Interview with Marlon Barrios Solano: Dancers moved by Technology, part l

by deborah on 06/15/2009

In the history of dance only few dancers and choreographers were considered as sort of tech related investigators…

With the expansion of new media art, the wider use of Internet, user friendly applications, multi-functionality of modern age, and the whole DIY scene that has grown up so fast; dancers and choreographers realized that technology could be a new challenging platform for them.

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Therefore, they decided to invite programmers in the process of creation, and then theoreticians also came into the field, followed by curators, too. Now, we can seriously talk about an emerging community of new media oriented performers.

Free online tools enabled the possibility, literary, for every user to become the master of its own channel. You don’t need expensive equipment to become, for example, a podcaster…

Something along this line recognized Marlon Barrios Solano, the founder of very, very vibrant social network, Dance-Tech. Marlon is former dancer and an inter-media artist, instructor of interactive technology for performance and an interaction designer.

Dance-Tech was created on the social networking service Ning, in my opinion, still one of the best tools offered on the web market. The potential of this service was recognized by the wider public and professionals, who created several art communities which became relevant places for specialized and targeted users.

Officially the network presents itself as ‘an international community of artists, scientists and theorists working in the confluence of embodied performance and new media.’

forsythe1.jpgWilliam Forsythe: Synchronous Objects (c)

Marlon Barrios Solano’s biography is fulfilled with collaborative artists, such as: Susan Marshal, Lynn Shapiro, Bill Young, Merian Soto, Dean Moos, Philip Glass, Eric Friedlander, John Zorn…

At the moment he works as an instructor of interactive technology for performance, consultant on cognitive and new media architectures. Marlon holds MA in Dance and Technology (Ohio University), and regularly gives lectures and workshops internationally.

He was also the main suspect for an amazing thing that happened recently in dance spheres, and that was promotion of William Forsythe’s data visualization project Synchronous Objects (I will blog about it soon, promise!). Marlon is now at residency programme in Gilles Jobin’s dance nest in Switzerland.

The network is a great example what you can do with personal engagement, vibrant ideas and you can see how important is to understand the rules of social networking on the web these days. Since very recent I’ve became an associate blogger for this amazing community of artists and researchers…

chunky_move.jpgPhoto: Chunky Move (c)

Therefore, he’s here today for a talk on dance… technology… new media art… scientific behavioral approaches to body and movements…

Hi Marlon! What do you think how dance scene started to change in the context of technology. What are your thoughts on what was driving these changes?

MBS: Well, I will tell you what my approach is. Someone asked me a week ago: Marlon, do you think you should change the name of Dance-tech as such, you know, dance and technology world is disappearing as such, right? I’m aware of a lot of changes that are happening in the field and in itself.

I have a very grow understanding of the relationship of the embody practices with social technological environment meaning from science to technology. In that way, a part of the agenda of the project is trying to see, put forward or to figure these sometimes very obvious connections between dance approaches and practices with technologies of the time.

And not only the technologies of the time; but also philosophical, epistemological and scientific world use that exist parallel in the spectrum in certain time.

Where would you place new media in this relation with bodily aspects?

MBS: With all this I said, I’ve tried to set and connect training practices, especially, how we understand the process, creative process. How we understand time and relationship with proposition and design. It has been always related with technological proportions…

In that way, I think that dance and technology have always been related to digital technology. I believe that in most of the embody practices that we call dance, there is a substrata, there is normally this relation to technology of the time. I think it’s very important to be aware that dance and new media are, most recent, in interrelation that are trying to understand the relationship of bodies with technologies of the time. In this case we are using new media. But, perhaps the principles are the same; you know what I mean, because our body has been evolved with the practices. So, I think that it’s important to see what is a cognitive connection that we have – us, human creatures. And how it has allowed us to be, kind of, related with the tool making and technique making.

So, Techne is for me the most important. Techne is a skill, you know, it translates the skills instead the tool. That is something really interesting for me. You know, I came from the tradition and I place myself in the tradition also: dance, influenced by productive movement, deconstruction on what movement is, what dance is.

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I the context of dance history, how it started and who was first? I don’t think in a sense of pure understanding of data, the way we perceive information today?

MBS: I can say that there is a very direct connection with the notions of information and understanding of rule system, practically is more procedural than the process that determines the steps and so. There is at the moment present very interesting relationship that I would say, contrary to what most people think, that dancers and mostly dancers in the last forty years are being very related with technological discourses. You know, first it came from Merce Cunningham, and then continued with Trisha Brown… ‘Creating accumulations’ – it’s practically a piece that is an algorithm. There is a relationship, because we use bodies that we have with technology.

How these changes have affected our experience of dance on one side, and technology on the other side?

MBS: I don’t thing there is something as pure dance, it doesn’t exist. Dance is a cognitive phenomenon that evolved within an environment that is designed for it to happen, doesn’t matter where: a church, dance studio or a parade. You know, spontaneous dancing, whatever… it’s always situated, it’s always contextualized. I think that the most important aspect is that we have understood that we live in the world of conflicts. And these conflicts can be sometimes with pretty direct feedbacks. And these feedbacks, you know, like you know that you live in a loop of constant conflict of feedback of images, feedback of sound.

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It’s a sort of body mapping… movements mapping…

MBS: Yes! For example, when you play a drum? You would have this person making music. When you take a drum out, you can see the movements, you can see that there is a dance, right? With a drum you really see this very direct impact of the body with the surface and this creates the sound. So, there is a very direct consequence of physical action. With digital technology we have been able to create different ways of mapping physical actions and that mapping is sometimes not liberated. But then, this mapping has liberated these direct ‘one to one’ consequences of certain kind of physical action. Meaning, if you have a computer that can simulate certain outputs like colour, bodies, or, let’s say, certain kind of practice, or even a sound of certain intensities.

The opposite to the physical action and the intensity of the response is not ‘one to one’. It might be another possibility, if you leave a strength or a heat, it can have a very direct consequence, but that’s another issue of physical logic. The intensity of non movement not necessarily have to be hard in the intensity of the colour, you know, that relates to the data. That possibility of separating how we perceive action and reaction, or a consequence of an action, the relationship of a natural with another output is what has made technology really interesting. So, than you can have a lot of possibilities of plasticity of different kinds of mapping and visualizations, renderings combined with sound.

robotdancing.jpgPhoto: AP Photo Japan (c) taken from NG

How would you relate this to the development that is happening in robotics, Artificial Intelligence…

MBS: I think that one of the most interesting thing that is happening now is in robotics. There is a certain kind of lineage of robotics science, and mostly certain lineage of the Artificial Intelligence that is not so ‘social architecture oriented’, but is investigating intelligence of the biological systems. So, it creates totally different parallels of understanding the intelligence. I think that ‘digital’ is in a recursive loop to influence dance practices.

I would say for so many instances, what we call new media or technology, that if we have to think about it – the actual manifestation of behavioural media, which is dance in a way, is there in robotics too. Or, I would say, like I called ‘Dance-Tech – interdisciplinary explorations on the performance in motion’, it would be really interesting to understand the phenomena of motion.

In dance we can think, you know, that there is a motion; then a motion picture – there is motion in the media, there is motion in robotic device… At the same time we have to understand a lot ourselves, to understand how we perceive motion. We have agencies for a certain kinds of motion. I think that digital technology is allowing a lot of really interesting simulations, really interesting feedbacks.

Dance scene is now using gadgets for playing in order to express themselves…

MBS: The one that made practically big WOW in the nineties was the gestural console media. Let’s say, someone or a performer were able to perform a certain kind of movement and immediately were able to map certain consequences or certain repercussions, or reactions of the media. So, that is right now practically given, we have kids playing, there are a lot of video games with video tracking, etc. Yeah, I think that is very interesting what artists are doing itself or as result of interesting collaborations. But at the same time these extremely forces are emerging jobs because technologies are available to practically everybody.

…and it’s free!

MB: Yeah, that is also very important factor, affordability of technology right now. They are creating autonomies of landscape. Affordability and accessibility of modern tools and then open source.

Something that you were able to do with maps in eight years ago now you have  more approachable tools and software that can literally get to the community and accessing it, or make a processing simpler. Also development of Macintosh computers, I mean at the beginning they were expensive, they still are. But it created a completely new landscape for experimentators that were reserved only for certain formal institutions.

That’s how dance technologies started, from the field of universities. Because universities were getting these big grants and they were the only one able to have these labs. ‘Motion capture’ is something that is still developing within this complex. You know, motion capture still belong to the ground of formalized researchers and organizations that have resources. Video tracking and the use of movement tracking or multi-tracking recognition are much more available and affordable technologies.

imctproject.jpgIMCT Projects, The Dance Technology Project (1999)

But the comprehension of new media art also helped a bit to this situation…

MBS: So, there are all these factors, you know, I think that media art is now much more understood, it’s a well understanding form, I think. Now is practically a common place to have a video in many performances, so no one is thinking that it’s such odd thing to have a virtual character or so. You know, even interactivity as such has lost interest for some people. But, there are people who are doing interesting researches in the field.

So, it’s a different landscape now, and there is a lot of choreographers not being specific on the dance floor which are doing technological experiments and they are calling themselves in terms of ‘dance and technology’. They are just inspired by these kind of technologies and tools. And that is very interesting thing, because it’s mostly self-reflective. For years technologies were divided, and now they are existing and co-relating parallel. Now, we can say easily: Yeah, we can do that!

Read the second part: Interview with Marlon Barrios Solano: On Dance-Tech and dance embodiment, part ll

  • http://www.creationeditor.co.uk/ Sabine Klaus Creation Editor

    Fantastic blog and interview…it gives great insights and makes
    the idea of dance and technology more accessible. Thank you!

  • http://www.creationeditor.co.uk Sabine Klaus Creation Editor

    Fantastic blog and interview…it gives great insights and makes the idea of dance and technology more accessible.

    Thank you!

  • http://www.lomodeedee.com/ lomodeedee

    hey sabine, tnx a lot for your feedback… yeah, marlon pointed out
    all aspects… i’m glad that his interview can actually educate
    people… stay cool…

  • http://www.lomodeedee.com/ lomodeedee

    hey sabine, tnx a lot for your feedback… yeah, marlon pointed out all aspects… i’m glad that his interview can actually educate people… stay cool…