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Be-in – Aspects of a Fascination-History of Digital Cultures by Art and Technology

by Martina Leeker
Outline the dome. http://www.mediaartnet.org/assets/img/data/669/bild.jpg

1. Be-In

Since the 1960s we see a desire for “be-in” 1. The notion „be-in“ was launched by the intermedia artist collaborative USCO (The Company of Us) in the 1960s. 2 It is about entering „a state of ecstatic interconnection“ 3. We see a fascination-history as an entanglement of humans and technological environments, operating with bedazzling, so that people are brought to a happy technological existence in a discourse of relationalism and techno-social agency.

In this text, this desire for be-in will be examined in relation to moments of technological autonomization from Systems Engineering (SE) in the 1960s to today’s smart infrastructures – proposing a re-reading of techno-ecology, New Materialism and Posthumanism that does not fall in the trap of fascination.


  1. Turner, Fred (2006). From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism, Chicago: University Press

  2. See Turner, Fred (2006). From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism, Chicago: University Press. 51 f.[/footnote] as a form of existence. It is this performing in technological environments that is elaborated especially in the encounter of Art, design and technology. Be-in is about being in resonances and vibrations with technology. Fred Turner describes this condition as „a new kind of gathering, simultaneously social and mystical, embodied, and transpersonal.“ [footnote] Turner, Fred (2013). The Democratic Surround. Multimedia and American Liberalism from World War II to the Psychedelic Sixties. London: University of Chicago Press, 289

  3. Turner, Fred (2013). The Democratic Surround. Multimedia and American Liberalism from World War II to the Psychedelic Sixties. London: University of Chicago Press

  4. E.A.T. was founded in 1967 by Bell Lab’s engineer Billy Klüver and the artist Robert Rauschenberg. See Gabrys, Jennifer (2004), Residue in the E.A.T. Residual Mechanisms archives, Fondation Daniel Langlois, http://www.fondation-langlois.org/html/e/page.php?NumPage=522, access 1.7.2017. See also Bonin, Vincent (2002). Collection of Documents Published by E.A.T., http://www.fondation-langlois.org/html/e/page.php?NumPage=237, access 1.7.2017

  5. Turner, Fred (2014). The Corporation and the Counterculture: Revisiting the Pepsi Pavilion and the Politics of Cold War Multimedia. The Velvet Light Trap, No. 73, Spring 2014, 66-78, online: http://fredturner.stanford.edu/wp-content/uploads/Turner-Corporation-Counterculture.pdf, access5.7.2017

  6. Adams, John D.S. (1999). Giant Oscillations, http://davidtudor.org/Articles/jdsa_giant.html, access 1.7.2017. See also Cross, Lowell, (2001), Remembering David Tudor: A 75thAnniversary Memoir, http://europaeische-musikwissenschaft.eu/assets/Volumes/2001/2001T1.pdf, access 1.7.2017. See also Keefe, Alexander (2013). Subcontinental Synth: David Tudor and the First Moog in India. http://www.eastofborneo.org/articles/subcontinental-synth-david-tudor-and-the-first-moog-in-india?fb_comment_id=159555154211836_400428#f127addbc1bdc52, access 1.7.2017

  7. Leeker, Martina, Steppat, Michael (2015). Data traffic in theater and engineering: Between technical conditions and illusions. In Marion Näser-Lather, Christoph Neubert (eds.), Traffic: Media as Infrastructures and Cultural Practices (p. 160-179). Leiden und Boston: Brill

  8. Tudor was member of the Anthroposophical Society from 1957. See also: Tudor Papers at Getty Research Library, Series VII, Boxes 101 – 106, http://archives2.getty.edu:8082/xtf/view?docId=ead/980039/980039.xml;chunk.id=aspace_ref3709_tf9;brand=default, access 7.7.2017. See also Stern, Gerd (2001). From Beat Scene Poet to Psychedelic Multimedia Artist in San Francisco and Beyond, 1948-1978, http://oac.cdlib.org/view?docId=kt409nb28g&brand=oac4&doc.view=entire_text, access 5.7.2017. p.291. See also Cross, Lowell, (2001), Remembering David Tudor: A 75thAnniversary Memoir, http://europaeische-musikwissenschaft.eu/assets/Volumes/2001/2001T1.pdf, access 1.7.2017. p.13

  9. Weiser, Mark (1993): Some Computer Science Issues in Ubiquitous Computing. Communications of the ACM, Vol. 36, No.7, 74 – 84. 75

  10. Weiser 1993: 75

  11. Weiser, Mark (1996): Ubiquitous Compting, http://www.ubiq.com/hypertext/weiser/UbiHome.html, access 6.7.2017

  12. Gold, Rich (2002): The Plenitude: Design and Engineering in the era of Ubiquitous computing, http://hci.stanford.edu/dschool/resources/ThePlenitude.pdf, access 1.7.2017. p. 207

  13. See also Sprenger, Florian (2016). Handlungsmächte und Zauberei ohne Zauberer – Von der Beseelung der Dinge zum Ubiquitous Computing. In Jan Müggenburg, Sebastian Vehlken (eds), Trick 17 (p. 87-114). Lüneburg: Meson Press, online http://meson.press/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/9783957960818_Trick_17.pdf, access 3.7.2017

  14. Gold, Rich (1993). This is not that pipe, see: http://web.archive.org/web/20040305153117/http://www.richgold.org/PIPE/pipe.html, access 1.7.2017

  15. Hansen, Mark B. (2011). Medien des 21. Jahrhunderts, technisches Empfinden und unsere originäre Umweltbedingung. in: E. Hörl (Hg.), Die technologische Bedingung. Beiträge zur Beschreibung der technischen Welt (S. 365-409). Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp

2. The Pepsi Pavilion (1970) and David Tudor’s techno-animist be-in

In March 1970, the non-profit organization “Experiments in Art and Technology” (E.A.T.) 4 installed the so-called Pepsi Pavilion at the Expo in Osaka/Japan5. Visitors could enter the dome via a narrow tunnel. Inside, they were enveloped by sounds and light, the latter in the form of laser light shows. It is of interest here that the Pavilion stands for the translation of technical SE into a social engineering for a very specific “be-in”. [Read on]

Lasershow inside the Dome. http://www.mediaartnet.org/assets/img/data/669/bild.jpg

Tudor’s sound-ecology

This engineering is seen exemplarily in Tudor’s acoustic landscape in the Pavilion, using a complex electronic system of sounds and oscillations between devices in space. To achieve the interplay of sounds, space and techno-performativity, Tudor used acoustic feedback in the Pavilion that was generated between two microphones and 37 speakers in the dome. Its aim was to surround the visitors, followed up by their immersion into the technological environment. Two points are crucial. The vibrating resonance is linked to (1) Tudor’s anthroposophical world view 6 and to his (2) contradictory concept of an unselfish self 7. [Read on]

The Theater of speakers. http://composers-inside-electronics.net/dtudor/legacy/pavilion_files/Pavilion%20Sperakers.jpg

Anthroposophical Technospheric Be-In

Technological environments and things are provided with animistic qualities from Tudor’s anthroposophical background. Tudor’s intention was to make the anima of technical objects hearable and perceptible, aiming for a psychedelic and affecting experience of a spiritualist, anthroposophical8 environment of a bigger world order of etheric communication. So the focus on a system of resonances is important for generating a cyber-anthroposophical-be-in. The crucial point is that Tudor himself stayed behind the central control station and manipulated the sound in order to achieve the intended effect. His engineering of be-in is about an enchantment of recipients that opens them up to a techno-spiritistic world order of spherical integration and hides the fact of regulation and control.

Tudor at the central control station. http://composers-inside-electronics.net/dtudor/legacy/pavilion_files/Tudor%20Cross%20Pavilion.jpg

Tudor’s Model of the Self

Within this techno-anthroposophical world-order, Tudor installed a new relation between technical things and environments with human agents, which touches on traditional ideas of subjects dealing with subordinated objects. An intriguing situation is evolving. Tudor steps back behind the sound-ecology, taking the role of enabling and then just observing it. At the same time, he claims authorship at the moment when the sounds are freed and pleasing to the “author.” A new model of techno-agency comes up for which an oscillation between control and losing it, between a self and being an impersonal agent is constitutive. It is not about coming back to subjectivity but about a never-ending doubleness of techno-ecology.

The governmental aspect of this doubleness is that the oscillation is like a boiler, heating the desire to become a self via resonant be-in. So it is not about a collaborative agency but about a narcissistic techno-addiction. Relationalism is not the problem solver, as it is seen today, but a troublemaker as it binds human agents in an illusionary way to technology. That this self isn’t a value in itself but in techno-logic is hidden. [read on]


Rich Gold. 5 Properties. (Gold 2002, p. 207). http://hci.stanford.edu/dschool/resources/ThePlenitude.pdf

3. Rich Gold’s ubiquitous computing (1990) for enchanted wonderlands

Another model of describing the ecology of human agents and technology was invented at the end of the 1980s/beginning of 1990s at XEROX PARC within Ubiquitous Computing (UC), developed initially by Mark Weiser. Mark Weiser described his project as, “[…] the method of enhancing computer use by making many computers available throughout the physical environment, but making them effectively invisible to the user”9. It marks the dawn of a new world “in which each person is continually interacting with hundreds of nearby wirelessly interconnected computers” 10. For Weiser “[…] its highest ideal is to make a computer so embedded, so fitting, so natural, that we use it without even thinking about it” 11.

The following section is about the creation of ubiquitous objects (Ubi-objects) for UC by the artist-designer Rich Gold since the 1990s within PARC, which figures as a genealogy of today’s modes of be-in in digital cultures. What was thought in those days is today a reality. [Read on]

Rich Gold’s “Ubi-objects”

The aesthetics of Ubi-objects become the key point, because they are, according to Gold: “sensuous, reactive, communicating, embedded socially and colonizing”. 12. Gold’s idea becomes concrete in his example of the Ubi-pipe. Because of both its shape/gestalt and our cultural habits, the pipe carries “affordances” that help us to make a translation to intuitively use them in different ways. For Gold the Ubi-pipe could be used either taking it to control the private environment or professional life; for Gold the Ubi-pipe could be used as a pointer in multimedia-presentations. To understand the effects and intentions of this design of Ubi-objects Rich Gold points out that it aims to constitute a be-in in a wonderworld of “enspirited” things. So, the method of “colonizing” is the basis that technology becomes, in Gold’s world, enchantment 13. [read on]

Ubi-Pipe. http://hci.stanford.edu/dschool/resources/ThePlenitude.pdf

Dazzling in a Magic Wonderworld

Gold creates this model of be-in for betraying and dazzling. The aim of this strategy is to be unclear about the fact that Ubi-objects are hiding their operative and techno-logical function, which is be-in as a totality of control. Gold describes:

Ubiquitous Computing is a new metaphor in which computers are spread invisibly throughout the environment, embedded and hiding as it were, within the objects of our everyday life. Each of these computers can talk with any of the other computers much like chattering animals in a living jungle, sometimes exchanging detailed information, some- times just noting who’s around 14.

The new objects obscure their function as nodes and intersections of technological operations and grids, where they exchange data taken from human agency and transform them into their own logic. Gold points out furthermore that humans’ participation in the technological environment is not only an effect of their enchantment, but also of an exploitation of a neuro-physiological mis-function/malfunction. In doing so, users are deliberately misguided, deceived, dazzled and duped to enable and uphold the technological ecologies. What is hidden is its economical aspect. Gold foresaw a world filled with Ubi-objects and then stated that, since they will be everywhere, it would be a nice, fruitful business. [read on]

4. Be-in 1970 / 1990 / today

The question is, what are the effects and insights if we re-read the contemporary discursive landscape on techno-ecology, New Materialism, or Posthumanism with Tudor’s techno-ether-spiritualism and Rich Gold’s wonderland of techno-magic?

Today we see a re-thinking in a techno-ecological sense, which tells us that we have always been products of a techno-social individuation, being bound in symmetrical agencies. Technological environments are seen as a power-in-themselves, acting via affecting human agents on a pre-conscious micro-level, which can no longer cognitively be grasped or controlled by humans 15. These theories and concepts are seen optimistically, figuring as a solution for dealing with current challenges such as climate-catastrophes and capitalist crises. This is because by addressing relationships we get a model of an existential and humble involvement of human agents in technological environments. So, the relation-discourse corresponds to a concept of post-anthropological environmental modesty.

In this situation it seems important to reconstruct and to take into account the fascination-history as a real-political adoption of technology as well as the unnoticed implications and concepts of techno-philosophical utopia and hope, before coming to new models. This history should be regarded as fundamental to today’s situation in order to understand how digital cultures make human agents give away their data and feel at home in technological environments.

We come to a new situation and regime. On the one hand, it is a necessary to work on a new description of culture, human and technology in the time of technological self-organization. On the other hand, it is essential to explore the possibilities of theory formation carefully according to governmental effects and dramaturgies of fascination. In digital cultures now, we see a non-resolvable simultaneity of these two processes, so that an unceasing balancing act between description and reflection will be necessary. It is this order of ambivalence, which we must/shall follow in order not to fall into the trap of fascination, that is the new epistemology and governmentality, controlling human actants by aggravated decision-making and exhausting oscillations between valorization of different positions and options.

Rich Gold. Enspirited Ubi-Objects. (Gold 2002, p. 208.). http://web.archive.org/web/20031003193433im_/http://www.richgold.org:80/images/art-28.gif

Martina Leeker is lecturer for Theatre- and Media-Studies. She published widely on: Mediatheory and Mediahistory; McLuhan; Art and Technology; Theatre, performance, dance and Media; Methods in Digital cultures. She studied Theatre-Science and Philosophy in Berlin and Paris. Leeker was assistant professor for Theater and Media (University Bayreuth 2002–2010), guest-professur for Artificial Worlds at Bauhaus University Weimar (2006), research fellow at Morphomata. Genesis, dynamics and mediality of cultural figurations (University of Köln, 2011–2012), guest-professur for theatre-pedagogy (Universität der Künste Berlin, 2012–2013) and researcher at the Innovation Incubator of Leuphana University Lüneburg for labour and communication in digital cultures (2012–2013). Since October 2013 she is senior-researcher at Digital Cultures Research Lab (DCRL) for: Re-thinking Methods.