Disconnection Machine by Nerve Theory

This is a documentation video of a performance by Nerve Theory aka Bernhard Loibner and Tom Sherman at Elektra Festival 2001 at Usine C in Montreal, Canada. It is a great venue and we had this 3 huge video screens behind us on stage and a nice crowd following our performance.

“The Disconnection Machine” was a live performance consisting of a combination of video, sound and voice. Nerve Theory has developed and refined a form of performance over the years that we call ‘VidSonics’. It consists of a live-improvised mix of video, sound & music (a sound environment from which music develops) and lecture / lyrics.

The performances of “The Disconnection Machine” originally consist of 3 parallel video projections (each about 5 * 7m), a composition for live electronics and a partially improvised ‘narrative’ which is also performed live. The pre-produced video parts take on the role of a meter along which the visual space unfolds in unstoppable, clockwork-like precision. Tom Sherman speaks and continues the visual plane, Bernhard Loibner forms a sonic structure and ‘communicates’ with Sherman and the audience through his music. As a result, one dives into a dense and intense combination of multi-channel video, music and voice.

The 60-minute piece was performed on November 8 and 10, 2001 at the Coyne Performing Arts Center, Le Moyne College, Syracuse, New York and Elektra Festival, Usine C, Montreal, Canada. An instrumental version (a video projection, without voice) was shown in September 2002 in the Forum Stadtpark, Graz.


The obsessions of our age are ‘multimedia’ and ‘connectivity’. We are driven by a yearning for multi-sensorial stimulation and psycho-social integration that we believe we can achieve through the use of digital technology. “The Disconnection Machine” will confront us with the implications and psychological implications of this desire for everlasting connection and unlimited flow of data, documenting our existence as the final organic component in a global telecommunications infrastructure.

We maintain our mental balance through communication at different levels of intimacy through tools such as mobile phones, e-mails, or online chat rooms and other technologies that eliminate spatial distances (e.g., digital photography, web cams, Internet-connected production studios). At the same time, we interact with people who are in our flesh and blood. The habit of overlaying multiple parallel levels of medialized communication while maintaining physical contact characterizes our current self-understanding. The reversal effect in a world that obsessively deals with communication is the even greater experience of distance and dislocation. “The Disconnection Machine” shows these ideas by confronting the audience with such situations and making the fears associated with them tangible.

The central, middle video track of “The Disconnection Machine” functions as the visual ‘anchor’ of the piece. This video consists entirely of images from publicly available, private web cams. This is where Tom Sherman’s text begins: he travels through a social landscape populated by physically uprooted individuals sticking behind their computer screen, a virtual ‘social scene’ that oscillates between everyday banalities, the average outdances of private communication, and sexual exhibitionism. The explicit projection of this voluntary display of obsessions also addresses (in addition to the question of the individual’s why) the antithesis between the public and the private in a world full of cameras and biometric surveillance systems.

The two videos to the left and right of this central projection consist of landscape images, pictures of various wild animals (mostly dead), flowers dancing in the wind, children’s home videos on family compulsory demonstrations, small-town professional wrestling, car cross races, everyday life on the streets and in supermarkets, private surveillance obsessions of people in public places. The horizontal video field exemplifies how to deal with visual counterpointing. The flow in this 3-channel video continuum is repeatedly broken by radical changes in spatial representation and content.

Sherman’s voice leads the viewer through this simultaneously continuous / discontinuous environment. His monologue expands the landscapes and interior views of the videos by a psychological dimension, reflects the individuals that appear, invents stories about them, builds relationships between middle and side channels, which are destroyed by the radical pictorial juxtapositions. He repeats this game again and again.

Loibner’s music sweeps away and links the incompatible video and voice elements. It literally holds the carefully constructed but loosely connected parts together and guides the listener / viewer through the diverse interrelationships of “The Disconnection Machine”. Sound / music vary the weight and speed of the horizon of experience, enrich the network of relationships, accelerate and interrupt the flow of images and voice.

“The Disconnection Machine” is not about the synchronization of its elements. On the contrary, Loibner and Sherman think that the quick gratification is overrated by sound / image synchronicity. Instead, their intention is to create a continuum of moving images, music and voice in which a complex network of connections and contrapuntal relationships builds up. Along the time frame on which the piece moves, a sensory space unfolds in which patterns of meaning constantly form and lose themselves. The resulting experience feeds on the collective imagination of the authors and their audiences.