Ars Electronica 1986
Festival-Program 1986
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Festival 1979-2007


Cosmic Circus
- Theatraction

'Roland Kayn Roland Kayn

A "cybernetic" play of movements with the cybernetic music composition "MAKRO" by ROLAND KAYN

Idea, decor and production:


Artistic and technical direction:

Assistant director and costumes:

Masks and make-up:

Consultant for decor and masks:

Tenter frame:
VOGELS forge, Den Haag Photos: Robert Collette

"All the world is a stage, and all men and women merely players…

"… Creeps in the petty pace from day to day, to the last syllable of recorded time, and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death… Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage…, it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
(As you like it/Macbeth)

When I was listening to the cybernetic music-composition "MAKRO" by Roland Kayn, the idea for "COSMIC CIRCUS" emerged. The perceivable development of sounds referred to my own work; the development of movement. From improvisation the rehearsals started to reflect what the music had gone through before: "cybernetic processes". Cybernetics is a science concerned with the study of processes of control and regulation in organisms, communities, and in technology, an investigating analogy existing between these processes in living creatures and machines. The term cybernetics goes back to Plato. In the nautical field it implies the theory of the art of navigation with the four concepts on which the four phases of a cybernetic process are based: defining the destination (captain), planning (pilot), allocation (navigator), and performance (oarsman). Just as "cybernetic music is determined by process planning with control procedures depending on each other according to certain criteria" (quote: Kayn), scenic results, that have not been laid down before, are determined by comparable interrelated factors in the performance process. The music was one partner in the play which caused different relationships to develop between sound and movement. They find expression in the common identification, in the mutual dialogue, in the reaction to each other and also in transcending space, action and atmosphere. Living and mechanical processes are effected in a combination of elementary theater elements: body, sound and space, underlined by light, shadow, moving planes, and masks.

A play between hearing and seeing in the most different forms (that the German language can produce—a play on words that cannot be translated into English, sorry! the translator), a play that continues until we start to listen and to look so that we may experience… let us experience this "circus"!
Jo Röhrig


The concept for realizing the composition MAKRO involved the construction of combined control circuits, in an approach to the theory of the "black box". As we know, the box is called black because it is difficult to grasp what is going on inside it. Only the inputs and outputs leading into, out of and back into the box (circular relationship) made it possible to control internal processes probabilistically by means of external intervention, and to derive standard behaviour from the dependency of the input and output signal.

The functions of the aggregates operating inside the "box", combinations for instance of frequency divider, product modulator, flipflop circuit, amplifier and reverberating machine, could not be regulated with regard to a directed manipulation. My idea was to impinge upon and test self-organizing systems on the basis of stimulus and reaction. The specific aspect of the concept was the generation of situations which had not been preprogrammed. In terms of control technique this meant that systems had to be invited which consist of a group of transference terms with points of intersection.

Characteristic of such systems is the fact that the inputs, insofar as they belong to the linear class, keep to their own oscillations at first. If the system stays stable, the resonances produced in it soon fade away. Silence occurs. If external interference factors or those caused by feedback of a time-shifted signal affect the control circuit, the system becomes unstable and swings, back and forth, oscillating diffusely, until the threshold value allowing it just to function is reached (auto-correlation). This external and internal control of the processes is entirely responsible for determining the total structure of MAKRO.

The piece was produced in August 1977 in studios 2 and 3 of the Institute of Sonology at Utrecht University.