Lance Weiler’s Where There’s Smoke is an immersive experience that he used to process his grief from losing his father, who was a volunteer firefighter and amateur photographer who would take pictures of fires and take Lance with him on these excursions. Weiler always wondered if his father had more involvement in any of these fires than merely observing and documenting them, and there was always some ambiguity in getting to the bottom of this question. As he says in his synopsis “Weiler unravels the secrets of his enigmatic father… and two devastating fires that struck the Weiler family in the early 1980s. In the final months of his battle with colon cancer, his father invites Lance to interview him, and these conversations reignite 30 years of wondering… were those fires more than tragic accidents?”
The previous episode featured an interview with Weiler during his world premiere of the piece at Tribeca Immersive in 2019, and he has had three other major iterations of the project since then. It showed at IDFA DocLab in 2020 during the pandemic as a virtual grieving ritual within a Miro board, and then translated into a physical installation in New Jersey, and just recently Weiler showed an interactive and generative cinematic version at Portland Art Museum’s Center for an Untold Tomorrow’s (PAM CUT) new Tomorrow Theater space in November 2023.
I had a chance to catch up Weiler just after his prototyping session at PAM CUT to catch up on how the piece has evolved over the past four and a half years of constant iteration.
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[00:00:05.412] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye and welcome to the Voices of VR podcast. It's a podcast that looks at the future of spatial computing. You can support the podcast at patreon.com slash Voices of VR. So I'm continuing my six part series of looking at different artists over time. This is the second conversation that I have with Lance Wyler with the latest iteration of Weather Smoke, which was a prototyping session that was premiering at the Portland Art Museum Center for Untold Tomorrows on November 17, 2023. So The last conversation in the previous episode was from April 25th, 2019 of Weather Smoke. And Lance has actually had four major iterations of this project, starting with the Tribeca version that we talked about. Then he took it into more of an online version that showed at Ifadoc Lab, and then he created more of an immersive installation with a lot of IOT that was in New Jersey. And then this latest iteration, which is translating the same project into a film context, but to use a mirror board with some live remixing on top of that to be able to do more of a dynamic and iterative version of his documentary, where it's more constructed uniquely each of the different times and much more audience participation. So really meditating on this question of how do you transform the experience of going into a cinema and create more of a community ritual type of experience. In this case, much more of a grieving ritual. So that's what we're covering on today's episode of the WisdomVR Podcast. So this interview with Lance happened on Friday, November 17th, 2023 at the Portland Art Museum's Center for Untold Tomorrow in Portland, Oregon. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.
[00:01:46.519] Lance Weiler: My name is Lance Weiler. For over 20 some odd years, I've been a writer, director, producer, working in traditional forms, film, television, but then also doing these large-scale interactive or immersive installations and designing games. For the last 12 years or so, I've been a professor of professional practice at Columbia University. And about a decade ago, I started their digital storytelling lab, which I lead and shape the vision of. And we do a lot of experimentation with new forms and functions of storytelling. Forms being things that are emerging technology and functions being story for learning, healing, mobilization, policy change, entertainment, things of that nature.
[00:02:30.530] Kent Bye: Maybe you could give a bit more context as to your background and your journey into this space.
[00:02:35.355] Lance Weiler: Sure. I think where it came from was this desire to experiment. I think I became confined by running times and platforms and formats. I guess it was probably in the 90s I started messing around with like alternate reality games. I didn't know what they were called. And I started building these experiences where I would put something out, run something small, and then it would end up having like two and a half million players. And it was like this living, breathing organism. And it was really fascinating in terms of the fan culture around it, in terms of people shaping theories, sharing different theories with each other, and helping each other in ways that I thought were really Fascinating. And so I started to experiment a little bit more with that, the idea of weaving emergent technology into my practice. So early on, it was kind of doing experimentation where I would stage, like, for instance, I did a project back in 2011. I did a project at Sundance called Pandemic 1.0. And I purposely called it 1.0 because I felt like it was a software release, and I was really interested in this idea of iterations. that premiered at Sundance that year in 2011. And it was a project that had people kind of exploring Park City, but they were connected to people in virtual spaces where people would remix and unlock elements that would point to the geolocation of things that were hidden all throughout Park City. And I was fascinated by that idea of building upon what I had been doing with alternate reality games, which had large audiences, but then this idea of local and global at the same time. And so I really started to lean more into that in my practice and ended up doing some of that with a collaboration I did with David Cronenberg, which was called Body-Mind-Change, where I took it a step further and I thought, well, what if you were doing something in a browser-based environment? And by doing it there, we were collecting data points And what if we took those data points, ran them through an algorithm, and actually created a physical artifact based upon your experience in that particular project you were training in AI about emotional intelligence? And so I became fascinated by work that's very difficult to define. I think I was saying earlier tonight when we did the prototyping session around where there's smoke at PAMCUT, at the Portland Art Museum, I was saying that often the work that I do is defined by the things that it is not, you know, like in the case of where there's smoke, it's This idea that's like a documentary, but it's not linear, it's generative. It's like an immersive theater piece, but it has no actors. It's like an escape room, but it has no escape. And so I find that a lot of the work is centered on human experience. And the technology usually comes second, after I understand what the human experience is. But I've been doing it for quite some time. really into this idea of the process and this notion of just trying to iterate on the work in hopes that maybe I'll come across some discovery while I'm doing it.
[00:05:42.901] Kent Bye: Yeah, there was an artist and creator at IFA DocLab, his name is Michael, he did a piece called The Tuning Room and it was a live performance on the IFA DocLab stage and he made the comment as an editor where each time he does a performance he has the ability to tweak it or tune it or modulate it and I first saw this piece of Where There's Smoke back at Tribeca in 2019 and then I saw it again at DocLab of 2020, where it was more of a virtual version in the Miro board. And then I've been working on it now for over four years since it premiered. But even when I did an interview with you that I just edited this morning, actually, to go back and listen and check out what you were thinking about, what you were saying, you said you had been working on it for 17 years up to that point. So now it's been over 21 years that you've been working, having the aspirations to do this project, but actually finishing it in 2019. And so each time you're continuing to iterate and continuing to explore. And so maybe you could roughly map out the trajectory of this project. Where did it begin? And the different phases that it's gone through with different formats under which it's being presented, whether it's the installation, and the interactive components in 2019, the more virtual components of the mirror board, and then back into physical installations. And now tonight, it was more of a movie theater where you're doing live performance and live remixing of it. But yeah, I'd love to hear how you start to think about the trajectory and arc of this project of Where There's Smoke.
[00:07:08.456] Lance Weiler: Sure. Well, where there's smoke, maybe starting with a bit of the story to help give it some context. It's definitely the most personal and vulnerable work that I've ever made. And I grew up in a firefighting household. My dad was a volunteer firefighter, amateur fire scene photographer, and then fire intersected with our lives in devastating ways. Once on a vacation where our van erupted in flames with us in him, we were able to get out safely. And then 11 months later when our house burnt down. And I didn't know if they were tragic accidents or something more. And so my dad was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer. And when he was, he invited me to come and interview him. And when I went and interviewed him, I did about 15 hours worth of recordings with him in the last year of his life. All these skeletons came tumbling out of the closet. And I started to see a whole different perspective of who he was. And it was a really interesting journey. The forms that it's taken, I mean, I think I could have done it as a traditional limited series or as a documentary, as a feature length film, but there was something about being able to experiment with the form that it had. And the inciting incident around the project really came from his diagnosis when my wife and I went and we encountered this total lack of empathy at a time where he was finding out how much time he had left to live. And just was really struck by that. And that was actually an exciting incident to do the project. So I wanted to do it for like 17 years, but it was like when that ticking clock came into it, when the mortality aspect came into it, then it accelerated everything. And so I started by exploring, and if I think back on it now, because it's really interesting to kind of think back on the design from 2019. In that particular incarnation, you were walking into a storefront on Canal Street. It was part of a premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival and you would make your way into this burned out house and you would maneuver, you would move through and it was an experience that was for four people and it lasted 45 minutes and you would find these things and it had a lot of elements that were kind of like an escape room to it but also had a generative quality where no show was ever the same. people would find elements in this one main burned out space and there was a table in the center of the room and when you found the elements using internet of things based technology they were enchanted elements so when you would pick them up the table in the center of the room that had light panels would start to illuminate a 35 millimeter projector would project onto the screen and by mixing and matching these objects that you had found like cassette tape a walkie talkie, a 35 millimeter camera, and I'm forgetting. Is it a telephone? Thank you, a telephone. All communication things, which I didn't realize at that point until later the significance of that. It was almost like I designed it and then realized that they were all communication points and they were all ways in which I actually connected with my dad. And so you would unlock these fragments that were from these interviews. And when I look back on that, I realized that it was very close to my dad was dying. And I think it was really analytical. I think I was very calculated in the way I was doing. I was trying to control the environment when everything else in my life was out of control. And it was interesting because after that it was slated, it was going to travel, it was going to be installed in some other places, but then COVID hit and it totally shifted everything. And I found myself re-imagining it or revisiting it from a different standpoint and kind of leaning into an aesthetic about letting go. And I came across Miro maybe a bit before that, and I was fascinated by how it was used as a design tool for collaborative design. And I thought, well, what if I subvert this productivity tool along with Zoom? And what if I turn it into a collaborative storytelling tool or a sense-making tool? And what would it be like if I gave editorial permission to the people who come? And what if I put them in breakout rooms with other people and they move through these collages and this mural board that has fragments of this story, interviews and journal entries, and you can go down these various paths. And I think when I look back at my work, a lot of my work has always been about fragments. My feature films were about fragments. The last broadcast is about fragments. A film that I did called Head Trauma is all about fragments. So a lot of my work lives in this realm and I'm fascinated by it. But by the time I got to doing the virtual one, I was letting go more, which became almost like a design principle for it. And I started running the virtual versions on Sundays, and I wasn't sure how many people were going to come. And people just kept coming and coming and coming. And I ended up running it over 100 times over the course of the pandemic. And then as we were starting to come out of the pandemic, I went and I talked to a group called Art Yard, which is a wonderful facility in Frenchtown, New Jersey, about an hour and 15 minutes outside of New York. And it was only a few miles from where my dad was a firefighter. And I went to them and I said, hey, I have this project and I would love to start to move towards this idea of connecting the virtual and the physical. I would love to come and prototype it. Your mission there is kind of around artists as something that's for transformation, right? And they do a lot of community-driven projects. And I said, well, you're an analog organization. What if I helped introduce you to a capacity that was in and around emergent technology? And what if we did something where we came and did a residency and we started to prototype with the community? And so I started prototyping the project, and I spent a lot of time building out these 3D renders of what I thought the space was going to be like. And there was this element of where you would come in, and there was kind of like the living room or the kitchen where I'd grown up. And then you walk into this monochromatic large set. It was set within a 3,000 square foot space. And you walk in, and there'd be like a hospital bed, and there'd be like a room that was similar to where my dad used to have his fire scanners and collections of slides or whatnot. And in prototyping and bringing it into a black box theater, initially when I went in, I just photocopied, you know, printed out elements of the Miro board and I kind of scattered them all on these tables. And I had people kind of move around the room and I had a really rudimentary way that they could do it where they could link to audio files. And I had symbols on each of the stations where they could click that. that symbol and then they would hear a story, right? And so they could roam and they would excavate and move all throughout the room. And I was really struck where all of a sudden the prototyping, I was getting 29, 30 people up on a stage and they were hitting the emotional beats that would take them 45 minutes, but they were flowing through in like 30 minutes or less. And it was very powerful. And I thought, wow, this is interesting. But that first incarnation of it was very completionist. It was like, oh, I saw that icon. I listened to that. I saw that icon. I listened to that. And then I tried in a prototype. I was like, oh, I'm going to just remove some of the icons out of it. And then that frustrated people. And then I was like, OK, well, that's not working. So maybe randomizing it in some way. And then I experimented with randomizing it. And doing it in that black box environment made me realize that what I was initially doing with the 3D renders and all the time I spent building out what I thought the set was going to be, I scrapped all that. And I was like, it should just be a black box. It should be a space where their own imaginations can be kind of laid across this as opposed to me forcing my life on them. And how can the stories, these interviews with my dad become springboards for them to jump off and think about their own memories, life and loss, you know? And so it was really wild to go through that. I mean, to Art Yard's credit, being able to incubate and be there for like a six-month period, given space to build it out, and the level of sophistication of that one, it paid an ultimate compliment. Whereas a friend who had gone to the one in Tribeca went to the one in Frenchtown and said, wow, that's not as technically sophisticated as the one that you did in Tribeca. And I was like, oh, thank you. Because it was so much more sophisticated, but it takes a leap forward where it becomes more intuitive and the technology gets out of the way entirely.
[00:15:18.406] Kent Bye: Yeah, and so we just had another prototyping session here at PAMCUT, the Portland Art Museum's Center for Untold Tomorrows. And so you're taking another iteration, which was much more of a live remix. But before we dive into that, I just want to mention that I had a chance to see it at IFFA DocLab in 2020. Was that the first time that you premiered it? Or had you been prototyping it all leading up to that throughout the pandemic? Do you remember?
[00:15:42.251] Lance Weiler: I had been prototyping it up to that and then brought it to IFFA DocLab. Is that where it premiered officially? Yeah, I think that that was probably it. I had been doing some of the shows on my own. And then that November, I think it was the first. And then it would subsequently go to the Portland Art Museum. And I think I also took it to Current's New Media Fest and took it to a number of other places.
[00:16:04.275] Kent Bye: Yeah, I remember we had a opportunity to do like a doc lab live It was kind of like a virtual in one of the OEA rooms and we had a whole conversation that they had recorded on their end and I was trying to track down the recording of that actually today and it was an opportunity to kind of share a lot of my visceral embodied reactions of that version my recollection was is that it was a really powerful deep dive that was a lot different than the Tribeca version and I think the affordances of Miro board allowed me to kind of Choose your own adventure and a little bit more of a self-directed way, but also had this more exploratory contemplative feeling to it but also this dimension of like a communal grief ritual of people who are all meditating in their own way of listening and learning about the story of your father, but also reflecting on their own mortality, the lives of their friends and family, folks that they may have lost. And so there's a lot of interactive components that I remember, but I just contrasted to the interactive affordances of being in a movie theater is a lot different because it primes people in a different way of how much they're expected to participate relative to when you're in front of a computer and you're more anonymous and you have the ability to move around. the different degrees of agency and interactivity and also exploring a spatial architecture that was in that mirror board that gave maybe an overall arching spatial context for the story that you could be directed or have time to explore. And I think there was like different videos that you would go off on. I think there was elements of that mirror board that you're adding into your live performance But it was a little bit less of a larger spatial architecture of understanding where the overall arc of the story was going to go and more of a Gameplay loop where you would talk with the light on and then it would have like more of a visual actually it started with people engaging and sharing their own memories very similar to what happened in Tribeca in 2019 and starting with the architecture of people's memories of the object that they would want to save if they were in a fire and iterating in the similar fashion of asking the same question over and over again to get down to the core essence of what is the importance of that object and the memories that it holds. When I saw it at Tribeca, it was just four people, but we're in a movie theater with 50 100 or 150 people and so you are encouraging people to talk to other people that they don't know and so I think it helped to create my own memories of an object and Some of the most powerful moments that I found from the evening were some offhand comments as people were invited to share what they had chosen in some of their own personal memories and sometimes it would be so true or just cut to the core of what was real and in a way that was really powerful. And I think those moments are being cultivated by the context that you're creating for having people to dive into their own memories and their own meanings of what is important to them and what is the core essence of their identity in a lot of ways, but also their memories. and you have other things that you're experimenting with with how you were going to tell the story which was protected onto a movie theater screen but also using a lot of mirror board live editing and yeah i don't know where you want to start with this prototype of describing like after you went through the French town installation iteration, which was in some ways a translation of the mural board essence down into a physical installation. Now you're going back into something that is a little bit more in the context of a movie theater. So it's more of like a performative lecture, but also at the same time, these more experimental film mixed with the web technologies, but you're driving the web technologies as a way of showing a collage of some of these different Aspects of the story that you're telling so yeah, I love to hear a little bit about as you are iterating on this process What were the questions or the new provocations that you were exploring in terms of new ways of how to tell the story?
[00:20:05.405] Lance Weiler: Yeah, well, thank you for that, Kent. I mean, it's always awesome. Like, the way you synthesize that was really wonderful. I mean, I think in terms of doing it here in Portland in conjunction with Pam Cutt, it was an opportunity to kind of build upon. I did, at the end of my residency at ArtYard, I did a live show. And in that one I weaved considerably more practice into it because I had just finished the residency. And I thought it would be interesting out here to just experiment more with trying some light theatrical moments in conjunction with this idea of like, Takaki Okada and myself and Peter English, who does live sound score, he was a composer on this project, and Takaki does live art with me and we make art in real time. So we're actually kind of collaging and leveraging the affordances and constraints of Miro in a way that we're playing with the infinite canvas and tossing it back and forth from each other to each other and just kind of playing with that. And I think With the one that I was trying to do tonight, what I was really interested in is that there's a certain relationship in a theater, a certain preconceived notion of what happens within a theater, and I wanted to just kind of explore this ability to try to create some degree of connection between the audience that's there, try to challenge the notion of what does it mean to be in a theater, and then try to work through elements of almost like call and response at different moments to try to weave in elements of their own reflections and weave it into what I was doing in terms of the core story. And I think that there, you know, because it's a prototype, I think that there were moments of that where it was really fascinating and interesting. And like prototyping, what I love so much about the process, when you're really, you make yourself vulnerable to it, you really lean into it. is it becomes evident to you like, oh, okay, that's an interesting element. If we could just go a little bit deeper here. So the challenge that I see is trying to figure out the way in which I could create more of an open sharing experience when it's actually going. Because there's a level of vulnerability that happens. Like when I did it in Frenchtown, the lights were on when I did it. And the lights being on and people seeing each other led to something that was interesting. And today I wanted to play with the lights out. What would it be like? Would it be more vulnerable? And I think in some ways, you know, coming out of the testing, it got my head like racing with all kinds of ideas in terms of how I could design or create spaces that would be more conducive to potentially sharing and help to model it in a way so people would go deeper with what it was without me necessarily having to try to pull it from them. And so I think in this test, you know, I'm really trying to look and say, well, what's a generative documentary like? And can a generative documentary not just be my own story? Can it involve the audience that's there? And what might that look like in terms of a potential form? So a lot of it was exploring the affordances and constraints of Miro in the context of a live performance, which we were kind of doing in the virtual ones too. Like sometimes I would drag people to certain areas. I would do like almost like the equivalent of a one-on-one that you would get in immersive theater where I would unlock something and interact with somebody in some unique way in the virtual experience. But in this particular one, I was just trying to play with some of those. I love browser-based media, like I think it's really interesting in a live context in a theater where you can see the cursors and you can see that there's a computer involved in some way. So I'm interested in that. I want to lean more into that and find the balance of almost like annotation because I have a lot more perspective than I did when I made the one in Tribeca or I did the one during the pandemic. You know, I lost my dad and then subsequently ended up losing my mom and the project really helped me to process that grief over time. And I think that there's something really valuable about it. You know, I keep continuing to collaborate with the narrative medicine program and figure out ways that something around this immersion is really interesting in terms of what it opens up in people and being able to have difficult conversations about something like end of life where a lot of people don't necessarily talk about it or are not prepared for it. I know my parents weren't and as a result we weren't prepared and we were thrusted into it and And I think by trying to find a way to weave that idea of immersion, that idea of the generative qualities, that it's never the same twice, that it has that benefit of live, is really interesting to me. And so where I want to go from here is prototyping the live so that when I do the exhibition again, I want to move to where I really start to connect the physical and the virtual in a meaningful way. I did some really interesting things tonight where I was minting elements of the experience to the Solana blockchain, and I coded a special foot pedal so as I was working with my hands I could tap the pedal and it would mint something, almost like a memory ledger. This idea that I'm working to document moments of this process. Because I think where there's smoke, really to me, is me experimenting with immersion. And it's really leaning into the process, and I'm learning as I'm making. And that experimentation is important to me. It's like it's as important as a final thing. It's more about being present than it is about the perfection. And the more that I do that, like I was just bombarded by people afterwards that were quite moved by what they had experienced in the theater. They had never experienced anything like that before. It was very vulnerable. People were telling me about stories about their own parents. People were sharing recent loss. It was pretty powerful for just a test. So it points to me that there's something there, that there's needs for people to be able to share things with each other in more meaningful ways. And what might that look like? And could it be done? in an environment like a theater. You know, we sit at a time where theaters are really struggling to figure out what the future is. How are they used? What's the relationship that people have? And I'm just kind of poking at that and saying, well, maybe there's ways that you can do certain interesting storytelling within these structures that have such a legacy of a certain relationship. Maybe we can change that a bit. Maybe it's not one to many. Maybe it's more many to many.
[00:26:42.758] Kent Bye: Yeah, I just recently finished listening to Priya Parker's The Art of the Gathering where she goes into a lot of critiques of how most gatherings are focused on a form of like what we expect something to be. So the form of what it means to go to a movie theater has a certain idea or even like We get into unconscious patterns of what is a birthday party or what is a bridal shower. So trying to really figure out the intention for gathering. So I feel like there is something that's really powerful for what it means to gather people together, to have this collective grief ritual. Or at least in this case also reflecting upon objects and thereby our memories, the people we love and our friends and family ultimately are also intimately connected to the themes that you're exploring. There's a lot of themes of what it means to navigate a horrible medical bureaucracy. Like there's a whole mirror board of medical documents, which I think that's the type of bureaucratic hell that anybody who's had to navigate the medical system has to deal with all that type of paperwork and the level of trauma that can be on top of just trying to be with people on top of dealing with all that so I thought that in some ways that type of paper documentation. I haven't necessarily seen a type of collage exploring that dimension and to use the affordances of that medium to dive into that. And, you know, sometimes there's the affordances of film to show photo sequences. You know, I think that film has really been evolved to be able to do montage sequences in a way that The fades and the cuts and there wasn't a lot of fades or cuts in this it was more of like Panning and scrolling and not even that much zooming. That's all kind of at the same scale So I'm wondering if you've thought about adding other more traditional film Qualities other than just the mirror board because the mirror board you can kind of pan around but it also there's other film techniques that could potentially be used to add in there or if it's a matter of the software where Even in Miro, if you could control an edit to move a camera to another position, or if there's two people, kind of like a DJ who's mixing two turntables, if there's two people doing it, then maybe you cut to the other person's point of view and you can jump around that way. I don't know if you've thought about the other affordances of film as you start to work with Miro and if there's other softwares or other existing techniques that you'd want to experiment with in terms of how can you do that live mixing but at the same time something like Final Cut Pro or Avid or Premiere is maybe something better to do offline and to really get down that editing in a way that there's existing workflows that don't necessarily lend themselves to be doing a live edit.
[00:29:26.985] Lance Weiler: Yeah, I think that what you're talking about is kind of like the grammar, right? And it's like, what's our montage or what's our jump cut or reverse shot or any of that? And I think the language is something we're just kind of experimenting and playing with. There's something about it not being edited or not necessarily using the tropes or certain conventions of cinema, but nodding to them in a net art kind of way. You know, like a lot of it was really collage driven. It borrows from experimental films. Like I can trace it back to my love of certain things by Stan Brakhage or by Bruce Bailey or any of these folks who were doing like, you know, layering of work in cinema. But then to your point, and we've experimented with this like in terms of the ability to pull attention. There's a feature within Miro that allows you to guide somebody to a certain place. And so we did a little bit of that, like Takaki would go to a certain place and I would pull the board back to another place. That's something still kind of experimenting with. In future forms, I wanna figure out, like I think what I was really kind of testing for tonight is really how do I break from the convention of the expectation of what a cinema is And what is it like to try to weave in folks' own experiences and how does that match or what does that feel like when I do it with my own story? Like I found a really interesting balance with that at Tribeca. I think I got better with it in the virtual side. And then I think the last exhibition really hits it in a way that I think is very powerful because it leverages conditionals and And it has so many really nuanced elements to it. And I felt like coming in and doing this stuff at Pamp Cunt tonight was really kind of about this idea of like, okay, well, what's it like to really kind of intermix an audience's vulnerable feelings with this story that I have. And then I feel like I learned a bunch from that tonight. And then starting to think about, well, what is that language? You know, there's something about using the blockchain that's really fascinating to me about this idea of capturing these moments and almost like a memory ledger kind of thing. where I could imagine people coming down and sharing something, and when they share it. I think where I'm headed, and we're doing this with another project that we have at the lab called Blockchain Fairy Tales, which is a new myth-making project that's a generative cinema project, where a group of people come into a theater, and through world-building, they end up creating the film that plays. And there's a certain aspect of that where I'm really kind of fascinated in the act of co-creation. So thinking about the ability to capture these moments that people are experiencing and maybe by building out some type of a space that somebody can come and share and they feel like they can share and then they can Kind of use the space that I was at like I have ideas where I'm not the only one there like the audience can come in and around that space and Utilize the way that I was using a large browser based lightbox and that that changes in some way and people are able to put their things there and then I see their hands and and I capture something to the blockchain that's a moment, and I capture what they say about that particular object, and it's letting go, and it's a moment that's more powerful. It's not just me being up there telling my story. It starts to weave them in. But I have to figure out the mechanics of that, and figure out the best way to flow people through the space, open them up, and then have them you know, through the vulnerability that I present, is that enough to allow them to be vulnerable too? And what form does that take? So I think in some ways that will start to become its own language. It's almost like that light box, you know, kind of browser-based light box that we had at the front of the theater becomes the projector. So the projector is liberated from the back of the room and it comes to the front and then everybody that's there in some way I guess they become storytellers too. So it feels like there's a ritual space there and a way that they can interact with it and then doing some things that would have touch to the actual surface and allowing you to move through it. So thus combining back to what I did with the virtual experience where you had the agency to kind of move around but it's almost like people could come up and potentially remix elements of what was happening live. But I think it's all incremental. It's an iterative approach. You know, it's like, OK, the test was tonight was like, can I break from that convention of a traditional theater?
[00:33:56.533] Kent Bye: Yeah, I think in one of our previous conversations, this idea of finding traces of your agency, I think is a concept that you had shared before. And I feel like in this experience, it felt like people certainly had the moments where they were sharing in their pairs and being able to share with the broader community highlights from their own objects and their memories and why they chose it. And then I felt like in some ways the structure of your piece was either preset, I don't know if there was any moments of choices that you were making that were going in different directions based upon the feedback, or if there was a way, like it felt a little bit harder once the piece started back up again to find how the traces of agency would feed back into or help shape the story that you were telling. And so yeah, I'd love to hear any reflections on this concept of traces of agency and how if you already are making choices and going in different directions and having an interactive improv, I guess, or if you feel like there's a story arc that would be better to kind of hit those beats in a way that tells the story that you have. So yeah, I'd love to hear any reflections on the linearity of the story versus the branching nature and the traces of agency.
[00:35:06.621] Lance Weiler: Yeah, I think that the hope is that I can start to figure out that balance. To me, the tension of the piece is my story in conjunction, in harmony with the stories of everybody else. And I feel like it comes from me continuing to let go. Like, so how can I let go, but still have a continuity to what the story is and still have some type of an arc to the story? So yes, there are moments, and I played a little bit with like improvisational moments that were based upon something that I might've heard. and just trying to figure out how that can feel authentic. And it doesn't just feel like a branching narrative or not that there's anything wrong with like improv comedy or improv, right? Not saying that this is a comedic piece, but that idea where you're taking audience suggestions and then you're driving something in a certain direction. So I think that I haven't quite found that part of it yet, but I think it rests in the ability of them being able to be part of the remix of what's happening. And having it be able to be more vulnerable in what they're doing. And the more vulnerable that they are in what they're doing, I will find natural, authentic ways to bring it back into the core universal elements of the story that I'm telling. you know, the thing that makes the piece resonate, or at least what I've heard from many people is even though it's a personal story between my father and I, and I grew up in a firefighting household and I have these really crazy sensationalistic things that happened, you know, did your dad actually set these fires? You know, that's pretty sensational, right? Like, and I have all these amazing artifacts, thousands of photographs, and these crazy compelling stories that are kind of a mystery, but it's really ultimately a mystery of who my father truly was and is there a part of him in me and all these things that are universal. So like the more that I can kind of unlock that universal quality in a live context, like in that room, then I think it starts to move towards opening up the potential of what the project is. So then it doesn't feel like it's so like, Here's them sharing, me sharing, them sharing, me sharing. It all kind of becomes universal. Because when people are more vulnerable, like if you took the time and went through those thousands of cards that I have that people drew as like things that they would save from a fire, in the exhibition they kind of drew it and then eventually they ended up letting it go to someone that makes them question their own mortality, right? Like, who am I going to leave this to when I'm no longer here? people spent so much time in there. Like I would get people telling me that they would go more than one time and they would go back and they would spend time in that room. There was something about that space. So I want to try to bring that in to what the live context is. But I think it rests in the vulnerability of helping an audience be vulnerable, which is really challenging in a cinema. Like how has it normally worked? Vulnerability came from what you're seeing in terms of a compelling story that maybe hits at the heartstrings or makes you remember something, but to do it for a large group of people and to do it where it's actually saying, it's not just me crafting and controlling this story. It's your input too. That's like totally new terrain. And to do it at scale is really challenging, right? Like there were whatever, 100, almost 150 people there tonight. They all have different stories. They all have different lives. But how to thread that is really fascinating. And I think that's something that we'll continue to kind of iterate on. But I do think it's in the vulnerability.
[00:38:39.287] Kent Bye: Yeah, that's really quite a provocative thought to think about how agency you typically think about how you do a deep dive and an experience is like to push to the edge of how you can interact and engage with it and have the experience respond to you. But there's another mode of a deep dive, which is a depth of emotional presence and vulnerability and really being authentic. And I feel like there was certainly some moments that I felt were deeply cutting. and authentic where people were sharing something that was so deep and so true and cracked me open as I heard it and I felt like that was near the end where you're talking about objects and who you would give your object to and I think there was even a moment where you were taking a pause to really compose yourself. I could really feel the depth of that vulnerability and authenticity of that moment. And I think as the piece ended, it ends with this really heart space and then moves into either a Q&A or talk about the process, which is much more of a mind space and intellectual space and talking about your other project, which I was really happy to see, but I was just noticing the overall arc of the experience. And if that is like a real emotional space, Then thinking about what is that Q&A? There's a little bit of the form of what Priya Parker would critique of like this is what we do at film festivals. This is what we do. We ask about the details and the intellectual information about what was the technology used? Oh, it was Miro, you know, getting back to the technical details and what would a Q&A look like if it was a collective agreement to really go deeper into that emotional space and even deeper vulnerability or something that was much more on a different frequency. So that was something that I was really thinking about of how you had taken us on this journey and ended on something that was taking us away from that heart space that we had cultivated. Which I think is probably a reason why I really resonated with the DocLab version, because I felt like that was an architecture that allowed me to really achieve that hard space, but also really go deep into it and feel like it was this new experimental collective grieving ritual. So it left that grieving ritual vibe into more of a talking about the process of experiential design and immersive storytelling Which I think the audience was also interested in and I think I'm happy that I was able to learn all those other details but there's a fundamental tension there for me in terms of the Experience of the piece and the process of the piece being these two different channels of information
[00:41:03.842] Lance Weiler: Yeah, I think the one that you came to if the doc lab if I remember correctly, I think my colleague Deborah star was with me, who is a lecturer within the narrative medicine program and specializes in end of life. And so when we would do the virtual pieces, she would come and we would facilitate a conversation that was in that heart space that was in that vulnerability. And that's something that we're working with Deborah on in terms of what does it look like in the context of this. So it would be designing a debrief or an element where we catch the end of the piece. So that's something that I am working on. Tonight it was kind of because I'm going to be doing a prototyping series with Pam, you know, and just experimenting with this idea of generative storytelling and changing the relationship between audience and storyteller. It kind of rooted itself towards the end and into that process side. But I think as a discursive artifact, its intention is to lean into the, and it's, it's interesting because you, you know, you talk about it as a grief ritual. It is very much that, you know, and I think when we've opened that up and taken the conversation in that direction, it's incredibly powerful. It's really quite moving and I think that's something that I'm working on doing where we've talked about doing shorter form versions of the performance and then moving into elements of that debrief and then opening up the digital tools and allowing people to kind of almost like journal for themselves, which, you know, that's really powerful, right? So there's a version of this that I think combines with an interesting collaboration with narrative medicine as a continuum, you know, like where it kind of continues out of the vulnerability that I show, and then people are able to become vulnerable too, and it has a pathway for that. It has a structure of that, a form for that. So that's the intention. We've been working on some of those, workshops building upon what we did with the virtual version. But tonight was kind of, there was a tension between it because it was like kind of, we got to the heart space and then we purposely moved into the process space. But I think it's interesting because a bunch of people came up to me afterwards where they were really fascinated by the way that we did the live in the room. And then other people came up to me and were like, have you done any clinical things with this? Are you thinking about ways that this, and I explained what we have done and how that's all working. It was fascinating in terms of the core, because that space is relatively new, right? I think we're one of the first experimental things to take place in that new theater that they have. They haven't done that before. So the process was of interest. But I appreciate that question, because I think that really hits at the core of the new forms and functions. Using these emergent technologies as a way towards healing. Because when my parents were dying, you would get into conversations. And people meant well, but they never went beyond a certain thing. People didn't know what to say. They didn't know how to talk about it. They wanted to move away from it. And so much of death is so outsourced. In a lot of cultures, people die at home with their families. And a lot of our culture, a lot of people die suddenly and they're not afforded that opportunity. But my parents didn't even understand what hospice was. It was a fight to help my dad be able to be in hospice, to be able to die comfortably, because he felt like if he went into hospice, he was going to die. But he was terminal. So there was this block. And my mom wouldn't give him any medication. So I had to medicate my dad. She was afraid she was gonna kill him. but he was days away from dying. So it made no sense. He had held off all that time. So I think that there's a lot of people that don't really understand end of life and how there's a humane way to do it. And so I, you know, hopefully maybe the piece can pull back some of that or at least lead to interesting conversations. So I think building upon what you're saying, having a pathway to that is one of the goals and the hopes of what we can do with it.
[00:45:11.192] Kent Bye: Yeah, and speaking of the process, I did want to give you an opportunity to describe a little bit of the layers that you have here, because you have what feels like an underlying foundational layer of like the mirror board and the collage, and then you had some sort of like remixing, almost like shader-like way of adding colors and modulating the underlying layers. And then you had also a video camera that's shooting down. I don't know if it was capturing this screen that was there and if that was the source of all the information or if that capturing in the screen was being overlaid into more of a digital feed. You talked about Stan Brakhage and other experimental filmmakers that had these different layers that would be turned off and on or focused in certain ways. So yeah, I'd love to hear about each of the different layers and where you began to start to put it all together.
[00:45:57.540] Lance Weiler: Sure. So the foundational layer is a Miro board, and then we use an open source tool that we've been developing at the lab. We call it a simple stage manager. And that tool is really kind of about reclaiming the internet. It's about being able to remix things. It's a series of layers. So think about it like as After Effects or Photoshop for the web. in real time, but you can do it with other people. So in the setup that we had, I had an interface that was allowing me to use the stage manager, and my colleague Takaki Okada had it too, right? And we were doing it through a web connection. It uses socket connection, so it updates in real time. So he can see exactly what I'm doing, and I can see exactly what he's doing as he's doing it, right? So it's a real-time thing. And it can be done with a bunch of people, so you can get together and remix and create experiences over it. So you have the foundational layer of Miro, then you have a Stage Manager that is allowing you to layer. So what does layering mean? It means that you can add video assets, audio assets, text. It means that you can also use animated GIFs. So we're kind of turning them off and on and then we're collaging in real time within the Miro board and then we're moving through Miro and then using the affordances of an attention management feature that they have where somebody can follow somebody else and then they can drop them and somebody can bring them somewhere else. And then we're shooting down with 4k webcam onto this browser-based kind of lightbox that we've created that has Miro, that has the stage manager, that has us collaging in real time. And we're doing some things with silhouettes, like where I'm putting physical objects on, so it's kind of almost like an overhead projector. and I'm putting those things down and they're going out. And then I have like a foot pedal where I'm occasionally like minting to the blockchain. I'm like, oh, that's a really interesting frame. I hit the foot pedal and it mints. And then we're doing generative scores. So Peter was there and he was scoring all in real time. And it was a generative score that kind of happened and built over time, you know, in conjunction with what was going on in that live performance. So that's the layers. I think as we go forward, there's a number of things that we're going to do with generative audio that are going to be really interesting. And there's elements that I want to weave that vulnerability that we were talking about earlier and making space where people can interact in interesting ways. I do a lot with IOT, so bringing enchanted objects into the realm of what this is and allowing people to interact with them in dynamic ways. I think a lot of my work does have objects in it, has artifacts in it. And I think that there's something interesting about the layering that I'm talking about, but then also the potential, like how can a layering in the context that's going on in those artifacts that I'm sharing How can I create and add layering to what the artifacts are that people are sharing? So they're sharing it through an interview process and they're doing a deep dive. Why did you choose to save this? Why did you choose to save this? And there's some insight and there's something interesting about when you sit with another person and that person's actually writing, the way that you are thinking becomes deeper because you feel like there's a level of importance, right? Because somebody is documenting what you're saying. Those are layers, right? Contextual layers that are interesting and then the layer of like letting go of that object and who you choose to give it to. So I think moving forward we'll play with another set of layers which will be conditionals based upon potential interactions or data that's happening during the actual performance. Some of that might come back into me doing improvisational elements and taking it in different directions based upon what is coming at me. But that's kind of a sense of the layers currently, how they stand. But I'm like fascinated by, you know, I came up in cinema, right? Like I came up making films ever since I was a teenager. I was making stuff on 16 millimeter and And then I went off and I worked in commercial production, documentaries, feature films, all kinds of different productions all over the world. And I love cinema, but there's a part of this where I think the layering is really fascinating in terms of the immediacy, the limitations in some sense of the form. Excite me, you know, and I'm like, oh, well, maybe we can start to define a different type of cinematic language with this You know, so I think there's something within those layers. It's really a fascinating place to explore
[00:50:33.560] Kent Bye: You mentioned that you can add layers of the audio and I'd say the heart of the piece are these interviews and these conversations that you are having with your father and there's also other voicemail messages that are being played and you kind of are going through this beat of speaking to the audience the microphone and then maybe taking some feedback and having the audience participate but then you have The lights go down and then you start to have a little bit more of a cinematic cutscene where you're going into a little bit more of the narrative that's driven by the affordances of the film screen but using all this montage, moving with Miro and the visual aesthetic of moving through a spatial collage So I guess the question I have is those audio pieces, were they preset as something that you were editing and having just play and then you were doing the visual remixing or is that something you're also dynamically adding this part of a conversation or this moment, depending upon whatever's emerging for the story that you want to tell each night. So I'm curious how generative was the audio portion of the piece, which for me felt like a real heart of the arc of the story.
[00:51:39.482] Lance Weiler: Yeah, it's all isolated elements. And so it's mixed and added in real time. So it's kind of improvisational in terms of what's going on based upon what's happening. And certain things are allowed to kind of go further or different layering is happening in the moment. We did a lot with kind of experimenting with generative audio, you know, Peter did along with Josh Korn from Double Take Studios, who we worked with in and around the flashlights that we did. The flashlights in the Art Yard exhibition, the 3,000 square foot exhibition where you move with a flashlight and you wear headphones, there was a microcontroller inside that flashlight that allowed us to do eight channels of audio in real time. So we built upon that and brought it into a live context and we'll be continuing to do that. So the idea is to eventually get to not only are we generating art and creating moments, I want to weave in some of the data that we've collected from the various installations that we've done. like, for instance, ArtYard, where we used plotter, like an AxiDraw, and because we built a geofence around the 3,000 square foot installation using a technology from a company called Eleko, which was a real-time location system, we were able to build this geofence that we were able to triangulate where people were in a space, And it's not like beacon-based technology. It's wideband and it's really fast read-write time. So we're able to see them moving in real time within the space. And we're able to collect an incredible amount of data in terms of not just pathway, but height if we want to, density, timestamps, which stories they've heard, how long they've listened to them for, so forth and so on, where attention is. So in the one in our yard, it was kind of really driven by your interest And the score was changing based upon that. So I think the aspiration is to bring those elements into a generative cinema piece. So the layering, us gathering and bringing data from previous exhibitions, data that's maybe collected in the room, is yielding what layers are flowing, is yielding where we're going, and is yielding what's happening in terms of the generative audio as it unfolds. That's what the aspiration is. over time and if we can get anywhere close to what we did at the exhibition at Hartyard, it would be incredible because I think the powerful thing about that, and granted it was an isolated single experience, I wore the headphones I went through, but when people went through in a group, they had this beautiful moment where they would come out and they would start talking and they'd realize that they had heard different things. Because in audio based experiences, people expect a table or a space to be connected to what that audio is. But in that piece, the audio was like a dream. It was free flowing all over you. It would just flow over you. It wasn't dependent upon what space you were in. It was based upon what your interests were. And it was based upon how much time you were spending. It was based upon where you were moving, how you were moving. And in fact, in that particular piece, Initially, we set a conditional that when you would come into it, like if you walked into that piece and you just settled at one of the tables because the room had a series of tables and you were excavating things that were on those tables, very similar to when you lose a loved one and you have to go through all their things and you're trying to make sense of them. There's all kinds of documents and unpaid bills and things where you're like, what is this? Who do I need to connect with? Or what do I need to do with this? What does this even mean? And then weeks later, you find another thing that connects to whatever that was. There was a powerful moment to that where it would unlock in these conversations where people were like, oh, wait, I didn't hear that. How did you hear that? You know, wait, there was that. And people kept coming back to the exhibition more than one time. you know, which was fascinating. So I think that there's an element with the idea of generative systems that leads to a level of personalization that ends up resulting in a sense of sensemaking collectively, which is something that you get out of really great cinema when cinema doesn't spoon feed you what it is, where it leaves room for interpretation, your own imagination, you discover what it is. And I think that there's something going on there that's really fascinating. So we want to kind of bring more of those elements into the live thing that we did tonight.
[00:56:11.213] Kent Bye: So during the Pam Cut session and the Q&A, I had a chance to ask about the evolution of your grieving process because you have the debut that happened in Tribeca 2019, which I just edited the interview this morning and was listening to it again. And there's what felt like just the very beginning of the grieving process and still trying to work out getting access to that place of emotional vulnerability. And there was a lot of like escape room puzzle mechanics that were almost metaphorically and symbolically representing how it was so much of the frustration of dealing with all the logistics of the death of your father. And then I think at that point, your mother was about to go see it, like very soon after that. And then the next time I encountered you was a year and a half later at IFA DocLab during the pandemic and seeing the more virtual version with the mirror board. And now here we are three years later now. I just got back from DocLab, so. It's the next iteration of this prototyping where you've already done the physical installation and since then your mother has also passed away. So you're in this project for what you said you've been aspiring to do it for 17 years now. It's been over 21 years, but really in the thick of it for over four years now. A project that's really about this deep and heavy topic around grieving and loss and you have on the one end what seems to be this boundless amount of creative inspiration that's coming from what feels like your magnum opus in some ways of this project that keeps being this fountain of inspiration and innovation of all these technical aspects, but also a You have this other dimension of your own personal grieving process of the topic that you're consistently coming back to and almost forcing yourself with the form of the piece to reach those places of Emotional vulnerability to really have it connect and lean to the audience. It can't be a performative thing that you're just mouthing you have to really put yourself into a state of vulnerability and emotional presence that is feels authentic and real and that you've been doing this now for like you said over a hundred iterations that you did in the Miro board and now how many ever other iterations that you've been doing this and so I'd love to hear a little bit more elaboration of what it's been like in terms of your own grieving journey to be working on this project that has all these elements of process that have been continuing to develop and unfold
[00:58:25.839] Lance Weiler: Yeah, I mean, I think, as I was mentioning earlier, when I started, I was analytical and very mechanical in and around dealing with my father's, you know, when Tribeca was not too far after when he passed. And so he was involved in a lot of the project in the sense that I would share with him, and he was super excited about it. had a good sense of what the sets were going to be and had seen drawings of them. And we had communicated about it. So in fact, in that particular piece, there is a letter that you take that says, do not open until the end. And you realize it's a letter from me talking about how my father was involved in the process. We never got a chance to have him write the letter because he passed away. So that initial part of the project, I was at arm's distance from it. I think that there was so much loss that was going on during the pandemic and it just felt like it was something that I was trying to make my way through the grief of the loss of my father and then having to care for my mother again. It was like back to back. It was like spent years being primary caregiver to my dad. And then in short order went into it with my mom. And my dad had stage four colon cancer and my mom had chronic heart failure, which was vicious in terms of just repeat. It was just a cycle. It was a vicious cycle going back and forth. And I think that there was this desire to, at least for myself, because I came up in a place where, like, I would try to talk to my mom about my dad. In fact, after my dad died, my mom stopped talking about him until she came to see it at Tribeca. And she went through it. She hadn't been talking about him at all. She went through it and she's sitting in the gallery where I did an exhibition of my dad's art. You know, I've blown up some of the photos. She starts pointing at the photos and starts talking about my dad, and then all the way home talked about my dad, and then talked about him all the way back, all the way up until her death. And so the piece really opened something that I thought was really interesting, and I think when I look, my parents just... It wasn't something that they were able to do. They weren't able to express certain feelings. They weren't able to talk about death. They weren't able to express how they felt about it or anything. And in some ways, I wasn't really able to talk to my brothers about it. I talked to my wife about it, talked to my son about it. But the project became a way for me to try to process it. Obviously, the death of parents is a pretty big thing. And it really hits you when you're like, Oh, this thing was really amazing. Oh, I should call. Oh, I can't. Oh, I should ask this. Oh, I can't. And I felt really fortunate that my dad invited me to come and interview him. You know, that was a really wild thing. I didn't expect that. And I think over the course of those interviews and the power of those questions, I just wanted to try to find a way. And in fact, When my mom, it came on suddenly, and I remember her saying to me, you know, aren't you going to interview me? And then she passed away. And so I never had a chance to do that, but she asked me that. You know, so I think it's um, I don't know. I think it's like this really powerful ability to There's there's something about making the art helps you be able to process what it is And understand it and there's a very powerful moment in the piece Which I didn't fully realize until later somebody was a psychologist and they came to it and they started talking to me about how trauma can pass subconsciously And so there's a story in it where, and it was a story that we would tell for years and we thought it was so hilarious. And my dad's interpretation was very different than my interpretation of when he kind of leaves me behind after he's left my mom. But it's very significant because at the time I'm 11 years old and that's the age that he was abandoned, right? And there he is leaving my mom and ultimately leaving me, you know, and it was really wild to realize like, Wow. Like, A, I didn't know.
[01:02:32.225] Kent Bye: So just to clarify, this was over the course of a night. He accidentally left your mother at a pit stop and then left you at the hotel. So he came back, but you were kind of abandoned for that evening.
[01:02:42.152] Lance Weiler: Yes. Thank you. Thank you for clarifying. Yes. And my dad came back the next day, and he was surprised that I had checked out of the hotel or the motel or whatever. But they kicked me out of the room, and I was in the parking lot. But I'm 11 years old. No money, no ID, nothing in the middle of Montana. But I think that idea of that subconscious transfer of trauma and that notion of having environments where people don't know how to communicate or talk about some of these difficult subjects, I think I found solace in making the piece. And I think I started to find I made a lot of genre work for a long time. And I think I wanted to make something that had more vulnerability in it. And so I really leaned into it. And it's been amazing in terms of getting a better handle on how I think about death, being able to have a more holistic experience with my parents, you know, losing my parents. But what does that mean in terms of how I communicate and talk to my my son about it, how my wife and I deal with it. And so it's been very powerful, very important to me. And it continues to, there's so much there. It continues to be something where I never feel taxed by it. I feel invigorated by it and excited because I've seen it benefit other people too in a really interesting way. So I'll continue to kind of explore it. And I think it's a powerful way sometimes I think emergent technology gets in the way and it's difficult to find emotionally resonant stories. And I feel like this is a very emotional resonant story. It's very powerful that way and it feels like a really wonderful way to leverage some of these emergent technologies.
[01:04:29.198] Kent Bye: Great. And finally, what do you think the ultimate potential of immersive storytelling might be and what it might be able to enable?
[01:04:37.893] Lance Weiler: Well, I hope that, you know, one side of it, and this is something that we kind of explore at the lab, is helping people to understand the value of shared narratives, co-creation, in and around problem solving. There's no shortage of wicked problems that we face. And it feels like a lot of times that's being exasperated by fake news, misinformation, deception, purposely stirred up. But there's something that's powerful when people can actually really connect with each other in a meaningful way. And when they can explore topics maybe through the arts or through putting something into the future in some way where there are not necessarily, well, we can't do that, we tried that, it doesn't exist. There's possibilities because it hasn't happened yet. So there aren't rules necessarily. So I hope that maybe immersive works can not only evolve in terms of a storytelling form, but also be used in a really interesting way to tackle some of these complex problems that we face. Because I feel that it's a critical time. There's no shortage of existential threats. So if some degree of immersion allows somebody to be able to step outside of their own perspective, long enough to be able to connect with somebody else who maybe has a very different perspective that level of tolerance I think is really important and I think immersion is something that can help with that because it feels like we don't have the same shared moments that maybe we've had in the past or maybe they're just more clouded or congested with so much noise, you know, so hopefully being able to continue to build immersive experiences that allow people to feel something, you know, and to connect with others in ways that, there was somebody that said it tonight, I think summed it up really well, they said that they were really struck by the collective intimate moment that a whole group of people had had in that theater, and it was something that they did not expect to happen in that space. And I think if immersion can just create more of those moments, I think that that would be really valuable.
[01:06:53.342] Kent Bye: Great. Is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the broader immersive community?
[01:06:57.975] Lance Weiler: Well, no, I just would like to thank you, Kent, because I think archiving these things, as I was saying before we started rolling, is really important. And I think being able to talk and take the deep dive. So just want to celebrate the fact that you've been doing it and dedicating your time to it. I think it's great. And being able to share, you know, thank you for taking the time.
[01:07:20.453] Kent Bye: I've got all these interviews that I've published and some that I haven't. I've gone back and was able to dig up this interview that we did back in 2019. I hope to air these back-to-back so that people can see the progression and evolution of this project. It's just a pleasure to be able to see the evolution of artists and projects like this that are really diving deep into You know, like I said, you've been working on this project for 21 years now and then for the last four years. So yeah, just a lot of really interesting innovations where I think even you said that there's so much more to be done with the project back in 2019. And I feel like there's still yet again, when we're talking here kind of continually. Committed to that process and I think that's the spirit of generative art is that in some ways? It's never fully finished or complete or maybe you end a chapter and you move on but you're gonna be taking the lessons and these inspirations for this project forward with all these other techniques and processes that you're developing for this kind of layering and Innovation. So yeah, lots of really interesting phases of this project since the last time we had a chance to talk face-to-face and yeah, I definitely concur with that being in a cinema space and Remixing it or modulating and giving us a new vector that feels much more like a community ritual that I think the immersive media has a real powerful way of Cultivating that as a potential so I just feel really happy and privileged to be in Portland right now with Pam cut with these different types of experiments and that are happening here and look forward to continued prototypes and experimentations and see it reach its quote unquote final form. I don't know if that's possible with the commitment to the ever unfolding process. But yeah, I feel like it's a lot of really deep insights that you have that you're able to share. And so I just really appreciate you taking the time to after a long day of being here in Portland and doing this performance tonight to take the time to help unpack it all. So thank you.
[01:09:09.267] Lance Weiler: Thank you very much.
[01:09:10.585] Kent Bye: So that was Lance Weiler with the latest iteration of Where There's Smoke, which was a prototyping session that was at the Portland Art Museum's Center for Untold Tomorrow. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that first of all, Well, there's been many different iterations of this piece. This is like the fourth major iteration where it started as an installation at Tribeca Immersive. Then it was an online experience that he did over a hundred times that premiered at IFA DocLab in 2020. And then he translated that into more of an immersive art installation with a lot of IoT elements. And then this latest iteration was much more of a cinematic version. So there's a lot of montage type of aesthetic where he's not really doing any cuts. He's more dragging and dropping a mural board and having these collages. Someone who's also driving it as well so they can direct attention and focus in on different spots. And then all of the audio is also a live mix as well. So lots of generative components and Lance was talking about these idea of a fragment. So taking the much more fragmented aspect of the media but also the layering so there's lots of different layers of both the web but then being able to layer on top of that different shaders and colors but also video clips or gifs or audio clips and so that's all montaged on top of that and then also he's got this camera that is shooting down on a light box where he's able to put different objects like a camera which creates a silhouetted experience that he's able to then project onto the movie screen so There's ways that he's using that affordance to be able to dynamically construct how he tells a story uniquely each time and then there's all these different community practices of Call and response of having the audience talk to each other pair off in groups Talk about what is the object that you would save if you were in a fire and then to repeat the question? What does this object mean to you? What does it mean to you? Do that five different times to really get to the core of the essence of not only object its meaning but also a reflection of your own identity and why it's so important to you and Then throughout the course of the evening there's different moments where Lance is calling on to the audience to give him answers and response and it was difficult to really see how What people were saying was being tied back into the story that I was telling it almost felt like two different things that were gated it was hard to really detect the trace of the agency as he was doing that as a performance and But he says that as he moves forward, he wants to lean more heavily into how people reach that level of emotional vulnerability. I love that idea that the most amount of agency that you have and experience is that you're really able to take yourself to a deep emotionally vulnerable place, which isn't typically how we think about interactivity or agency, but that type of emotional presence to really get authentic to what's real. And I think this is a piece that really leans into that. also just the way that all of these different practices can start to be used in a therapeutic context when it comes to narrative therapy into different hospitals for people who may be facing their own death and mortality and May be facing different difficulties with their family And so I love the way that different stories like this could help people really connect to their own story so I think that's a big part of what is really powerful with stories is that when you can allow people to tap into how it's resonant for their own lives, so I There's certainly some magical moments in the course of this prototyping session where audience members that were contributing that really changed the tone of the room and took everybody into a more of a deeper authentic place of grief and grieving. So lots of different elements of a community grieving ritual that I'm really excited to see where he takes us in the future. So, that's all that I have for today, and I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoy the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, and consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a list-supported podcast, and so I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue bringing this coverage. So you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. Thanks for listening.