Re: Did you get what was supposed to be happening?

Jeff Miller (
Wed, 17 Mar 1999 21:21:54 -0600

Well, this could be quite a can of worms. But I've been dealing with that very
issue in a current concert, where the performer (Jin Wen Yu) wanted to put a Big
Eye segment as one movement in a 5-movement piece. While the publicity is
mentioning BigEye, it is not hit over the head with it...possibly only those who
see the concert more than once will realize that it is different at all.

Robert Wechsler wrote:

> Or is it enough that the technical system changes the way the dancer
> feels as they move? And it changes they _way_ they move -- I can believe that
> -- but unless it results in something discernible to me then I consider
> it something better suited for the lab than for the stage.

I believe this, in the end, justifies the use. I didn't initiate this piece--he
had used BigEye before, with another performance technologist, and I sort of
inherited the system. Especially due to some conversations with Sita Popat, the
question of "why not just record it" came up a lot.

However, it is a case of immersion, I think. He moves, reacts differently based
on the sound, and the sounds are different every time (while you can get accurate
notes to correspond to movement with BigEye, in this piece we programmed in more
of "tendencies" for sounds to happened, varying according to postion and velocity
of his various body surfaces). This ephemeral form is, I think, a validation of
the use of technology--if that's what you're after. To me, saying that a
pre-recorded sound would be better is like arguing that Thelonius Monk should
have just played it right the first time, rather than changing the tune every
time he played it. Improvisation is an art form; I would even argue that by
combining improvisatory elements with technology you help bridge that tremendous
spiritual gap we keep facing (I wouldn't argue very loudly, though. I'm out of my

> 4. Don't use a technical system when the same effect can be achieved
> without it (e.g. triggering the start of a film or sequence of music can
> be done by a technician simply knowing the cue.)

That is assuming that the technician, stage manager, or whomever has the same
aesthetic sensibility as the artist/choreographer. Part of the reason I do this
stuff is because, as the performer I started out being, I was frustrated by the
differences in vision and corruption of the idea that took place in most
productions--it became worse when I started designing shows (nothing more
dreadful than production meetings 4 weeks before a show goes up, when the
director's axe is sharpest...). By using the tech, we put more control in the
hands of the performer. New tools available.

Part of the problem now, I feel, is not only the bumbling of incompatible
technologic formats and the ignorance and miseducation of audiences--it is the
performers themselves. This is a young art. Think of how many stage actors were
unable to withstand the demands of a camera closeup, of how many silent film
stars discovered that the addition of sound to their art proved insurmountable.
We have performers trained in a passive tradition; the lighting guy will take
care of the cues, the sound guy will make that noise, I'll just shut up and
dance. Yet the work I see being produced here at UW, by dancers suddenly given
the chance to control more than just their bodies on stage, represents in my view
a new paradigm of artfulness. And some of it stinks, too. So I would add one
more suggestion:

7. If you're not sure how an audience will take a piece involving tech, keep it
short. Test the waters. Save the technopera for later, when the bugs are out...

my humble opinion,

Jeff Miller