Posts by nzshaw

Synchronous Objects Taipei

Synchronous Objects Reading Room in Taipei with workshop participants

Synchronous Objects Reading Room in Taipei with workshop participants

We had a great experience exhibiting Synchronous Objects at the Taipei Arts Festival alongside several of Forsythe’s choreographic objects. Also taught workshops for artists and engineers and enjoyed sharing these ideas with a broad range of intelligent, curious, and engaged arts audiences in Taipei. Next on the list are Bangalore, Tokyo, and New York.


Sync Objects around the world

Chris Roman and Norah Zuniga Shaw demonstrating alignments in a panel discussion with architects and musicians in Beijing China this autumn 2010.

Chris Roman and Norah Zuniga Shaw demonstrating alignments in a panel discussion with architects and musicians in Beijing China this autumn 2010.

In the year since our launch Synchronous Objects continues to travel the world through workshops, lectures and exhibitions. Most recently students in Beijing participated in a workshop with Forsythe Company dancer Chris Roman and Sync/o creator Norah Zuniga Shaw. The next workshop is at ICK-Amsterdam in December 2010.

And in August of 2010 Synchronous Objects was shown in a new form as a commission of the ISEA Ruhr 2010 exhibitions in Essen Germany at PACT Zollverein. This exhibition, created by Norah Zuniga Shaw and titled “Synchronous Objects: Reproduced” was a multipart installation is a spatial and temporal re-imagining of its web-based antecedent.

For this new work, Zuniga Shaw stayed close to the conceptual foundations of the original while extending them into the architectural and experiential possibilities of an installation. Moving through three rooms, visitors encounter the deep structures of a dance and the generative ideas contained within. In the first room, large-scale video projections of the dance are presented in proscenium space. Quickly this shifts to the analytical perspective in the second room where a table from the live performance of the dance is the foreground for the animated traces of choreographic structure that reveal patterns of relationship and intention. And in the final room visitors enter the multidirectional space of counterpoint, the visitors’ combined choices, attention, and actions become the structural core of the work as they engage with an array of synchronous objects: visualizations synced in the 15 minute time span of the dance; responsive graphics with which they can construct their own choreographies; a 7-channel audio composition shifting the sound of the dancers’ motions and Forsythe’s voice around the room; and a paper proliferation of creative processes falling into the space to be read, left behind, or carried home.


Sync Objects Creates Parallels Between Dance and Interior Design

Jade pic2_1
Last spring interior design students in the Industrial, Interior, and Visual Communications Department at The Ohio State University, were asked by Professor Susan Melsop to study One Flat Thing, reproduced through the Synchronous Objects website as a creative resource for their work. And this year she has decided to use the project again with her students so we thought it was a good time to share what they are doing.
Jade Naro pic2
Professor Melsop explains:
“We use Synchronous Objects to explore space making, movement, and spatial composition. Students report (this year and last) that the dance challenges them and can be difficult to comprehend at first. For them, the Sync/O site serves to unlock the legibility of the dance as subtleties are revealed and patterns made explicit.

In my course, I ask students to analyze One Flat Thing, reproduced and Synchronous Objects with the suggestion that the disciplines of dance and interior design share many parallel characteristics. Both are based on spatio-temporal conditions. Both are situated in perceptions of experience. Both use systems of organization to construct logic and creative play. Interior space making is functional, creative choreography. And the structure of a body is architecture in itself. It is a salient architectonic form that interplays with dimensions of space and time. Space itself is pliable, active and alive (paraphrased from Merce Cunningham’s video Points in Space). Breath and air are essential to the body and to the space, rendering each kinesthetically dynamic. The body in motion designs the space and the space navigates the body’s movements.

With these parallels in mind the students analyze the dance through the lenses offered in Sync/O and through their own analytical processes. They then conduct a series of transformation exercises to produce abstract spatial configurations, manually and digitally. The student models evoke the subtleties they saw in the dance. Here is a sampling from the projects completed in 2009:

This object by student Jeremy Escalera brings the collective network of communication in the dance and the spatial distribution to the forefront.

Jeremy pic 1_1

by Jeremy Escalera

by Jeremy Escalera

The sculptural columns constructed by Lisa Schmidt demonstrate the independent gestural alignment of dancers as they participate in the foreplay of cue.
Schmidt wd model 3
By Lisa Schmidt

By Lisa Schmidt

We understand through Synchronous Objects that alignments are essential to how visual relationships are constructed in the dance. In this project by Stephanie Payton alignments between the dancers become shifting landscapes of three dimensional surfaces. They create an independent architecture of form and flow.

by Stephanie Payton

by Stephanie Payton

I look forward to seeing what the students create this spring and will be happy to share the results again on the blog.” – Susan Melsop


Design + Dance: Communication Arts Interactive features Synchronous Objects

The new edition of Communication Arts Interactive features Synchronous Objects you can view a nice web summary here. We are thrilled to be one of 38 winners selected from 1000s of entries.


One of the goals of our project is to place dance and choreographic knowledge at the center of other disciplinary discussions. This goal is an outgrowth of Forsythe’s experience with his earlier media object, the Improvisation Technologies CD-Rom which was taken up by architects as a creative and pedagogical tool when it was published in the 1990s. Architecture is once again showing an interest in the Sync/O project but we’ve also seen an expanded interest on the part of designers as evidenced by this Communication Arts feature but also by selection of our work for the SIGGRAPH 09 Information Aesthetics Showcase and features on the Information Aesthetics blog and on And in a nice bit of synergy, our guest contributor last week, Kristin McGuire suggests the connections between choreographic and design pedagogy.

So then, if we consider choreographic thinking to be an important site of knowledge for many contemporary concerns in other fields how do we continue to broaden the dialog? What about choreography as form of geographic thinking, a source of knowledge for urban planning, or an important resource in gestural interface design for things like Microsoft’s project Natal or new games for the wii? For those of us in dance this may seem clear. But how do we continue to communicate and to bridge the gaps? Thoughts?



Sync/O used in Advanced Dance Theories in Practice- Lecture Series by Kristin McGuire

We are focusing our blog on educational uses of Synchronous Objects for the next few weeks. So far we have posted examples of courses at The Ohio State University but we have also begun to solicit contributions from educators in other institutions who have either written publicly or contacted us about their use of these materials. This week we feature a post by Kristin McGuire who is “a dancer and dance lecturer interested in anything but dance.”

More information about her work can be found at: – Latest Project:

enjoy – nzshaw

“Synchronous Objects was the subject of the second lecture within a trilogy, which developed ideas from the “choreographic algorithm” to the “choreographic object” to the “choreographic construction”. All 3 lectures revolved around the work of William Forsythe.

The lecture series started with the analysis of Improvisation Technologies, which provided a rich database of dance operations and instructions. I found that they could be used in order to define a choreographic algorithm and as such create a dance piece. An algorithm is defined as a precisely described set of instructions.


The 3rd year dance students were asked to “fax” a ballet creating a simple choreographic algorithm based on the instructions/operations shown in the Improvisation Technologies CD. The remark of the architect Britta Callsen who had used Improvisation Technologies as an inspiration for her own project led me to my third lecture titled: Dance is Architecture in Motion. About the shared vocabulary of seemingly opposite art forms. Choreography and architectural planning as fundamental principles of organisation. Her remark is very insightful when it comes to analogies between architecture and dance:

“As an architect I sit in front of my computer, I click through the different menus of the CD and I get overwhelmed by a glaring similarity to the interface of my CAAD program.” (Britta Callsen 1995) When I asked her to name the similarities she responded: “With the CAAD program I construct a building with lines, polygons, circles which are basic geometric figures. I click the command ‘line’ to define two points and I draw a line between them. In order to view it in the right position I take the line and turn, twist, flip it in the virtual space. It is the same operation Forsythe demonstrates on his CD when he describes the relationship between parts of the body in motion.”

During this lecture the students were asked to develop a choreographic construction using orthographic drawings of a building (see image below). As they were keen to “manifest” those constructions in a dance piece they created work based on those constructions, which turned out to be very exciting material.

Example of a choreographic construction

Example of a choreographic construction

More of the drawings as well as the dance material can be viewed on

Synchronous Objects was the subject of the second lecture in between the two I have just described. The idea of the choreographic object as Forsythe describes it seemed to sit well in between a choreographic algorithm – a well-defined yet clear and simple mathematical structure – and a choreographic construction – a complex, multi-layered, 4-dimensional construction of kinetic events.

Cueing System

Synchronous Objects was a real eye-opener to my students who said that they had never come across anything like that. Since knowing this tool they take their dance pieces apart and reassemble them on timelines; they develop cueing systems for their dancers; they look at the dance floor as a map etc. Since looking at the science inside One flat thing, reproduced they have become researchers of their own creative practical work.

Apart from the impact that Synchronous Objects had on my students I can say for myself that it clarified and thus resolved a contradiction of concepts about dance in my own mind. It made me realise that dance has left the dramatic performing arts world, which is still based on narratives. Choreography in my eyes is DESIGN as opposed to performing arts and it would be worth piloting an academic project based on a design syllabus rather than on a performing arts/drama syllabus.

Who is up for joining me on that?”

– Kristin McGuire


Synchronous Objects in the classroom

One of the great delights of having Synchronous Objects out there is that we hear from students who are exploring the site and asking questions. We’re considering developing this part of the project more through participatory learning initiatives. In the meantime we’re enjoying hearing about the emergent grassroots curriculum development that is taking place and we encourage you to get in touch with us with your questions, ideas, or needs. The latest email we received from from a geography student finishing her undergraduate work at a University in Canada. Continue Reading


Pathways through the objects

As we prepare to present Sync/O at SIGGRAPH this week, we’re thinking about pathways through the site and how we guide people when we present on the work. We most often recommend two approaches:

1. Discovery-based pathway:
By design, there are many ways into the site and therefore many ways into understanding this dance and one great way to approach it is just to beginning clicking on images that interest you and follow your own path of discovery. As you do so, notice that every object includes a PROCESS CATALOG tab (on the left hand side of your screen). Continue Reading


Beta v.1.0 launch

Welcome to our beta launch of Synchronous Objects. With a project of this size we expect bugs and will be making regular fixes and updates. Check it out and let us know what you think here on the blog or via at

Thanks for your interest,


Alva Noe on dance, knowledge, and sync objects

We are a tool-using animal. We make tools to extend our bodies, such as a rake for reaching, but also tools to extend our minds, such as notations for performing calculations. Tools solve old problems, but they also enable us to frame new problems. When we talk through a problem — in the laboratory, say, or at the kitchen table — we use linguistic tools (language) to think about our problem, or about our lives. But this exercise of our tool-using know-how also enhances and develops our mastery. To use a tool effectively requires know-how, and it affords deeper understanding.

Scientists — who seek knowledge — frequently make models of phenomena in the domain that interest them. Working with the model, thinking about the model, enables them to think about what is modeled. The weather bureau models a storm system in the hopes of predicting the storm’s behavior. Models are a very sophisticated kind of tool.

Synchronous Objects is model of One Flat Thing, reproduced. It is an instrument for thinking about this choreographic structure. one flat thing, revisited is work of art, to be sure, but it presents itself to its audience as a complex phenomenon, that is to say, as an event; the work is compelling and absorbing, but it is also, like many dances, and like life itself and the environments we occupy, very difficult to understand; that is, it is nearly impossible to command a clear view of it. Synchronous Objects, then, is an instrument designed to model the dance — along several distinct dimensions of its complexity (e.g. cuing relationships, counterpoint, kinds of actions). If it is effective, it will help the audience (and also the dancers and the choreographer) command a clear surview of the complex whole.

For one thing to model another, it must, at least notionally, exhibit something like the complexity, or the possibilities, of that which it models. A map, for example, must stand in a pointwise relation to the city it describes. This means it is always possible to get lost in our maps, or in our models. But it also means that our models become objects of inquiry in their own right. This is a common transformation in the history of thought. We devise a formal system in mathematics, for example, in order to see what follows from our theorems; we then make the system itself and the question of its soundness, completeness, consistency, etc, our object of investigation. If Synchronous Objects objects is successful, then it is likely to command our interest and attention in its own right. And because no tool or rule is self-explanatory, it will raise problems about how we are to understand it. And so the process of learning, questioning and learning more, moves forward. When it comes to understanding, there is no equivalent to the atomic bomb. So Synchronous Objects objects, this instrument, really, is a gesture towards a conversation that will, that must, go on. It will go on differently than it would have.

Forsythe’s work, if I understand it, very frequently takes these questions about knowledge, investigation, modeling as its very own concerns. one flat thing, revisited itself in a way models, or plays with the idea of modeling, Scott’s failed journey to the North Pole, and so the effort to model the dance itself is a way of engaging directly with the dance. But there is more. We are, after all, a tool-using animal and what art enables us to do — alone with philosophy perhaps — is to try to frame a clear surview of our lives, of our work to bring the world itself into focus for ourselves, and, in particular, of the role of tools (pictures, gestures, stories, models) in our lives. If this is right, the work of one flat thing, revisited, and the work of Synchronous Objects are one.
—Alva Noe


Mark Goulthorpe on Forsythe and Architecture

My interest in the work of Bill Forsythe is multiple, and it goes without saying that I see its relevance to all areas of cultural production, including my own field (architecture):

1. to consider its use of rule-based generative processes within an historical lineage of similar intellectual projects in different cultural domains (Raymond Roussel/literature, James Joyce/literature, Antoni Gaudi/architecture, Jacques Derrida/philosophy, Paul Steenhuisen/music). Some of these creative processes have been interrogated by other ‘analysts’ (Lacan on Joyce, Foucault on Roussel, Ulmer on Derrida), but this has yet to be adequately done (to my knowledge) for the more complex contemporary practitioners such as Steenhuisen and Forsythe, and for the kinetic arts in general.

2. to interrogate where emergent technologies nurture a new relational aptitude that Forsythe’s work seemingly instantiates, giving witness to a new mental “plasticity”. For instance, the base mathematic logic of digital systems would seem to now underpin our base mnemonic ‘technology’ with an implicitly parametric sense, where re-calculable variability and inter-relational linkage become the norm; or where the insight gathered from the genome project into the controlling hox genes gives witness to exquisitely restrained genetic variancy in natural organisms that results from second-order controls in biological generative processes.

3. to consider the expansion of creative praxis from an essentially deterministic and individual mode, that has dominated most established cultural fields for millennia, to one that prioritizes collective creative endeavor: a shift of the base ethic of production to one of collective participation, which carries significant import for all areas of cultural activity. The active participation of the entire Ballett Frankfurt / Forsythe Company in the generation of base choreographic material, and the impetus and framing provided by Forsythe as “no-longer-a-choreographer” merits attention for the insight in offers into networked creative endeavor, a model as such.

4. in its exploration of new “psychologies of reception”, which have been referred to by Heidi Gilpin (ex-drammaturge) as characteristic of accounts of trauma (endlessly absented reference); and to locate where the generative rule-based processes deployed as improvisational technologies imbue the resulting work with such inassimilable intensity, or a ‘precise indeterminacy’.

5. to track the relentless deconstruction of the presuppositions of balletic inheritance, Forsythe’s exposure of the “structurality of structure” of the full range of its operations, and to witness the emergence of a re-configured canon. The collapse of the basic step-by-step assemblage of classical choreography into an endlessly differentiated continuity of unfolding form, apparently moves from collage to morphing as a base logic, which seems suggestive from the perspective of the other arts. But the manner of cultural renewal seems to offer salient example of the potential for all the cultural arts, brilliantly liberalized in creative and receptive registers but astute as to its historical allegiance.

6. finally, and most elusively, to consider how an overall choreographic sense emerges in/as a ‘paramorph’ through the generative development process to frame and shape an otherwise mechanistic assemblage. The overarching conceptual strength of Forsythe’s works, as something other than an ideological containment (the typical idea-to-form lineage), yet resolutely coherent as a distillation of impulsive experiment, merits consideration as the vital counterpoint to the barrage of generative techniques that the works draw from.

In all the above, I regard Forsythe as an architect, albeit of the possibility of ballet at the threshold of a new technological paradigm…