goat snake witch dance theatre blackness

The last couple of days I’ve been working on a side-project, cleaning up my dance/performance/choreography website, francesdath.info. I decided a while ago I wanted to move it into WordPress, change the font to Anonymous Pro, and try and make everything I would do by hand-coding possible through the WordPress browser editor.

Success! (Mostly). The design hasn’t changed, except it’s been cleaned up a bit, and a more structured layout used. The video took the longest and was a rather intense learning process, which is going to fall over into some other projects I’m working on at the moment. The words I edited a bit, but mostly left alone. Some time I’ll clean that up also.

As for ‘goat snake witch dance theatre blackness’, I couldn’t decide which word I liked the least and somehow they all sit together quite nicely, like an excess of baroque.

monadologie – cosmos magazine

The bubble-quote of my traipsing through a park in Sydney, the endless, vertiginous blackness crisp with infinitesimal points, and there knowing the universe itself is enough, I didn’t elaborate on the minutes prior. Why was I walking through University of Sydney at night, alone? Why was I doing even in Sydney? And why is this memory so often recalled.

In this moment, looking up at the vast emptiness somewhere we are in, I knew absolutely there is no god.

I didn’t want to bring atheism so forthrightly into any discussion about my residency or monadologie, for many perhaps not so justifiable reasons including not-stepping-on-toes etc. I know from growing up very religious that people like to hold onto their faith with determination.

I was at a conference in Sydney, the Queen’s Trust Programme for Young Australians, and after a long day assumed the gathering I was sitting around in was for queers. Somehow I realised it was for Christians. I was already tired and emotional, the point of the structure of the week was to induce this, and sitting there was jolted into remembering just how messed up I’d been because of religion. And also, feeling peculiarly betrayed, suckered in, deceived. I was thinking we were going to talk about being queer and somehow that night I really wanted to… oh it’s elusive to remember…

I left. I said something like, “Oh, I’m in the wrong place”, and felt regarded as, well you know, a not quite as worthy person. I walked out, angry, certainly, upset also, this small gathering reminding me of the great villainy of religion that caused me to see every bad thing that happened as I grew up as god’s punishment for me being a sinner, for being queer.

I walked. It was inky in that way only standing in the midst of an unlit park can be, the horizon dotted by lights. I looked at the sky and god stopped. Gone.

I’d stopped believing years before, and praying, but in this moment if I can say I ever ‘became’ anything, I became an atheist.

I wrote this in the middle of the night, the witching hour, and all to say that for me in science i find an imagination far more worthy and joyous than religion can ever provide.

Tim Thwaites came along to one night of monadologie, stayed around for the discussion and later we spoke on the phone for an hour about the residency. I think it’s a really quite beautiful piece about the whole process that he wrote for Cosmos Magazine, and dance, art collaborating with science, especially for the last sentence:

monadologie is an answer to those who are unable to see how close is the link between the aesthetics of science and the intricate patterns found in art.”

I’m also quite honoured and proud, maybe a little bewildered to be in the middle of a magazine full of scientists talking passionately about their work. Photographed with my camera phone for your blurry enjoyment…

Gallery

monadologie photos

I do have much more to write about these last days at the centre, and I’ll make excuses elsewhere. I got some photos yesterday from Chris of the performance, Saturday night, taken by Paul Philipson.

Image

monadologie

Frances would like to invite you to a showing of the development of monadologie.

“In so far as the concatenation of their perceptions is due to the principle of memory alone, men act like the lower animals, resembling the empirical physicians, whose methods are those of mere practice without theory… For instance, when we expect that there will be daylight to-morrow, we do so empirically, because it has always so happened until now. It is only the astronomer who thinks it on rational grounds.”

— G.W. Leibniz – La Monadologie 1714

monadologie has been:

choreographed and danced by Bonnie Paskas, Frances d’Ath, Lina Limosani
an ANAT/Arts Victoria Arts Innovation Residency (AIR)
at Swinburne Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing
and Maximised by Chunky Move

important things:

when: Friday 22nd February, Saturday 23rd February
what time: 7:30pm
where: Napier St Theatre, cnr Napier and Church Sts, South Melbourne

what else: blogging at supernaut.info and www.anat.org.au/blog/dAth and dance stuff at www.francesdath.info

contact me: frances at francesdath.info or 0419 586 227

Please RSVP by email or SMS

Video

monadologie day 25 & 26

The twenty-fifth day being that wherein herd displays of nationalistic supremacy and mob imbecility occur across a country still insultingly and willfully ignorant and in denial of its own past and present. Well, we had a nice day in spite of that, anyway.

Today, with just me and Bonnie for the impending future, and rather yawny and feeling the absence in the studio, and worried how we could keep the same intensity without Lina saying, ‘Again … again … again…’. Somehow we got to the end and it was ok-ish.

I’m really troubled about making what I describe in relation to the other kinds of performance I make, as pure dance. I can’t quite provide a description of what that means, but to say perhaps that when I am making performance I need plenty of time to myself for research, and with this, whatever we do in the studio is the research might explain somewhat the dichotomy.

I’m also having audience anxiety. Normally I don’t care so much, of course there is a … I guess I want to ensure that irrespective of whether they like it or not they can’t deny it’s well-crafted, but as to anything else, I’m distinctly don’t care, but for this one … I actually see so little dance and care for it, the exact technique of choreographing, quite deeply, that I’m … That is to say, I know we can do some fast stuff and spectacle and people will go ‘wow!’, but what is more likely to be seen is an intense, grueling monster that is loud and relentless.

Bonnie and I did a couple of runs once filled up on coffee and banana (a distinctly unique taste combination, that does neither wondrous consumable any favours), and soft leg warmers for hurting knees, and filmed with excellent YouTube quality laptop webcam, and watched, and I became grim…

So, we talked, then watched again a couple of times (all these weeks for maybe 8 minutes, I am the slowest maker of movement in the universe), and talked some more and suddenly it became clear. I can’t say too much more just yet, it depends on what happens when we do what we decided in fact working. It could be rather doom-laden.

So here is a short clip of us wobbling small joints around, mapping various body-parts onto data visualisations (for me a wall plug), and concentrating on the deliberation in this. I think it would look rather nice with a stack of amps and a smoke machine. We are Sunn0)))’s back-up dancers.

monadologie day 23 & 24

I’m losing track of what day is where…

We spent a big day on Wednesday learning large amounts of material from video of the recent session in the VR Theatre, and we felt rather smug about it until yesterday when brain death overtook us and we forgot … everything. Sticky floor, revolting humidity, no fresh air, tiredness and paralysed trying to recall what came next.

A feeling of running out of time.

I’ve had to do some chopping is what is attainable in the not huge amount of time we have left. We’re not even half way through the process, but it’s time for amputation of ideas that can’t germinate so rapidly. This was a choice between developing a large scale structure that was generatively evolving and a structure that was pre-determined but within that had a series of possibilities for evolution.

The latter is more interesting because it is the actual movement that evolves, or rather, the content of the movement.

Chris gave a talk to us a couple of days ago after we’d finished in the Theatre on the history of Kepler’s laws of orbits, which went right back to Greek and Egyptian epochs before swinging through the Islamic world while Europe was garroting itself from the fall of the Roman Empire through the Dark Ages until the Renaissance, and on through Copernicus, Brahe till we get to Kepler. Then five minutes of Gravitational Lensing.

Later, he said to me (and I quote with wild inaccuracy), “I’m really longing for the days when astronomy could be done with a stick”.

Which is mostly what Newton did.

My original idea was some kind of generative lighting that was a simultaneous representation of what we were doing, that is to say, came from the same visualisations. Then I decided for various reasons that this was uninteresting and perhaps over-complex. I elected for the input that we as dancers would see, which would affect what we did to come from a bunch of laptops (“How many do you want, we have twenty.”). Over the last couple of days due to thinking about the logistics of the temporal structure of whatever was on the screens, I started to see … problems. Needless complexity. I needed a stick.

It’s important for me to say that while I really like new media, art and technology and all that über-fun kunst-wißenschaft stuff, I like it in my work insofar as it is the tools of manufacture. I largely do not enjoy seeing in dance performance excessive staging, as it firstly detracts from the dancers and choreography, and secondly often is a disguise for what is a very paltry investment in the enormously complex process of making movement.

My staging over the last couple of years has gone progressively spartan, until it’s nothing more than a bare stage, a minimum of props and dancers in whatever they’ve worn in rehearsal. Yes, it is an aesthetic and just as precious and self-conscious as spending $800,000 on robots and a Terminator soundtrack. So, I thought, whhyever do I want to have more than is necessary on stage? Also, and this is especially important in regard to astronomy and astrophysics is that it is barely possible to reduce it to human.

More on the stick …

It’s only in the last, say, 300 years or so that our ability to observe and apprehend the universe with our sense has gone beyond the innate ability of our bodies. What was once the entirety of sight, the visual spectrum from red to violet is now little more than an obscure slit in an enveloping cloak. We see all the way from Gamma and X-rays to far into the Radio, wavelengths from smaller than an atom to thousands of kilometers, and we see in distances incomprehensible even a few decades ago. Yet we mediate all this with technology and hardware, and so in some way have to make it sensible within our narrow range of vision.

I decided then to reduce whatever we end up doing to something that could be possible to be performed for Newton and Leibniz and Le Roi Soleil. Well, I might not be able to manage an authentic Age of Reason stage lighting as fire would be likely.

No more computers, just prints of whatever data we use, and so also (and I hope this works) a way around the temporal problems of running stuff off laptops; we turn the pages when we need. I like the idea of using technology to make something that is only performed by people, where the technology itself is absent. It’s not a denigration of technology or some back-to-prehistory anti-science, I think it expresses elegantly and without meaphor the vastness of the universe we find ourselves living in and how this has irrevocably changed us as individuals and collectively, and to find this on our bodies, I think this is the important thing.

Video

monadologie day (21 &) 22

Some hecticness, I’ll write about yesterday and today properly-ish when I have time … or not.

A little video. 45 seconds of us in rehearsal this morning. I was going to post it without much description but then though better of that and maybe an explanation is a good idea.

We have been working in the Swinburne VR Theatre, doing a lot of mapping of visualisations onto ourselves using a variety of methods. These became, once videoed and edited for the good bits, a series of phrases we learnt. Then we have, within the phrase parts of our bodies that are open to re-mapping various data using the same methods, unfolding and refolding the existing movement.

What we are doing here is playing with this. This was the first time we’d done it together, and it’s mostly a process of establishing rules and methods to do it. Beyond the actual phrases themselves, this is the first level of generation, then there is the mapping of data, cartography, tags, orbits, and a few other things.

monadologie day 20

Thursday, the last day of our second week, though it feels like our first week as we were in the VR Lab all last week, and only now are settled in Chunky Move, where we turn the lights off, open the blackout shades on the skylight and bask in a somewhat submarine transparency of the indirect light hazily sliding eastward across the floor as the sun moves into afternoon.

I have been apprehensive. I decided a good name for my next blog would be, “frances thinks about things then thinks about how to feel anxious about these things.” This week, after the maelstrom of the first day has been slightly slow, or rather a feeling of pushing against immovable resistance. I’d wanted to get through past the learning from video, past the learning to remember, past the settling of movement onto our bodies, all things that in terms of making performance don’t especially interest me beyond a small part of time, and on to what I hoped would be the fun stuff.

It was only Thursday we got to that, and the anxiety of if it didn’t work, I’d have to make some nice steps and do the conventional choreographic thing and pretend it was all evolving, generative systems. There is a lot of, “Well, we can’t go to that detail in doing this thing” in astrophysics, as in, “It’d be nice to model the entire universe but I’m not that smart, so I’ll just do the gravity bit of it”. I’m starting to sense this wave of realisation nearing me also.

So we got to a point where I had to not be dancer anymore and be choreographer for a couple of hours and watch. We ended, after I established a rather haphazard system to improvise from the phrases with, a … thing … that might work quite nicely. What works so far is the proximity of two people, and the unison of movement that then gets unfolded by various operations. In itself, when we get to the level of familiarity with the improvisational operations and methods, this alone on top of and disrupting the rather intricate, creepy and alien phrases would make something beautiful in itself.

Of course I want to go further … at least until I have to stop.

Now that we have some understanding of this with two people, reintroducing myself could make for 3-body fun. And certainly a need for a video camera. And then …

An impending meeting about Far Infra-Red and Radio analysis of the Large Magellanic Cloud, a bunch of stuff to understand and make useful on TreeSPH and SPH alone, stuff on Kepler’s elliptical orbits and 2- and 3-body orbital problems… that could be the entirety of the basic structure, that then somehow must have a sensible and legible correlation with short and long unfoldings, bins, the phrases themselves, and huge monsters of other stuff I won’t mention now as it induces confusion and pain.

Thursday was rather good.

monadologie day 18 & 19

The learning of movement from video is exhausting me. I remember this from when I used to haha choreograph. Somehow I’ve got quite good at doing this method of capturing movement onto bodies. Nonetheless, it is painfully slow, mentally grueling and usually we have to re-remember it the next day. And especially when there is so much more to do it feel like panic.

But, we’ve tried a few things and … had a couple of conversations and sometimes just get quite dizzy about what it is we’re attempting. I seem to be either rehearsing, reading, writing or thinking about this project continually until Saturday morning when I plunge into a stupor … or maybe a coma.

I had a chat with Sarah Maddison yesterday, about her paper Galactic Cannibalism: The Origin of the Magellanic Stream that I was particularly interested in because of this sentence: “To simulate the merger of the Milky Way–LMC–SMC system, we used the TreeSPH code of Kawata (2001) which includes a self-consistent treatment of self-gravity, gas dynamics, radiative cooling, star formation, supernova feedback, and metal enrichment.” (Requiring a search for Kawata’s paper today…). I liked the idea of having a system that included a bunch of attributes in some way that would also change over time and this, along with images from the LMC led me to Annie Hughes’ paper, A multi-resolution analysis of the radio-FIR correlation in the Large Magellanic Cloud.

Which led to Sarah explaining to me about some things like column density, how red shift and blue shift show up in spectrographic analysis and give information on velocity in the clouds, and then fun stuff with TreeSPH that was the highlight of my day.

Skipping all the stuff on F=ma and the scariest things in my life at the moment – derivatives, Sarah explained how a model could be assembled in the following way: All particles are tagged as either “Gas” or “Dust”. There are a number of Forces, F that each can have – Fgrav (gravity), Fpres (pressure), Fvisc (viscosity), Fdrag (drag) that make you move and interact with other particles. When one particle meets another there are some possibilities about their interaction based on what type of particle they are and what forces are available to them because of their type: Gas-Gas has gravity, pressure and viscosity, Gas-Dust has gravity and drag, and Dust-Dust has gravity only.

Then particles can be queried for their age, and if age=n, and they happen to be in a dense region, they form a star. Queried again later their age might be age=n+old so they go supernova and cause feedback and metal enrichment, and so on.

The instantly entrancing thing about this was the idea of tagging an object, the tag having certain attributes and certain ways of interacting with other objects. Call the objects dancers, have specific operations or methods of moving available to them depending on their type (which exists independently of whatever pre-existing choreography they are doing, though can affect and modify this), and then a subset of those methods available to them depending on the type of the dancers they get too close to. Then also proximity indicates manner of interaction, too far away and it’s just an arc past, close enough and they fall into orbit, too close and they collide.

In all this, it’s the application of really simple rules and instructions that make the complexity, both for astrophysics and for what I’m trying to do. The choreography we are doing though, is fiendishly intricate and mentally taxing, so there needs to be clearer methods I think for allowing it to open up to this kind of generative approach.

We were talking about Leibniz again yesterday, and Gille Deleuze’s essay on him, The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque, which is probably where all this started for me. I guess the next thing amidst all this is how to take what we already have that is choreography and work out how to fold, unfold and refold it, so that from any one point an infinity of possibilities can result.

That’s something for tomorrow, I think.

monadologie day 16 & 17

Mostly I slept. I roused to see the Christian Marclay exhibition on at ACMI, and was utterly deliriously overjoyed and hysterically laughing at his crossfire, quite the best 8 minutes and 30 seconds of cinema I’ve seen in ages, I wanted to scream and spin around just trying to keep up with the riot of guns all firing point blank at me. Video Quartet was also special in a far calmer and soothing way. Shame the sound quality (I don’t know if this was Marclay or ACMI) was a bit tinny and distant.

So much for being at the Centre doing work.

Sunday I spent a few hours here, just editing the video, realising it was quite a relaxing, somnambulistic process wherein I could unfocus my eyes, get a bit dreamy and some other part of my brain would do the, “Ooohh!!! Look at that!!!” excitement when Bonnie or Lina did something special.

I have around five minutes of edited stuff for us to learn now, all in 5 or so second blips, that almost feel too long. Always can do it faster, I suppose. So I decided to be fairly mercenary in my choices of bits as I thought by the end of this week, with time in the studio and working on everything, when we get back into the VR Theatre, things will likely be remarkable different, and so better to save those as yet unmade ones rather than learn everything we have now.

I elected then to not work too hard on Sunday and resolved to eat more.

Today, Monday was our first day at Chunky Move, who have Maximised the project, which means free studio space, and other really useful things. In the small orange box, with non-parallel walls and ceiling for seven hours, some Boris, Godspeed You Black Emperor, and of course Sunn0))).

I seem to be in a thinking state where doing all the improvisation technologies makes me prone to speculate wildly on what possibilities are in it, probably because I’ve been doing this stuff a lot in the past six months. One of the things today in doing the deceptively simple 9-point stuff was trying to layer different body parts onto various surfaces of a point in space (I think I went on somewhere about how the point is better conceived for the sake of this method as being a cube or other 3-dimensional object), holding each one in place until another limb or appendage arrived, and in the process of doing this, taking the time to make quite torturous approach paths and also equally unlikely body parts arriving at suitably difficult surfaces on the ‘point’. It reminds me of the ship docking in 2001, mesmerised by its spinning to the Blue Danube Waltz

Later it was the possibilities in parallel shearing, which is at its simplest a relationship between two lines in the body. I keep thinking with this about earthquake faultlines, and how they slip and shear against each other. This simple movement, to left and right, up and down and repulsing and attracting leads to a complex motion that seems to crawl all over our bodies … well, I got pretty excited about it today anyway.

Learning stuff…

Learning from video is hugely faster the second day, though it was our first day learning Lina’s stuff and it was brain-sappingly intricate. I was quite amazed we got through five of her phrases by the end of the day, and we’d all been keeping up an intense focus (my early afternoon yawns aside).

The stupidly optimistic tasks for today were to get beyond just learning the phrases and start writing them onto a set of maps of the Large Magellanic Cloud, the research for which I think I shall go home to read in bed … I need to lie down for this stuff. This mapping, depending on how it pans out will be the first new stuff in this project, and … well if things don’t work out, we’ll just string a bunch of phrases together and make it look spectral and astrophysical, but I’d rather that didn’t happen. I never know if what I’m going to do next is … going to take me off the edge of the world.

I hope rather what will happen is these maps will determine where we are in the performance space at any time, our relationships to each other, and other as yet unknown attributes and qualities. Also … yes there is something here too on the history of astronomy cartography. It’s nice too in all of this to start feeling fit and danced in again.