#datadance is a collaboration between Marguerite Galizia and Kate Sicchio, supported by South East Dance. @margueritecg @sicchio @SouthEastDance

Today was our fourth day at South East Dance’s studios and our first opportunity to share our work so far with the SED team and other members of the dance community in Hextable. Kate has managed to get some kind of link from the web-browser to the programming software, but we have not been able to specify the information (data) that we need. Kate has put out more calls for help on forums and through her contacts. We’ve had a number of suggestions from the programming community, including trying out a Java Script Actor in Isadora, for which we had high hopes. However, so far, none of the options have delivered what we’re looking for. For anyone out there with any technical knowledge or experience of this set up, Kate has written a detailed post HERE where she outlines her technical journey. Any comments and suggestions would be much appreciated! 

Having resigned ourselves to the fact that linking real time data to our software may not be possible this week, we spent most of the last two days focusing on the movement score.  Using Isadora, we simulated the sort of intervention we hope to be able to facilitate once our technical knowledge catches up with our artistic ambitions.* I’ll give a brief description of what this involved, although it may simply be easier to watch a video of it:

Kate and I sit on chairs in the centre of the space facing the audience. Isadora is running on a computer which is plugged into the sound system. The patches we’ve set up involve an impulse generator sending a trigger at a fixed rate to a random number generator. The random number is fed into a scaler that limits the maximum and minimum output value according to the group of sound files that we select to use for that particular scene. The output value is sent to the sound player actor which plays the corresponding sound file. We have a total of around 40 sound files, each involving one instruction. There are different categories of instructions: movement (slide, push, roll); directions (stop, start again, end); and non-movement (talk, speak). Every instruction is recorded in both of our voices. The rule is that when we hear our own voice giving an instruction, then we have to follow it. To give the score some variation and shape, we’ve limited the sound files used in different scenes so that, for example, Kate might receive a lot of movement instructions whilst I receive non-movement instructions or vice versa. To control the length of time we spend in any one scene we’ve used ‘envelope generator’ actors that basically keep time up to 2 and a half or 5 minutes for each scene, triggering a scene change when they reach the end of that time frame. We’re both committed to perform the score to the best of our ability, so that we follow the instructions as faithfully and as clearly as we possibly can. At times the score frustrates us, stopping us from getting into a flow, interrupting our explanations etc. Other times the score feels as though it’s taken hold of our bodies, like we’ve surrendered all reason or sense of control in our commitment to just do. We aim to keep our ‘output’ real and in real time, to react in the moment, speak honestly about what we are thinking, engage in the task here and now. When we attempt to repeat ideas that surfaced in previous performances of the score, the delivery seems contrived and less authentic.

Our sharing revealed a number of areas that we needed to attend to. The first was the fact that Isadora appears to be ‘catching’ so that the timing is more interrupted than we intend. It also means that a scene that is only meant to take 2 minutes can sometimes take a lot longer, due to the constant glitches. (We’ve tried using a sound pre-load actor to speed up the processing time, but this didn’t seem to make much of a difference, so we’ll need to think about how to get around this issue to move the work forwards.) A second issue was to do with how we interpreted the instructions, whether we should aim for consistency or if it might be interesting to use each performance of the score to develop alternative interpretations of the instructions, giving the performance a more authentic and playful feel and keeping the movement fresh. The question of movement vocabulary opened up further conversations around how we could source other movement ideas by work-shopping the score with different groups of people building a database of movements that we could draw on in performance. Other points raised included: our relationship (do we make contact or relate to each other during the performance); rate of change (how we can embed some difference in the rate of change within the score itself); switching off the sound so that the audience does not hear the instructions; what format the final work would take (performance, installation, durational) and the different layers that each of those formats might bring to the work.

I’ve tried to summarise the feedback we received for this post, but several of these points resonated strongly with our thoughts. We were grateful for the interest in the work even considering the fact that what we had created was just a simulation, rather than the actual real-time data dance that we’d imagined. We feel that whilst that final link in the chain may be missing, and whilst making that link may well change the score completely, what we have created is a score that triggers a real time process. It requires physical and mental effort and it is this effort aspect that gives it authenticity and ‘real-ness’. At points we felt like puppets being controlled by an external brain, giving up all faculties of thought other than those required to fulfil the task at hand.

On my train journey home I came across a call out for performance works on one of the many email lists to which I subscribe. This particular brief was for work on the themes of ‘women and nature’.  What we need, I thought, was to find a way to channel data from a.) the tracking of a natural phenomenon and b.) the number of hits on a porn site, creating a commentary on the control of women by the combined forces of natural cycles and sexual politics…

* Our research suggests that most sources of ‘real time’ data on the internet are actually just ‘recent’ (ie: snapshots of the data taken on an hourly basis) or (as in the case of the NASA satellite data) just calculations running continuously on websites that describe an activity (like the movement and position of satellites) but aren’t actually being relayed from that activity in real time.