Interdisciplinary Voices Category

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?



Architecture Course at The Ohio State University Uses Sync/O

Box Project Research Board 1

During spring quarter 2009 at the Ohio State University, the second year undergraduate architecture students participated in an Installation Studio which focused on William Forsythe’s One Flat Thing, reproduced. This studio, which deals with material fabrication, notation and fundamental representational skills, is a required course for all second year architecture majors and thus eighty students divided into five sections were involved. Professor Stephen Turk, who taught one of these sections, describes the course:

Continue Reading


Sync/O at PACT Zollverein

Jonathan Burrows and Matteo Fargion
Photo: Jonathan Burrows and Matteo Fargion

Sync/O is part of a symposium this week called Explorationen 09. It is a really interesting group of people and PACT is a great arts center set in the midst of a refurbished wash house for the coal miners who used to make up the majority of the population in Essen, Germany. The architects who did the refurbishing have left the original tiles, mirrors, soap holders, and other features of the space giving it a haunting feeling of uses from the past. Now it houses artist residencies, dance performances (to my delight this week was British choreographer Jonathan Burrows), and symposia focusing on off-beat and interdisciplinary perspectives. Being here has inspired me to (finally) begin working on my book about Synchronous Objects and the creative research methods it required. -Norah


Sync/O Research as Teaching Laboratory

Another great contribution from graduate student Lily Skove:
At the Ohio State University, The Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design (ACCAD) is a unique space for the convergence of distinct fields. Perhaps “collision” of distinct fields would be a more apt description, as “convergence” suggests easeful assimilation. Collaboration as collision necessitates the full force of each fields’ identity, traditions, and expertise entangling to create something new, and this is how I would describe ACCAD’s latest conquest, Synchronous Objects for One Flat Thing, reproduced. Working as a student on this project gave me the unique vantage point of observing and engaging experts at work in cross-disciplinary investigation. Continue Reading


Matt Lewis on the Choreography of Attention

Matt Lewis is a computer scientist and collaborator on Synchronous Objects. His work in generative drawing was an inspiration for the generative drawing tool available on the site. If you have not played with this tool yet, give it a try, it uses data from the dance to drive the motion of the “paint brushes” and create interesting animations and ultimately drawings. Let us know what you think! –Norah

Here are some thoughts from Matt:

MATT: In addition to making choreographic concepts more comprehensible to other disciplines, we are very interested in ways in which choreographic knowledge is useful in other contexts. Exposure to such ideas should provide new ways of seeing, communicating, and evaluating relationships among elements in complex dynamic systems. Having not had much exposure previously to contemporary dance, I now have a much greater awareness of its complexity and breadth of conceptual material. It’s intriguing to me that I see much richer relationships between dancers and their movements than I had before being introduced to these concepts. Continue Reading


Laban and Dance History in relation to Sync/O: Student Perspectives

Mara Penrose, an MFA student, and Hannah Kosstrin, a PhD student in the dance department at the Ohio State University, offer insights about Synchronous Objects from the perspective of Labanotation and dance history in a recent interview with graduate student Lily Skove.
Lily Skove: Can you speak to your interest in Labanotation in relation to Synchronous Objects?
Mara Penrose: Systems of annotation represent the movement they describe. Therefore, dance notations need to be specific to the piece itself and the intended audience. Continue Reading


Lillian Skove on re-thinking choreography

I have invited collaborators on the project to periodically contribute to the blog describing their roles and interests in relation to Sync/O. This post is written by one of our graduate students in dance and tech, Lillian Skove:

“Engaging with Synchronous Objects as a choreographer, I was very interested in how choreographic thinking is a way of knowing that offers new insight into other fields from geography, to computer programming, to architecture. I was also interested in the ways that other fields shed light on my own choreographic practices and turn my understanding of choreography inside out. In the process of creating I seek to undo what I think I know choreography is so that I can be open to inventive ways of working. Interacting with the Synchronous Objects website is a chance to re-think what choreography is, from a series of actions, to an example of counterpoint, to a study of the responsibilities and dependencies among a group—and the list goes on.

Up-ending my assumptions of what choreography is has several practical consequences that are evident as I create in the studio. Continue Reading


Interdisciplinary Voices 1

Image from springy thingy by Mark Goulthorpe et al.

Image from springy thingy by Mark Goulthorpe et al.

During our symposium to launch the project we featured the voices of the makers of Synchronous Objects including faculty from several disciplines as well as graduate student and staff researchers. We also invited two special outside guests who are familiar with Forsythe’s work to discuss how they think Synchronous Objects is relevant in their domains and perhaps more broadly. Each of them wrote posts for the e-symposium that you can read in full (see tags or categories to the right). But for this week, I will compile excerpts in shorter posts starting with Mark Goulthorpe. Mark is an architect at MIT who has collaborated with Forsythe in the past. For me, he represents some of the most interesting current trends in architecture including a well-established appreciation for process and performance, interest in surface and event, and a creative approach to the products of the trade. For more ways into these ways of thinking about architecture check out this beautiful blog Interactive Architecture. Many of these projects could be described as choreographic objects.

Mark is a fan of Forsythe’s work and describes dance as relevant to “all areas of cultural production.” He points to Forsythe’s use of “rule-based generative processes” that can be considered “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).” He also suggests that “emergent technologies nurture a new relational aptitude that Forsythe’s work seemingly instantiates.” And he asks us 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.” He finishes by saying “I regard Forsythe as an architect, albeit of the possibility of ballet at the threshold of a new technological paradigm…” This is one of the best things about working on this project with Bill, the way in which other disciplines can recognize themselves in dance/choreography.

For links to more on Mark’s work I like the Floating Points series here. And his more recent project Springy Thingy can be seen here.
—Norah Zuniga Shaw


Benjamin Schroeder on the counterpoint tool

“One Flat Thing, reproduced” is contrapuntal, both in its effect – there are many kinds of alignment in time over the course of the piece – and in its construction, in that there are several themes and kinds of movement material that are repeated and re-combined throughout the dance. The result is a complex, beautiful dance. There is something mathematically interesting about this, in the same way that there is in a Bach fugue; both have complexity (but not disorder) built up from individually simple things. This is worthy of study on its own, but also has practical application: in procedural graphics systems, we are often interested in creating complexity out of simple building blocks, as we see with Reynolds flocking or Perlin noise.

I did not know much about dance before starting to work on this project. I have gained a great appreciation for what one might call the formal beauty of dance – the mathematical structures behind the interplay of dancers, and the geometry of motion. This in turn has helped my more visceral appreciation of dance as well as my understanding of related fields.
In the course of the project, I have had a chance to work with people from many different backgrounds, including dance, animation, computer science, geography, and architecture. Having such an interdisciplinary team has made for a very rich research environment.

When we were developing the interactive counterpoint tool, we tried several different systems in an effort to understand what visual counterpoint was, how it arose, and how best to explain it to others. (We had many discussions around this subject – trying to understand counterpoint from the perspectives of dance, animation and design, and computer science. These early conversations and experiments would be a good subject for another post.) I think the system we have today works well because it is based on simple rules, but has a structure with many opportunities for different kinds of alignments and symmetries. At the same time it is not too regular – the pattern of alignments is unpredictable.

The widget shapes in the tool are based on twelve “clock face” positions. The position for each widget arm is selected randomly from among the twelve. Widgets move from shape to shape within a set timing structure, with times for movement chosen from four different speeds, similar to musical quarter, half, dotted quarter, and whole notes.

Leaving aside movement around the “stage” for the moment, we can see many possibilities for interesting motion and alignments within this structure. Widgets might of course take on matching or symmetric shapes, or move in exactly the same direction at exactly the same speed, and this will happen irregularly due to the random choice involved in the process.

More interestingly, we might see widgets take on similar shapes which are not the same, or follow one another’s shapes with a slight delay, or take on shapes which are related but do not have strict symmetry. (I believe that the choice of twelve positions is a fortunate one – there are many pleasing symmetries within the clock face.) The timing system plays a big role here as we can see layers of shape alignment and speed alignment weave into and around each other.

Even within one creature we can see some small counterpoint. Perhaps two arms move together in one direction at the same speed, while the other arm moves in the other direction, twice as fast – then everything reverses and the arms take new roles. Perhaps two arms form a right angle and are still while the third moves slowly from an acute angle to form a “T”.

Motion about the stage is determined in a similar way, with positions and speeds chosen freely from a structured set. At this level we can work with larger groups of objects and watch for alignments in the way they move together.

The structure of the performing widget system lends itself well to contrapuntal motion. The sliders let us give broad choreographic direction to the widgets, encouraging more or less unison in shape, speed, or movement, or calling for more or less stillness. This gives the user a way to explore and traverse the space of motion, using it to learn and to construct beautiful counterpoint.