John Oswald, in his 1985 essay "Plunderphonics, or Audio Piracy as a Compositional Prerogative":

Musical instruments produce sounds. Composers produce music. Musical instruments reproduce music. Tape recorders, radios, disc players, etc., reproduce sound. A device such as a wind-up music box produces sound and reproduces music. A phonograph in the hands of a hip hop/scratch artist who plays a record like an electronic washboard with a phonographic needle as a plectrum, produces sounds which are unique and not reproduced — the record player becomes a musical instrument. A sampler, in essence a recording, transforming instrument, is simultaneously a documenting device and a creative device, in effect reducing a distinction manifested by copyright.

Music that is made by (re)sampling other music is still music. It might be an abstracted music, a meta-music, but it is music nonetheless. Similarly, a video composed of video samples is still a video, while a photograph of a photograph is still a photograph. But for the art and science of sport, dance and other forms of aesthetic body movement, this relationship can no longer hold true. Once a body movement has been represented, its reproducibility or meta-reproducibility of this cannot result in another body movement. Put another way, one cannot sample body movements to make new body movements — the original art of this work and the nature of its instrumentation resists such appropriation.

It is tempting to suggest that in the context of athletic body movements the sports videogame provides an example of such appropriation, but this would not be entirely accurate. The logic is similar, in that representations of the original body movement are captured as flows of images and information (motion capture, game statistics, facial scans, etc.). In combination with a game engine that processes the simulation's algorithms, these inputs form the basis of meta-representations of other body movements when some user plays the game. This new user performs body movements connected to some computer interface (joystick, wireless/gyroscope, floor pad, haptic glove), using the meta-representations of other athletes as the identity-vehicle through which to navigate these virtual spaces.

While this discussion of the sports videogame certainly describes a recombinant or meta-cultural form, we cannot assert that sampled body movements have created new body movements. The distinction may be found in identifying the "composer" and the "instrument" of such composition. For Oswald, the composer/instrument distinction appears to hinge on the creative moment, per se, at which musical art is wrested from the cacophony of sound. And so it should be with sport.

Consider the notion of the athletic body as instrument. From this instrumentalist perspective, analogous to Oswald's quote from above, athletes (the "instruments") produce raw body movements while coaches (the "composers") produce sporting movements proper, scripting a creative interplay of tactics and strategies in the form of practice and game plans. The athletes then reproduce these sporting movements as faithfully as possible — sticking to the game plan — as they meet the moving bodies of opponents in competition (who themselves are executing a series of composed movements). This perspective holds true insofar as the coach is responsible for training and organizing a series of forces towards achieving a particular competition goal. But this is far more a task of discipline than of compositional art.

Once the athlete is actually in competition and must respond to uncertain situations, the coach must relinquish any claims to "composer" status and simply take in the performance. For the athlete, "composer" and "instrument" are one and the same: the body is the instrument that allows for various creative acts to be composed and performed, often at the same instant.

For the "sampled body movements"-creating-"new body movements" to hold true, there must also be a creative act by the user of the meta-representations. In other words, there cannot be restrictions on the ability to be creative with any new body movement. Sports videogames do not allow this. They construct a very controlled environment, with very controlled body movement potentials. In Heidegger's words, to play a videogame is more manufacturing than revealing, which is probably the crux of my criticism against Hemphill's concept of cybersport.

Put in Oswald's framework above, then, the sports videogame (software, hardware and interface) produces body movement and reproduces creative sporting art. In its current social, political and economic manifestation, however, it does not allow for the production of unique sporting movements above and beyond those allowed by the virtual environment of the game.


Comments are closed.