knowledge Tag

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?



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


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.


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.