Re: algorithms and bodies

Richard Povall (
Sat, 18 Apr 1998 12:30:35 -0600

Johannes wrote:
>How does the discussion on algorithms relate to the "live act of speaking"
>and how is speaking motion driven? or are you looking (hearing)
>speech/sound as movement, or is the performer moving/speaking in a certain
>way? How? And if he action is in the "moment" (necessarily as series), then
>how can the performamnce or the interactive environment n o t be a
>process? Or are you now thinking of machine (programmed) process, while you
>differentiate live articulation (is it rehearsed, "set" or is it
>spontaneous and improvised? random? unpredictable?)

Jools Gilson-Ellis and I have worked for some time making a series of
interactive environments, many (if not all) of which use the live act of
speaking, or breathing, or singing - an articulation from the mouth - as a
central part, often the driving force, behind the environment. In some of
these environments, I capture the live utterance, which is then processed
in realtime through the motion of the performing body. We have also worked
a great deal in the past two weeks at a residency at Banff on
re-articulating recorded speech through the motion of the body. Most
importantly, I think, the body controlling the environment is the same one
that produced all the sounds we hear in the environment. We experimented
yesterday with two men improvising in an environment made up of female
breath sounds. This was extraordinary, and quite different from the same
environment when it is played by the person for whom it was built - the
woman who made the breath sounds, and who also adds live breath
articulations in the performance. So yes, you can argue that the machine
process, the algorithms if you will, are central to the piece, and cannot
be separated from the performative act. But I continue to pedantically
insist that the work itself is rooted in the body and in the moment - the
environment relying entirely on the quality of movement from the performer
(not merely triggering proscribed responses through invisible, virtual
triggers). The quality of the movement itself feeds off the environment,
indeed relies on the environment.

>In so many tech-dance pieces I have seen the dance itself
>looks progammed or dependent on the interface (when video projection is
>used), i.e. dependent on the prearrangement.

I think you're right, but I think we are a point where the technology has
matured so much that this no longer needs to be the case. If the
environment can be built in such a way that it is entirely dependant on the
quality or speed or direction or whatever of the movement, rather than the
system relying on the dancer "hitting" virtual triggers, we seem able to
move away from a sense of pre-programming. Certainly there is
prearrangement, and to some degree the choreography must be set - but by
the same token there will always, must always, be some degree of
improvisation, and a sense of unpredictability in the outcome that relies
totally on the constant feedback between performer and environment.


R i c h a r d P o v a l l
Assoc. Prof of Computer Music and New Media / Chair, TIMARA Dept.
MPO Box 0332 TIMARA/Studio 5
Oberlin, OH 44074-0332 USA Oberlin Conservatory of Music
Voice: +1.440.775.1016 Oberlin College
Fax: +1.440.775.8942 Oberlin, OH 44074 USA

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