Sean Rogg's fully-immersive art environments take unconventional and unique architectural spaces and fill them with choreographed works using sound, light, taste, aroma and performance.
In his latest work, the preparation piece for FUTURO, Chapter Three of The Waldorf Project, Sean created an immersive performance, his team of artists, product designers, performers and soundscape artists to combine their skills around a theme of monochrome dining. Every course was served as a form of black liquid over a sequence of dramatic scenes.
Sean works unlike any other orchestrator of experiences, from artists to experimental eating designers globally. His knowledge and discoveries in the area of immersive performance are a real inspiration outside of the art context and are highly relevant when looking afresh at future customer experiences.
Sean describes his role as a 'conductor of emotions' with the ability to affect and skew how people feel and react together. As a master of inter-sensory design, we felt he would be the perfect person to interview for our YourStudio multi-sensory edition.
YS: What is The Waldorf Project all about?
SR: Well, the Waldorf Project is evolving and has evolved a great deal since the last time we met… The performance I'm going to stage in February will be the 5th performance, although it's officially Chapter 3, as I always do an experimental trial performance before the final performance happens.
We have just finished doing the trial for Chapter three and we will stage the final performance early next year. This trial had a great deal of sponsorship from The guardian / Hendricks and really I think of it as a stand alone experience, just looser where we try out ideas. [For the trial]… we have 6 performances and each one is different, we use all that R&D, to feed in to the final performance to make it as tight as a drum for every performance.
YS: So you test out variations and then you refine it into the final?
SR: Yes, exactly. So in one of the performances we might increase the sound effect on people, not just by volume but by reducing the other senses and see how that impacts people or the performance element.
YS: And how do you monitor the way you tweak things to inform the refined version?
SR: Well I am in the room and I am conducting this experimental performance - I am in control of the various elements. The performers and I debrief at strategic points - there is a lot of physical interaction so we can gauge clearly if people are reacting positively to it… or, more than that, how far can we push people before they start to [recoil]. That might be testing their boundaries audibly, physically or in any environment and then I continue to turn up the volume until on the last performance, for example, it was madness and too much… everything was too much but on purpose - I am not going to be repeating that one but from it we gleaned a lot of important data, so now I know what to move forward with.
YS: What I thought was really interesting, was that you pick and choose the senses and balance out everything…
SR: It is amazing, to be in a multi-sensory environment and to be the conductor of it… and to have all these elements at my control. To have a room full of people who are not there to simply absorb but to influence. They are having a reaction back which effects the way I'm conducting - it is a cyclical, incredibly powerful thing.
In the case of this last trial performance, I had a 200 metre long light wall in the tunnel at Kings Cross which was at my control - being able to manipulate this light panel was amazing as the ideas that I am exploring for chapter three are entirely with black and white light. Five completely different lightscapes that manipulate your emotions in different ways.
"The one thing I try not to do is have a pre-determined story because then if you (the viewer) doesn't get it then they feel like they are missing something."
YS: How do you take people on an experiential journey?
SR: The one thing I try not to do is have a pre-determined story because then if you (the viewer) doesn't get it then they feel like they are missing something. I don't say 'I would like you to feel happy / sad / fearful' or anything like that, that is boring, that is the way it has been done before.
If any one of the elements becomes too loud you lose the concept and it becomes a show. For the final performance it is be about all the senses coming together - no one element on its own. They all have to blend together.
What is really amazing is you have everyone from a 20-year old with a 'give me anything' attitude, to 60-year old with a 'don't touch me' attitude, in the same environment - eventually they all give themselves up to it.
"I am single sensory, that single sense is the sixth element - emotion."
YS: Do you get any comments of feedback where people have spoken about this blend / an experience which is almost uncategorizable… because you have created something unfamilar or a sixth sense?
SR: Yes thats how I describe it - he sixth sense being the next sense - that has pretty much nailed what I'm doing. I think I cant describe myself as multi-sensory anymore - I am single sensory, that single sense is the sixth element - emotion. I plan the way everything comes into your body to merge and that feeling is my performance.
YS: That feeling must be different for everyone…
The bit that has taken me 2 years to crack is that everyone will have their own experience, everyone will have a different experience, but everyone will have an experience.
On Chapter 1 I created a very detailed path, and if you didn't get it or were distracted then I lost them, so I had to go back to the drawing board and rethink and so it no longer became about a linear journey but a completely abstract soup… an emotional soup you get plunged into - there is no path and no matter who you are or what you feel you will get roughly what I am trying got do.
When people come out they all swap and compare and no one wishes they had someone else experience, and everyone thinks they had the best experience.
YS: Is there anything you have found inspiring recently in a sensory way or in a way that has had an emotional effect on you? Shock / surprise / jolt you into thinking differently?
SR: The entrance to Carsten Holler show at the Hayward - I didn't know it was coming, and it went on for a monumental amount of time…
It doesn't happen very often but it really leaves a memory… and that is something else that I'm exploring… in that regard it is really about creating an experience worth a memory.
The emotion that you feel is much easier to remember than something visual or whatever - they seem to fade but if you effect someone emotionally, in the same way that smell can bring back a memory, you need the smell to bring back that memory. If you create the emotion you don't need the smell to bring it back.
YS: It's interesting how design always creates a very refined narrative and creates a well orchestrated experience but it is refreshing to think that everyone will have a personal experience and we are just creating the conditions for people to have whatever their experience is.
SR: Yes and another thing I've learned through this project is the concept of the organism of a group of people. A different group of people will always do something completely different.
We've been massively inspired by Sean and he was part of our recent Inter-sensory breakfast symposium, 'Talking Sense', held at the YS HQ.
For more information about Sean, go to www.waldorfproject.com
If you are interested in YSGroundWork's Inter-sensory design symposium summary, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org