Dance Loops, Golden Master @ NCUR

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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!

Dance Loops, Open Beta @ SoTE

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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:

Dance Loops Accepted at ISEA2014!

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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. (I wrote about this application in an earlier post.)

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!

Dance Loops, Alpha Release @ UCUR

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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!

Visualization *of* dance & visualization *via* dance

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[The above image is from the post “Math Dances: Imitating Data Visualization Techniques through Dance” as found on the blog information aesthetics. The video is by Tufts University applicant Amelia Downs. Thank you.]

We just submitted two student applications to ISEA2014 (in addition to my faculty application for “Debauched Kinesthesia” that I sent in December of 2013). The two pieces are “augmented” solos for two undergraduate dancers at UVU, Dixon Bowles and Mindy Houston. Both are wonderfully talented dancers and I’m fortunate to work with them.

The two pieces are of particular interest to me personally because they build on my other academic interest (i.e., the one that I’m paid money for), which is data and data visualization. The first piece is a visualization of the dance’s data. It’s slightly tongue-in-cheek but still neat, especially as it all happens while the dancer is dancing. The second takes a different angle by making the dance itself the visualization of other data (in this case, a poem). The choreography is created to reflect the progression in the poem and then the visuals, which are recorded and looped live, are arranged in such a way as to magnify the structure and development.

Here are the official descriptions that we sent in with the applications. The first piece is Dixon’s.

The Dance and the Meta-Dance: Live Performance and Live Visualization

This proposal is for a live, solo dance performance that is augmented with video and motion tracking. The video and motion data are used for two live visualizations that are projected on each side of the dance. For the first projection or “meta-dance”, the video data is captured with a small web camera and is processed in Max/MSP/Jitter using the Cyclops object, which analyzes RGB data to allow for motion tracking in real-time. The resulting motion data are then used by the program to “evaluate” the performance on several criteria derived from Margaret H’Doubler’s web of principles of dance composition: Climax, Transition, Balance, Sequence, Repetition, Harmony, Variety and Contrast. These values are standardized and displayed as both streaming bar and radar charts as well time-series plots to highlight periodicity in the performance. For the second “meta-dance” projection, motion data from a Kinect depth camera are used to identify the three-dimensional coordinates of key body points in the dancer, such as head, shoulders, hands, and hips. These coordinates are then drawn on the screen as abstract ribbons or streams that rotate and fade over time, highlighting the temporality and abstractness of dance. Taken together, the live performer’s dance and the two “visual commentaries” or “meta-dances” offer multiple psychological and social realities on performative art. They also represent an initial step in the establishment of live visualization of dance-derived data as an art form in itself.

And the second piece is Mindy’s.

The Triple Fool + 2: A Performance for Poetry, Dance, and Data Visualization

This live dance performance is based on the poem “The Triple Fool” by John Donne (1572-1631), in which Donne complains that he is a fool in three ways: (1) for falling in love; (2) for “saying so in whining poetry,” and (3) for grieving again when his verse is put to music. This performance expands on Donne’s lament by expressing it in two other media: first in dance by a solo performer, which is recorded live with a small web camera and processed in Max/MSP/Jitter, and second by a data visualization of the poem’s text, which is revealed as the dance progresses, showing the relationships between the poem’s structures and ideas. The dance, however, serves a critical, additional function: the performance itself becomes a visualization of the text, as video clips of the performance (all of which are recorded live) are selected by the program and looped on two adjacent screens in such a way that the structure and relationships within the dance (as constructed by the live performer and the projected doubles) mirror those of the poem. That is, the dance is not just an kinesthetic, affective enactment but a visualization of the poem’s textual data. Thus, the dance performance and the data visualization become two additional means for exploring/compounding Donne’s grief, adding two additional “fools” to his original three.

We should find out by the end of March whether the performances are accepted. (And I should find out about mine in about two weeks.) We’re keeping fingers crossed.

Dance Loops accepted at UCUR, SoTE, and NCUR!

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I mentioned in the last post that I had sent proposals from the Dance Loops project off to a few conferences, such as the Utah Conference on Undergraduate Research. We got accepted at both (!) and even at another one as an added bonus: UVU‘s Scholarship of Teaching and Engagement Conference (SoTE)!

And so we have three performances scheduled:

  • UCUR on 28 February 2014
  • SoTE on 28 March 2014
  • NCUR on 03-05 April 2014

“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!