I can’t stop watching.
Some very well-known examples of changing dancerly ways of moving come from the work of Loie Fuller and Martha Graham through their use of fabric.
That’s kind of obvious, isn’t it. But I suppose that by “bodies”, I mean the way we carry our bodies: the way we move, the way we hold ourselves, our posture, our movement abilities, our movement qualities. Our body’s sense of well-being. The invention of the chair has changed forever the way our back and hip flexors are configured.
And by “things we create”, I mean specifically computational technologies and concepts. Computers and the configuration of the desktop keyboard and monitor are changing the way our spine, fingers, arms, scapulae, clavicles, heads, etc. etc. work together. Lyn Bartram has pointed out (and I need to ask her for a reference) that the one thing that has been proven to have changed with younger generations as a result of technology isn’t their ability to concentrate: it’s their ability to use their thumbs. Thumbing dexterity has increased! New interfaces such as touchpads have changed (to a certain extent) the way we generate written text, although there is to some extent a kind of a return to more analog strategies for text input. (I just ordered a set of 5 stylii for my iPad from eBay.)
So that’s the general area I place my research on: the way technology has changed our bodies, and specifically the way digital technologies have changed the way we move.
The one aspect of human movement that seems to be understudied is in its most expressive, creative way: dance. I’ve come across one paper by dance scholar Naomi M. Jackson, “Rethinking Humanness: The Place of Automata, Puppets and Cyborgs in Dance”, delivered in 2001 at the Society of Dance History Scholars, which has touched on this. Of course, the work of choreographers such as Merce Cunningham and William Forsythe have done much to explore the use of technology in expressive human motion, but what I’m curious is about is popular, grassroots explorations of the same.
I am also interested in these genres because they (and particularly liquid) signals a departure from the angular, hard computation of Cunningham technique. There’s an organic-ness to the aesthetics of the genres that had been missing from Cunningham. Both explore space, absolutely, and yet there’s something more complex and, well, liquid about Liquid.
In this post, I would like touch on two different themes related to experiencing dance, both in its making and its viewing:
Many of the ideas in this essay came after watching shows from the 2011 Dancing on the Edge festival, and I mention some of them in this post.
As the social events coordinator at the GSA SIAT, it’s my job to organize events for the grad students. It also give me a chance to advertise cool things being put on by friends and colleagues. Here’s a few of them.
(Background: I’ve been building a half-sized version of Lumarca/Wiremap, an open source, low-cost, low-resolution volumetric display, and hooking it up to motion recognition systems as part of the research that I’m doing at SIAT. I posted an update a while back. Here’s the latest one.)
I’ve been able to get an older project (a Wiimote hack) to integrate with my implementation of Lumarca. I can control the size of a “3d diamond” in the display using the distance between my thumb and middle finger, and control its color based on the speed of my fingers/hand. It’s still pretty simple right now, but I’m excited to have finally gotten it to work. I’m beginning to appreciate the need for a lot of forethought in designing Wiremap visualizations (as I outlined in a previous post), because in a dark room, it can be hard to really appreciate the 3D-ness of the visualizations.
Much thanks for helping me understand some of the more technical parts of designing the display and coding against it goes to Albert Hwang, who managed to come out to Vancouver last week. I showed him around SIAT and I got a chance to introduce him to some of the grad students, who talked about their research here. It turns out that Albert is also a dancer (in a different genre than mine), and we spent a lot of time showing each other YouTube videos and websites. I hope he enjoyed his short trip here!
Anyway, here’s a (rather poor quality) clip that explains where I’m at!
I’ve been building a half-sized version of Lumarca, an open source, low-cost, low-resolution volumetric display, and hooking it up to motion recognition systems as part of the research that I’m doing at SIAT. Lumarca’s creators, Matt Parker and Albert Hwang, have already hooked it up to a Kinect, which is great:
Here’s a couple of short videos of what my Lumarca system looks like.
Lumarca is a wonderful tool with so many subtleties. I’m realizing a few things about it as I’ve been replicating it.
Given a certain combination of distance between the strings and the projector and distance between the viewer and the strings, what may appear to be smooth movement by the graphics on my monitor is revealed to be quantized when projected onto the Lumarca strings. That is, pixels become more obvious. This isn’t a big revelation; we see this all the time when we project onto traditional, larger screens. One solution to adapt anti-aliasing techniques from 2D graphics to motion graphics projected onto Lumarca.
I’ve also been thinking about how visually striking the string I have been using is, and how it really can’t be ignored. A viewer can’t pretend that the strings are “not there”. We need to consider the materiality of the display, and doing so would open up new possibilities. For example, one could really play with the architectural properties of the strings. I think it should be possible in theory to build a variation of Lumarca that uses strings that cross each other at different angles or clumped in different ways.
Also, although 3D objects can be represented using Lumarca (as evidenced by Matt and Albert’s Kinect video above), I don’t exactly see 3D objects in the display, especially if a viewer stays in one spot with respect to the display. In the real world, we perceive 3D through a combination of strategies, including motion parallax and shadow+light perception (which is difficult in Lumarca because the audience sees only light and no shadows). There are a few potential solutions to this problem of creating a more 3D look in Lumarca graphics if applied for live dance/theatre performance:
I’ve also been beginning to think of how one would build an immersive version of Lumarca where one can actually step inside it and play. Holes and pulleys and climbing rope figure in my designs.
Back to tying strings to nuts!
Update: I should point out that Lumarca is largely based on Albert Hwang’s project, Wiremap. It turns out that what I want to build is actually closer to Wiremap than to Lumarca.
Albert got in touch with me recently, and he’s thinking about visiting Vancouver and SIAT. Sweet. It turns out that 3D technologies for the stage are among his interests.
The (first) Vancouver Theatre + Dance + Technology meetup took place last night at the Birmingham Studio of the Dance Centre. There were sixteen people in the space altogether, and though it would have been even better with slightly more people from the theatre/dance community, it was the perfect size for the focused and interesting discussions we had:
(For people who would rather not join the FB group but would like to be informed of postings, there is a read-only Google mailing list that they can subscribe to which archives the posts on FB. To announce something to the group, please log into FB using firstname.lastname@example.org with a password you can obtain from me.)
One last promotional thing: Sara Coffin is performing with her collective, SINS Dance, as part of the Vancouver International Dance Festival, so check it out!
For my class in Computational Poetics, I’m looking into how somatic-based and phenomenological knowledge of human movement (I studied dance and computing science in my undergrad) can be used to inform the creation of new media-based live performance. As part of this research, I’m investigating the use of Lumarca—an open source, low-cost volumetric display created by Matt Parker and Albert Hwang at ITP—for use in theatre and dance performance. I was totally fascinated with what they had done, and I was thinking how cool it would be use Lumarca as the basis for a complex, custom-made theatrical set piece. Like equipping the strings with flex sensors so that physical interactions with the strings could be detected (for example, the strings could be regarded as vibratory bodies which could then be used for making and visualizing music). Or using different kinds of materials to create a very different look and feel, such as using beautifully-grained, polished wood (something we had discussed in my previous project, Biomodd [LBA2]). Or even eventually creating a theatre-sized version of the Lumarca/Wire Map so that dancers could be moving through and interacting with a sea of strings.
Basically, I’m tired of seeing 2D displays in dance performance, where they are projected on the floor, or on the ground, or rounded surface. I want to see/make something that surrounds the performer more!
What I especially love about Lumarca is how new media artists in resource-restricted contexts (such as in the third world; I normally live and teach at a university in the Philippines) can use it to create interesting work.
Construction on the Lumarca-based volumetric display is going well, though slow. I showed a super early version of it in a previous post, but I’ve come a long way from that. I’ve become recently become obsessed with making it as stable as possible. Not a bad obsession, and I justify it by thinking about how much I can save when I actually get around to positioning the strings. At any rate, this photo shows where I’m at with the construction.
I also have to write a paper around this project. So first I need to identify as many performances as I can that come close to what I want to do. For example, Improvisational Tools and Synchronous Objects come somewhat close, except that the viewer doesn’t actually get to experience these things live, in 3D space. I’ll look through the dance-tech maillist, my Delicious bookmarks, and YouTube for this.