University of Aveiro Department of Communication and Arts

Monography for the course Multimedia in Artistic Environments

Klaus Obermaier

Giorgos Stylianou 59184
Aveiro June 2011

The present paper is a reference to the work of the Austrian digital artist Klaus Obermaier. The paper will go through the importance of concept in his works, the use of specific innovative technologies, the context in which they were used and how they were utilised/developed as well as the evolution seen in his work as it was evolved chronologically, conceptually and technically.

Biography and Works
Klaus Obermaier was born in Linz, Austria in 1955. He was originally involved with music following his studies in Linz1 and later Vienna,2 specializing in guitar and start composing instrumental music and performing in various projects as a guitarist, during the beginning of the 1980s. Later on he started composing electronic music and followed his studies in visual arts,3 with his interest in cross-media works leading him to some of his first major works during the beginning of the 1990s. Digital media and real-time interaction/manipulation was first explored and applied in 1991 in his work Immateriaux, leading to an impressive live audiovisual performance4 where musicians could control pre-programmed lasers using the acoustic output of their instruments.5 In 1993 interactivity was explored in a different way in his work The Cloned Sound, a multimedia composition for Kronos Quartet, where each instrument was reprocessed digitally and reproduced in a multichannel speaker system while the digitalised audio was manipulating the visuals in parallel, creating an immense audiovisual experience. His interest in human body led him to incorporate dance in his creations resulting to works with different but also richer expressive quality. Metabolic Stabilizers (1994) was his first work that included dance along with music and visuals and 1998 was a landmark in his career when he created the work D.A.V.E. (Digital Amplified Video Engine) (Image 1). In D.A.V.E. the technique of body projection, was explored in great extent where the dancer was following a set of pre-choreographed moves so that the music along with the projected visuals would be harmonically synchronised with his moves and expressions. During the same period he collaborated with Robert Spour to present two large scale public works for the ARS ELECTRONICA festival, jobOpera in 1998 and actOpera in 2000 (Images 2-4).6 jobOpera presented different points of view on the term “work” with music and by depicting three different stages of the industrial revolution with projections on a 60x16 metres screen using video, visuals and 3D lasers and actOpera was a work that involved the active participation of the public, as the sounds emitted by the crowd were used as the basis for a real-time musical composition in the first part, later on in the second part the emitted sounds were used to control various parameters of the composition (dynamics, tempo, instrumentation etc.) that was developed by Obermaier and Spour and in the third part the crowd contributed interactively to a visual composition, where their portraits were projected onto walls of water.
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Anton Bruckner Private University Linz (1976-1980). University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna (1980-1984). 3 University of Applied Arts Vienna. 4 Immateriaux was first performed live in ARS ELECTRONICA festival in 1992 and later exposed in museums and galleries as an interactive installation. An interactive CD-ROM was also created in 1995 using the context of the work. 5 A custom built percussion instrument (plexi-drums) was created for this work. 6 jobOpera was presented on 11/09/1998 with an attendance of 70,000 people and actOpera was performed on 02/09/2000 with an attendance of 60,000 people.


Image 1. From the work D.A.V.E. (Digital Amplified Video Engine) where body projections and pre-choreographed moves along with music, were synchronised and combined to create this innovative work that expanded/defied the limits of the human body.

Images 2-4. From the work jobOpera where three different stages of the industrial revolution were depicted using music along with video, visuals and 3D laser projections on an enormous screen.


The body projection technique led Obermaier to another more abstract work called Vivisector (2001). In comparison with D.A.V.E. this work incorporated four dancers instead of one and the projections were often used as light sources with the intention of creating different points of view of perception, using the human body and the physical space. For one of his most influential works called Apparition (2004) he collaborated with media engineers and designers of the Ars Electronica Futurelab and the DAMPF_lab resulting in a system that gave the dancers the freedom to move while interacting with real-time generated visuals according to their movements (Image 5). Obermaier’s remake of the ballet Le Sacre du Printemps7 in 2006 incorporated the use of additional media such as stereoscopic 3D projections with visuals generated interactively by the dancer’s movements and by the audio output of the instruments of the symphonic orchestra, leading to a performance that crossed the boundaries of a traditional theatre/ballet performance.

Image 5. Obermaier’s work Apparition that gave the freedom to the dancers to move freely on stage with the realtime computer generated visuals as their performing partner.

Since dance became an essential part of his works he was always preoccupied with that but during his experimentations in that field he also created three installations. The first was a public sound and video installation called Shine On in 20018 that used specific movie particles projected in multiple screens and synchronised with intense sounds such as explosions to create a dynamic audiovisual experience, next was the installation Below in 2004 that was exposed in a 300 square meter old storage house in a railway station in Germany using materials such as 40,000 litres of water, lighting and a narrow wooden bridge to create the feeling of dislocation and instability and finally the public video installation Social Patterns that was exposed in Korea in 2010, using 22 media poles with LCD screens showing scenes from the everyday life and from the news in a repetitive form.9 His last work called the concept of ... (here and now) was
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Composed by Igor Stravinsky in 1913. The conception and a presentation of the work was in 2001 but later the work was revised and re-exposed at 2005. 9 The installation was developed in 2001 for a small festival that was discontinued.


created in 2010 and is a series of interconnected performances and interactive installations with music, visuals and choreography that constantly challenge the audience which can freely move in a space without clear boundaries.

Concept, Mediums and Development
As a music composer and performer since the 1980s and as an active contemporary artist since the 1990s, Klaus Obermaier chose to deal mainly with subjects that concern the modern society’s mentality and physical existence. Some of the most abstract subjects such as fear, perception, instability and genetic and physical interventions on the human body are usually represented in a more abstract way and more specific subjects such as the industrial revolution, the human behaviour, the daily exposition of violence and the routine of the modern everyday life are represented more specifically, often using symbols or metaphors. Obermaier’s work evolved conceptually during the digital revolution where personal computer hardware started to become more compact and more efficient and as the artist points out he was waiting for the right time to take advantage of the right technology and his goal was never to create something to demonstrate the possibilities of up-to-date technology:
“The approach with technologies is changing as time passes by. The technology itself is changing and so the creative possibilities are … I’m not searching for the newest technology and I don't want to be the first to use it…In my experience I always waited lot of time to use technology in the right way, until it didn't have the right power of calculation that allowed me to use it as I wanted … possibilities change because technologies change… I do not work to demonstrate what technology can do.”10 K.Obermaier.

Obermaier often denies the labelling and categorization of his works as well as the various types of art in general, as he usually lets the concept and his ideas to be evolved and then expressed with the desirable and most suitable medium, independently of his relation/knowledge on that specific medium or combination of mediums. Music used more specifically and structured and sound used in a more abstract way was and still is the medium that he is mostly connected with but his transition to other artistic mediums such as dance and visual arts was natural enough to allow the harmonic coexistence of a variety of mediums in his works. For Obermaier artistic mediums are considered to be extensions of the mediums that he is already familiar with and there is a physical interconnection that binds all the elements together.
“I worked with music, which I think, by its abstract apparition, had a big influence on all my work with other mediums… I see similarities with dance, which is also a very abstract medium for me. Movements cannot really tell us something concrete, but like music, they can open new ways of perception and experience. I worked with many visual mediums like video, web-projects, installations etc. But for me these are just variations or extensions of visual art. The same goes for dance: As a musician on stage I always was aware of the performing aspect. So it was a natural development to work with dancers/performers/actors.”11 K.Obermaier.

Almost all of his performance works that include dance can prove how an artistic work consisted of the three elements of music, dance and visuals can be closely related and how each element defines the course of the other but also depends on the other. For example in his
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Interview for DIGIMAG, April 2007. Interview for SiouxWIRE, June 2007.


prementioned work D.A.V.E. in 1998 he demonstrates how the dancer follows a predefined choreography that is based on the sound events/music and how the body projections follow the body while being dependant on the dancer’s movements. Among the aesthetic interconnection between these three mediums, in D.A.V.E. exists also a linear narrative that bonds the mediums closely together and presents a more structured performance using symbols and metaphors of a modern depiction of the human body and how (bio)technology affects the human nature and contributes in the body’s transformation (age, gender etc.) without limitations.
“Transplantation techniques, prosthetic surgery, microphysical stimulation of the body: technologies are not longer sent to other planets anymore, but initiate the invasion of man himself who is no longer protected by anything, neither by ethics nor by biopolitical principles.”12 Paul Virilio

Images 6-9. Excerpts from Obermaier’s performance work D.A.V.E. that demonstrate the body’s transformations and deformations.

Image 10. Excerpt from the performance work Vivisector where Obermaier used the human body as a projection surface for abstract shapes and figures to represent different aspects of perception.


Following the success of D.A.V.E. the work Vivisector pushed the body projection technique to another level with the use of four dancers that were positioned and performed in such a way to depict abstractly the terms of perception, time and space. In this work the use of literal and real images was almost entirely absent and the images/visuals projected on the body were rapidly altering light sources with abstract shapes and forms. The conceptual approach on these two works is quite different although it involves the use of the same mediums but used in a different way. In D.A.V.E. the deliberate use of a single human body allowed a better depiction of the concept which was the human body itself and the various interventions on that and in Vivisector the use of four dancers was chosen to depict progression in time, motion in space and to create visual illusions of background and foreground figures in the desired way. Obermaier’s dance performance works led to various disputes concerning the integration of technology in the traditional practices of dance. Technology was considered to be restricting for the performing dancers on stage while it was also considered diminishing towards the expressive qualities of dancing by critics and dancers. Obermaier argued about this disputes and he stated that:
“... limitations in art are necessary to achieve novel perspectives ... limitations represent an artistic strategy ...” “Without any restrictions there would not be art at all. Each stage setting/set-up gives you limitations and creates new possibilities. That is why they are there! Even a second, third ... performer is a restriction for the first one.”13

The work Apparition could be considered as a response to these disputes because it is consisted of a system that gives freedom of expression to the dancer which in turn defines the result of the performance. In this work the body is turned from a supplementary element to a defining element as there is no predefined choreography and pre-programmed body projections to follow the dancer while the system is transformed dynamically into a performing partner. Apparition was created with the following questions taken in mind before and during the development stage: “What choreography emerges when software is your partner? / When virtual and actual image space share the same physics? / Where everything that moves on the stage is both interactive and independent? / And any form, dancing or still, can be transformed into a kinetic projection surface?”14 The innovative approach of dance and technology behind Apparition had to be developed and defined from scratch as there was a limited number of similar projects developed at that time. With the prementioned questions setting the foundations on the conceptual, technical and aesthetic development the work was also developed by following a series of experimentations based on the interplay between the dancer and the system as well as the dancer’s position/part in a constantly altering immersive kinetic space.15 Thus, the final result was a product of the careful observation and the precise cohesion of the three levels of background (screen projections), foreground (body projections) and choreography (body movement), without a specific hierarchy present among these elements.
“There is no assumed hierarchy of systems, and choices have been made that maximize associative and metaphorical linkages across computational, emotional and corporeal processes.”16 Scott deLahunta

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Gündüz: p. 8-9. 15 Term used by Klaus Obermaier. 16


Images 11-12. Excerpts from Apparition, a work that demonstrates the aesthetic and expressive/performing possibilities of the integration of real-time interactive visuals in a dance performance.

As Obermaier confesses he enjoys having direct communication with the audience in his works and in his further creations there was a tendency to shorten the distance between the audience and the performance stage/installations, whether it was done deliberately or unconsciously. In his contemporary remake of Stravinsky’s music composition and ballet Le Sacre du Printemps almost 100 years later than the original, he used the main character/dancer which was the sacrificing virgin and to replace the traditional static sets and groups of characters he created a virtual environment that reflects the modern society and that environment was affected interactively by the dancer and by the audio output of the instruments that performed the musical piece live. The immersion of the audience into the performance is made possible by the stereoscopic projections used which are harmonically blended with the choreography. The dancer performs alone in a stage, she is then recorded and her image and movements are blended with the interactive real-time generated visual content projected in a large screen. The visual content ranges from primitive symbols and characters to real-time generated binary and hexadecimal codes projected in a matrix-style environment.

Images 13-14. The general view of the dancing stage, orchestra and screem in Le Sacre du Printemps (left) and an excerpt from the image projected on the screen in real-time (right.)

Interview for SiouxWIRE, June 2007.


The continuity of the development of Obermaier’s work in the field of interactive dance performances led to his most recent creation called the concept of ... (here and now), an effort to give answers to some of his personal quests and deal with the topic of ambiguity and comment the connection between the past and the present, while bringing the audience closer to the performance, its consisting elements and its concept.
“Transmission, volatility, simultaneity, deconstruction but also tradition are terms and strategies to be investigated, as well as the tension between reality and representation, between live performance and its digital depiction and transformation… The relation between performance and audience is unpredictable: who attends is continuously challenged, involved and questioned, but there are no answers, just opportunities.”18 K.Obermaier.

Giving the audience the ability to move freely between a series of interactive installations and performances, between static and dynamic content and between computer hardware and the human body (dancers) augments the exhibiting space and offers the viewer a series of experiences in which he has to choose from. Apart from the interactive dance performances, some of Obermaier’s other works such as actOpera, Below and Shine On were able to make the audience become part of the work whether it was in a direct or an indirect way. actOpera led a massive audience of 60,000 people to the creation of a live composition using sounds and conversations generated from the crowd which later on controlled interactively the elements of another composition from each person being tracked by wearing a special cap and at the end of the performance the crowd contributed in a real-time visual creation. In actOpera Obermaier achieved his desirable direct communication with the audience in a dynamic way while in his work Below the communication was more indirect, as that work was an installation that didn’t incorporate the use of any digital media. The exhibiting space and the materials of this installation were strong enough by themselves to create the desirable feeling of dislocation/disorientation and deal with the issue of perception, while demonstrating the artist’s ability to express that specific concept without using his more familiar digital mediums. The audience had the chance to walk on a narrow accessible wooden bridge in a large space filled with 40,000 litres of water that were covered with pond foil, thus walking from the wooden bridge to the bouncing pond foil in combination with specific static lighting was enough to transmit the artist’s concept. In his work Shine On in 2001 Obermaier followed a different path through which he tried to target the (sub)consciousness and the psychological state of the spectator by building an audiovisual installation with multiple projections and sounds. The projecting material was combined dynamically with powerful sounds and image particles from movies to accent the phenomenon of violence which is met daily in reality but also transmitted intensively through the mass communication media for “entertainment” or for informing the audience. As the artist states, behind the title exists another more general interconnection with cosmic terms and phenomena such as the Big Bang, the enlightenment and the end of the world.19

Techniques and Technologies
During the 1990s when Obermaier created his first innovative works a lot of technologies and hardware started to become mainstream and more widely used in contemporary artistic creation.
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His musical background contributed in his ability to select the most suitable mediums, techniques and technologies to represent his desirable concept in the best possible way. He also admits that he always wants to know the maximum possibilities of each technology so that he can use it in the best possible way.
“I realized that I am able to think in new technologies - in the same way that I can think in music and instruments as a composer, or as a stage designer thinks the performance space ... That allows me to plan and combine the many different mediums I use in a very efficient way and straight forward way… I want always to know what technology can do, then I can push the limits of the action with technicians, programmers and maybe find new solutions.”20 K.Obermaier.

As a musician he began to use the audio output of acoustic and electronic instruments to generate the visual content interactively and in real-time, while the music was mainly consisted of his own compositions. In Immateriaux, a work that he completed with the close collaboration of Robert Spour and the laser artist Friedrich Foerster, there was a special software developed by Kurt Walz to allow the musicians to directly control the laser with their instruments and with their movements and later on in the work The Cloned Sound Obermaier worked again with Spour to develop digital processing algorithms that had the ability to extract small parts of the digitalised audio taken from the string quartet instruments and turn them into newly composed sounds21 that enriched the overall audiovisual experience which was delivered to the audience by a projection screen and a multi-channel audio system. His development of projection mapping techniques of video and visuals began with jobOpera where he used a building as a projection surface where the visuals matched the building’s architectural elements (windows, surface). In D.A.V.E. the projection mapping was developed in a more complex way as the projections had to follow the dancer accurately. The accuracy of the projections on the moving body and specific body parts was made possible with computer processing along with the development of predefined sequences of movements that the dancer could perform. The position of the dancer in D.A.V.E. as well as in Vivisector had to be predefined in space and time in order for the performance to be synchronised, a factor that kept the dancers’ movements limited. In Apparition the goal of Obermaier to give more expressive freedom to the dancers was accomplished with the development of a camera-based motion tracking system that allowed the extraction of the performer’s moving outline/shape from the background using complex computer vision algorithms. The constantly updated input of the dancer’s movement and motion dynamics could provide in real-time the connection between dancer and background/foreground projections by affecting the projecting position as well as certain aesthetic visual and aural characteristics such as speed, direction, intensity and volume. The precise synchronisation of the system was done possible through constant experimentation of how the dancer affects/reacts with the system as well as the opposite in order for the audiovisual content to be aesthetically correct and physically valid. Le Sacre du Printemps was the next step to the conceptual and technical development of the dancer’s body entering a state between a real and a virtual world, a state that was a result of literal and abstract images that were combined in a real-time generated 3D stereoscopic environment. The main difference from Apparition was that the dancer’s body was independent from the 3D virtual scenery that was created so the “flat” projected visual content moved from the dancer’s body and background to a projection screen.

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Interview for SiouxWIRE, June 2007. With altered frequencies, wave forms and the creations of overtones and undertones.


Throughout all his creativity and development stages, Obermaier followed a steady course that was mainly based on his ability as a music composer/performer that affected his choices on the way of combining mediums and the way of using those combinations to deliver the desirable results. As a visual artist and director of audiovisual performances he developed his own aesthetical vocabulary led by a series of technological and artistic innovations that were not made to impress and to demonstrate the ability of technology but to express certain concepts, to generate feelings and to create memorable experiences. The human body/nature has always been one of the defining elements in his works whether it was used directly or symbolically, often trying to represent perception, evolution, and deformation or even to explore the context of human and technology as performing partners. As his artistic approach developed through time he seemed to be reaching closer to his desirable direct communication with the spectator and try to make him enter deeply inside the context of the work, something that is proven by his last creation the concept of ... (here and now) (2011) where the audience is constantly challenged and exposed to various messages through interactive performances and installations in a space without clear spatial boundaries. Almost all of Obermaier’s work is directed to massive audiences with the only exception of intermedium2 (2002) which is an internet art work based on D.A.V.E. and can be accessed by a single user. In the rest of the works, whether it is a music performance, a dance performance or an installation there is an audience ranging from a small group of spectators to massive audiences that contribute sometimes passively and sometimes dynamically to the work’s feedback and thus can alter the overall experience of the work. In a future work called Brain there would be a similar set-up used in Le Sacre du Printemps with the difference of the addition of an actor performing simultaneously with a dancer and the addition of a programmed robot. The concept behind Brain is the representation of the human mind and the more general subject of machine vs. mankind and artificial intelligence vs. the human mind.


1. Gündüz, Zeynep (2008). Interactive Dance: The Merger of Media Technologies and the Dancing Body. (06/2011) DeLahunta, Scott (2004). Blurring Boundaries/ a theory of the artwork. (06/2011) DeLahunta, Scott (2004). Proceeding of Ars Electronica 2004: Apparition, p. 314-316. (06/2011) Obermaier, Klaus & Chris Haring (2000). D.A.V.E. (Digital Amplified Video Engine). (06/2011)




1. Klaus Obermaier Official Website Interview for SiouxWIRE, June 2007 Interview for DIGIMAG, April 2007 Music Information Centre Austria 3D Roundabout Magazine: Klaus Obermaier creates Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring 3D RUHR 2010: Klaus Obermaier – Shine On Shaksfin Productions: Klaus Obermaier – D.A.V.E. Shaksfin Productions: Klaus Obermaier – Brain networked_performance









10. Spoleto54: Balanescu Quartet – Maria T



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