.motion .bodies .communities .technologies

Precision

Academia, Dance, The body, Thesis journal

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Different dance styles have different notions of what “precision” means. Here’s how I’ve seen it used (in different ways) in contemporary dance.

This piece by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker (b. 1960) is set to music by Steve Reich (b. 1936), who is one of the pioneers of minimalism in music. He uses a lot of repetitive patterns and rhythms. (A lot of modern electronic music owes a great deal to him!) In the first piece (Fase, created in 1982), two pianos playing identical repetitive patterns slowly go in and out of phase. And so do the two dancers. It’s kind of stunning.

The second video is from the 1983 piece Rosas danst Rosas, a piece that’s now been made famous because of Beyonce using (without the De Keersmaeker’s permission) the original choreography.


In this contemporary ballet piece by Jiri Kylian (b. 1947), precision is important to highlight little gestures, like how the lower leg straightens partway and then suddenly completely, creating a fluttering effect at around 0:17. They do a similar (but not identical) movement with a sideways pelvic thrust at around 2:17, which they accentuate by extending their hands at the wrists. (I love the music Jiri Kylian chose for this piece. Love Baroque music for the same reason I like some kinds of electronic music…. when pure structure and formal rules are balanced with expression and emotion.)
Merce Cunningham (1919-2009) used algorithms in his choreography. He sometimes used chance operations to put together sequences of movements. Because the movements were not always in a “logical” fashion, they were often very difficult to perform… but that’s also what made them very interesting. He also used chance operations to put together entire pieces; in 2003, he collaborated with two bands (Radiohead and Sigur Ros) on a piece called “Split Sides” and, as the New Yorker describes,

“made two separate dance sections and ordered up two lighting designs, two backdrops, and two sets of costumes. Nor was any element paired with any other. Everything would be sorted, by chance, before each performance. Mathematically speaking, there were thirty-two possible combinations.”

I studied Cunningham’s technique as a dance undergraduate student, and it was a totally amazing experience. My entire body had to be paying attention to patterns, directions in space, where the walls of the the room, all the while keeping count. You had to be precise in time, precise in space, precise with the body (especially with the spine). It was an unnatural experience at first (“biomechanical rebellion“, as a group of science researchers called it), but as Merce pointed out, if you do something long enough, it becomes natural.

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Kraftwerk Retrospective

New Media, Performance, Technology, The body, Thesis journal, Visualization

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I can’t stop watching.

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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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Constraining through fabric

Academia, Art, Dance, Movement, New Media, Performance, The body, Thesis journal

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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.

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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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Where are investigations and narratives around the actual dancing “electronic dance music culture”?

Academia, Dance, Movement, The body, Thesis journal

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I’m currently scouring academic references about the dancing that happens as part of electronic dance music, and I’m pretty shocked at how little has been written up about it. There’s tons that have been written up about the music, but so far nada on the actual dance. This is incredible. I am hoping to run into more soon, but for the moment, primary and “non-academic” secondary sources online sources (Wikipedia, Youtube, community discussion forums, blogs, etc.) are really all that there is available.

There’s been tons written up about hip hop, of course, about four decades’ worth of literature, and a lot of it concentrates on issues of race, culture, gender, otherness.

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Thank you, marketers and advertising creatives, for helping spur discussions around racism

Advocacy, Communities, Pinoy, The body

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In some ways, I’m glad that marketers occasionally adopt a “do whatever it takes to sell the product that we’ve been hired to sell” approach. Because when they get it wrong, they bring to the surface various unspoken resentments and tensions in the cultural landscape. Take the following skin whitening ads by Philippine cosmetics company Belo:

When the inevitable backlash erupted, I thought to myself, “Finally! Filipinos can start having a public discussion about the largely unspoken understanding that the color/lightness of your skin determines how you will be perceived and valued in (Philippine) society.” (The recent controversy over Bayo’s ad campaign helped.)

The timing couldn’t have been better for one organization I support, the United Philippine Amerasians, who are actively engaging the public about the issues that their community faces:

To date, there are more than 50,000 known Fil-Amerasians in the Philippines, mostly only from the northern Philippine island of Luzon. There could be tens of thousands more in the entire archipelago. Virtually all of these Fil-Amerasians people from toddlers to seniors live in abject poverty because of social discrimination and the non-recognition and non-support of their military fathers. The Fil-Amerasian phenomenon is the result of the presence of the military bases in the past decades and the continued presence of US troops in the country by way of the Visiting Forces Agreement. Aside from the neglect, the presence of US troops also exacerbates prostitution with the host provinces virtually becoming the soldiers’ “sex playground.” The Filipino-Amerasian phenomenon has deep social, political, and cultural repercussions among this segment of the Filipino society that now requires proactive intervention in terms of change in public opinion and state policy. Tens of thousands of Amerasians are unable to participate freely in everyday life because of racist sentiments. Applying for work, going to school, making friends, are arduous engagements for them.

I don’t care much for the tepid, apolitical apology that Belo has issued. “If we feel that it’s a sensitive topic right now, we’re going to park [the ad campaign] a bit and see where it goes,” a Belo representative was quoted as saying.As apologies go, this one is a big fail. It’s like telling your friend, “I’m sorry I said you were unattractive. If you’re sensitive about it now, I’ll take a break and see how you do with that. I’ll probably get back to insulting you once you stop complaining.”

At any rate, thank you, marketers and advertising creatives, for helping spur discussions around racism. And thank you, Belo. No, really. Thank you.

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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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Computation and embodied experience: Talk at Fete dela Wsk!

Art, Dance, New Media, Talks, Technology, The body

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I’m giving a talk at the new media art festival Fete dela Wsk! on my research on liquid dance and the research of the Art + Performance Research Group. I’m scheduled to talk at the Ayala Museum between 4pm and 7pm with Thierry Bernard Gotteland [FR], An Xiao Mina [US], Bong Ramilo [PH/AU], and Kai Lam [SG]. Tickets are 350 PHP.


Computation and embodied experience

In this talk, I discuss some of the research currently being done in the Art, Performance, and Technology Laboratory at Simon Fraser University’s School of Interactive Arts and Technology. We deploy digital tools to investigate some of the hidden cognitive processes that performers and audiences rely on; we develop artificially intelligent systems that explores questions around cognition, consciousness, and creativity; we investigate how the embodied experiences can be used to design and evaluate digital technologies. Finally, I talk about my particular research, which focuses on liquid dance, a genre of dance that emerged from the North American underground electronic dance music scene in the 90s. Liquid dancers have been cultivating a particular approach to human movement that is sophisticated, expressive, conceptually and corporeally well-defined, and deeply theorized by many of its members. (Translation: they are incredible dancers and you should come to this talk just to see the videos I’m going to show.)

And if you’re wondering what wasak/wsk is, join the club. I see it as a contemporary, Filipino relative of Dada. Lourd de Veyra would probably disagree.

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Why I’m participating in Occupy Vancouver

Advocacy, Communities, The body, Vancouver

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Occupy Vancouver (like many of the Occupy movements worldwide) is inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement. As the National Post observes,

Participants are united by a common grievance: that a small group of corporations hold massive amounts of wealth and decision-making power, while the majority of the population suffers from enormous debt, unemployment and unaffordable health care and housing. The movement still lacks concrete demands, but protesters seem to pride themselves more in the process than the outcome. General assemblies, where decisions about the occupation are made through consensus, are held twice a day.

The movement “challenge[s] corporate greed, corruption, and the collusion between corporate power and government… and oppose[s] systemic inequality, militarization, environmental destruction, and the erosion of civil liberties and human rights.”

Over the past few days I’ve been asking my (middle-class, university educated) friends and colleagues whether they were going to participate in Occupy Vancouver. I was surprised that many of those that I assumed would go weren’t planning to, and some of the reasons that I got were interesting: “It makes sense to occupy Wall Street, but Canada is different from the USA, and we have a stable economy… Vancouver is a great place to live, what’s wrong with it?… It seems that movement is led mostly by white men… We’re already on illegally occupied Coast Salish land… I’m not really the protesting type even though I think the movement is important…” Some of the objections were general and based on not having been part of the first general assembly.

I have are four main reasons for participating in Occupy Vancouver.

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