A Miller Freedman, Inc. San Francisco


*Pictorially Enhanced Version*




Since 1975 Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz have developed alternative technology systems that involve performing arts and public participation. Their work has been exhibited in New York's Museum of Modern Art, Los Angeles's Museum of Contemporary Art, Italy's Venic Biennial, and the Tokyo Video Festival. During the 1984 L.A. Olympics, Kit and Sherrie modeled the Electronic Cafe concept, commissioned by L.A.'s Museum of Contemporary Art. In 1987 they launched Electronic Cafe International. A year later they won the telecommunications industry's TeleSpan PACE award for ten years of leadership. Kit and Sherrie also have consulted for Xerox PARC, Walt Disney Imagineering, and the U.S. Congressional Office of Technological Management, and taught at universities. Working with Gene Youngblood, they currently are co-authoring Virtual Space: The Challenge to Create on The Same Scale as We Can Destroy.

Over a decade before sci-fi fans first read about "cyberspace," Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz used video as an interactive communications medium to pioneer virtual space. In 1977 they produced the Satellite Arts Project, in conjunction with NASA, researching the implications of using satellites to electronically combine people from different locations into the same real-time virtual space. It also marked the first live, composite-image dance performance and artistic application of satellites. Dancers in locations thousands of miles from each other performed together by viewing a live composite-image satellite link-up, watching themselves with their distant partners on-screen. This chapter reviews the results of this and more recent interactive telecom projects, particularly "Electronic Cafe International."

Established in 1987, Electronic Cafe International (ECI) is a unique venue that organizes and produces performances, discussions, and a smorgasbord of tele-events in "virtual space." The world wide ECI Network comprises over 60 affiliates and individuals. Most Electronic Cafe performances incorporate the visions of several collaborating artists and occur in more than one place at the same time: videophone technology links artists who perform simultaneously in various locations around the world. A performing artist in one city might transmit video, MIDI, and audio signals to another city, where the artist's image appears on a video screen while the data signals control lights, musical instruments, and video laserdisc tracks.

Through their grassroots approach, Galloway, Rabinowitz, and associates are electronically linking cafes and public venues to create a global network of community-based, multimedia teleconference facilities for cultural exchange.

"Satellite Arts Project: A Space With No Geographical Boundaries,--1977.
The world's first interactive composite-image satellite dance performance. The dancer in the center, Mitsuko Mitsueda, was at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, and dancers Keija Kimura (L), and Soto Hoffman (R), were in Menlo Park, California. Their electronically composited image appeared on monitors at each location. Their images responded like a mirror: When the dancers moved to the right, their images moved to the right.


Our original idea, back in the 1970s, was to create an electronic, multi- media composite-image space in which people separated by distance, language, values, and culture could come together to collaborate. The image itself would become a place that we named "virtual space," which differs from virtual and artificial reality because the people, places, and things are real-world items; they're not rendered by computer. Our original research was funded by Corporation for Public Broadcasting and National Endowment for the Arts, with support from NASA.
We wanted performing artists to meet in composite-image space that mixed live images from remote places and presented the mix at each location so performers could see themselves on the same screen with their partners. That became the premise for our subsequent work and experimentation. This sort of composite image space was explored in the early 1950s by Ernie Kovacs and Steve Allen. Kovacs would superimpose his live video image onto film clips and interact with the film characters. Allen would do improvisational comedy by superimposing his live studio image with live camera shots of unsuspecting pedestrians outside the television studio.
We first explored composite-image space because we wanted to create a performance place with no geographical boundaries, in which we could collaborate with other artists. We wanted to explore the aesthetics and sense of presence in a shared performance/multimedia environment, where people don't leave their indigenous environments. That way people from varied creative and cultural backgrounds could help create a new environment in which they would collaborate on an international scale.
In designing such spaces, we look not only at their qualities and aesthetics, but how people interact when they are disembodied and their image is their "ambassador." A virtual space creates social situations without traditional rules of etiquette. The absence of the threat of physical harm makes people braver. Virtual space diminishes our fears of interaction. Still, a person is offended when the virtual-space hand "touches" body parts that wouldn't be touched normally "in the flesh." In virtual space, we learn the extent to which we "own" our image. It relates to the beliefs of some cultures; if you take a photograph of people, they believe you capture or "steal" part of their essence or soul. This is a violation of one's image. Anyone can experience this in virtual space when seeing their image violated by a person or object that occupies the same image space.

If you define the aesthetic of the medium by defining the essence and integrity of the medium, then the creation of "good" art, in the case of telecommunications, means you create a situation that provides some form of communication between people and maximizes the technology's capabilities. But there must be a quality of tension that defines the "communication." If you don't create tension in the work, you're not really looking at the qualities of the medium, or the qualities of the art.


Thin Space, Thick Time:
Technical Concerns

The Electronic Cafe's technical concerns include the movement of full-motion video over long distances at various speeds and the inherent satellite time-delays. The time delay represents the video signal's trip to and from a satellite. It's said that satellites are "distance-insensitive," a term referring to the cost benefits of satellite communications: Once you pay to send your signal to a satellite for transmission, no further costs are incurred to deliver the signal anywhere within the satellite's reach. This isn't the case with transmissions delivered over the same area via terrestrial microwave or cables. Nevertheless, we believe nothing is distance-insensitive if it takes extra time to travel distances.
When more than one satellite "hop" is used to send get a signal from point A to point B, it can take over a half-second to arrive. This wreaks havoc on synchronized interaction between people and machines. It means you have to wait a second or two after every sentence when you're holding an overseas phone conversation. It means musicians can't enjoy real jam sessions over international satellite links. We call this condition "thin space, thick time," because you can create virtual space, but still must deal with the time component. Time takes on the added dimension of delay. We've always taken an aesthetic approach to this condition.
"Thin space, thick time" illustrates why it is so important for us to hug the surface of the planet with terrestrial and under- sea fiber-optic cables. This would eliminate time delay because the signal wouldn't have to travel tens of thousands of miles. Less-developed nations won't see ISDN and fiber optics until well past the end of the 20th century. But it's vital that international human relations start now.
Taking full advantage of virtual space requires full-motion, broadband video transmission. Broadband technology promises immense possibilities, but currently isn't accessible because of its prohibitive cost. Instead, we use standard telephone lines to enter virtual space.
If we wait for the world to become wireless or re-wired before the virtual-space acculturation process begins, we delay the broad-based cultural articulation of what we want from cyberspace technology. Properly integrated with video technology, telephone lines can be used to create a sense of presence and "connectedness" with other people. Phone lines can accommodate data-transmission technology and transmit still-frame video images. In a few years, phone lines will handle as many as ten video frames per second, so while we wait for the higher bandwidth of fiber-optic cables, we can create an international network of informal, multimedia teleconferencing centers in which people can start developing the culture, etiquette, and skills required to live, work, play, and create in virtual spaces.
One day, virtual reality technologies will plug into this emerging network and allow full-immersion migration to virtual spaces containing people from other locations.
As wonderful as this may sound, it's important to define a technology's limits as well as its potential. Only when we understand its limitations can we use it as a medium that doesn't simply copy film or television. Western societies generally tend to abandon the responsibility of creatively applying the technology that already surrounds us. The constant high- pressure "selling of the future" drives us blindly toward the hype of emerging technologies, which we abandon in turn for the next big thing.
If we could be as conversant about the limitations of emerging technologies as we are about the utopian promises, we could sort out what we should be doing with our planet's human and material resources.

"Hole in Space," ©1980. Live two-way satellite connection using video screens to project life-size images. Without public announcement, we installed "Hole in Space" in a sidewalk facing window at New York City's Lincoln Center and in a display window at at the Broadway department store in Century City ( Los Angeles). Both screens could accommodate the images of about 15 people. People could converse with people in the other city as if they were standing on the same street corner. "Hole in Space" took place over three evenings. On the first night, people simply discovered it. They used pay-phones of phoned from home to tell friends in the other city to meet them. They all showed up for the second evening, when it also was announced on TV in both locations. On the third night, families from miles away drove into the cities with cars full of kids to meet up with relatives on the other coast whom they hadn't seen in years.

"Aesthetic Research In Telecommunications (ART-COM)," 1982. At Loyola Marymount University, we designed and taught a multl- disciplinary lab class examining the effects, potential, and future of shared virtual spaces. These depict two of the many virtual-space performances and scores developed.

International Telecollaborative Painting 1989. The Macintosh II images are part of many that were created with people at a museum in Paris. We established a graphics-based dialogue as a collaborative effort with French computer- graphics artists. We sent graphics over phone lines, they modified them and sent them back. Then we changed the results and sent them, and so on. Realtime shared-screen telecollaborative painting also took place between ECI-HQ Santa Monica and other international sites following this pilot event.

The Cafe as Cultural Community Center

We wanted to create an environment for creative people to enjoy one-to-one and group-to-group interactivities and exchanges. That's where Electronic Cafe comes in. The flagship cafe is in southern California, in Santa Monica, networked with Electronic Cafe Affiliates in San Francisco, New York City, Oakland and Santa Cruz, Calif, Santa Fe, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Vancouver, Toronto, Paris, Berlin, Japan, Seoul, Managua, Barcelona, and Budapest. We're building human networks on an international, cross-cultural, multidisciplinary scale. These networks consist of people who are getting to know each other and the technology that maintains their relationship. They're trying to creatively animate that technology by engaging in new types of conversation.
The point of Electronic Cafe is to create a community commons. The atmosphere encourages friendly conversation and serves as an amenity to the telecommunications technology. And our events typically cost $3-$5 to attend.


In 1984 we were commissioned by the L.A. Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) to create a seven-week project for the L A. Olympic Arts Festival. This was the birth of the Electronic Cafe concept. We linked MOCA with five diverse L.A. communities through a telecom system, computer database, and dial-up image bank. People in the Korean community, Hispanic community, black community, and artsy beach community could send each other slow-scan video images, draw or write together with an electronic writing tablet, print pictures with the video printer, enter and retrieve information and ideas in the computer database, and store or retrieve images on a videodisc recorder that held 20,000 images. Electronic Cafe Artists-in-Residence helped people use the systems, solicit performance pieces, and transmit musical events.

Click to view original Electronic Cafe '84 System Diagram

These events propelled the network into a dynamic, inspirational existence. For example, Los Angeles' Korean community and black community traditionally are at odds with each other. As they met and got to know each other through the network, they wanted to visit each other! When you can make eye contact and establish a creative relationship with someone, you usually want to meet and touch them. At first people talked informally over the network, then created something together, and in many cases, ended up arranging in-person meetings.
Today, each Electronic Cafe contains the low-cost Commodore Amiga computers, which have audio and video capabilities. We also use black-&-white, still-frame videophones (we call them "vidphones"), color still-frame vidphones; video projectors; IBM PC-compatible and Macintosh II computers containing special circuit boards that capture video images; modems; computer printers; fax machines; and software for telecommunications, desktop publishing, database management, and graphics. We also have multiple telephone lines. Not all of the Electronic Cafes own video and color printers, but some locations consider them essential for documenting events.

All of this hardware and software lets EC Network affiliates exchange still-frame video images and computer graphics, enjoy video and audio teleconferencing and two-way drawing and writing in shared- screen presentations, exchange computer files, programs, electronic mail, and black-&-white images and/or text, and conduct real-time "chats" via computer. People who own videophones or computers are welcome to dial in and join the network. We invite people to come in and encounter the technology in a non- intimidating environment.
Our Robot Research 1200C video transmission system sends color or black-&- white images over phone lines (a color image measuring 256 x 256 pixels takes 36 seconds, while a black-&-white image of the same resolution sends in 24 seconds). Images are received by another Robot 1200C or Commodore Amiga with special software. Our vidphones transmit black-&-white still images with an average 100 x 100 pixel resolution in seven or eight seconds. These vidphones (by Panasonic and Mitsubishi) no longer are manufactured, but other companies build similar systems.

EARTH DAY GLOBAL LINK CONNECTION -1990: Omar Cabazes (on screen) launches an ECI-Affiliate at "Pepito's" in Managua, Nicaragua!

One typical ECI event was "Earth Day Global Link '90," the only truly interactive global event to occur on Earth Day. It involved connections and teleperformances with Moscow, Nicaragua, Berlin, and Japan. In the connection with Moscow, people discussed environmental problems and artists performed together. Children in L.A. asked the Russians, "Do you have holes in your ozone, too?"

In another Electronic Cafe presentation, a dancer named Dawn Stoppiello used technology to generate music on a Macintosh-based MIDI system and trigger vidphones that sent her image to a New York City site. Working with Dawn, computer musician Mark Coniglio of the Center for Experiments in Art, Information, & Technology (based at California Arts Institute) developed a Macintosh II program, "MIDI Dancer." Using MIDI Dancer and wearing wireless motion- monitoring devices on her arms and around her waist, Dawn transmitted data about her movements to the Mac. Dawn's motions controlled the previously scored music, synchronizing it to her cadence, controlled the lighting and microphone levels, and determined when her image was captured and transmitted to the New York location.

"The 21st Century Odyssey," the images (captured during a live performance.conversation/event) show: Dr. Roy Walford locked inside Bio Sphere 2 in Arizona (for two years), Barbara T. Smith in Katmandu, Nepal; and, the third location at ECI-HQ in Santa Monica. Part of a year-long series of events as Barbara was free to travel around the world and Roy remained as chief medical officer within the hermetically sealed Bio Sphere 2.

In a current Electronic Cafe project, "The 21st Century Odyssey," performance artist Barbara T. Smith is traveling around the world with a portable vidphone system to connect with Electronic Cafe and the artists and other people she meets in her journeys. Her virtual spaces also include Bio Sphere 2 resident, Dr. Roy Walford, communicating with us and the world through his ECI vidphone system.
Today ECI is testing limited-motion video systems and groupware. We are exploring ways in which digital networks allow group-to-group activities and enable a person to control objects in remote rooms.

Electronic Cafe's Vidphone Gallery is the first public dial-up electronic bulletin board with audio & video image storage-&-retrieval. All you need is a consumer videophone and telephone to view and contribute to EC Vid- Phone Galleries. The system runs on a Mac Plus with an 80- megabyte hard drive.

From 1992 to 1995 Electronic Cafe International-HQ collaborated with the California Arts Institute's Center for Experiments in Art Information & Technology directed by renowned electronic music composer Mort Subotnick. The first image is a still image from a live music event between three cities, ECI-HQ Santa Monica, ECI-Affiliate "The Kitchen" performance space in New York City, and ECI-Affiliate "Studio X" in Santa Fe. First image: Mort Subotnick (L), in NYC; Steina Vasulka (b/w incert), in Santa Fe; Eric Martin (lower right incert), at ECI-Santa Monica. Last image: Terry Riley in Nice, France (b/w incert), plays our piano at ECI-Santa Monica, accompanied by David Rosenboom, Dean of the CalArts School of Music



Integration & Access

If there is one word that defines Electronic Cafe, it is integration: integration of technology into our social fabric; integration of distinct cultures and communities, the arts, and the general public; and integration of art forms.
When we put integration capabilities in a community center where people can witness the "creative animation" of technology, we can start to liberate people's imaginations. When artists explore this technology, we start pushing the limits of technology. We create a culture that defines how the technology can be used and encourages cross-cultural collaborations, problem-solving, and decision- making. Our hope is to create a cultural environment that helps people around the world articulate what they want in their future and determine how to get there from here.
The ability to pick up a telephone and talk to a person is the most powerful magic created by contemporary society. It is the only mechanism that lets us manage a system as large as a planet. We must recognize that this is sacred, and become a "tele-species." Through Electronic Cafes and the use of telecommunications technology, we hope to foster new kinds of artistic collaboration and experimentation that will support the tele-species.
We want to make teleconferencing systems nonintimidating and accessible to people who don't work within corporations. We want to get the technology to as many people as possible, articulate the ramifications, define the aesthetics, and topple political roadblocks. Corporate culture is not going to provide models or applications broad enough to visualize the technology's cultural application. We must acculturate it ourselves.
If the arts are to take a role in shaping and humanizing emerging technological environments, individuals and arts constituencies must start to imagine at a much larger scale of creativity. If you look at the aesthetic quality of the communication and you're true to your art form and your art logic, then you naturally put one foot in front of the other . . . and the art logic marches you right out the art institutions and into life.


Experiencing The Electronic Cafe

Electronic Cafe International is based at 1649 18th Street in Santa Monica, California. Call us at 310-828-8732, or contact us via modem at [email protected] or electronic.cafe@pro- palmtree.cts.com.
We're "event-driven," so the Cafe is not open on a regular daily basis. You can't walk in at any time and order a cup of java and a videophone, but you can do that during a Cafe event. Call before visiting! We also encourage arts groups to produce events at ECI. If you have access to a vid- phone or computer, please join us electronically. It's easy!




  • MIDI: Musical Instrument Digital Interface. For more information. see Hyper instruments- by Tod Machover
  • laserdisc: A laserdisc. a.k.a. videodisc, is a 12-inch plastic disc that holds thousands of video images and sound
  • ISDN: Integrated Services Digital Network; proposed protocols for carrying voice, data, facsimile, and video signals across a network.
  • broadband: A network in which the bandwidth can be shared by multiple simultaneous signals.
  • bandwldth: Measurement that indicates a system's data transmission capacity The greater the bandwidth, the greater the amount of information that can be transmitted in real time.
  • videophone: A device that transmits and receives audio and visual information It transmits slow scan stills every 5 10 seconds while audio transmissions are continuous and two-way
  • modem: A device that converts computer signals into high frequency communication signals that can be sent over telephone lines
  • Bio Sphere 2: The Arizona- based, totally enclosed, self-sustaining environment in which eight people are living for two years Bio Sphere 2 contains six natural climates (Bio Sphere I is the earth.)
  • groupware: Software de signed for teams of people working together on shared information