research Tag

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


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.


Ola Ahlqvist on Dance and Geography

variance_d1NORAH: Ola, let’s start with a discussion of your involvement in the project. I’ve had a long term interest in geography because of my previous work in environmental science but for many people the connection between dance and geography might seem surprising.

OLA: For me too, in fact my biggest surprise was how familiar I felt with some of the things that choreography and this particular dance contain. A lot of analysis and visualization work we have done has used ideas from geographical analysis and spatial theory, and it was exciting to see that they were interesting to you as ways to look at and understand this dance. What intrigues me most at this point is how much similarity there is between choreography and daily life as a spatial phenomenon (which is what we study a lot as geographers). The spatial dynamics and interactions are guided by the environment, there are some rules, but also a fair amount of improvisation in both “worlds”.

In terms of how these collaborations come about, my way into the project was mainly as advisor to a doctoral student, Hyowon Ban who got to know you all through an animation course at ACCAD. I could see a way in to working together because you had generated data from the choreographic structures in the dance. That data is spatial (something of interest to geographers) and also qualitative in that you know what the dancers are doing. The equivalent in geography would be having GPS data (tracking where someone goes) combined with GIS data  (telling you who they are and something about what they are doing).

Let me say this another way, the data you created from the dance (One Flat Thing, reproduced) is in many ways similar to what we would expect from looking at individual activity patterns in a real-world situation, but that type of data is still very hard to acquire. Because we have such a rich and contained data set I believe we can use this as a model for the real world or as a surrogate for many types of questions and method development. We’re just starting this research so the specifics aren’t clear but the potential is. Some of the things I’d like to see in further looking into this data is to include the narrative descriptions from dancers or other people involved in this project. As geographers we often try to mix quantitative methods, such as the spatial data we use in the Movement Density object, with qualitative analyses from interviews and texts. Again I think that this data give us a good opportunity to come to grips with some of the complexities of such analyses. It is almost as if we have a controlled environment for qualitative inquiry, similar to what the ‘hard science’ tradition has capitalized on for more quantitative hypothesis evaluations.

NORAH: How do you think the research we’re doing in Synchronous Objects is relevant to geography specifically?

OLA: I see it mainly as a channel for communicating the idea of using geographic theory in another context. After working on this project I now realize that there is much more depth and things going on in a dance than I ever imagined. This could impact other geographers as well. I am learning new things each time I sit down with the other people in this project and hopefully that experience will be the same when people see the website. And for me it was the use of space and dynamic, spatial interaction between actors that struck a chord, but others may find completely different dimensions, and that’s what is so exciting.

Also, the ideas that currently emerge are intriguing directions of research from a geographic perspective. We have identified some new research ideas that probably will generate publishable results both as stand-alone geographic research and probably also as cross-disciplinary contributions to the literature. The Movement Density object we use a spatial summary statistic called density surface that is a common tool in geographic visualization. In this case, it helps us explore patterns of where the dancers spend most of their time. As we follow the dance we can see how certain areas are used more than others by the dancers. After a while, hot-spots, or places that were most used by the dancers, show up as intense, brown-red and places with little activity remain in blue shades. The density surface can also be illustrated as a topographic landscape where the count of points is used as an elevation value, creating a landscape of mountains, peaks, and valleys. In the topographic map the hot-spots, are found as mountain tops or ridges, and the deep valleys and flatlands represent little or no dancer activity. You can see all this in our explanatory video on the Movement Density object and I talk about it there too. Because we have such a contained data set we can really use this as a model for the real world.

Another direct outcome of this research is that my student Hyowon completed her dissertation using her work on this project and it helped her get a job as a faculty member at another university. I’m excited to see what else emerges as we continue to collaborate.

–Ola Ahlqvist, assistant professor, Department of Geography


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