take heart - sneak preview of "un-named" interactive dance/music system; magic t

DCdanceme (DCdanceme@aol.com)
Mon, 4 May 1998 14:19:11 EDT

Dear Dance-Technology List:

We've been reading this list server for some months with great interest!
Excellent discussions!
This most recent thread with Robert et al. (see more complete quote below) --

>But this also brings up another dilemma. We don't expect people with no
>training of any kind to get out there and just, well, "dance". We don't
>expect people to pick up a saxophone and make beautiful sounds in the first
>five minutes. But this kind of instant gratification is always expected
>from computers. Most of the available software (and hardware) for sensing
>motion doesn't work very well - certainly not well enough for "plug and
>play" instant results. If it did, it would probably only work in the most
>simplistic ways, and produce relatively uninteresting results.

--has prompted us to, at least partially, "come out of the closet." When we
hear the proverbial, "it can't be done" I guess we can't help but react; if
nothing more to say, "we're getting there.... it's been a long, hard road, but
we've really got something underway which is very promising..."

We have developed an interactive non-contact (unencumbered, photonic
interface) music system. The device is a 1" thick, multi-segment but
continguous (smooth) platform on the floor, about 7.5' feet diameter with a
certain geometry, with an flush internal array of sensors and indicators. So,
its physical trade off is that it works for a dancer/player within one
relatively stationary floor area. But within that area, the whole physical
3-space is responsive, players can perform any imaginable body position or
motion with musical results. Plus, multiple platforms may be used together in
a larger space, linked in coherent, non-dissonant musical combination.

It WORKS, is completely robust, repeatable, and precise, and players produce
beautiful, recognizable, articulate musical response immediately without
practice --even first-time, casual players who are not dancers, not computer-
savvy, and non-musicians. The system includes interactive control of lighting
and projection computer graphics as well as music, for live 'synesthetic'
(multi-sensory-fused) response. Developing this system is/was NO small feat!!
The current prototype has been working perfectly in its current form for the
past two years, and yes, involves FOUR synchronized computers - 2 embedded
custom firmware systems, plus a Mac, plus a Windows PC, all tightly
synchronized. To operate (e.g., launch a 'song' play), two computers have
some screen controls set at the beginning of a song, from that point, it's
hands-off. So, we DO have significant more work to do for "integration" and
"cost reduction" and "operator simplicity" to achieve a real "PRODUCT", which
will be an interactive photonic platform working as a peripheral (via simple
MIDI cable) to a standard multimedia PC computer running WIN95. But the
EXPERIENCE, as far as the players go, is completely there now. And the
projected hardware cost curve leads dramtically downwards, even to the
consumer home level, not this year, but certainly much sooner vs. much later.

This is a real musical instrument, we're not just triggering sequences;
INPUT. These note events, however, are 'invisibly' adjusted behind the scenes
in real time, so the music aesthetic is coherent as to pitch
(note/chord/scale), timbre (instrumentation/effects), and
rhythmic/temporal/duration alignment. These "transfer functions" are
completely transparent to the player. All they KNOW is "I am doing this, I
did that, I did that, I did all those, and WOW am I impossibly GOOD!" We HAVE
achieved a 100% compelling interactive music experience. People just don't
want to stop playing it once they get on! They experience a genuine sense of
creative empowerment, positive feedback, improved self-esteem, and and many
players report that an overall euphoric feeling sets in within a minute or so.

Our interactive titles library is now almost 100 different "songs" (we haven't
come up with another term so we use that loosely) in many different musical
genres, including play along with about 25 different CD-audio titles, as
examples. One can add a multi-instrument (our platform device has multiple
sensor zones for multiple instrumentation) play-along with CD-audio (where we
pre-authored specifically for such titles), where ALL musical parameters of
the triggered reponses are perfectly, seamlessly, aesthetically coherent with
the CD material. Jam-along with your favorite artists, without fear of
mistake! As to our original (no-CD accompaniment) content, it's universally
considered by those who have experienced it to be interesting, completely
musical, non-simplistic, articulate, and a profoundly moving experience
especially for those who never considered themselves musical or creative. If
a player can MOVE at all, they CAN create real music! We've had many
spontaneous "peak experiences" occur, including even the most stodgy business-
types spontaneously breaking up into euphoric tears, "oh my God, I can create
music!", etc.

As we are very much a commercial endeavor with proprietary developed
technology, after a seven-year intensive engineering history with investors
and patent applications now in process, please consider this letter to be
only a "sneak preview". We can't publicly say much more than we've said here
today, not yet. That's just the practical reality. Our achievement thus far
is a combination of proprietary/custom hardware and software, AND certain
systems integration of available technologies. Often, worthwhile
breakthroughs these days in new technology come from such a combination - we
haven't reinvented any existing wheels, but we've added together what was
needed to make a whole cart (the system), plus an interesting road to travel
on (the content)! One credit we will state here for benefit of the list is
Mark Coniglio's EXCELLENT interactive MIDI authoring environment "Interactor",
see his site, at <A HREF="http://www.art.net/~troika/interactor.html">
InteractorČ</A> for details. More than that, as to what ELSE we've cooked
with, we can't say yet.

We do anticipate patent pending status soon, after which we plan to have a
public company website and we can be open (at last!) after these past four
years of near-total secrecy, and invite the academic dance and technology
community into a dialog with us. However, note that up to this point in time,
these have definitely NOT been years isolated in "the lab" (mythical guys in
white coats) but in settings where we invited probably over 2,000+ trial
players over seven progressive generations of prototypes, and incorporated
much user feedback and suggestions into each successive prototype design. In
other words, it's an hands-on (or off, as the case may be!), very empirical

When we "become public" you'll be able to see what we've created with perfect
clarity. Our very early prototypes, (up through prototype number FOUR in the
series) were seen in public in a few events, such as cyberarts, digital be-in,
etc. up through early 1994 in California. But what happened in the systems
BEYOND those, is we achieved (a) real music and (b) completely clear FEEDBACK
to the player, so precision and kinesthetic-perceptual-motor cognition were
served completely. Thus, while it works for casual beginners, by paying
closer attention, players can ALSO become better, and learn to be
progressively more and more virtuoso. We have a small group of excellent
dancers/ performers/ choreographers/ composers who have helped us understand
and push the envelope in THAT (virtuoso) frontier as well as the first-time
players side. I know it sounds impossible to serve both ends of the spectrum,
but with an architecture evolved from the ground up with input from real
people, young and old, from nine month old babies to the elderly and
everywhere in between, we feel we've done it. We do of course, anticipate
further continuing refinements and development, but the current device will
make interactive music, and such by body motions in space, a mass market new
form of entertainment and a truly creative and empowering one.

It's a new art form, a whole new relationship between dance and music. We
continue to learn and be amazed ourselves at what new turns the content side
may bring, in terms of the dance aspect, the visuals output aspect, and the
music aspect and how they are all so intimately intertwined. The surprising
thing is that while the system has the multiple internal transfer functions
(note/chord/scale/timbre/effect/rhythm), which strictly speaking are a set of
filters or constraints to "raw" sensor triggers, the result is, to the player,
a sense of new freedoms to explore motion and music. The player still OWNS
the creative act, each event is THEIRS. Just as the original clavier
constrained the range of pitches compared to unfretted strings, (and string
player community objected - "this isn't a real instrument!") - in fact the
result was opening a whole new realm of freedom, which with variable velocity
and equal temperment expanded that freedom even further and contributed to the
whole evolution of music itself. So constraints, if carefully applied, CAN
introduce GENUINE new freedoms, even new frontiers of expression not available
before - it is a true PARADOX, and our system appears to be a concrete living
example of that.

For now, just take heart that at least one group thinks it's making good
headway, and apologies for the remaining delay before we can more fully
disclose publicly as per this list server. We don't mean to just tantalize,
but to inspire others to keep on with their experimenting, and that a
reasonable balance between technology and aesthetic IS achievable!! All you
out there on the "frontiers" keep up the great work, and we look forward to an
open dialog in the FUTURE!! Please contact us directly, if desired, or offer
your comments to the list.

Any of you who wish to receive a rough (e.g. intentionally a bit blurry but
shows the thing, basically) JPEG photograph of the system in action (complete
with euphoric dancer), please email us directly and we will respond directly
(we didn't want to 'spam' the list server with a 144k JPEG file!!). We will
probably gather your requests and do one group mailing a week or so after we
receive them. Any who are interested in inquiring as to engineering, content
development, marketing, or other employment/consulting positions with our
"start up" please feel free to contact us in that regards, as we expect to
grow to about 40 +/- people within the next year as we roll out our product
commercially. Our system, intentionally left "un-named" in this letter, will
be made available for use on stage by pro artists, and in location based
entertainment (LBE) public pay-per-play venues (theme parks, malls, resort
hotels, family entertainment centers). We also have intentions to make it
available to educational institutions, and for dance/music therapeutic
applications. Private demonstrations may be made available to those of
potential affiliation and who are willing to execute a standard-form of
confidentiality (non-disclosure) agreement, at least until we're patent-
pending. The system is currently setup at a southern California location.

Warm Regards,

David Clark, CEO and Founder
Dance Media, Inc.
In a message dated 5/4/98 2:36:28 PM, you wrote:

>Robert wrote:
>>We want to be able to get up and have IT happen! We want SATISFACTION!
>>NOW!!! Some of the most enthusiastic supporters of work of this kind have
>>never actually used it very much. I think this goes for choroegraphy
>>softwares as well. In the beginning there is this -- what Germans call the
>>"Aha" effect. Everyone is delighted. at first.
>But this also brings up another dilemma. We don't expect people with no
>training of any kind to get out there and just, well, "dance". We don't
>expect people to pick up a saxophone and make beautiful sounds in the first
>five minutes. But this kind of instant gratification is always expected
>from computers. Most of the available software (and hardware) for sensing
>motion doesn't work very well - certainly not well enough for "plug and
>play" instant results. If it did, it would probably only work in the most
>simplistic ways, and produce relatively uninteresting results.
>I've finally spent enough time with my software of choice - BigEye (and
>others related to it) - that I'm just beginning to feel like I can play it
>like an instrument, with a certain level of finesse and fluidity; that I
>can finally achieve a certain level of satisfaction. It just so happens
>that BigEye has an "instant gratification" mode, one that produces results
>with little or no programming or user knowledge. That mode, however,
>produces very predictable and largely uninteresting results.
>Of course this is beginning to take on a rather elitist stink - but I don't
>really mean it to. Practice, as they say, makes perfect, and we cannot,
>and should not, expect instant results from instruments that are (and to
>some degree, have to be) difficult to play. I teach computer music,
>including a beginners' class, often to instrumentalists who have been
>playing their instrument of choice for ten or more years. I constantly
>have to tell them that OF COURSE they don't have much sense of control, and
>that they will have difficulty implementing the musical decisions they are
>attempting to work with until they have more experience with the tools and
>instruments at hand. What was their violin playing like, I ask, after only
>three months of playing?
>This is not an argument that better software can't be made, because it
>surely can. It's merely a caveat that there's no such thing as satisfying