The Spark Machine

Troika Ranch – The Spark Machine: An Ar(t)chive

The Spark Machine is Troika Ranch’s multi-platform archival project designed to inform and inspire new generations of artists working in performance and media. It will include a dynamic website, choreography apps, and online videos.

The Spark Machine began as a facilitated intensive residency in 2016. The focus was to unpack Troika Ranch’s creative process throughout its 28-year history and to seize the opportunity to capture video of Troika Ranch directors, Stoppiello and Coniglio expressing their theoretical and practical wisdom as a proof of concept for an online suite of videos.

The process will continue to focus on gathering content by documenting historical material and digitizing ancient media assets. We will capture video interviews of people who influenced Troika Ranch, collaborators who worked with Troika Ranch, and thinkers who can offer analysis of the work of Troika Ranch.

A future step will focus on the organization of content within the website design and the creation of the choreography apps. This step will include four residencies with selected artists to work in collaboration with Troika Ranch focusing on practical research and development of the choreography apps in a dance studio.

The Spark Machine website will launch in conjunction with a public presentation of the choreographic works made by these artists using The Spark Machine app suite. A second residency will present and document a lecture demo for the community and continue production of additional videos for the online video suite.

The Spark Machine is a distillation of Troika Ranch’s process and knowledge developed over 28 years of focused collaboration. The guiding principle is that this project will serve, and provide provocations for, artists working in today’s technology environment.

The Spark Machine consists of three primary platforms:

1) Seven-minute online videos in which Mark Coniglio and Dawn Stoppiello convey a concept, theory, and/or practical suggestion designed to spark new thinking about how viewers are approaching using media/technology in their work.

2) Choreographic intervention apps. These are rigorous problems designed to spark physical creativity. The apps will be developed through experimental collaboration with artists in collaboration with Troika Ranch.

3) The Spark Machine website will provide context for the evolution of Troika Ranch’s body of work and a site for those engaged in research on the company. The user experience will be designed to encourage nonlinear exploration and discovery. It will house the digital archive of the technology used in the creation of works from 1989-2009; detailed process information on Troika Ranch performance works: history and context, inspiration for the works, choreographic challenges and solutions, technological innovations; and Troika Ranch teaching practices.

An additional goal of the project is to develop the design for an artist book that is infused with the artistic process which drove Troika Ranch’s work.

The Spark Machine is an experimental approach to transmitting the theories and practices of Troika Ranch to a new generation of artists and thinkers. Troika Ranch’s experience in teaching and writing lead the company to offer its knowledge rigorously and generously from the beginning. The Spark Machine is a continuation and expansion of this generosity. The creative risk for Troika Ranch lies with developing The Spark Machine using multiple platforms to share their processes, successes, and failures with honesty, humor, and vulnerability.

We hope that The Spark Machine will inspire artists working today to think deeply about the integration of technologies in performance. We hope to offer insight into the history of emerging technologies from 1989-2009, through the unique time period of Troika Ranch’s collaboration, work, and experience that will be valuable to academics and general viewers alike.

Communication has always been a cornerstone for us. We consistently used our current artistic investigation as the topic of our teaching, writing, and lecturing. The attempt to make a cohesive, easy access expression of our body of work is not without challenges. As our current artistic project, The Spark Machine develops new methods we hope to share with our audiences.

HISTORY

Troika Ranch is the artistic platform for the collaborative works of its founders, choreographer/media artist Dawn Stoppiello and composer/media artist Mark Coniglio. Our aim is to question the deepening entanglement between human beings and new technology. Most of us rapidly invite the latest technological developments into our lives. Our bodies are changing because of this. Technology affects more than the way we move or hold ourselves. Very often, it fundamentally shifts our experience of physical presence. As artists, we do not automatically label this evolving relationship as good or bad. Instead, we integrate body and machine on stage to understand these shifts and how they affect the human condition.

The name Troika Ranch refers to its founders’ creative methodology, which involves a hybrid of three artistic disciplines, dance/theater/media (the Troika), in cooperative artistic interaction (the Ranch). This aesthetic framework has informed Troika Ranch’s artistic output on every level since its inception in 1994 and has earned the company a critically acclaimed international reputation. Troika Ranch has been honored with a “Bessie” Award, a prize from Ars Electronica, and has received major support from The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, the MAP Fund, the Arts Council England, and the Jerome Foundation, among others.

The company has performed at venues including Performa Festival (Russia), L’abbey Royaumont (France), the Laban Centre London (UK), Forum Neues Musictheater (Germany), The Dance Center at Columbia College (IL), Lied Center for Performing Arts (NE), and Danspace Project (NYC). The company has been in residence, taught workshops and masterclasses, and set work on students at dozens of universities including Reed College (OR), Oberlin College (OH), Brown University (RI) and George Washington University (DC).

Troika Ranch was officially founded in 1994, after years of collaboration between founders Dawn Stoppiello and Mark Coniglio. In the 1990’s, Troika Ranch and its co-founders were among the pioneers in the field that came to be known as Dance and Technology. The company performed in international festivals and venues, and its founders remain sought after guest artists, teachers, and lecturers. Coniglio and Stoppiello contributed much to the development of technology, equipment, and techniques currently in use in the field and their expertise is unprecedented. As the use of technology in the arts has developed and integrated over the last decade, the need for the separate moniker “Dance and Technology” has dissolved. Troika Ranch’s present concerns correspondingly reflect this broader scope, expanding across genres and pioneering new frontiers, embracing what contemporary inventions/technologies have to offer.

Though no longer supporting a full company of performers and designers—and living in Portland, Oregon and Berlin, Germany respectively—Stoppiello and Coniglio have continued to teach, lecture, and set work on students during the past 8 years of transition. In 2016, Stoppiello opened Yes! Studio in Portland as a site for workshops and residencies geared to artists working with live performance and media. From Berlin, Coniglio continues to develop Isadora®, a user-friendly media manipulation software he created initially for Troika Ranch and is now used by thousands of artists worldwide.

Troika Ranch has been the subject of dozens of MFA and Ph.D. theses and has been included in several books on digital and live art practices. Coniglio and Stoppiello’s accumulated knowledge in combination with their jovial and generous demeanor make them sought after teachers, lecturers, and subjects for research. Interfacing with the curiosity of the academy, the press, artists, and the public over the past three decades, it became clear to Coniglio and Stoppiello that a comprehensive archive of their 28-year collaboration would serve many. Thus, The Spark Machine was conceived.