Anticipation as resting and pausing in felt time

"Anticipation 2017 is a unique, radically interdisciplinary forum for exploring how ideas of the future inform action in the present. It brings together researchers, policy makers, scholars and practitioners to push forward thinking on issues ranging from modelling, temporality and the present to the design, ethics and power of the future." It was held at the Senate House, School of Advanced Study in central London.

Anticipation as resting and pausing in felt time

by Elsa Kosmack Vaara & Cheryl Akner Koler

To interact successfully with our physical and digital world, our experience of time is essential. Time and temporality such as ongoing rhythms and tempos in our bodies and their spatial movement in everyday life is something that is often taken for granted. To be an interaction designer, however, entails continuous examination and development of new ways of shaping temporal form and experiences mediated by interactive computer systems. In contrast to music or culinary art, interaction designers do not yet regard felt temporal form as part of their expressive material. This stems partly from the interaction design-field being young with limited experience in aesthetics, lacking a history and vocabulary addressing felt time, but also because temporality in interaction is notoriously complex to grasp and shape.

Through the research presented here, we have investigated how to renew and enrich the way felt time is treated in artistic / crafting practice and interaction-design research through aesthetic experience shared between culinary arts and music; more specifically activities within Sourdough Baking procedures and – silence compositions from the electro music period in the 1950’s. By exploring time through Baking and juxtaposing our experiences with the experimental music practice of John Cage, we emphasize the importance of exploring temporal form through embodied temporal aesthetics to model novel future interactive experiences with technology.

Guided by the connoisseur Sebastien Boudet, a renowned culinary artist in Sourdough Baking and desserts (Boudet, 2012) we have approached a sense of time through Sourdough Baking. Working with sourdough as starter, we indulged and become sensitive to a time controlled by self-organizing activities of microorganisms in dynamic interplay with the embodied baking activities. The baker’s role is to shape the temporal baking process by blending ingredients, kneading, squeezing, stretching and forming the living material, the dough. This way of working physically and sensually with time offers opportunities for interaction designers to imagine how time actually behaves when we can hold on to it and dynamically play with it.

When comparing Sourdough Baking procedures and the experimental music of John Cage, we focus on the absence of deliberate sound – silence, in relation to the self organizing raising process of micro-organisms in dough - rest. Silence and pause in music can be long, short, sustained, a full stop or uncertain. It is controlled by the composer’s intentions and the performer's interpretation combined with aesthetic awareness, sensitivities and skill. Similarly the rest in Sourdough Baking is not a static measurement, but is shaped by the living material and the baker’s aesthetic skill and sensitivity. Rest in the Sourdough Baking process is a flexible duration of time where the baker lets the dough work on it’s own. The goal of the embodied shaping and manipulating temporality in Sourdough Baking is to achieve an aesthetically desirable process with a life cycle of rise, peak and fall in the fermenting dough. Here, rest plays a fundamental part. Rest and activity are coequals in Sourdough Baking.

John Cage stated that sound and silence were coequals in music and that musical structure should be based on duration because this is the sole characteristic that these two musical fundaments have in common (Göran 2009, Pritchett 1996). Silence cannot be heard in terms of pitch or harmony: it is only experienced as time length and in relation to the boundaries of the silence. As a result, Cage structured all the later part of his artistic music production by the dimensions of time in a specific way: he invented composing methods based on duration, unpredictability and anticipation. Cage provides examples of how to play with and shape a temporal form of pause and silence into something aesthetically expressive (One such example is the classic performance 4’33 for piano).

The Sourdough Baking procedure unfolds a fundamental element of anticipation as rest in felt time emerging from the embodied baking activities. The rest, or the autolysis, is an important chemical process, firming up the corpus of the dough. Additionally, through letting the dough rest, every little flour particle needs time to absorb moisture, which develops a gluten structure. The gluten structure makes the dough plastic and elastic so that it keeps the dough together throughout the whole process. Sebastien Boudet uses the tactile probing of the surface to understand what’s beneath it - what the texture is. By stretching the dough we could investigate the felt qualities of rest. Through Sourdough Baking we learnt ways to interpret and make meaning of rest through touch. In comparison, John Cage teaches us how to interpret and make meaning of pause and silence through listening.

From both Sourdough Baking and music we learn that if we do not rest or pause in time, and if we do not touch or listen, there is no music and there will be no bread. To learn this in practice is fundamental and artistic practitioners have to exercise their sense of pause and rest in felt time in order to create aesthetic expressions. The vocabulary (the words) of music as well as in Sourdough Baking is dependent upon the felt knowledge of the culture and the physical performance. The knowledge has to be learnt through discipline and felt practice.

Can interactive technology and design mediate similarly rich temporal expressions and meaningful engagements as Sourdough Baking and experimental music? Our suggestion is that interaction designers need to learn from the arts and crafts practices that have a well developed aesthetic approach to temporal form. Our exploration gives practical insight that can help designers widen their perspective when shaping the temporal gestalt in interaction by exploring aesthetics of anticipation with starting point in rest and pause in felt time. The vocabularies, metaphorical thinking and the traditions of craftsmanship, interpretation and performative practice that are active in music and culinary culture carry this knowledge. Without embodied temporal knowledge of shaping the character of pause and rest, interaction designers risk creating design solutions that treat human interaction as compact and inflexible.


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