cognition Tag

Movement Analysis Course at the Ohio State University discusses Sync/O

Graduate research assistant Lily Skove writes about educational uses of Sync/O at the Ohio State University:

Dr. Sheila Marion and PhD students in the department of dance recently discussed Sync/O in Marion’s History, Theory, and Literature of Movement Analysis course. Norah Zuniga Shaw was invited to present Sync/O in this course because Marion sees this project as an important contribution to today’s current graphic representations of dance. Last week I returned to the class to ask the students about their impressions of Sync/O in relation to their own PhD research. Continue Reading


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


Patrick Haggard on Dance and Cognitive Neuroscience

My main research work focuses on bodily sensation and the control of voluntary action.  I investigate these topics from the perspective cognitive neuroscience: that means studying psychological questions about perception and action through understanding the processes and representations in the brain that underlie perception and action.

I became interested in dance several years ago when I was asked to contribute to a TV programme called “The Dancer’s Brain.”  Dance offers the possibility to study sensorimotor systems at optimal calibration.  However, most of our work to date has used dance to investigate the brain mechanisms for seeing and representing the human body and human action.  For example, working with a dancer and a choreographer, we contstructed a set of stimuli showing the same body in a wide range of body postures, and we asked non-dance volunteers to distinguish whether two postures shown in quick succession were the same or different.   We were able to identify two distinct brain systems involved in representing the human form: one area in the posterior, visual brain recognised postures from local details of body parts, e.g., the orientation of fingers and feet.  A second area, in the anterior, motor brain was concerned with the global posture of the body as a whole, in the sense of the positioning of body parts relative to one another to form a whole geometric pattern.  We called this a ‘motor way of seeing’.

The same area, in the premotor cortex, seems also to provide a unique way of viewing dance actions.  We showed ballet and capoeira clips to expert ballet and capoiera dancers in a brain scanner.  The premotor cortex showed stronger activations which each dancer watched the movements of their own style than movements of the other style.  That is, the dancers’ brains represented the movements that they saw in terms of movements that they themselves performed.

More recently, I’ve become interested in the aesthetic response of dance.  Why can watching bodily movements have aesthetic value, and what brain processes are involved in this aesthetic experience?  Is there a special link between the motor way of seeing and the aesthetic response to dance?  Clearly, that’s a complex issue, and there are many layers to dance aesthetics.  In fact, the area is an intellectual minefield, and some people think it shouldn’t be approached scientifically at all.  My personal view is that one can shed at least some light on these questions by analysing them scientifically.  To do so, the scientific approach evidently needs to simplify, and work with a reduced version of the artistic object.  But this simplification is not disrespectful: rather, it’s an effort after meaning.

A number of themes keep recurring in the (minimal) experimental aesthetics literature on dance.  One is geometric arrangement of body postures, and a second is the pattern of visual motion, as the dancers’ image flows across the observer’s retina.  My latest work, which I hope can feed in to Choreographic Objects, focuses on how visual biological motion in dance carries aesthetic value.  Working with Scott deLahunta, Norah Zuniga Shaw and Maria Palazzi, I’ve been using a top-view video of “One Flat Thing” to look at some of the factors that influence the aesthetic response to dance.  We extracted very brief 2 s clips from the piece, and showed them in pairs to participants in our experiment.  After each pair, participants had to say which of the two they preferred. These aesthetic preference judgements tell us little about why people like one piece of movement rather than another, and certainly don’t capture the whole of aesthetic experience, but they do represent a kind of aesthetic bottom line: if a person prefers clip A to clip B, then clip A presumably has a greater aesthetic value to that person at that time.

Based on our viewing of the piece, we classified each clip according to what we felt were three key dimensions of dancer movement in the piece:
•    Coherent movement vs chaotic movement
•    Several dancers moving vs few dancers moving
•    Fast movement vs slow movement
Combining all of these dimensions with each other allowed us to place each clip into one of 8 categories (2×2x2).  We then showed 32 participants several pairs of clips, and looked for any consistent patterns of preference across people.  Previous studies of visual art suggested aesthetic preferences are highly inconsistent across individuals, and reflect individual taste and culture, but there is almost no previous experimental work on performance art.

We found one clear and significant result in aesthetic preference judgements.  When many dancers were moving simultaneously, participants preferred chaotic motion to coherent motion. When just a few dancers were moving, we found the opposite pattern.  We interpret this as the coexistence of two ‘registers’ for watching dance, both carrying aesthetic value, but with quite different tones.  The alternation between these registers is what I personally find in viewing OFT.

In addition, we’ve also considered the relation between choreographic cues and the observer’s experience, and the relation between aesthetic evaluation and memory.  I’ll describe these results in another post to the blog.
—Patrick Haggard