meanings of interactivity

Robert Wechsler (
Sun, 29 Jun 97 16:47:41 +0200

Hello all!!! I guess my turn has come around...

those who know palindrome (me and my friends here in nuremberg), know that
our focus is "interactivity" (which, ok, can mean different things, i attach
a little essay on this).

I want to throw out a question:

When does it need to be clear who/what is causing whom/what to happen?
a always b sometimes c never

We've done it both ways and I will tell you what I feel -- though the truth
is i have mixed feelings (hence the question):

say you have a system allowing movements to determine sound. as a
choreographer there are different ways to approach the challenge. My first
pieces were largely choreographed in advance, and
then simply "laid onto" the interactive environment. While some sounds
were planned to be triggered by certain movements, others were occurred as
the dancer happened to penetrate the zones by chance. This second kind of
interaction // those occurring by chance // brings up the question. Since
the audience cant see the zones in space, they actually have no way of
knowing from whence the sounds originate. So you might ask, what is the
point of setting up such a complicated system in the first place? (i'm
remembering Dawns letter of some weeks ago)

But there is something more. It is an effect I first observed watching
the marvelous collaborations of Cage and Cunningham in the 70's and
80's. In those works the dancers attempt no linkage whatsoever between
movement and music, and yet, in spite of this - perhaps because of this
- there were always moments when movement and sound would unite in
fantastic congruity. It is the excitement of the singular event -- a
moment which you know could not have been planned, and can never be

These "singular moments" in our case are computerized, and I doubt it can
have quite the same effect. Still, as those moments of synchronicity seem to
arise out of nowhere, from no cue or rhythm, they do sort of catch you.
A unique quality of this kind of work.

but i think you have to really be watching. i asked members of the public
afterwards. Some got it some, most i guess, not. (but those "most" maybe
wouldnt have gotten merces thing either ?!)

In our newest works "Minotaur" and "Happenings of Note" our task is to play
a composed musical score entirely through movements in space. Note: with pre-
determined music it is no longer sufficient that the dancers run
arbitrarily through an interactive environment. Now we must choreograph
and rehearse ways to execute a series of notes in an exact pattern -
just as any musician would. This may sound extremely confining to our
movements - and in many ways it is - but keep in mind: we can place our
"virtual instruments" anywhere we wish on the stage and they can assume
any shape we choose.

if you want more details on our work, please see our site (below)

background on "interactivity":

if you've ever taken the time to make some flow-charts about info/impulse
exchange in performance, then you know the word "interactivity" is hardly
Interactions, or exchanges of artistic impulses and information, can occur
between artists (for example, in the case of jazz musicians playing together),
or between an artist and herself (via her media of expression -- such as in
the case of the computer-driven systems we use) or between the audience and
the artwork itself (as in the case of an interactive installation). In each
case the point is that a feedback loop exists: that energy and influence
flow in BOTH directions (INTERactive, ie. back-and-forth).

In a sense, interactivity is nothing new to dance. Many ethnic dance
and music forms are completely dependent on interaction -- not only
between musician and dancer, but between performer and audience as well.
There are African dances and drumming traditions which are so closely
linked that one word is used for both activities!

In classical ballet, no one would deny that the music can affect the way
the ballerina dances, and perhaps the action of the dancers on the stage
can also affect the way the musicians in the orchestra play.
Nevertheless, it is clear that the role of interaction is diminished.
Indeed, by far most ballets and modern dance pieces today are performed
to recorded music. The proliferation of recording technology and
electronic distribution have all but annihilated interactivity in
popular culture. To me this trend underscores the importance of finding new
ways to invigorate the art form. New applications of digital technology may
be signaling its rebirth.


Robert Wechsler and Helena Zwiauer Phone: (49) 911-397472
Palindrome Dance Company Fax: (49) 911-397472
Johannisstr. 42 / 90419 Nčrnberg


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