.motion .bodies .communities .technologies

William Forsythe: Making visible hidden intentions

Academia, Dance, New Media, Somatics, Technology, The body, Thesis journal, Visualization

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The choreographer William Forsythe was very much influenced by Rudolf Laban in the way he treated the space around the dancer’s body. Working with a ballet company, he created a series of videos that used visuals to show some of the techniques he used to move in new ways. In these videos, he superimposes lines and shapes using  post-production editing to show how ballet dancers could think about the  space around them in a way that could help them break out of their  habitual patterns of moving. Those videos are part of a multimedia CD that was released in 2000, called Improvisation Technologies. I think that his ideas share many commonalities with the techniques that I’ve seen employed in EDM dance styles.

Someone posted many of his videos online. Here are a few of them:


Shearing space

Using lines to create organic movement

Axes and transforming/scaling axes

Following a curve to its logical conclusion

Rotating inscription with lines

Point-point extrusion

Transporting lines

Soft body part trajectories

And this is what some of his techniques, when ballet dancers apply them while freestyling, can look like:


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Our bodies our changing because of the things we’ve created

Academia, Dance, Movement, Performance, Somatics, Technology, The body, Thesis journal

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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.

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Study of 222,497 Australians suggest that sitting is deadly

Somatics, The body

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Yup. Here’s the article that appeared in the Atlantic. A key passage from the original journal article:

The adverse effects of prolonged sitting are thought to be mainly owing to reduced metabolic and vascular health. Prolonged sitting has been shown to disrupt metabolic function, resulting in increased plasma triglyceride levels, decreased levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and decreased insulin sensitivity, which appear to be at least partially mediated by changes in lipoprotein lipase activity. It has also been suggested that sedentary behavior affects carbohydrate metabolism through changes in muscle glucose transporter protein content. Results from molecular biology and medical chemistry studies have suggested that physical activity and sedentary behavior have different influences on the body, supporting their independent effects on health. Our findings suggested not only an association between sitting and all-cause mortality that was independent of physical activity but, because the findings persisted after adjustment and stratification for BMI, one that also appears to be independent of BMI.

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A tool for 3d, real-time visuals for live and interactive performance

Blog, Dance, Learning, Movement, New Media, Performance, Somatics, Technology, The body, Underground

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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.

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On Free Flow

Blog, Movement, Somatics

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Today I discovered something very interesting. We have been studying Laban Effort in the movement analysis class that I’ve been auditing (I already took the class as an undergrad several years back), and one of the components of Effort-based analysis is Flow. Flow is related to the feeling of continuity (or lack thereof). Bound flow is halting, tense, tentative, stopping; there is a feeling of thickness in the sensation, in my experience. Free flow is continuous, ever-moving, like stream. Flow is related to muscular tension. It is easy to confuse Flow with Weight, which is about how you activate your strength, the way you assert yourself in the world. (Of course, a lot of these terms seem to be dependent on the available English words that could be used to sort and group experiences. But ignore this for now.)

Today after class, I couldn’t leave the classroom. I know some of the reasons why, but still, there was something that compelled me to stay in the studio. So I played around on the floor, did some choreography (for the first time in ages), played the piano a lot. What I was doing would be what I usually do when I procrastinate, so I felt like maybe I was procrastinating. This meant that I was sure to feel guilty when I finally decided to stop fucking about and leave. Suddenly, as I was thinking about trying to attempt to leave, I was seized with a thought: What if when I decide to leave, I do it in one fluid gesture? From the moment I stop playing the piano (I experienced the impulse/thought right in the middle of improvising on the piano), I would pack up everything in one fluid motion, not hesitating, not allowing myself to come to a petrifying kind of stillness, but not necessarily in a frantic kind of way.

And suddenly, it was happening. I closed the piano lid, made my way to my bag, turned off my laptop and tucked into its padded case, smushed my yoga ball and my notebook, put my clothes on, put my cap on, put my shoes on, turned of the lights, allowed the door to shut behind me, actively shut the second outside door behind me, took a drink of water, said goodbye to a former prof and a woman he  was talking with, walked down the hallway, opened the door leading to the stairwell, climbed down the five flight of stairs, exited the building, headed towards Cordova Street, passed by the Cambie and ignored a panhandler, was met with green pedestrian crossing lights at nearly every corner, ignored two more panhandlers along the way, realized the consequence of following my free flow might be a complete insensitivity to the concerns of other human beings, made it to the Skytrain station, found the train waiting at the platform, got in, walked to the nearly the very end, sat down, realized that I didn’t really want to sit down there, made my way to the very very end, sat down, opened my bag, took out my lapop, revived it from power-saving mode, opened my HTML editor, opened a new file, named it “freeflow”, and started typing, beginning with the following:

Today I discovered something very interesting. We have been studying Laban Efforts in the movement analysis class that I’ve been auditing…
Image credits: Attribution Some rights reserved by frumbert

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The human body is a holonomic, redundant system?

Academia, Blog, Movement, New Media, Somatics, The body

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Robert Full’s 2002 TED talk on modeling complex motion behavior by building in the “intelligence” into the structure of a robot had a slide with the equations representing the mathematics that supported the robot’s behavior. which was titled, “Piecewise holonomic energy conserving system,” which led me to look up holonomicity on Wikipedia. Holononocity, it turns out, “refers to the relationship between the controllable and total degrees of freedom of a given robot.” Furthermore,

[a] human arm [...] is a holonomic, redundant system because it has seven degrees of freedom (three in the shoulder – rotations about each axis, two in the elbow – bending and rotation about the lower arm axis, and two in the wrist, bending up and down (i.e. pitch), and left and right (i.e. yaw)) and there are only six physical degrees of freedom in the task of placing the hand (x, y, z, roll, pitch and yaw), while fixing the seven degrees of freedom fixes the hand.

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