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Dance Loops, Golden Master @ NCUR

The National Conference on Undergraduate Education (NCUR) is, as its name suggests, the country’s premiere outlet for scholarly and creative work by undergraduates. UVU dance student Molly Buonforte, who participated at the Utah Conference on Undergraduate Research (UCUR), and I were able to make the trip to the University of Kentucky to present a reworked version of Dance Loops. Following the nomenclature from software releases, this version was the “Golden Master],” which refers to the production-ready version of software. This was our largest audience by far, as well as the first performance on an actual theatre stage (yay!). It was also the first performance with original music, as I created two pieces in GarageBand for the performance.

Despite the “Golden Master” nomenclature, there was a string of technical difficulties that nearly prevented the performance: the extension cable for the Kinect didn’t work, then the extension cable for the USB web cam didn’t work, then I couldn’t set up the Mira app with wi-fi to control the effects, then I couldn’t set it up over a private connection. Eventually we moved the entire performance about six feet downstage so I could sit at the edge and control the laptop manually. Sub-optimal, but it worked. Always nice to know that if Plans A, B, C, and D don’t work, there is still a Plan E.

The video for this performance, while still amateurish, is better than the others. Enjoy!

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Dance Loops, Open Beta @ SoTE

After learning a little more about what to do and what NOT to do with your first rendition of Dance Loops (i.e., the “alpha release” @ UCUR), we had a chance to do a few things over for our “open beta” (AKA the “nearly there” version). This time, we were at the Scholarship of Teaching and Engagement Conference (SoTE) at my home school, Utah Valley University, in Orem, Utah. Superstar UVU dancer Hannah Braegger McKeachnie reprised her role from Dance Loops and performed the first section, to the music of Julia Kent (with an edited version of “Gardermoen”). We still performed in a sub-optimal environment – a partitioned meeting room, in this case – and we still have abominable video but, otherwise, things went beautifully. We also got to meet some wondeful people from other schools who were interested in the piece and may be able to contribute in some way in the future. Very exciting! But, for now, here is our monkeywrench video:

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Dance Loops Accepted at ISEA2014!

Wonder of Wonder, Miracle of Miracles! Dance Loops was accepted for ISEA2014! That is, the 20th International Symposium on Electronic Art, which meets in Dubai in November of 2014.

In fact, it was accepted THREE TIMES. The first was the faculty piece, which we are calling “Debauched Kinesthesia: The Proprioceptive Remix.” As I mentioned before, “debauched kinesthesia” has nothing to do with debauchery. Rather, it’s a term from the Alexander Technique, which my wife Jacque Bell teaches, that refers to the disconnect that many people have between what they think their body is doing and what it actually is doing. And “proprioceptive” because that refers to the sense of where your own body is and what it’s doing, and “remix” because the dancers will be able to rearrange and replay videos of their own dancing while they themselves are dancing.

We also had two student proposals accepted. The first, which will have Mindy Houston, is called “The Triple Fool + 2: A Performance for Poetry, Dance, and Data Visualization” and is based on John Donne’s poem “The Triple Fool.” The second is “The Dance and the Meta-Dance: Live Performance and Live Visualization,” and were finding a dancer for that piece right now.

The tricky part, of course, is that now we have to find money to get there. I’ve submitted a grant application that would pay for most of it, but we’ll see what happens. Maybe it’s time to go on Kickstarter!

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Dance Loops, Alpha Release @ UCUR

In the software world, the “alpha release” is the “not-quite-ready-for-primetime” version. It is usually circulated internally so the bugs can be worked out, although there are occasionally public alpha releases by very daring (or foolish) companies. I’m not totally sure which of the two camps we fall into, but here is an extremely non-professional video – we like to call it the “bootleg version” – of our first public performance of Dance Loops.

The full name of this particular piece is “Dance Loops, Alpha Release: Trio with Live, Interactive Video Looping.” It was performed at the Utah Conference on Undergraduate Research at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. The dancers, in order of appearance, are Hannah Braegger McKeachnie, Izzy Arrieta-Silva, and Molly Buonforte, all of whom are undergraduate dance majors at Utah Valley University, where I teach. I designed the visuals and did the programming in Max/MSP/Jitter, while Jacque Lynn Bell (my wife and professional choreographer) and Nichole Ortega (chair of the UVU Department of Dance) provided choreographic input. The music is by Julia Kent (with an edited version of “Gardermoen” in the first piece and the complete version of “A Spire” in the last) and Zoë Keating (with an edited version of “Legions (War)” in the middle piece). By the way, those are live links to their websites where you can buy each piece of music, along with everything else they make! (I have all of their music and you should, too.)

Now, a few alpha release issues with this performance.

  1. The video is shot way off to the side and aimed wrong. The primary video camera didn’t work and, well, this is what we have. Better than nothing (but maybe not by much).

  2. It’s in a classroom auditorium with a very shallow stage and no theatre lighting, but that’s the nature of this event.

  3. The projections are way too fuzzy for this situation; we wanted them a little fuzzy but on this shiny surface it was really exaggerated.

  4. The videos are projected too high; we wanted to avoid the wood rail but learned that the videos need to be on the same level as the dancer and the same size to work best, wood rail be damned.

  5. We though that there was too much synchronization in the projections during the last rehearsal, so I removed a bunch of unity from the programming for this. Big mistake; it just looked jumbled. Never change things without rehearsing first!

  6. We also told the dancers that they didn’t need to follow their phrases so closely and to just play around with. They did exactly what we told them to but, again, it looked to mushy. Again, never change things without rehearsing!

So, we learned some important lessons. Nevertheless, it was a good experience. Hannah will get to her part again in a few weeks and Molly will do a variation on hers (and another) a week after that. We’re learning!

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"Debauched Kinesthesia" and "Dance Loops" Let Loose (Sort of)

Well, I’ve sent out conference applications for Dance Loops... finally. I’ve added a couple of extremely amateurish videos as vaguely supportive material. Mostly, they both just show that it’s possible to use the Kinect and Jitter to do some video recording and effects. I’d much rather have actual demonstration videos with the looping in place but, well, that takes more time and we’re still working on things. The first application is for the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR), which will meet at the University of Kentucky in April of 2014. That application uses the very exciting title of “Dance Loops: A Dance Performance with Live, Interactive Video Looping.” (At least it’s self-descriptive.) Here's the video:

The other application is for ISEA2014, the 20th International Symposium on Electronic Art, which meets in Dubai (!) in November of 2014. That one gets a much more interesting title: “Debauched Kinesthesia: The Proprioceptive Remix.” Woo hoo! By the way, “debauched kinesthesia” has nothing to do with debauchery. Rather, it’s a term from the Alexander Technique, which my wife Jacque Bell teaches, that refers to the disconnect that many people have between what they think their body is doing and what it actually is doing. And “proprioceptive” because that refers to the sense of where your own body is and what it’s doing, and “remix” because the dancers will be able to rearrange and replay videos of their own dancing while they themselves are dancing. Very exciting! Anyhow, here’s the not-very-helpful video that accompanied that application:

So, we’ll see what happens. It may be that I get to travel across the country with a few students in April, and maybe even around the world later that year. I’ll let you know what happens!

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Screendance Workshop @ U of U

Screendance-2013-Banner I'm thrilled to say that I was able to attend our friend Ellen Bromberg's biennial (more or less) screendance workshop at the University of Utah. The was my first real introduction to making screendance – also known as dance for camera, dance for video, video dance, cinédance, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. This workshop focused on editing as a form of choreography – something I had never considered – and was taught by the fabulous Simon Fildes (that's him in the top right frame).

[The last time the Screendance festival convened, it was Simon's wife, the extraordinary videographer Katrina McPherson who led the event. The collectively constitute Goat Media.]

The basic idea is to take lots and lots of random footage of dance and then create the order, transitions, and meaning by selecting, cutting, placing, repeating, and so on. I had always assumed that the choreography was created, the filming/video was blocked out, and things essentially went in a linear order. Oh, silly me; nothing of the sort. Film here, film there, throw it all in a big pile and then start mixing and matching. Amazing things can emerge.

Take a look at anything by Simon for stellar examples:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DicA-jC1gS8

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rFdZ71K7XQU

Or my masterpiece, built using random bits and pieces of footage that Simon provided for our experimentation:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rOWf9KOvwSY

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Live Looping Is Live!

Woo hoo! It’s a tiny step but an important one, as this is our first successful experiment with live video looping, which will be central to our Dance Loops project at Utah Valley University. This video is based on motion sensitive recording and processing in Max/MSP/Jitter via my Mac’s iSight camera. You’ll notice that the movement from the first half persists during the second half, in which additional movement is layered. The looped videos for Dance Loops will be filmed with a Kinect video/depth camera and will probably be played back in a very different way, but this represents the first step in that direction.

 

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"Hello World" Video from RDT (Now with Audio!)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5lJFRMwEUNQ La voilà!  The edited – and now sonified! –  video from our fabulous art/technology creation, "Hello World." Although I posted on this recently, here's the basic idea: "Hello World" is a collaboration between my lovely wife, choreographer Jacque Lynn Bell, and me. I did the sound editing/design and created the projected visuals in Processing. The piece was performed by Repertory Dance Theatre (rdtutah.org) at the Rose Wagner Theatre in Salt Lake City, Utah, 4-6 October 2012. The videography and editing were both by Lynne Wimmer (thank you, Lynne!).

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Where's my beret? I've got an art show!

 

As one more surprising development in my artistic life, I created some still pieces based on the dance visualization project that I did at the U of U (see this entry) and submitted them to the annual juried show for U of U art students at Williams Fine Art, a long-standing art gallery in Salt Lake City. Shockingly, I got accepted! (See, I'm the third person on the list.)

In the process, I gave a little theoretical background on the pieces I created. Here's what I put in my rather lengthy artist statement:

Dance is a challenging medium. It is notoriously ephemeral, as it disappears once the performance is finished. It is temporal, as it is always viewed in a particular order: first the beginning, then the middle, and then the end. And dance is situated, as the viewer typically has a single visual perspective throughout the entire performance.

In a series of experiments called “Danco kaj la universala okulo,” which is Esperanto for “Dance for the universal eye,” alternative to each of these characteristics were explored. To do so, ten dance performances were recorded with a Microsoft Kinect to get digital video and 3D motion capture data, which were then manipulated in Processing.

The first manipulation, “Danco 1: Preter spaco” (“Dance 1: Beyond Space”), presented point clouds – 3D pixel images – of the dancers. Viewers could change their perspective of the dance at will, even during the live performance: zooming in and out, rotating left and right, or going above or below the dancers.

The second manipulation, “Danco 2: Preter ordo” (“Dance 2: Beyond Order”), which is the basis of this print, was an interactive application that placed frames from all ten dances in random order. However, viewers could click on a frame and all of the frames from that dance would be highlighted and connected in order by a curving line. (The line is a Catmull-Rom spline with a random tension factor.) Viewers could then click a button and the selected frames would reassemble themselves in temporal order. As a note, this piece provided the seed for a recent multimedia and dance performance for Repertory Dance Theatre called “Hello World,” which was created with choreographer Jacque Bell.

The final manipulation, “Danco 3: Preter tempo” (“Dance 3: Beyond Time”), derived skeleton views from the pixel data and then accumulating figures as the dance progressed. In this way, the entire dance was simultaneously present as a unitary whole.

The prizes at the show went to actual artists, which is not surprising (although UVU did give me their own whopper prize a few months ago with the fellowship for Dance Loops). The show, however, was a fabulous experience and – hopefully – the first first of many to follow.

[And, yes, I do/did own a beret. However, I don't have any idea where it is. And I don't have any black turtlenecks, so I guess I have to pass on the artist image.

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Hello World at RDT

Jacque (my wife the choreographer) and I were invited to create a dance/technology piece for Repertory Dance Theatre, one of Utah's major modern dance companies, to be included in their fall show, Embark, on 04-06 October 2012. It was a great experience! We called it "Hello World," after the computer programming exercise that always represents the first step when learning a new language. (See the Wikipedia entry on "Hello World" programs here.) I created the visuals that were projected during the performance (mostly in Processing) and did the sound design (lots of white noise involved).

Here are some previews/reviews:

In addition, two artistic directors who shall remain unnamed said it was the best use of projections that they had ever seen in a dance performance! (Secret to success: Don't compete with the dancers.)

(Also, RDT published a study guide for teachers, in which all of the pieces in the show are described. The PDF is available here.)

I hope this is the first of many, many more things to come.

UPDATE: See the video in the post "Hello Word" video from RDT (now with audio!)"

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Dance Loops @ UVU

 

I'm on my way down to UVU (that is, Utah Valley University) for my first day of teaching there since I took a full-year sabbatical. The most exciting part of the whole thing is that I will (hopefully) be able to start working with students and my faculty collaborators (Nichole Ortega of UVU Dance and Jacque Bell – my wife – of U of U Theatre) on my big art project, Dance Loops. This is a big, interactive, multimedia performance piece based on work I did during my capstone course at the University of Utah. We'll spend the year working on it (and a bunch of related pieces) and take it on the road in spring/summer 2013.

Here's a YouTube video that I prepared when applying for a Presidential Fellowship for Faculty Scholarship at UVU. It's UVU's biggest faculty grant and, after quite the debacle with digital logistics, we got it!

[youtube=http://youtu.be/_ObzpXXZ74w]

And now we've got gear coming in: Ableton Live, Max for Live, Akai APC40/20 controllers, Novation Launchpads, Microsoft Kinects, Sony Bloggie 3D cameras, a pico projector and two 3D projectors, Final Cut Pro X, and so on. Whoo hoo! Now we just need to make something with all of that.

 

 

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Exposing My (Intellectual) Self

Homemade by Trisha Brown (1966) [The above is not me. Rather, it is Trisha Brown performing her 1966 dance "Homemade" with a projector strapped to her back. Way ahead of her time.]

In an experiment with intellectual and creative transparency, I’m going to make public the starting-from-nothing draft of a collaborative art/research project that I will do at Utah Valley University this fall with Nichole Ortega, Jacque Bell, and a large group of students from across campus. (Actually, I have been planning and working on my part for a while; it’s the active collaboration part that won’t start until fall.)

The project is tentatively titled “Dance Loops.” In the shortest possible explanation, it’s an attempt to do with modern dance what Zoë Keating does with the cello. (See zoekeating.com or search on YouTube for more info.)

More specifically, what we’re trying to do is allow a pair of dancers to capture, modify, and project looped videos of their movement during a live performance. To do this, the two dancers use onstage controllers (perhaps Novation Launchpads) to trigger motion capture with their respective Microsoft Kinect depth cameras. Using both their controllers and bodily motion (i.e., gestural control through the Kinects, which will run through Ableton Live and/or Max/MSP/Jitter), the dancers can control the playback of both the music and video projections of their dancing. The dancers will accompanied by an offstage visualist who will program the controllers, load audio clips, and control a central projector.

Well, that’s the idea, anyhow.

This past Tuesday (01 May 2012) I submitted a grant application for this project to the UVU Scholarly Council. If you’re interested, you can see the application letter here. It’s a quick turnaround so I should know by the 15th if the grant gets funded. If yes, fabulous! If no, I’ll see how much of it I can get done without all of the hardware and software.

And so, this brings us back to the transparency issue. I have a few reasons to start the manuscript now and to make it public:

  • To help me focus my thoughts on this project (which is generally a hard thing for me to do)
  • To avoid having to hastily recreate the process at a later date (which has happened to me more than once)
  • To make sure I explore my technical and artistic alternatives and make justifiable choices for the final decisions
  • To get feedback on early ideas
  • And, if nothing else, to get some outside help on proofreading and MLA style, which, as an experimental psychologist, is still new and confusing to me

[Note: The paper currently does not use MLA style headings because I want to use the formatting shortcuts in Google Docs. However, help with citations is welcome at any time.]

And, perhaps for comic effect,

  • To let people see how often a tenured research professor copies and pastes from Wikipedia. (The answer is “constantly” when I’m just starting the project, although it may all be replaced by other resources at the end.)

So, I invite anyone and everyone to check on the project’s progress. Please feel free to comment on the document by selecting the relevant text and then going to “Insert > Comment” in the Google Docs menu. Any insight or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Just click on j.mp/dance-loops-manuscript

Thanks!

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