Architecture Tag

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


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


Profiles of Architecture Students’ Final Projects Using Sync/O

Below we profile three final projects created in Professor Stephen Turk’s second year undergraduate installation class conducted during spring 2009 at the Knowlton School of Architecture at the Ohio State University. This studio deals with material fabrication, notation and fundamental representational skills. The images are from the students’ preliminary results from their research analysis and design investigations and the final installation in the Knowlton School of Architecture.

Project team: Ross Hamilton, Heather Brandenburg, Sarah Simeon, Minyoung Kim.
The Screen Machine is an installation that reveals and conceals the body. The Screens are made to reconfigure an open space, thereby inviting new pathways for people to move. Beyond reconfiguring the space, the screens perceptually reconfigure the body, as onlookers peering into the screens or gazing from a distance perceive a fragmented body as they catch sight of pieces and parts of the human form through open slits in the screens. The placement, size and design of the slits were determined by examining the cues in One Flat Thing, reproduced.

Screen Machine

Screen Machine

Ross Hamilton describes his intentions and methods in creating The Screen Machine:

“In researching the dance, I chose to focus on the interactions between the dancers that occur in the form of cues. These cues occur throughout the dance in various frequencies. As I moved away from looking directly at the connections between dancers, I began to focus on the number of dancers interacting within a certain time frame. I placed the time frames of the dance into various levels of density. I then used multiple patterns to describe these differing levels. These patterns were then used to create screens of varying porosity by translating the density of interaction within the dance to change the amount of the human figure visible through the screen. This reflects the “blurring” of the individual human figure which we perceived as occurring in the dance.”

Project team: Robert Scott, Jason Lee. Caleb Chamberlain, Emily Wright, Sameer Sharif

Cubes is an installation of performative objects, created for users to assemble and reassemble, discovering new alignments between slots cut into the sides of each module. As a system of combinatorial elements, Cubes also explores counterpuntal relationships in the space between the body of the user and the placement of a cube. Cubes was inspired by Forsythe’s use of counterpoint in One Flat Thing, reproduced, as the project team looked for moments of counterpoint in the placement, spacing, and orientation of the cubes.



Robert Scott describes his intentions and methods in creating Cubes:
“The analysis of the dance began with a study of movement and shoulder alignments. This data was then combined to form a new diagram in which the alignment lines transected the movement pixels. These pixels became voxels, and became the primitive units for the installation. I then studied the alignments and contrapuntal relationships of the dancers. These relationships form the system by which the primitives are organized. The voxels are free to be moved by visitors who essentially re-choreograph the dance with each movement. The stacks of voxels move from foreground to background, and as they move, visitors will notice alignments and contrapuntal relationships between cubes that are spread throughout the installation.”


Project Team: Jeff Anderson, Lauren Miller, Sally Cejauskas, Avery Brooks

Papers Clips is an installation that examines the absence and presence of motion, measuring the density of an action inscribed in a space overtime. Examining the entrances and exists in a 5-second section of One Flat Thing, reproduced, Jeff Anderson and his team created a map that charted the absence of a movement as a dancer exited the performing area. The strands of hanging paper clips hung above the visitors to the installation, vary in length depending on the density of movement at that particular second in the dance.

Paper Clips

Paper Clips

Jeff Anderson describes his intentions and methods in creating Paper Clips:

“I began my project by analyzing the different objects on the Synchronous Objects website. The design plots the change in dancer position over time at five-second intervals for the entire dance. This created an object reminiscent of a DNA strand, and I began to analyze it and pick pieces out of it. Eventually I created a diagram of the absence over time of each dancer from the performance. This formed the gradient upon which I based the rest of my project. I wanted to apply the gradient sensation to a hanging material, and I settled on chains of paper clips. I took apart the gradient I had made into different pieces and mapped the density in the gradient through space.”


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


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


Matthew Lewis on Dance and Computer Science

NORAH: For this e-symposium, could you talk a little about your involvement in the project and your interests as a generative designer and computer scientist?


MATT: Sure. As is often the case at ACCAD, many of us served in several roles during different stages of this very interdisciplinary project. Earlier in our process I provided both computer science and generative art and design perspectives as our multidisciplinary team worked to synthesize an understanding of the complex concepts used in Bill’s choreographic approaches in “One Flat Thing, reproduced”. Throughout, I have been able to advise on aspects of our technical development, with respect to both “what is possible and practical” and the inevitable problem solving.

In order to understand and communicate Bill’s concepts and processes (and consider how these could be applied in other fields) we worked to produce qualitative and quantitative data as a step toward investigating Bill’s question, “what else does this look like?” Given the opportunity to explore different ways of visually presenting several aspects of rich source material, I first made use of overhead video of the dance, and then later from the emerging database being constructed to catalog the choreographic events.  I tried to reduce complexity by extracting and displaying individual qualities like gestures, paths, and interactions, and then ultimately applied concepts learned from the project to my own generative systems.

I made use of image processing, computer vision, 3D computer graphics, and interactive online algorithms as different ways of exploring the data. My computer science background was also helpful as we tried to systematically formalize the components and parameters of the abstract systems we are representing. I particularly enjoyed participating in discussions between representatives from different disciplines analyzing shifts from centralized control, to bottom-up complex distributed systems. It has also been fascinating for me to consider Bill’s iterative choreographic processes through a lens of optimization concepts like genetic algorithms and fitness landscapes.

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.

Our design process made me consider that the choreography of attention, combined with disciplinary knowledge, can control what a viewer perceives. More specifically, it seems that new visual relationship concepts might change what can be seen. I’m still contemplating the relationship between what I think of as more “horizontal” alignments, and the more “vertical” processes of reduction and synthesis. As one might hope for in an academic environment, the project’s framework has emphasized this continuous inquiry, instead of seeking a single correct solution. It also has provided a unique model for collaboration between designers, artists, and scientists that should serve as a valuable benchmark for our projects in the future.

—Matthew Lewis, Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design (ACCAD)


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…


Choreographic Objects e-Symposium


As we go live with our Beta version of the site we’re also kicking off the blog with contributions from the participants in our symposium held here in Columbus, OH at the Wexner Center for the Arts from 3-5pm on April 1. We’re thinking of these posts as our “e-symposium” for audiences outside of Ohio and we invite your comments and questions.

You can also view the live web-cast of the event at by clicking here.

Here is some more info about the symposium:
As an American working internationally for the last thirty years, William Forsythe is recognized as one of the world’s foremost choreographers. His work is celebrated for reorienting the practice of ballet from its identification with classical repertoire into a dynamic 21st-century art form. In recent years and with the establishment of The Forsythe Company, he has extended his choreographic thinking into new forms such as digital media productions, installations for gallery and public spaces, video, and publications. For Forsythe, these projects are part of a larger sphere of interest he terms “choreographic objects.” The idea of a choreographic object allows for the transformation of a dance from one manifestation (the performance on stage) into an array of other possibilities (such as information, animation or installation). This transformation requires cross-disciplinary collaboration and makes space for new connections between art and science, practice and theory.

In this symposium, Forsythe and his collaborators will discuss how the idea of “choreographic objects” took form in Synchronous Objects for One Flat Thing, reproduced, a new interactive web project created collaboratively by Forsythe with Ohio State’s Maria Palazzi (Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design) and Norah Zuniga Shaw (Department of Dance) and an interdisciplinary team of collaborators from across the arts and sciences. To celebrate the launch of the project, invited outside experts will contextualize the project in terms of its relevance to current trends in the philosophy of cognition and architecture. Participants will respond to posts and comments on the blog.

We look forward to hearing from you!
—Norah Zuniga Shaw


Stephen Turk on Architecture and Choreography

William Forsythe’s One Flat Thing, reproduced is a richly evocative work open to a multiplicity of interpretations and possible avenues of analysis. Architects are particularly interested in the spatial and organizational phenomena produced by the piece, especially what might be called its distributed field of effects. Extensive and nuanced systems of interrelationships in the choreographic structure of the work were uncovered by the broad set of disciplines participating in the Synchronous Objects project. The architectural component of the project augments this work by concentrating on the spatial implications of the composition’s field effects. This effort takes the form of both new analytical work investigating the potential material and spatial possibilities of the piece but also extends this into the design of a set of architectural elements which resonate with the dance. Indeed the title Synchronous Objects describes the possibility of the production of parallel work in different expressive media and filtered through different disciplinary frameworks, which share core systemic structures and expressive characteristics.

By closely analyzing the complex systems embedded in the work the architectural project seeks to make a parallel design that generates effects and perceptual phenomena which resonate and have a strong affinity with Forsythe’s dance while avoiding overly reductive translations and respecting the architectural qualities of the newly emergent objects. As a parallel art, architecture doesn’t offer the possibility of a “scientific” analysis of the data of the project but rather the set of resulting designs extends and opens up an architectural understanding of the complexities and richness of the “form and flow” of the dance. It does this by closely analyzing the complex interrelationships between dancers and the thematic variations forming the choreographic core of the work and translating these to material and performative behaviors in material processes. A large library of analytical relationships was inherited by the team from previous close readings of the work. These deal with cuing, timing, variation, and the mirroring of motifs. In our view all of these are primarily dominated by relationships between what might be characterized as figure to figure structures. Our emphasis drew on these understandings and connected them to what we have termed figure and frame relationships. The particular focus for the analysis was thus centered on the artificial ground established by the array of tables in the work both as a literal spatial operator structuring the rhythm and interval of the piece but also as the source of a set of conceptual implications which we saw as particularly architectural.

The complex spatial operations in Forsythe’s work remind us of the intimate and archaic connection between architecture and dance by reiterating fundamental conditions in all architectural phenomena; the most central on which is the relationship of the mobile occupant to a buildings envelope or enclosure. They also provide for a perceptual field through which to understand interval, distance, unit and number, the conditions that join the temporal art of dance to the spatial art of architecture. Of course, the motif of table and figure in One Flat Thing reproduced is not where the composition stops. Indeed this relationship is established only in a way to question it through its own multiplication, repetition and unfolding of an array of tables moving out into space. This array literally furnishes a ground of action, a zone of operation and maneuver that simultaneously regulates and is regulated by the action of the dancers. At this level of understanding, the dance can be read as exploring the fundamental ideas of interval and their corresponding perceptual measurement. So too can the work be read as an allegorical exploration of the relationship between the human figure and the frames established by society; frames which whether registered through the regulating grid of cities, or the systems of demarcation and mapping in mathematics and science, are the cultural legacy of ideas of rationality. The work seems to be an exploration on both the limits and opportunities of these systems, a condition exemplified by the divergent results of the Scott and Shackleton journeys to the Antarctic.

Forsythe’s dance can also be read as returning the idea of choreography back to a more archaic understanding of the term by revealing a destabilized core in the origin of the trajectory of choreographic history. This core produces a blurred understanding of the separation between the arts of dance and architecture, one that might have existed in the early history of human articulation of symbolic notions of time and space. His interest in a communicable system of analysis, a “score” for dance could well be understood as returning choreography back to chorography, the art of describing “places” (from khŏros; “place” + graphein, “writing”) in the sense articulated by Ptolemy, the great second century astronomer, geographer, and map maker. This is one that restores the notion of the opening of rhythmic and temporal possibilities of the chora (the matrix of enclosure) as the necessity of the emergence of the measurable. It is also emphasizes the situational and embodied aspects of being in the world rather than being transcendental to it; measurement is here understood as being situational and contingent rather than permanent and true.

Mapping or more generally measurement might be said to be at the core of modern scientific knowledge. Science itself is dependent on repeatable and measurable occurrences and is a system which allows for the determination of logical ideas of causality in the world. The measurement, analysis and structuring of flows is an important aspect of knowledge in an era which no longer believes in a fundamental static notion of truth but rather sees the world as a problem of probability and statistical differentiation. Chorography and its descendent forms choreography and chorology, each split along the divide occurring since the Renaissance between aesthetic (irrational) and scientific (rational) forms of knowledge, provide an appropriate metaphor for an expanded form of knowledge which seeks to unify the strands of these trajectories. Forsythe, through One Flat Thing, reproduced, might be said to be situating the idea of the distribution and flows of bodily reality as a central feature of a post-humanist system of knowledge whose salient figure of study is the mapping and manifestation of a new type of statistical or probabilistic identity. This is an identity that is not an ideal humanist centered singularity (a self in the classic sense) but rather one that is conditioned by and constituted out of the flows of modern society; a society in which individual identity is increasingly distributed across electronic networks and broad ecologies which themselves are coextensive with a notion of the surface of the world as a structuring matrix.


Noel Cressie on Dance and Statistics


NORAH: One of the goals of our project is to produce research resources (objects) that can deepen the possibilities for interdisciplinary connections focusing on dance. This will evolve as a wider public engages with the site. But we began testing the possibilities for collaboration by reaching out to a number of different people here on the Ohio State campus. How would you describe your involvement in these explorations?

NOEL: Statistical Counterpoint had to happen. The source video of Forsythe’s “One Flat Thing, reproduced” had been quantified – into cues, movement material (themes and improvisations), dancers, stage locations, times, and so forth. The Department of Dance, ACCAD, and William Forsythe had transfigured the dance piece into many 17-dimensional vectors indexed by space and time. As soon as I saw some of your Objects in progress at an ACCAD open house a year ago, I felt that there was something I could contribute.

NORAH: Yes. And your involvement made sense to me because our focus has been on looking at the spatial and temporal patterns in the choreography and finding new ways to visualize them. These are the kinds of things you’re concerned with in your discipline as well, although not usually focusing on dance.

NOEL: Right. I’m a statistician with research interests in spatio-temporal modeling, applied mainly to the environmental sciences. I had worked with forest ecologists in the mid 1990s; we had come up with a way to visualize forest health using a spatial dataset collected at monitoring sites spread throughout New England. We found a way to link regression plots with spatial maps. Then, by “painting” or “brushing” points of interest on the plot showing the regression (the “multivariate view”), we could see where those monitoring sites were located on the map (the “spatial view”). The dance data were more complex, many more variables, and time added another dimension. But, the same principles, of conditioning first (brushing) and then looking at how the dependencies change with different brushings, remained.

Ola Ahlqvist from the Department of Geography, and his student Hyowon Ban, were already working on a prototype Object using Geographic Information Systems (now called the Movement Density object), and I suggested a collaboration that would take a statistical approach to visualization of the data from “One Flat Thing, reproduced”. My idea was that the need for highly multivariate views could be solved using Parallel Coordinate (PC) plots, and the extra complexity of the time dimension could be incorporated by either adding it to the PC plot or by creating a temporal view. It was an interesting road to follow with some potholes and detours, but we got there.. We used the software called GGobi, which is in the public domain. It has more capabilities (such as 3-D rotation) than we show in our Object, and there are clearly other statistical objects in waiting.

NORAH: As the lead for the data creation on the project, I also found it really productive to have you and Ola around to discuss issues I was having with quantifying qualitative information, the lessons we were learning about how we would do data collection in future projects and quality assurance issues that are common areas of discussion in your professions. I remember at one point when I was explaining the many shifts in terminology and the evolution of the data you said something like “yes of course, this is a pilot project you can expect those kinds of issues’ and it was such a relief to hear. Even terms were useful. For example, Ola gave me the term “attribute data” for our data that describes the dance. On the other side, one of our hopes with this project is that these different disciplinary lenses into seeing structure in the dance might change the way it is viewed. Kind of train the eyes of the collaborators and audiences. Has this been true for you?

NOEL: I think the dance piece is quite stunning, speaking as someone who enjoys modern dance but knows very little about choreography and what it takes to turn it into a performance. I have learned from this project that choreography is very complex, and much of it must be intuitive because it looks too hard to build up from “atoms”. As a scientist, I’ve always believed that science can be artistic. This is an exciting project because I’m working with artists who believe that art can be scientific! I wanted our Object to be stunning in its own way, even as a prototype. I also wanted it to be useful to Bill [Forsythe], to inform him of the consequences of decisions he had made when he choreographed the dance. There is something illuminating and liberating about the spotlight that data and its statistical analysis can shine on things felt intuitively.

Bill also wanted Statistical Counterpoint to be something I could use as a teaching tool in my statistics classes. Statistics is the science of uncertainty. Quite a few people, particularly during election season, think that statistics’ role is to summarize collections of numbers for people to use or abuse! You’ve heard the words, “lies, damned lies, and statistics”…well the reality is that the statistics profession works hard at “the truth, the whole truth, and statistical inference”. We let the data “speak” that truth in myriad ways. Mathematics, probability theory, and computing all play a role in removing the unimportant, leaving behind the essential. Properly chosen statistical summaries can do that. Those summaries are usually most insightful when they can be visualized.

NORAH: Can you talk a little about the Statistical Counterpoint object and some of your initial findings? I know this is just a beginning but I think you’ve found some nice early insights.

NOEL: There are two objects within one and you see them both in the explanatory video. The first is the “Statistical Counterpoint: Cues.” It is a simple object that shows the power of linked visualizations. By brushing on Dancer, we can see dancers’ roles in Cue Giving and Cue Receiving during the dance. We can also see where each dancer gave and received cues and when they did so. Here, a reduced dataset was carved out of the original one; this demonstrates what statisticians call marginalization. Further, brushing is a way to visualize what we call conditioning. In this object, we condition (brush) on Dancer.

Three basic views of the dance are shown. The first is a multivariate view based on the PC plot, the second is a spatial view based on the location of the dancers on stage, and the third is a temporal view showing, for example, when a cue was given in the dance. At the beginning of the eplanatory vidoe for our object, we show all lines and dots (in green), without the brushing capability turned on. The parallel coordinates on the multivariate view are Cue Giving (the left-hand vertical axis),
Dancer (the middle vertical axis), and Cue Receiving (the right-hand vertical axis). Lines represent relations between dancers and their cueing activity. Dots on the spatial and temporal views are linked to the lines shown in the PC plot. If you watch the explanatory video we made you can notice that the density of lines for Cue Giving is noticeably less than the density of lines for Cue Receiving. This makes sense since a cue given can be received by many dancers. Also, the spatial view showing the density of points on stage for Cue Giving is much less than that for Cue Receiving, reinforcing what we just observed on the PC plot. Second, we notice that
very few cues were given from behind all the tables, but there appears to be a fairly uniform distribution of locations where cues were received. Third, from gaps in the sequence of dots in the temporal view, there were times in the dance when no cues were given at all. These gaps appear to be longer in the middle of the dance than at the beginning or the end.

Then the brushing starts, and the lines and points light up according to each dancer’s role during the dance. We start with Amancio and proceed with the other 16 dancers in alphabetical order. We have a “Cue activity counter” at the top to quantify what is being observed -some dancers have noticeably more involvement in cueing than others. Sang’s count was the most at 86, and he gave roughly as many cues as he received. David’s count was the least at 17, all of which involved his
receiving cues (there were no brushed dots for him in the spatial view of Cue Giving).

NORAH: This is great. One thing to note is that for this version of the dance shot in 2005 Bill added a few dancers (usually it is for 14 dancers, this version is for 17) and David was one of the people he added in for just this video shoot. So that explains why David doesn’t give any cues.

NOEL: It would be interesting to share more of that information in future blog posts.

NORAH: Yes, that’s part of what this blog space is for, absolutely.

NOEL: Anyway, there is a lot more in these plots I’m sure, and this is just the simple object! In the “Statistical Counterpoint : All Systems” a more complex data set is included. It shows all the data, without marginalization. Familiarity with the simple object is helpful for understanding the complex one. In this one, time is now added as one of the parallel coordinates and shades of green have been chosen to reflect the amount of time elapsed during the dance; the darker the green, the more time has elapsed. Conditioning (brushing) is on Theme in this object.


“Statistical Counterpoint” is best viewed as a dynamic animation, where the dynamics are not necessarily derived from the time coordinate. The animation can be stopped, backed up, and studied. The power is in comparing the brushing patterns as the dynamics evolve.

NORAH: What do you think would be the next interesting directions to go with this prototype?

NOEL: My questions include: Can the Statistical Counterpoint Object be made interactive? Can we direct the software to answer specific questions, like at what times do certain dancers give and receive cues from each other? Or, do certain dancers perform certain themes more? You answer these questions in many of your other objects but I wonder if our statistical analysis could provide new information on patterns and interactions. Or, does the statistical dependence pattern, shown in the multivariate view, change in the middle of the dance versus at the beginning or at the end? I look forward to continuing our research and see the potential to publish some of the results.

NORAH: Thanks Noel.