On Collaboration.


someone asked me recently how I work with music.

well, probably a bit differently than most choreographers.  i neither start with music, nor a theme or idea.

i sometimes start with movement, but mostly i like to start with a process.

what interests me most in collaboration is designing interactive systems that change or generate sounds (and sometimes light) according to action. this means looking for musical elements that seem to lend themselves to body-motion control. i listen for discrete elements that feel like they could belong to discrete physical changes -- the simplest being motion following stillness, or stillness following motion. but also gestures, changes in direction -- anything discrete.

the same for the sound. the simplest is on/off (or off/on, which can be different). but it might also be a sound element with modi -- like an "up" and a "down", and "in" and an "out", a "coming" and "going", etc. i.e. any sound with distinct modes or ways of sounding.

not every composer wants to give up that much control, especially to a choreographer, or to a bunch of dancers -- few of whom are musicians! dancers like to call one another musical, but their skill with sensing sound is rarely on the level of a musician.

i used to think rhythm was the enemy of dance. where ever there is rhythm, there can be no live control, no room for spontaneous changes in the sound environment coming out of the body of the performer.  as soon as you have a beat, then you have the expectation that the performers are counting it out -- i.e the usual thing.

but actually, it is not quite that simple.  i can think of at least 3 ways that rhythmical music might still be dancer-influenced (or, more to the point, be made to seem dancer-influenced).  1) rhythmical elements can be _initiated_ by movement, i.e. rhythmical elements might be intermittant, and unpredictable.  2) as long as the timing is complex enough, i.e. unpredictable, then non-rhythmic elements can easily slice through a rhythmic field. 3) the source of the rhythm is motion controlled even while the underlying rhythm is not.

but interactivity works in a funny way. you don't actually need a lot of it for the audience to think (and, more importantly, _feel_) that the entire mis en scène is sensitized.  a few strong interactive elements at the right moments, and the audience will "perceive" much more.  In the end, many or most of the musical and lighting elements coming "out of the movement", are actually just good timing.  But the point is -- this feeling of connectedness, or even synesthesia, is not possible without the motion tracking.


so i typically start by looking for elements that seem to want to be movement-controlled. this can mean starting with a "finished" composition and taking it back apart (reverse engineering it) so that it can be then reassembled live, as it were.  or we have also made pieces from the ground up. starting with a single sound and gesture and going from there.

But the point I really want to make here is about why it is interesting.

As my friend dostoyevsky once said, "Man has such a predilection for systems and abstract deductions that he is ready to distort the truth intentionally, he is ready to deny the evidence of his senses only to justify his logic."

I think motion tracking has a special role in art, yet it is often regarded breezily if at all.






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