[dance-tech] improvised / computational / conceptual

  • From: "curators -" <transubstantiate@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: dance-tech@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Mon, 2 Oct 2006 20:20:10 +0100

Hello all.

We would like to open a discussion on the 'improvised',
'computational' and 'conceptual' composition in dance and performance
technologies (dance & perf-tech) praxis. We are  particularly
interested in developing a set of formal definitions via existing
practice and their effect on the work produced. In the absence of a
common consensus we offer the following approximations (~):

# improvised ~ emergent, adaptive.
# computational ~ procedural, algorithmic, generative.
# conceptual ~ constructional, linear, perfunctory.

It seems useful to give examples of these categories from general
dance practice:

# improvised: goldberg variations (steve paxton)
# computational: accumulation (trisha brown)
# conceptual: 101 (douglas dunn)

There is significant confusion in dance & perf-tech writing between
improvised and computational modes of composition. For example,
cunningham's chance operations are procedural and generally not
considered to be improvisation. However, similar compositional
(algorithmic, generative) techniques are considered to be
improvisation in dance & perf-tech. Because computational composition
deals with replicable 'solutions' we consider it to fall outside dance
improvisation ideology.

we must also differentiate between dance composition that utilises
performance technologies, and performance technologies facilitated by
dance composition. As with other practices situated in modernity the
former conceptualises 'tool use' differently from the latter. It is
the the lack of such as distinction that has frustrated many dance
scholars attempts to create a workable dance & perf-tech taxonomy.

Improvisation is the primary mode of human 'choreography' within the
performance technologies setting. The main purpose of improvisation
with interactive/reactive environments seems to be 'proof' of
emergent, entropic output. Because 1:1 mapping is aesthetically
unfashionable 1:n (many) or 1:C (set) interactive/reactive outcomes
are currently preferred. Whilst using Improvisation does facilitate
the observation of 1:n and 1:C mappings, a fixed input might be a
better demonstration of a systems transformative capabilities.

Many projects start with technology designed to transform performative
input into an integrated, aesthetic output. Minimal consideration is
given to the construction of the input, other than it must cause the
desired output. Fixed choreography is often avoided as the input
requirements of the technologies and transformative possibilities are
poorly understood. Where contributory knowledge of the
medium/technologies is lacking, improvisation is a short cut achieving
the required input/output aesthetic.

However, we must acknowledge that present sensor technology offers a
limited range of 'data values' for software/hardware systems to
utilise. As such it is preferable that the performative input has a
gaussian/levy probability distribution (i.e. Imporvisation). With such
a 'computational' function improvisation can be considered 'part' of
the technological system. This simple, but effective software/wetware
conceptualisation is an essential facet of human – computer/machine
interaction in dance & perf-tech.

Although improvisation is based on a conceptual precept, it not
conceptual dance 'per se' as one may disregard the performative
concept at any time. Where as in Improvisation the content (movement)
is an engaged, reflexive, adaptive  process, for conceptual dance it
is perfunctory. When we look to the software/hardware the development
process is conceptual and clearly systematic. The tools are developed
with a purpose/goal that is followed until completion, the aesthetics
of coding are rarely taken into account. Both software and hardware
are employed for a specific purpose rather than their
application/context emerging through each performance.

At the time of writing we are unaware of a dance-tech work in which
movement and software/system creation (live coding/hacking) occur at
the same time. Yet a fully integrated dance & perf-tech improvisation
work should and would require this. We do not consider real-time
manipulation of variables (e.g. unstable landscapes, marlon
barrios-solano) to fall under this category.

Given the relatively 'set' construction of performance
software/hardware systems can suggest that:

# establishing a system 'lexis' explored through Improvisation is
indicative of 'technique' development.
# improvisation as a system 'state' means the performance work is
conceptual in nature [1].

Whilst establishing 'techniques' may grate against post-modernist
sensibilities it facilities both applied development and 'forking' of
dance technologies [2]. Working with common frames/tools would lead to
rapid re-framing of our  praxis/aesthetics and pedagogy. This would
enable a clear break from post-modern/contemporary dance practice,
consolidated with contributory theory.

If we consider the majority of dance & perf-tech work to be conceptual
in nature, then uncovering shared principles of practice should lead
to refinement of our praxis. We are not suggesting that all dance &
perf-tech work 'must' be conceptual, but historically that is the
case. By returning to choreography perhaps we can learn to focus on
dance content rather than movement 'concept'. Lets equalise the
attention we pay to technologies and dance when developing or praxis.

From such a position we can define our own framing rather than relying
on theorists from other fields. Cyborgian analyses founded in literary
fiction should not be the basis of our critical theory. Media specific
analysis in dance & perf-tech requires an examination of the dance,
technologies and dance-technologies in their own right. Dance is a
media, and the content in most dance & perf-tech works performs poorly
under a media specific analysis.

The use of technologies to facilitate improvisation is a development
of distraction, complexity and mapping techniques/skills (e.g. tuning
scores, contact improvisation). All technologies (solutions), are
disposable because once a 1:1 mapping/uses occurs they become
'habitus'. Here the design of technology is also conceptual, but its
usage it not; improvisers can throw away their score and re-purpose
artefacts. Is there a dance & perf-tech work that gives the dancers an
'off' (total system shut-down) button?

Reflecting on the concepts we have discussed in this text suggests
that dance-tech is a subset of performance technologies rather than a
'top level' praxis. The community displays a higher level of
interactional knowledge than contributory knowledge, perhaps this is
simply a feature of limited critical discourse (as opposed to
knowledge/experience presentation) and weak framing? Has our bias for
the improvised and conceptual lead to a loss of evaluated content?

We assume that working within an improvised/computational system
content ('choreography') will be emergent, but what if this is not the
case? Perhaps in dance & perf-tech content is primary, or at least
symbiotic with form (does that lead us back to technique?).

We seem to be slipping further and further into entropy, iteration ~
recursion; a looping praxis. If we focus on crafting the 'dance'
within dance & perf-tech is that developing dance-tech or expanding
post-modern/contemporary dance?

Perhaps, in seeking answers to these question we will not only clarify
dance & perf-tech praxis, but also wider notions of dance,
performance, art and artistic processes.


curators @  transubstantiate

[1] state: a set of properties/instructions performed in response to
system input. Here improvisation (computation) is performed to
complete the systems design rather than its own ideological goals.
[2] dance-technologies is a difficult label, how many technologies
have been specifically created for dance. And where such technologies
do exist they are usually accompanied by a technique. We can also see
techniques emerge from dance use of performance technologies, e.g. the
specific vocabularies used to actuate (midi) flex sensors.


The liminal is limited; transubstantiate.

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