.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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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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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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Designing Dance: Engineering and Provoking Audience Experience

Blog, Dance, Movement, Performance, The body, Vancouver

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In this post, I would like touch on two different themes related to experiencing dance, both in its making and its viewing:

  • anticipating (or not) audiences’ states of receptiveness, and crafting (or not) a choreographic response based on prior knowledge of such states; and
  • deciding to what end that choreographic response should be crafted–for instance, whether we want to fulfill “what audiences think they want” versus “what audiences actually need”.

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.

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Dancing on the Edge 2011

Blog, Dance, Vancouver

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I haven’t gotten to see anything from Dancing on the Edge (Vancouver’s festival of contemporary dance) in a long time. This year will be different. (I’m definitely seeing the shows with the + icon, which allows you to view it as a calendar event.)

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Stuff to see in Vancouver

Advocacy, Art, Blog, Communities, Dance, Food, Movement, New Media, Performance, Technology, Vancouver

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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.

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Wiremap/Lumarca construction update 3

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

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(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!

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