Nick Rothwell (
Fri, 26 Dec 1997 21:54:16 +0000

Since I've now waded into a discussion here, having only been signed onto
this list for a few days, I'd better introduce myself and present some kind
of agenda before I get into too much hot water.

I started out a long time ago (well, 1990) as a musician, playing
electronic keyboard stuff as one of a duo. It was OK.

At about the time we were getting our first performance planned and
rehearsed, I wandered into a dance performance produced by Rosemary Butcher
(one of the UK's leading choreographers, at the fiercely uncompromising
edge of the postmodern scene - clean, geometrical movement and contact
improvisation with a strong installation aesthetic). I was immediately
hooked and decided to concentrate on composition for dance.

A couple of years later I was composing and performing for dance, and on a
few occasions I actually directed and produced dance performances. Things
went well in 1992 and then headed downhill. There seemed to be considerable
resistance to a musician who's interested in facilitating dance, not so
much from choreographers (who, if they're intelligent, have no problem with
the concept and welcome the outside perspective) but from funding bodies
and administrators. So I've had no funding from the dozen or so
applications I've put in. Attempts to get funding for composition have also
failed because there are no schemes in place to fund music for dance.

It's also been difficult to get dancers interested in collaborations. The
mood here in Scotland is extremely defensive. Dance practitioners find
themselves a niche to work in, one which is in tune with the career path
planned out by them by those behind the desks, and are not open to new
ideas such as live electronic music for dance (an idea which seems totally
natural to me).

So, I soldier on. Last year I produced a CD of music for dance, entitled
LISTEN/MOVE, and distributed nearly 1000 copies free of charge to The Place
Dance Agency in London, where they went out to professional dancers and
choreographers in the UK, Europe and worldwide. (Some of you might actually
have copies, if you subscribe the Place Dance Services' newsletter.)

I've been doing a huge amount of work developing a new performance paradigm
for electronic music for dance, allowing interaction and improvisation with
dance whilst moving away from the traditional constraints of the keyboard.
I design all the software systems for performance (a score is a software
process) and perform using custom instruments.

Since the Scottish dance scene has been breathtakingly apathetic to my
attempts to facilitate projects here, I'm turning my attention to the
London scene. I'm in touch with Laurie Booth and Mark Baldwin, and am
working on a project involving Rosemary Butcher, for whom I have a
tremendous respect. I'm also getting back into doing music as an
installation form and dumping the whole dance aspect, since attempting to
work with dancers just gives me tremendous headaches and results in nothing
getting done.

As I said in my previous message, I'm suspicious of technology in dance,
although I am in that game to some extent. I've never really been tempted
to get dancers involved in the triggering and performance of music, which
seems to surprise people. I think my take on that is that it's crucial to
come up with good quality material, both in terms of choreography and sound
score, and I find it hard enough to integrate them coherently even when
we're concentrating on our respective disciplines. Perhaps the way to go is
to allow dancers to exercise a musical process subject to tight
constraints, which sort-of fits in with the way I build performance systems
anyway. Then again, getting dancers here interested in doing this is a
considerable challenge in itself.

In everything I do, imagery is crucial. (This is why I have a problem with
the work of Merce Cunningham, and to some extent, Mark Baldwin - I find the
choreography difficult to engage with.) The best dance work is that which
an audience can dream themselves into (to borrow a phrase from Wim
Wenders). A technology which assists that is extremely valuable. A
technology which does not is worthless.

I'm done. That's my narcissistic take on the world. Comments welcome.

Nick Rothwell, CASSIEL contemporary dance projects music synthesis and control

years, passing by, VCO, VCF, and again, and again