counterpoint Tag

Using and Sharing Sync/o

After being in Europe for a week and sharing the project at Spring Dance and in the Sadler’s Wells “Focus on Forsythe” festival of events, our interest in sustained dialog about the project continues. What happens after the initial introduction? Which objects draw different people in which ways? We hear often from choreographers that the counterpoint tool captures their interest. It was great to hear in london from people in the audience who already knew the project, like professor Sarah Rubidge who shared her interest in the generative drawing tool (one of our favorites). It was also nice to share the video abstraction tool with a young dance / tech presenter from Norway who wanted to explore patterns in her own work. We’d love to know more. Be in touch here on the (blog) or on twitter, we tweet collectively as and I tweet as nzshaw.


Sync/O at Spring Dance Utrecht


This week I’m in Amsterdam sharing Sync/O with a community of dance researchers called the Inside Movement Knowledge network here at Spring Dance in the Netherlands. This very interesting group of embodied thinkers is involved in a large project focusing on new ways of transmitting dance knowledge. They are dance educators, conservationists working in the visual arts on the preservation of installation and performance art works, choreographers, and academics concerned with understanding the nature of “corporeal literacy.” While here at Spring Dance I also had the opportunity to see Brazilian choreographer Bruno Belatrao’s new work “H3″ (he’ll be in London at Sadler’s Wells in May). It is a incredible work of choreographic counterpoint in a very different movement vocabulary than the one you see in “One Flat Thing, reproduced.” Watching the piece I was grateful to have had the training that this project has given my eye, I could see intricate patterns and structural forms in the piece in an entirely different way because of how Forsythe and our work with him has taught me to see alignments. I’m hoping our objects do this for others who explore Sync/O in a shorter time frame than the four years it took us to make the project. I’d be interested to know if anyone out there is noticing the ways that counterpoint and alignments can come into focus in other works and even other phenomena.
—Norah Zuniga Shaw, Amsterdam, NL


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.