Interdisciplinary Voices Tag

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


Scott deLahunta on Dance as a Site of Knowledge

The concept of dance as a ’site of knowledge’ suggests a number of questions such as what is known, how is it acquired, when is expertise recognised, etc. On this basis, it is also apparent that dance IS a site of knowledge, as evidenced by the existence of a community that has agreed to learn about it and advance this knowledge largely through the production of art-making processes and performances. But dance’s status as a form of knowledge is largely evaluated on the strength of its contribution as ‘art’ to the public sphere. This evaluation is not always useful for understanding the full nature of what dancing contains; and here is where exchanges with other non-art disciplines and practices can be productive. Another way of framing this is around the issue of status: in that the knowledge contained in dancing and dance making is not always seen to be equivalent to that of other domains. This is implied in the vision that still motivates areas of this project (and the related Motion Bank): “to position dance to take part in the expansion of knowledge in the 21st Century” (as if it has not already taken part, which one could of course argue that it has).

What is important to Synchronous Objects, and a number of other choreographer-initiated projects (also asking questions about ‘the knowledge that is dance’: see Choreographic Objects Workshops and deLahunta and Shaw 2007/ 2008), is the possibility of this dance knowledge being shareable with other knowledge domains. The idea of expertise seems critical here. In the early days of the OSU project, Forsythe and his collaborators spoke of “leading the non-dance expert in and the dance expert out” of the interactive score of the dance ONE FLAT THING, REPRODUCED. At various junctures during the projects, experts from other disciplines (architects, cognitive and neuroscientists, engineers, philosophers) have been consulted and some have developed their own research projects on the basis of the ‘resources’ that the project has made available (see the blog entry of Patrick Haggard for an example).

Synchronous Objects and these other projects are committed to making “choreographic ideas accessible to other domains” (Norah Zuniga Shaw quote in the NYT preview article dated 29 March 2009); and to the concept that “choreography can become a lens that enables us to bring whole intellectual landscapes into focus” (from communication with Alva Noe).

But this is not just abstract thinking. Firstly, an important precedent exists in Forsythe’s first interactive multimedia publication, the CD-ROM IMPROVISATION TECHNOLOGIES. The innovative visualisations and systematic organisation of the materials presents in Forsythe’s own words, “just some of the ways of thinking about analysing motion”, but it is done in such a way that it enables researchers in other fields to apply this thinking to their own areas (e.g. cognitive psychology and architecture). In a term drawn from anthropological practice, the CD-ROM provides one of the first clear “boundary objects” produced within the dance field to invigorate exchanges with other communities of practice.

What these traces and artefacts of dance and dance making make possible, through the setting of certain standards and measurements, may be akin to when maps were created before aerial views. In an essay on music visualisation, long-time Forsythe collaborator, composer and programmer Joel Ryan calls this “working without an overview” when the map had to be built up from what was known on the ground (Ryan 2003). After enough real measurements from the available information were made, the mapmaker would eventually start to infer new connections from what had been visualised on the page. Synchronous Objects, and what IMPROVISATION TECHNOLOGIES did before it, is providing clear examples of just such a map-making endeavour – models that reveal dance to be a site of shareable knowledge. These models make a new layer of information, about thinking, about moving, about space and time, explicit; and importantly someone doesn’t have to be a dancer, dance maker or even a dance spectator to find these resources stimulating and meaningful.

Scott deLahunta. Columbus, OH. 30 March 2009.


Choreographic Objects Workshops (UK based) here.

deLahunta, Scott and Shaw, Norah Zuniga (2008)’Choreographic Resources Agents, Archives, Scores and Installations’, Performance Research, 13:1,131 — 133.

deLahunta, Scott and Shaw, Norah Zuniga (2007) ‘Constructing Memory: creation of the choreographic resource’, Performance Research, 11:4, 53-62.

Ryan, Joel, (2003) ‘Master Class: Music Visualization’, Making Art of Databases. V2/ Nai Publishers: Rotterdam, 62.

This text is based on an excerpt from “Talking About Scores: William Forsythe’s vision for a new form of dance ‘literature’”. By Scott deLahunta, Rebecca Groves and Norah Zuniga Shaw. in: Knowledge in Motion. Eds: Sabine Gehm, Pirkko Husemann and Katharina von Wilcke. Bielefeld: transcript. 2007. pp. 91-100.


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


Norah Zuniga Shaw on departure points

It is great to finally launch our project and begin to see how a broad public receives it. We think of this launch as just the beginning and our hope is that the project will serve as a departure point for new research and creativity. We’d love to know if the objects are useful to you in your research and creative practices. We will add new content regularly and continue to develop some of the research projects we have begun with our friends in geography, statistics, and architecture (see the Movement Density, Statistical Counterpoint and Furniture Systems objects). One of the core goals of our project has been to explore the possibilities for placing dance at the center of cross-disciplinary dialog and research. This has been true on our project team which includes computer scientists, animators, designers, architects, geographers, and of course dancers. But we also hope to see it unfold in other ways that we have begun exploring this is in our research collaborations using the objects and data as resources. For example, Stephen Turk and his students in architecture will use Synchronous Objects site as their research resource in their curriculum this Spring. Patrick Haggard, a cognitive neuroscientist from London, has begun working with our data and the ideas in the project to conduct perception research that we will post on the site once the results are ready. The geographers who made the Movement Density object will continue their work and publish their research here. And so on.—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.