Re: Just a simple techno-dancer...

Andy Clarke (
Sat, 25 Sep 1999 20:10:23 +0100

>I must admit, I have not been as frustrated and infuriated by someone I've
>never met as by Mr. Clarke. Somehow, Andy, you keep managing to push all
>the right buttons to get a reaction out of about an interactive

The feeling is mutual, Jeff. I've been busy for the past few weeks, and
unable to reply to recent postings by you and others. I think that we agree
on most things about dance and technology - it is just that we are going to
argue like hell over a few details.

So here goes....

>>My comments were not to encourage an improvisational free-for-all, as some
>>have taken them - this is suitable for only the most trivial of interactive
>>setups. It is important to remember that I am not advocating any particular
>>type of work, only a method of thinking about technology and of working
>>with it.
>No, you're not advocating a certain kind of work, but you are dismissing
>others--such as improvisation--with no regard to content, only form. Surely
>an interactive setup designed to be such--for example, a dance piece I saw
>in Minneapolis done by five contact improvisers, led by Steve Paxton, in
>which the lighting design was improvised as well by a very talented man with
>fast fingers on the board--could be a completely whole and uniquely
>aesthetic experience. It was, in fact. What is not suitable, which I
>believe we agree on, is when it is meant to be rehearsed--and isn't.

I judge work objectively - if a work is good, then I can see that it is
good and will say so, no matter what it is or who did it. And I think that
it is clear from my previous messages that I will also criticise poor work,
no matter who did it and what their reputation is.

I think form is important, in that it provides the criteria by which to
judge the ambition of the work (with regard to the use of technology) and
whether the use of technology added anything to work.

If we use technology within dance, then it should contribute something
concrete to the performance - we shouldn't cover up the poor and
unambitious use of technology with self-justifying comments in the same way
that, it seems, poor choreography can be covered up.

Is improvisation with sensors really any different to improvisation without
sensors, and should we be praising it when there are other more interesting
things that we could do with this (and other) technology in dance? (This is
similar to my argument that the use of sensors etc. within a linear
choreographed performance is meaningless.)

Looking first at form is not taking a technocentric approach to dance
criticism - it is the only way to see beyond the "glitter" of the
technology to an honest appreciation of the work.

>>With regard to Jeff's comments on undemanding technology, producing an
>>interactive soundscape with BigEye is not "trying to use equipment beyond
>>its intended purpose" - it is using the application for *exactly* the
>>purpose that it was designed for.
>Again, we've missed the forest for the trees. I'm speaking of video
>cameras, computers, the internet--none of which was designed to be used for
>dance performance. As opposed to marley floors, sprung stages, raked
>theatres, source 4s, all of which is technology specifically designed for
>performance. Even BigEye uses a format--MIDI--which is not designed to be
>used in video, as anyone whose been stuck with a note on in a video window
>can attest to. BigEye is not technology--it is a translator between
>technologies, protocols, transforming one--the video signal--into
>another--the MIDI signal.

I think that we just need to agree to differ on what we call technology,
how we categorise it, and how we use it. I regard BigEye setup - the
camera, the computer, the software, the MIDI device, etc. - as one tool,
designed to provide a video-triggered musical instrument, and it makes no
difference whether this tool is used in a dance performance or not. I don't
look on each component of this setup on its own, each alien to dance and
inherently unreliable in this environment - as a whole, BigEye is pretty
reliable (if used properly).

I think that when people have problems with the technology that they use in
their performances, they need to look very closely at where the problem
comes from - otherwise it becomes a case of, as the saying goes, "a bad
workman always blames their tools". If you have a note stuck on, it is not
because of a bug in BigEye, or due to the video camera, or an inherent
problem with MIDI - it is due to you trying to be either too precise in
your setting up of BigEye (the colour tables, regions, etc.) or not precise

Those who complain BigEye is too difficult or too unreliable will just have
to realise that there will never be a tool like it where from one menu you
can choose what movement or position acts as the trigger and, in another,
choose what sample is played - movement is too imprecise and intelligent
pattern recognition is too difficult. The success that you have with BigEye
depends on how well you deal with approximation (and haw well you deal with
the cases where your approximation fails).


>In pursuit of our building a lexicon with which to intelligently and
>impartially address this subject, I would put forth the idea that the
>difference between "technician" and "technologist" is the same as that
>between "dancer" and "choreographer"--one relates, the other creates. The
>other difficulty, of course, is the tendency for techies of both sorts to
>treat the performers as idiots. And critics don't like anybody...

I'm not sure if I like either the terms that you use, or the comparison
that you make to the distinction between choreographer and dancer. I am
also suprised that no-one objected to your categorising of dancers - I
would have thought that the dancer has a creative role, too....

It also seems to me that choreographers treat "techies" of all sorts - and
often dancers - as idiots, too.

Andy Clarke

Andy Clarke
78 West Kensington Court
Edith Villas
London W14 9AB

Phone: 44 (0) 171 602 3382