Re: Raisons d'texture...

Darren Kelly (
Sat, 1 Nov 1997 01:03:34 +0100 (MET)

Dear "Raisons d'texture" thread followers,

I haven't bothered to rerererequote elements of this fascinating
discussion; thread followers don't need it, and others can now peek
at the fab Dance & Tech archive !

Hope I don't get burnt for claiming "it's all very simple". It's
an old-hat theme that certainly isn't specific to dancing.

"Is technology in dance/music/(insert your favourite performance noun)

No technology is necessary, it's just interesting, as are other
performance possibilites, and some people use it, and then not necessarily
always. If you want to use it, do it (verb). If purists (noun) then like
to call it something less than dance (noun), let them.

All those debates about unplugged vs. plugged music, mics or no mics in
operas ("horror of horrors, the lyrics were projected onto a screen, and
IN ENGLISH"), live music vs. programmed (playback) music, etc. come again
and again and are correspondingly boring. One chooses to perform, chooses
some techniques, the audience watches/hears and that's all there is to it.
Journalists and critics and pedagogues then rabbit on about their nouns.

Let them.

On audience perception of the technology:

I don't think it matters one bit whether the audience figures out how
things are being realised; on the contrary, the novelty value of gestural
triggering is a pretty weak reason to use the technology. For my taste
the only reason is to achieve a desired effect, such as synchronisation of
movement with sound and light. Gestural triggering is certainly better
than asking some poor light engineer to hit a dozen buttons every time a
dancer's foot strikes the floor.

I've devised a personal measure for the success of my gestural triggering
methods. My emphasis is still music generation, so my measure is that
people enjoy the music without seeing me perform it, i.e. when they hear a
recording. I recently had a phase where I was recording all sorts of
things left right and centre with conventional instruments and with my
gestural MIDI triggering system Drancing. When I went back to review
everything I'd taped (having been too undisciplined to write down what I
was doing) I played an unmarked tape expecting to hear music played by me
on digital piano, and heard some gesturally triggered music using digital
piano samples. It took me a while to realise what I was hearing ! I asked
myself how I'd played it. When I realised how I'd done it was the
loveliest moment so far in my Drancing-A project, even if I found the
music a little untidy compared with my piano playing. I tried the same
trick out on an unsuspecting friend, who recognised it as my music because
of the chords and because it used piano sounds, but was curious about the
playing style. Another nice moment, even if he accused me of having a
bad day with the fingers.

In contrast, when I demonstrated Drancing to some friends one day, getting
one of them to try out the suit, they all had a ball but I was really
disappointed. She was prancing around in the suit, my friends were in
hysterics laughing, but I felt really low for a week afterwards. She
seemed to have an awfully hard time figuring out how to PLAY it. I
realised it is going to be very difficult to work with dancers without
introducing some maths and physics lessons (or because of them), and
realised my control software is very difficult for other people to
understand. Eventually I asked one of them "didn't you notice how awful
the music was she played ?". He hadn't. He hadn't noticed the music at
all ! He was simply "off" on the novelty of it.

Dance "pure" is perhaps more "transparent" to the audience than
say an FX film or a rock "spectacle". When tech is used the dance
performance becomes less transparent. This is not something the
average FX director or stage musician worries about. Does the
audience need to now how a lighting engineer at a rock concert
runs the lights, or for that matter what a light bulb is ? Does
it really matter to the audience (as opposed to the journalists)
whether the music is generated by fingers striking a piano key,
fingers striking a piano-like MIDI controller keyboard driving
sampled piano sounds, or for that matter by a sequencer ? Yes, but
only to the extent that the sound might be different. There are
indeed good reasons to prefer playing music live, but making the
performance mechanism more transparent is not one of them.

The techniques employed will be of interest - and indeed part of
the entertainment - for some members of the audience, in the same
way certain audience members enjoy seeing a pianist's hands fly across
the keys during a concerto, or others move to the front of a stage
to get a better view of a guitarist's virtuosity. Most members, however,
don't care. We'll know that gestural triggering has become an accepted
technique when both journalists and audience stop concentrating on it.



Darren Kelly | | |
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