Motion Bank: Two

Re-imagining Choreographic Ideas

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A Few Questions and Responses

Posted on November 27th, 2013

Meta Academy compilation of images

Meta Academy compilation of images

On Tuesday, I had the pleasure of talking with Nik Haffner, Marlon Barrios-Solano and their students at the Inter-University for Dance Berlin (HZT Berlin) about our TWO project and the upcoming Motion Bank launch in Frankfurt. The students talked about the connection between dance and technology and asked how I came to work in this field of research. It reminded me how little I think of all this as “technology” and how much I orient around the human collaboration aspects of our work. It is the relationship between computing ideas and choreographic ideas that so defines my research in the last couple of decades. And it is the engagement between the culture of art and the culture of science that has become our true methodological space. Interdisciplinary work is intercultural work.

Here are a few more of the questions from the students and my responses:


What is the TWO project? Is it two different scores for two artists?
The TWO project is ONE digital score focusing on the thinking body and dancing mind (a phrase I am borrowing with permission from the illustrious David Gere and his Introduction to Taken by Surprise, an excellent compilation of articles on dance improvisation). So it is one project. One Score. Two artists. In some writing I did for the project I recently explained it like this:

Our work begins and ends with two dance companies. Unrelated to each other. One from the US (the Bebe Miller Company) and one from Europe (Thomas Hauert’s Zoo Company). Both are currently choreographing improvisation for performance. And both are engaging directly with the nature of human consciousness. When we watch the dancers, we are watching them at work. We are witness to the concentration and forms of attention that they bring to the moment. And we are witness to their habits, tendencies, attention, impulses, and memories in action. In this project, we have selected two working strategies each from the two companies to shed light on and bring us into a direct encounter with what the dancing mind and the thinking body. In an early storyboard for the project I called it The Dance of Attention but that was actually too limiting.


How were the artists for Motion Bank chosen?

For our part it was very intuitive really. We wanted to start from a different place then we had started with Synchronous Objects. We decided to start from a choreographic phenomenon and then look into the processes of two different artists to see what insights their ways of working might shed on that phenomenon. We were looking for people we could enjoy working with who also had a relationship to deep process and had some small-scale works (2 or 3 dancers). Bebe Miller was a natural fit because she was engaged in a duet project with her company and we knew a lot about her working methods. We found Thomas Hauert’s work through our friends at Germany’s hidden gem, the PACT Zollverein Center for Choreographic Research. PACT helped support our work by funding a residency for me and Thomas to exchange ideas and everything just unfolded from there. I immediately appreciated Thomas’ sense of processes that generate movement and his interest in the cognitive challenges that improvisation can involve.


Did you make everything you planned to make? Will you share the data so other things can be made from your resources?

Deadlines always mean something gets cut and that’s certainly the case with us. At some point you have to “put the show on the stage and turn on the lights.” We hope to add a few more animations and graphs in the coming months but what is online is a full representation of the project. We would love to share the data from this project and Synchronous Objects any time there is interest. Motion Bank is a kind of open source initiative. When Forsythe dreamed it up he really wanted it to act as a catalyst for other artists to explore digital scores and traces of choreographic thinking and to make tools that can be used by all kinds of artists for even more projects. I think the Piecemaker tool they created is super useful and the publishing system for the scores. And I hope the ideas are too.


Can you share more about the scores and ideas you selected from Bebe Miller and Thomas Hauert to discuss perception/cognition?

While the two dance companies we are focusing on are both interested in the forms of perception and consciousness accessed and enacted in improvisation, they explore those questions with very different strategies. We focus on four of those strategies in the sets you’ll see in Motion Bank at the launch on Thursday. The project is divided into four sets with the following titles: Habit, Tendency, Impulse, and Memory. I look forward to having it out in the world and knowing what ideas, questions, critiques, interests it brings.


Screen shot from our Motion Bank project TWO that will be online November 28th


Preview: Thomas Hauert, Impulse Set

Posted on November 27th, 2013

Impulses are starting points initiated without a plan being made on how the entire movement is going to develop. In this conception of movement, you don’t have an intellectual image of a whole sequence of motion but you expose your body to impulses, you vary and accumulate rules, initiations, directions, connections, tensions, release, and let the solutions emerge. —-Thomas Hauert

From left, Mat Voortner, Sara Ludi and Thomas Hauert demonstrating one external impulse strategy for priming the dancer's attention

From left, Mat Voorter, Sara Ludi and Thomas Hauert demonstrating one external impulse strategy for priming the dancer's attention

Interactive Attentive Agent, an algorithmic metaphor for Pressure Assisted Solo strategy devised by Thomas Hauert

The body keeps finding solutions to the most complex and unpredictable cocktails of forces and directions imposed on it is exhilarating and liberating way. —- Thomas Hauert

Preview: Bebe Miller, Tendency Set

Posted on November 27th, 2013

We are generating movement strategies that unfold in ways that are not as feasible in step-by-step choreography, for us. We specify the intentional body-mind-set and allow the movement articulation – the dancing – to respond to the frame or strategy.” —- Bebe Miller



The Motion Bank interface is set up in “Sets” that are devised by the creative teams working with the choreographers.  Motion Bank hopes that in the future, visitors to the site will be able to make their own preferred sets of related information. The four sets that we have curated for this premiere on Thursday November 28th focus on a handful of the mind/body strategies that these makers use in creating performance improvisation. For example, Bebe Miller has a longstanding interest in the movement tendencies of her dancers and how these can be distilled to create states for improvisation. In our TENDENCY set, we have several different windows into three states that Bebe has devised over the years, Risky Weight, Story State, and Drive State. States are the other side of HABIT and that is the focus one of Thomas Hauert’s sets.


I find myself drawn to the pull of attention, the sweep of action, the arrested moment, the pressure between people.” —-Bebe Miller



Animation and Choreography in the classroom

Posted on June 18th, 2013

The relationship between choreography and animation is symbiotic. Each time Norah and I collaborate across our disciplines, we reaffirm the desire to construct a course that explores both choreographic and animation approaches to movement, by integrating both dancers and animators. (I don’t know of any example of such a course existing in college curricula, but if you have knowledge about it – please send us a note.)


This Motion Bank project has inspired us to try an exercise in getting animators and dancers working together. Using our two co-scheduled Spring 2013 courses (Expressive Animation and Interdisciplinary Creative Research Seminar), we designed an experience for our animation and dance students that engaged them with Thomas Hauert’s Careful Scientist exercise.


We began by introducing the students to Thomas’s exercise by looking at a video of his performance.  In the Careful Scientist exercise, Hauert defines a limited set of instructions or rules for moving the body. He defines the rules of the system in such a way that they challenge mind/body habits.  In order for the students to better understand the work, concentration and coordination necessary for this exercise we had them practice some of the basic concepts by trying these movements in groups with others assisting.  Next we presented the students with some of the data of the Careful Scientist that we had motion captured during one of Thomas’s residencies at ACCAD. This provided a rich data resource of 3D positions and timings that describe the movement.  We then challenged the students to reuse existing motion captured movement data to re-imagine and design a new system of relationships, driven by existing movement data to become a new movement phenomenon. Three outcomes from that assignment follow,  accompanied by the students’ explanations.


Flowers by Maddy Varner and Daniel Diller

Concept: “We are using the data of an unnatural movement process and placing it on a natural environment. We are creating movement in the animation that is driven by external forces (like wind) while the careful scientist is propelled by internal choices. “

Tech Notes: “Upper Arm Pointing data occurs on the X and Z axes of the shoulder joint and is assigned to the direction of the flower stems movement (making them look like they’re being blown by the wind). Shoulder Rotation data occurs on the Y-axis of the shoulder joint and is assigned to the wilting and blossoming of the flower heads. Elbow Flexion data occurs on the Z and X axes of the elbow joint and is assigned to the growth of the flowers. Forearm Rotation data occurs on the Y-axis of the elbow joint and controls the color of the flowers. “


Spork! by Jonathan Welch

Concept: “I used a motion capture of the Careful Scientist by Thomas Hauert to create a visual parody on the hybrid theme prevalent in art and technology work. All the motion is a combination of the Careful Scientist, at different speeds and directions, with altered key frames to influence the gestures and correct for problems translating a human’s motion to the altered anatomy of the characters. The combined motion is intended to be dis-articulated, awkward, and hyper extended; alluding to a dysfunctional parental couple whose behavior is compounded through their child. “
Tech notes: “To start, I sped up the motion capture data, duplicated it, translated it forward, and attached both to the spoon. Then I duplicated the motion again, and broke it down into key frames in places where the hand went through the head and moments that I decided to make the existing gestures more like an argument. I wanted the fork to have a slightly different personality, so I took the key frame motion path, duplicated it, reversed it and attached the motion to the fork. The spork’s motion is the same as the spoon, without the argument key frames, and not quite as fast. “


Ontology of Thomas Hauert’s ‘Careful Scientist‘: Judith Butler’s reading of Derridean “Citationality” by Carolin Scheler and Kaustavi Sarkar

Concept:  “Dance scholar Susan Leigh Foster describes improvisation in dance as ‘bodyful’ dwelling in the perceptual gap of the conscious and the unconscious. Continuing the quest of the unknown through digital inscription of dance, we argue that digital ontology exists in corporeal materiality of the performing body as performatively, affectively and digitally mediated in the animation of Hauert’s Careful Scientist. Through Butler’s reading of ‘citationality’, in which ‘matter is constructed not as a site but as a process of materialization that stabilizes over time to produce the effect of boundary, fixity, and surface we call matter’, the digital is ontologized in Hauert’s performativity.”

Tech Notes:

Diagram to explain motion capture data mapping to 3D geometry

Diagram of motion capture data mapping to 3D geometry

ACCAD animation specialist and motion capture expert Vita Berezina-Blackburn has continuously pushed our Center in thinking about unconventional ways to use captured motion. As an animation artist and collaborator on Bebe Miller’s Landing Place her work demonstrated the aesthetic beauty that can result from expertly combining captured motion and form. Take a look at some of Vita’s work from Landing Place.


– Maria

Careful Scientist Choice and Timing Analysis

Posted on June 16th, 2013

In an effort to make visible the choices that each performer makes in performing the Careful Scientist exercise, we devised a motion capture analysis algorithm to track data captured in different performers execution of the Careful Scientist.   OSU graduate research assistant J. Eisenmann designed the algorithm which is run on the motion capture files and identifies which action is happening on which arm and over what amount of time (in frames).   An example of the data list that the algorithm generates from one of Thomas Hauert’s motion captured performances of the exercise:   Who   Frame, Action,    L/R side ———————————— Thomas,1591,3_ElbowFlex,L, Thomas,1645,1_UpperArmPointing,R, Thomas,1877,4_ForearmRotation,L, Thomas,2086,3_ElbowFlex,R, Thomas,2262,1_UpperArmPointing,L, Thomas,2470,2_ShoulderRotation,R, Thomas,2766,4_ForearmRotation,L, Thomas,2955,3_ElbowFlex,R, Thomas,3154,1_UpperArmPointing,L, Thomas,3478,4_ForearmRotation,L, Thomas,3533,1_UpperArmPointing,R, Thomas,3751,3_ElbowFlex,L, Thomas,4007,3_ElbowFlex,R, Thomas,4190,4_ForearmRotation,L,   After the algorithm generates the data list, we then…

Thomas Hauert and the Art of Performance Improvisation

Posted on October 19th, 2012

“Inanimate objects have a very clear interaction with forces, a living body like ours can complicate this relationship endlessly.” Thomas Hauert   We are now a few weeks into the process of working with our second artist collaborator, Thomas Hauert who was in residence at ACCAD in September along with dancers Sara Ludi and Samantha van Wissen. Hauert is the director of ZOO, a contemporary dance company that performs improvised works motivated by Hauert’s “desire to maximize the creative possibilities of the body in motion and to go beyond the habits inscribed in it…”   Rather than emphasizing set choreography, ZOO’s performances privilege the emergent structures and events that evolve in the moment of collective and individual impulse and invention. This kind of work…