Interview with Scott deLahunta, part 2: Catching some dancing algorithms

February 10, 2011

This is the second part of the interview with Scott deLahunta. Read the first part here: Interview with Scott deLahunta, part 1: On working processes and digital realms


Photo above: Scott deLahunta by Thomas Lenden (c)
Photo bellow: Excerpt from Emio Greco’s DVD double skin | double mind

How would you compare these experiences with the things you are doing with Emio Greco and Pieter C. Scholten? I perceive his work more like a neo-baroque style within contemporary dictionary…

SdH: Well, my relationship with Emio and Pieter has always been mediated by Bertha Bermudez, and this is different from my working relationship with Wayne. Bertha was a dancer in most of their early seminal works who made a decision a few years ago to shift from performing to a research position in the company.

My role in the work with Emio and Pieter began as someone advising, editing and working closely with Bertha to help put together the research teams she then mainly facilitated until we moved on to the Inside Movement Knowledge project, which was funded as a follow up to the first few phases of research.

It was also a very different kind of project with Emio and Pieter. They didn’t express their questions in the same way Wayne did. For instance, their interest in researching notation systems was motivated by the desire to find a way to document and transmit their accumulated body of work which at that time was approximately ten dances.

And it’s worth bearing in mind that this body of work was attracting a lot of attention and interest. Emio, Pieter and Bertha sort of took this attention and turned it into a reflection for themselves. Asking questions: What is our body of work? Does it constitute a repertoire? How can it be transferred to others? What would an archive of our work look like? etc.

My first real interaction with Emio and Pieter was to facilitate one of their Dance and Discourse Salons (in Autumn 2004) on this very topic of contemporary dance repertoire. That’s where I first met Bertha. She gave a short presentation of their Notation Research Project at the Salon and soon after this we began working together.

A decision that was made early on in the Notation Research Project was to take their Double Skin/ Double Mind workshop as a point of departure. Double Skin/ Double Mind itself had emerged from a research into their creation process, and it was decided to continue to use it as a sort of introspective engine.

So in that sense it became like the artificial intelligent choreographic agent, which has continually motivated the reflective enquiry of Wayne McGregor. Double Skin/ Double Mind and the various objects like the interactive installation we made, provided a motivating and reflective context for questions about repertoire, transmission, movement analysis, notation, etc.

Back to dance and back to essential things in dance and movement…

SdH: You could say that. There has definitely been a constant focus in the research with Emio, Pieter and Bertha on the essential qualities of movement. With Wayne the aim has been in part on understanding how dancers are making decisions in the creation process.

The research overlap would be in the area of body states and trying to understand the deep schemas dancers tap in bringing energy and intention to a particular movement or gesture. Both projects take the moving, sensing, experiencing, thinking body as home base. But they investigate things differently.

Short film by Erik Lint, Emio Greco and Pieter C. Scholten, created in conjunction with the trilogy Fra Cervello e Movimento, places the dance
piece in a digitally animated graphical context

How does your process look like now? Is it a parallel work with the choreographer’s? Especially in the context of notations…

SdH: That’s a good question. Notation continues to be an important issue for dance. As you know we have this new project based in Frankfurt in the frame of The Forsythe Company called Motion Bank. We are working with different choreographers to create these on-line digital dance scores. The inspiration and pilot project for this is the project we talked about earlier – Synchronous Objects for One Flat Thing, reproduced, which was initiated by William Forsythe as a follow up to his CD-ROM project Improvisation Technologies.

Synchronous Objects uses a similar technique of annotating video to draw the viewer’s attention to something, which is maybe not so explicitly visible in the performance itself. The system of annotation in both these projects aims to reveal something about movement or choreographic organisation. Now is that notation? In a way it is…


Photo: Jonathan Burrows & Matteo Fargion by Chris Nash (c)

You asked about my process though. The starting point for each of these projects originates from concepts or questions the choreographer has. For instance, one of the Motion Bank scores will be created with Jonathan Burrows and Matteo Fargion. At one meeting the topic of counterpoint came up, and Jonathan mentioned he would be interested in working on a small section of David Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature titled ‘Of Relation’ as a possible focus for working on a score. Now I don’t know if counterpoint or Hume will remain in the conceptual frame for this project, but it could be a starting point.

My process I guess is to keep track of these ideas, help turn them into research questions and try to set up the conditions for Jonathan and Matteo to work on these questions in collaboration with the designers and programmers, themselves researchers, working with us on the Motion Bank project.

Again, my work with Wayne is probably closer in the sense that I am in the studio working on designing the tools myself. For Motion Bank I will remain a bit more distant depending on how things unfold.


Prototype process image from Siobhan Davies Digital Dance Archive project
Taken from Beyond Text

To co-ordinate everything…

SdH: Less coordinate, but maybe help to guide things, that’s my responsibility in this context. We do have a big emphasis in Motion Bank on disseminating and sharing the research on score creation. This is a bit different from the earlier projects which one might say didn’t set up their dissemination context at the start. With Motion Bank if you visit the site you can read about the education and research groups we are involving in working on the implications of these projects for different fields.

What kind of equipment and software do you use in your work?

SdH: Anything. I mean, at this point whatever the designers bring to the table. We do have an interesting challenge. To generalize one could say that digital designers and programmers think in terms of digital data and code. Choreographers think through movement and the body, so we need to work on building bridges between the two practices.

For example, the designers won’t be just filming the dance that will be used for the score; they will be collecting data they can analyse for movement patterns (camera based, marker-less motion capture). At the same time, they will set up some manual annotation work to get a range of qualitative data. In the end, I think the scores will emerge from some place between machine crunching pattern seeking and more hand made descriptions and annotations. A key thing will be getting intuition to play its part.

We also have to think practically about the sort of creative interface that will enable everyone to collaborate. I am imagining a lot of small mocking up/ sketching type environments for looking at things together. Perhaps built in something like Processing. But we have to see. We are just at the start of the process – the first choreographer we work with is Deborah Hay and the first recordings are being done this coming February in Frankfurt.

Motion Bank is really a research project in the sense we don’t know what the results will be. What we are clear about is that at the end of the day we will publish on-line three more digital dance scores that aim for newly productive exchanges with a diverse audience. The process of creating these will be iterative, and we have the background experience of other choreographer-initiated research projects to help us plan ahead and manage this. And as I mentioned earlier, there are more groups already involved in thinking about the overall context for these projects.

What do you think how the future is gonna look like since you have experiences with highly sophisticated technology? Taking into account the fact of prototyping and that every process needs some time to develop, and then some time for testing, changing and so… Do you think it’s gonna be more accessible to people who don’t have such big budget… Low tech tools are having also its Renaissance…

SdH: This is a very important point. We obviously have generous support to work on the scores with Deborah, Jonathan and Matteo and Bruno Beltrao, the third choreographer. The reason to work with such different makers who are also unlike Forsythe, is that we will have to test and prototype a wider range of technologies in order to capture and make visible their unique patterns of choreographic thinking and organisation. It is our responsibility to try and document and disseminate the results of this research so others can learn from it. And it is the role of the education and research partners to extend some of this research into their own domains and fields.


Bruno Beltrao: H3, Photo: Scumeck (c)

But you mention low-tech accessible tools and we have plans to work on this aspect. One of these is the continued development of a useable software system for recording and notating dance developed by David Kern, a performer with Forsythe for many years. The other plan is a series of six workshops we will organise over three years. During each workshop we will have a Low Tech component offering an environment where existing accessible tools are explored.


Photo: Deborah Hay by Rino Pizzi (c)

However, I think the fundamental questions we deal with in Motion Bank for example about notation, movement analysis and score creation are not technology dependent or determined. Importantly, we ask these questions in the context of working with collaborators from different disciplines who have different perspectives. And sometimes pencil and paper will do the job of exploring an idea together and expressing solutions as well as any other technology.

On the other hand, past experience has shown me that when these ambitious artist-initiated collaborative research projects make their outcomes public (as databases, digital scores, installations, agents etc) it stimulates further reflection and study, something that strengthens arts practice from inside. So we want to make more of them…

William Forsythe – Scattered Crowd

What about the Synchronous Objects?

SdH: Synchronous Objects took four years to make so we are already going for another way of doing things by shortening the development time-line. Another thing we are looking at seriously is how to use Internet content management systems that are available and have a strong development community like Drupal and looking at delivery systems like Amazon CloudFront. We are trying to think in a sustainable way about the technologies we use in the back-end of these things.

Scott, Thanks a lot!

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