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 .
Whilst establishing 'techniques' may grate against post-modernist sensibilities it facilities both applied development and 'forking' of dance technologies . 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
 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.  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. http://transubstantiate.org