monadologie day 28 & 29

This week has mostly involved me being in the studio and not so much time at the Centre. It was partially because of the weird rehearsal schedule, partially tiredness, and quite a bit of needing to make some sense of what in three weeks we will be doing and someone will be watching.

Yesterday afternoon, Cobie came in and we played with the 3-D camera set-up. Lots of very particular things involved to make the eyes, which it is quite easy to reveal are remarkably lazy in accepting what they see, not do what they do when there is just too much variation between what one eye and the other see and then everything goes, “owwwww!!!! pain!!!!”.

Today with Chris we got to see the results, about 10 seconds of footage in the 3-D Theatre of Bonnie. All quite successful, really. No, you can’t see what she really looks like in 3-D, but this is what the screen looks like without the 3-D glasses.


monadologie day 27

Just me alone … and Sunn 0))) … unjoy.

I wasn’t sure how useful me being in a studio on my own would be, despite a short list of schedule that I knew would take hours to make sense from. I surprise myself. Quite fun and I feel like a despotic scientist doing something resembling computational demonology.

This was a carryover from yesterday and the slight grimness I felt from watching Bonnie and I go through the whole thing and what was missing, why was it hollow like a zombie corpse? So I decided, having no one but myself for entertainment (poor choice of companionship, no?) I’d try and not induce crying by trying to do too much.

(Also pretended I was Anna Teresa De Keersmaeker making her solo Once.)

Things to do: Watch video from start. Try to get through the first ten phrases. The word for today is deliberateness. Find all the detail that has got mushed into choreography, decide – in a purely dictatorial fashion – what is going on, what operations are happening and on what body parts. Make pages of notes (feels like work, but in fact merely a precursor to). Do it a few times and video (haha, really, yes, actually dance a bit, Frances, on your own, with deliberateness).

Bonnie and I decided the first block of five phrases were more-or-less ok, though in watching the video on my own with no real time I have to finish by, I found some stuff that just makes it more … coherent or something. It’s just being accurate about what we’re doing, even when that happens to be a decision we make for ourselves every time we do it. The aim then was to find this level of sophistication in the next lot.

Partially I don’t know the phrases too well, a residue from how we assembled them, with me watching the video and describing it, and partially it was how we learnt them, with a slipping of focus into just choreography, empty steps without the blood that interested me in the first place.

So now there are pages of descriptions, a vague and general plan on how to do this for the other fifty or sixty phrases, and the first ten as a block I feel ok-ish about. It only took four hours or so. (Oh but Bonnie and Lina have to know what I know next.)

It looks as though I’m watching myself while video-ing, like staring in the mirror. I’m actually watching a bunch of maps of the Large Magellanic Cloud and mapping all my body-parts, in a strict order to them. It’s kinda fun, that there’s a progression of movement I go through, but also these maps, what I choose to pay attention to, which ones materialise, all changes what I do on a quite subtle level. I think this is getting close to evolving movement that isn’t a corpse or shell, that has the pressure inside of something living.

Tomorrow I do this with Bonnie, and Friday then (I don’t like to predict how my life will be even that far into the future) I get to do another ten on my own. It’s like learning to dance, or something.

Anyway, a little piece of me dancing for three and a half minutes.

(And big surprise, I found a print of the first page of Leibniz’s manuscript of monadologie, so beautiful to look at and read.)

leibniz – monadologie 1714
leibniz – monadologie 1714


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.


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.

monadologie day 14 & 15

Thursday was so baking and heavy, like getting into the trunk of a car on a hot day and being taken for a drive until expiration. And the flies. Something about cattle and poo and thousands of breeders per cow pat and all the runts, scrawny, malformed, malnourished and ravenous come in an insatiable black flying plague to vomit on and suck the nutrients off the lips of us mentally feeble enough to be outside and walking on such days.

We spent a brain-exhausting few hours in the studio of Lucy Guerin learning a few of the short phrase bits that came out of the VR Lab work. I’d spent the previous evening doing Final Cut Pro cut and paste watching Lina then Bonnie, finding stuff that worked – an odd and extremely subjective pursuit that nonetheless is quite clear to see – and ending up with a slew of 5 second tiny monsters to do … something with.

The first day of learning from video this stuff is the hardest. It’s partly getting used to understanding what we’re seeing, especially the transfer of 3-dimensional depth onto 2-dimensional inclines and foreshortenings, it’s also registering the detail and the procession of movement, mapping it onto our bodies, making very biased decisions about how far to go with detail, formulating rules and ideas about all this, and working out what to leave till later. We had this during temperance, and after the first couple of days it became a breeze.

The difference here is that we are working with specific methods (eg 9-point, avoidance, tracing, point, line, surface and volume operations etc) of analysing the VR visualisations, and so early on made a couple of rules that will possibly be very important in the eventual generation of the work. The first, possibly because I’ve been in Final Cut a lot the last couple of days is called bins. In all the improvisations, particular body parts, surfaces, joints, wrinkles, muscles and so on are afforded priority. Besides the general shape of movement over time, which can be reproduced reasonably quickly, these bins, which the rest of the body accommodated itself around are more or less impossible to recreate. They represent the immediate physical acts in response to the visualisations and there’s no way of turning the camera around to find what they were pointed at.

So we came to a decision these would be left open, as long as we knew both what body part was an empty bin at any time, and what operation was taking place within that location, anything could be slotted in (the second rule). This is probably important in the later stages when the work is being generated and a lot of making it up as we going along is happening in regard to external input from a bunch of data.

No photos yet, but Leo is planning to come in on Thursday and draw us, so everyone can see the strange little things we get up to in the studio.

monadologie day 12 & 13

I chose Camera B. The other one, Camera A seemed to be silently petulant around me. Together, they make up the 3-D stereoscopic video camera rig, that much later in the project will be exposed to whatever it is we come up with, so it will exist in trippy, migraine inducing, vertiginous stereoscopic 3-D. Nice.

I was just pointing it at Bonnie and Lina in the murky and dim VR Theatre while they watched different visualisations from the Centre’s recent work. Later I had to delete my entire iTunes to dump the video onto disk. No! 30 gig of music? Gone? Yes! (Lucky I have a backup, no?) So I am planning later in the week on buying a new external drive, I think 1/2 a terabyte would be enough, but as usual, I shall experience … disappointment.

Today we were working with a static rendering of the large scale structure of the universe, which for those of you who don’t hang around people who regularly say things like “weak gravitational lensing due to realistic cosmological distributions of dark matter” (no really, they do, I eavesdrop on the best conversations here) is of a size somewhere between 10kpc and 100Mpc, which in Star Wars terms is much, much, much further than the planet Princess Laea tried to send Grand Moff Tarkin to obliterate instead of Alderaan, which in light years is up to around 350 million light years, which makes our galaxy of 100,000 light years across look unmemorable and likely to make the church issue heretical edicts all over again, which all sounds like bluurrbluurrbluurr to you, so if you look at the photos below, and can see some of the tiny, tiny, blue dots in the black areas, well they’re about ten times the size of our galaxy, which contains around 200 to 400 billion stars. Just for reference, our sun is a star. Oh, and the rendering we were using is only a miniscule part of the universe. Feel insignificant yet? … reaaally tiny …

This is our third day in the Theatre, and it’s mostly going for coffee down the lane at this record shop run, I think by a rather nice French guy who makes tasty Chai Lattes and we sit outside and talk, then later sit on the floor of the Theatre and talk, and occasionally get up, put on some unfashionable 3-D glasses, they remind me of something Michael J. Fox would wear in Back to the Future, turn on the camera, play some Sunn0))) and do things that look mostly unlike dance.

I was watching some of the video tonight, cutting bits to learn tomorrow when we go into the studio, and was surprised by how much Bonnie and Lina’s movement changed in the last three days as I kept making their brains hurt with over-elaborate descriptions of various improvisational operations, and how this was slightly different from this other even though they look the same (making it up as I go along, I suppose).

It perhaps is coalescing into four, I guess to call, parts, or attributes. The first is a series of small phrases that come directly from these sessions in the VR-Lab. The second is a literal and/or incomprehensible reading of various papers, data, texts that either the visualisations we are using came from, or are completely separate. The third has something to do with the equations in the papers, I’m not sure what yet, and the fourth is a human response to each other.

Only the first is really choreographed, kind of like ‘initial conditions’, that will evolve once things get going. Everything else is, through a process of rigorously defining rules and procedures and stuff, … I really don’t like the word improvisation, it unfortunately implies in dance a certain laziness and flailing around without any purpose or method. I might say instead making it up as we go along.

Lots to talk about and read in the next week. I seem to be leaving home at 8 and getting home … at the other 8. Here’s the pictures. The text is there to make it look all sci-fi and futuristic, as if it needs any help.