phone and a laptop, both of which are with me at nearly all times. I'm so intimately familiar with this hardware that it has become mapped into my body model. These objects are new bodily extensions of myself.

As I become a cyborg though intimate corporeal and mental attachments to my computational tools, what then of my metaphysical relationship to these new "bodily" members?

Through my research I've encountered many religious, spiritual and scientific practices that seek to make sense of the relationships between our minds, bodies, spirits and the universe. Shamans in most traditions are the spiritual leaders of their community and they live to heal and protect that community through accessing a spiritual power that comes from another realm. They transcend into that realm through many means, sometimes ritual drumming and chanting, sometimes meditating and sometimes with the aid of entheogenic substances like ayahuasca. They use these tools and others to extend themselves into this spirit world, leaving their bodies to transform into other shapes, beings and animals to navigate and commune or fight with the inhabiting spirits. I've discovered that as a technoshaman, I serve the same purpose, healing and protecting my community, but I access that spiritual power through a technological prosthetic.

In existential terms, to achieve a state of being outside of one's self is called ecstasy. In the depths of computer science and quantum physics, I found a moment where the spiritual and philosophical ideas of ecstasy can cross into the technological realm. Using virtual reality, Ecstatic Computation is a ritual that explores the merging of consciousness and quantum energy in the physio-chemical registration of state within the computer's memory. The moment when human and computer become one; the moment when thought becomes bit and electrons become ideas.

The ritual is an intimate one on one performance during which I manifest the world and guide the participant through their journey, stretching out space-time to explore this moment of ecstasy at a quantum level. During the performance I generate the sound-scape in real-time, looping and layering my voice and playing the keyboard. All the sound heard in the video is created live during the performance.

In a time where experiences are created to be shared in bite-sized pieces to millions, Ecstatic Computation celebrates the intimacy and immersion of a performance crafted just for one.

IMPLEMENTATION

Ecstatic Computation is created using Cinder, Kinect, Abelton Live and Oculus Rift. In order to create the 3D world of Ecstatic Computation, I wrote a robust graphics renderer called Smolder, which is built on top of Cinder. It combines powerful GPU techniques and on-the-fly GLSL generation to create super-high framerate graphics that work especially well for the Rift.

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