photo: SWARM (in progress) Marshall University

SWARM Vimeo Channel

Still in-progress, Troika Ranch’s SWARM is an immersive, multimedia installation/performance that uses simple visual stimuli to call the audience and performers into action. The crux of SWARM is that only through coordination, conversation, and collective action can the audience – the “swarm” – reveal the fullest and most complete dramatic arc of the piece. Because audience action drives the artistic expression in SWARM, they are required participants during the development of the piece. In this way every performance is in fact also a rehearsal. The unpredictable nature of audience behavior coupled with their attempt to follow the simple instructions creates a group complexity of movement that cannot be intentionally configured.

SWARM work in progress performance, Marshall University HERE

SWARM in early development, Carleton College HERE

SWARM in early development, Portland, OR HERE

SWARM at Marshall University, Herald Dispatch

SWARM new imagery in motion – side view – HERE

SWARM new imagery in motion – top view – HERE


SWARM is a collaboratively composed performance installation where music, video and performer action occur only as a result of spontaneous relationships made between audience members whose motion is being tracked in a responsive space. When simple rules operate on numerous individuals to produce a highly complex but unified result, we call the system emergent. In Troika Ranch’s SWARM, principles of emergence – the underlying system that governs the flocking of birds, evolution, and other natural phenomena – are the means by which an audience actively reveal a “media opera” consisting of live and computer media – movement, text, music, and video imagery. SWARM is an experience greater than the sum of its individual contributors.

Through a carefully constructed dramaturgy, audience members discover that their movements – measured as individuals and as a group – are directly and interactively generating materials for six performers and the aural and visual imagery that accompanies them. The materials themselves are predetermined, in that they exist in a “database” of possibilities; but how they are ultimately organized and presented is the direct result of the audience’s actions. Only through coordination, conversation, and collective action can the “swarm” (all that are present: audience, performers, media) reveal the fullest dramatic arc of the piece.

Because emergence is the guiding principle of SWARM, there is no fixed score for this composition. Instead, like the flock of birds, action and reaction among audience, computer media and performer will result in ever evolving and surprising organizations of timing, rhythm and dynamics. Simply described, the sequence of events is like this:

1) Special cameras track the movement of audience members.

2) A sophisticated data analysis algorithm coalesces this data into numerous parameters describing the audience’s behavior as individuals, as sub-groups and as a whole.

3) Within the computer is a databank consisting of short sonic events, atomic movement units, musical phrases, spoken text and visual imagery. The various parameters from the analysis of the audience are used to select and recall these digital materials, as well as to organize them in time and to control their dynamics.

4) Upon being selected, video and sound are released into the space while movement and vocal materials are fed to the performers through headphones and head-mounted visual displays. The performers are instructed to render whatever they hear/see, instantly and precisely at the moment they hear/see it.

5) The audience experiences the result of their actions in what they see and hear. Further clues as to the computer interpretation of their movement are given by video projections surrounding them on all four walls. And the emergence is set into action.

New performers are selected from each host city of SWARM performances. They learn and practice (and possibly create) the database of materials, the system and simple rule sets that govern SWARM, but it is only through the presence of an audience that the piece can truly materialize. In this way, SWARM is never complete but is instead a continuous potential for collaborative creation. Computer interaction has historically equaled one-to-one relationships (game controllers for example, one move = one action). In SWARM the audience must work in partnership and as a community to discover and reveal the performance potential buzzing around them. Audience members are encouraged to return more than once so their understanding of the system develops over time. The inclusion of experienced audience members with novice members will add another unpredictable element into the system. It is the aspiration of the creators that after several “viewings” audience members would intimately understand the relationship of the system to the materials and would intentionally organize and actively collaborate to compose materials, as they desire.

SWARM is risky – it is a piece with no fixed outcome. If the audience understands and embraces their agency, they will, like the flock of birds, generate a beautiful outcome. If they are apathetic and unengaged, they will see a confused and discordant alternate rendition. Regardless, their choices will provide a compelling and intimate exploration of how individual actions impact the global organization of our world. SWARM is not ABOUT emergence, it IS emergence; a potent world in which an audience’s collective and individual percipience allows them to realize, explore, and pursue impromptu creation.

Can an audience really comprehend their agency? Can we lead them to find it in a manner that is dramaturgically sound? How will we encourage them to collaborate actively? What happens if one audience member becomes a “rogue” and disrupts the system? Can we truly reveal an artistically satisfying narrative when the audience is at the helm of its organization? Answering these questions is at the heart of our research and can only be understood by performing the work. SWARM cannot be developed without ALL its elements, namely the audience, present simultaneously, and as such Troika Ranch is seeking situations in which to work with performers and audiences to discover all that might actually emerge from this interactive process.

Creative Development Residencies

  • Portland, Oregon – June 2014
  • Marshall University – February 2014
  • Carleton College – September 2013