[dance-tech] Re: Sensordance/ improvised / computational / conceptual

  • From: "curators -" <transubstantiate@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: dance-tech@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sun, 22 Oct 2006 10:52:36 +0100

Hello all

Thank you to Sarah Rubridge for articulating that posts such as these
are appreciated, even if not always responded to. We realise that this
is also a long post and may take some time to digest, but given the
breadth of issues and praxes involved a shorter response seemed
inadequate. Lastly thanks to the distributed curators of
transubstantiate for their time in writing, reviewing, and editing
this text (we all have busy lives too!).

As we proposed in our last post, direct interfaces (flex sensors,
micro switches, pressure plates, smart fabric etc.) for dance
technology result in 'techniques' of use [1]. However, aesthetic and
conceptual concerns regarding vocabulary (emergent technique) and
dance as 'switch de/activation' has lead to exploration of alternate
interfaces. We can observe this 'shift' in the rapid decline of
dance-tech & Electroacoustic music technology (music-tech)
collaborations involving direct, gestural interfaces during the

Music-tech makes extensive use of gestural interfaces (instruments)
for sonic production and processing. Here the interface remains
tangible as mappings between performative input (gestural) and output
(aural) are easily inferred. The absence common gestural techniques is
due to the dominance of 'home brewed' interfaces and software.

However, analysis of specific artist-instrument combinations over time
does suggest localised technique development. We can also identify a
common set of software techniques (granular synthesis, phase
distortion synthesis, etc.) which can be perceived in the sonic
output. Given that music-tech is concerned with i/o (digital/analogue)
sound production and transformation, gestural and software techniques
should be given equal recognition.

By moving towards indirect interfaces (optical, ultrasonic and
magnetic sensors) dance & perf-tech has prioritised the development of
software techniques over physical techniques. Here, physical
techniques are used to 'patch' the 'interface' rather than extending
the transformative capabilities of the system [2].

For example: when using an optical system, the quality of image
processing/recognition/analysis may be improved by a) physical
techniques designed to overcome system limitations (e.g., minimum
'blob' size) [3] or b) new image processing algorithms and increased
camera resolution.

In both cases the interface (vision) has not changed, but the
technologies behind the interface have been modified. It thus becomes
hard to argue that the 'interface' is primary in dance & perf-tech, of
greater importance are the transformative techniques (and
technologies) that process performative input (interface as data
stream, not performance space [4]). Transformative technologies are
not a media/medium in their own right, nor are they 'liminal' as
concrete state changes result from (re)encoding/transcoding of media
not mutation.

This would suggest that although there are media specific
technologies, we tend to focus on inter/multi-media
'conversion/transformation' (transcription) technologies, which by
their very nature must be 'hybrid'. The collision/integration of
different media types should not be considered the end of media
specificity. With any inter/multi-media artefact we can separate out
the component media leaving each instance relatively intact.

We can consider 'performance' to be inter/multi-media (sound, image,
motion etc.), and thus still qualify for 'specific' performance
technologies (e.g., those developed by: weiß, coniglio, camurri/et-al
etc.). we suggest that it is the tools/interfaces through which we
control and modulate performance technologies that makes them appear
non specific.

At this time the 'computer' is our primary tool of 'transformation',
as such all performative input and 'on the fly' modification is
gesturally compressed. The limitations of Graphical User Interfaces
(GUI) make it hard to differentiate between physical modes of
manipulating computer mediated media. Here the 'mess' is caused by
visual metaphors compacting the experientially navigated world into
X,Y and (sometimes) Z coordinates navigated by 'pointing device' and
keyboard. Strategies to dissolve this opaque interface include
code/screen display, homebrew control boards and 'single task set-ups'
(one laptop per transformation/media).

There are technologies specifically devised for dance (techniques,
choreographic approaches, hardware, software etc.), but the more
'recent' of these tools relate to choreographic development, content
and construction (developed by: lieberman/delahunta, klien/mortimore,
turner/brio/rothwell/et-al etc.). Dance technologies for direct
dance/movement 'transformation' are rare, indirect interfaces a
simpler to develop and explore. Software for dancers/choreographers is
designed to affect motor cognition (rather than action) to generate
motive/spatial transformations.

In dance & perf-tech we have the 'craft', and the crafting of
technologies to facilitate/propagate the (initial) craft. Both the
performative and technological crafts require their own analysis, not
all choreographies/algorithms are equal. And then, after looking at
the 'perceivable' parts (through their epistemological/ontological
frameworks), we must look at the 'perceivable whole'. It is within the
latter observation/analysis that new frameworks must be developed,
both  theoretical, and experiential.

The craft/technology that dance & perf-tech seems to have neglected is
choreographic approaches. Here, a large body of work/tools goes
untapped is a desire to delineate dance-tech from other dance praxes.
Whilst it is true that improvisation is at the heart of all
choreography (and choreographed itself), improvisation is only one
method of performative input generation.

In our initial categorisation we specified that computational modes of
composition we generative. What we failed to make clear is that we
were referring to specific algorithmic techniques. We consider all
modes of composition to be generative (movement producing) in nature
and thus remove the term from the description. conceptual has been
revised and choreographed [5] added:

# improvised ~ emergent, adaptive.
# computational ~ procedural, algorithmic.
# conceptual ~ linear, perfunctory.
# choreographed ~ structural, semiotic.

For completeness:

# improvised: goldberg variations (steve paxton)
# computational: accumulation (trisha brown)
# conceptual: 101 (douglas dunn)
# choreographed: trio a (yvonne rainer)

The performative input of conceptual dance is not mode exclusive, but
dependent on initial concept, and the (directly) subsequent ideas of
the artist [6]. Nor should any of the modes be considered exclusive to
particular socio-cultural, historical, or technological 'dance'
practices. We do not use these category labels as indicators of
'western' 20th and 21st century concert dance, but as a 'global'
analytical framework.

To clarify; we consider most dance & perf-tech works to be conceptual,
utilising improvisation as the primary mode of content generation /
performative input. In these cases 'dance' and/or 'choreography' is a
secondary, emergent product.

it is important to note that few artists engaging with dance &
perf-tech improvisation articulate 'how' they improvise. The   skills
an artist uses to approach / generate improvised motion are vital to
any assessment of the improvisation. Thus we reiterate Johannes' call
for descriptions of 'methods of practice' on the dance-tech list. We
rely too heavily on the significant contributions of a few
writers/historians (e.g., Scott deLahunta) to report on praxis in the

Without (more) artists sharing their reflections, experience,
methodologies, praxis, code (etc.) it is hard to contextualise or
visualise the relationship between compositional aesthetics. However,
music-tech does show us that the aesthetics of coding are not too
dissimilar to those of 'traditional' composition.

Jesus Gollonet's 'unclapping music' is a transcription of 'clapping
music' by steve reich for ChucK (a real-time audio programming
language [7]). The full rhythmic figure is expressed as:

[.5, .5, 1, 0, .5, 1, 0, 1, 0, .5, 1, 0 ] @=> float seq[];

the total code comprises of 45 lines and two sound files:

http://www.jesusgollonet.com/blog/recursos/unclapping_music.ck [text file]

you can hear the output here:

http://www.jesusgollonet.com/blog/recursos/unclapping_music.mp3 [1.6mb]

the code (as is the music score) much more that its constituent parts.
We also consider the code to be every bit as aesthetic, functional,
visually expressive and efficient as the original score:


it seems plausible that the aesthetics of live coding of interactive
systems would bear some relation to the cognitive and notational
structures utilised in improvisation praxis. We suggest that just as
in existing live coding (music/graphics) specific modes of
transformation and representation can be coded and generated in
real-time. Just because we are used to long duration development does
not mean we cannot adapt to modes of real-time, 'interactive
environment' development. Of course 'some' elements will have to be
pre-prepared, but that is the nature of all 'improvisations'. After
all, one has to at least decide the location and time if an audience
is desired.

Again we welcome feedback, observations and critique, and thank those
who have engaged with us so far. Whilst we would encourage you to post
on the list, you may also contact us directly at our email address.


curators @  transubstantiate


[1] //www.freelists.org/archives/dance-tech/10-2006/msg00002.html

[2] in dance & perf-tech, technique resides (primarily) outside the
body [8]. We are not engaging in movement transformation (which is
dependant on 'our' body), but movement transcription (i.e., motion for
the body rewritten for the specific properties of 'transformative'
media/medium). This requires a much longer explanation which we do not
feel belongs in this post. In essence we are suggesting a new
analytical framework that contextualises 20th and 21st century dance
praxis (modernist, post-modernist, performance-technological). we give
the following examples:

# reverberation ~ cage/cunningham (ocean)
# resonance ~ reich/de keersmaeker (drumming)
# transcription ~ bokowiec/bokowiec (the suicided voice)

[3] we need to ask the dancers of our 'interface' works (e.g., emily
fernandez) what strategies they use to improve the 'effectiveness' of
their performative input. We believe analysis will uncover the
development of localised techniques for specific hardware / software
combinations. This might also mean that dancers, not 'choreographers'
are instigating dance technique, or that performance technologies
inherently lead to technique emergence. In essence our technological
'interfaces' see very little of the performative input, they can only
observe the patterns/features they were desgined to recognise. Whilst
this may be useful for discreet differentiation (e.g., unique colours
for each performer) the 'whole' is unobserved. Pattern that occur
across the entire performance space/range are of equal value to those
found in a single feature.

[4] we suggest the primary location for movement 'transformation' (in
dance & perf-tech) lies within the software, not a 'liminal'
perfromace space (Susan Broadhurst). If we did seek a liminal
dance-tech praxis we would need a direct interface to facilitate our
passage into the 'transitory' space. Here we can draw an analogy with
Matt Gough's contentious identification of a pointe shoe as a 'dance
technology'. Romantic ballet was concerned with 'otherness' in the
context of the human/spirit world. here the pointe shoe facilitates
the inhabitation of a liminal space between the two worlds. Niether
jumping, nor grounded, the shoe is a technology that enables
'floating' between the two. Perhaps, (more significantly) if
dance-tech is concerned with technological
transformation/translocation to the liminal then dance is
instrumentalised. Dance/enactment becomes not a act for its own sake,
but a preparatory function to enable transition into the 'liminal'.

[5] choreography: the making of structures in which (dance) movement
may occur. Within such a definition 'real-time sensor performance'
does adhere to structure and pattern(ing) as all existing sensor
technologies reply on such properties to perceive the performative
input. For example, optical systems (computer vision) 'search' for
patterns, shapes (blobs), edges, and motion. These 'visual' structures
shape the 'choreography' in similar manner to human perception and
cognition. The use of 'semiotic' in the choreographed section should
not be problematic, there is a plausible argument that all forms of
dance are systems of signs. From a post-structuralist perspective the
signifier, rather than the sign is privileged. Rhizomes of meaning are
also dependant on the notion of a signifier for 'infinite semiosis'
(meaning only relating to other meanings). But, we must not forget
that the rhizome has a single point of origin, regardless of whether
we can navigate our way back to the original context/meaning.

[6] 'Conceptual' dance may have choreographed, improvised, or
computational content.

[7] ChucK: [ http://chuck.cs.princeton.edu/ ], for more on 'live
coding': [ http://tinyurl.co.uk/7ul7 ]. code as art: [
http://artport.whitney.org/commissions/codedoc/ ]. this is not an
absolute claim that live coding 'works' (in its present form), but a
proposal that we should experiment with it to uncover the potential
impact on our praxis.

[8] we suggest that the use of technology in body-mind praxis is a
feature of modernity (specifically post-modernism) rather than dance &
perf-tech per se. The conceptually significant
transformations/transcription always occur within the body-mind
context and not the mediated output (external stimulation vs
transformation). Practitioners who explore body-mind connectivity
within performance technologies have direct experience of this
context. Here 1:1, 1:c and 1:n input/output mappings give rise to
variety of mind-body responses, and body/technology analogues.
Elizabeth MacKinnon has articulated such a relationship between
network packet/circuit switching and 'nerve reversals' in Body Mind
Centering (BMC). She suggests that the interface can reinforce some
aspects of proprioception, but equally diverts mental attention form
the internal, to the external. MacKinnon also questions the sensory,
perceptual and enacted sensitivity of both technological (sensor-based
systems) and human interfaces (audience, self perception), exploring
the sensitivity of each to her performance praxis.

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