A Year Of My Heart

A year ago, I decided to get all analytic on my training. Mainly I just like tech and pretty representations of data. So I bought a heart rate sensor. And now it’s been a year of me using it almost every time I train. Which means I can look at a year in the life of Frances training, with all the … whatever that reveals.

What does it reveal, Frances?

Well, other Frances. I trained 156 times — that I recorded, let’s say 170 because I pretty much did not train without it unless I forgot either sensor or phone. For a total of 190 hours — there’d be a few more in that for the times my phone battery died. For a measly distance of 1481 kilometres — of actual training rides, not including cross-town, Kreuzberg-Wedding type stuff, so maybe double that at least, no wonder I spend so much on my bike and it feels like it’s constantly in need of repair. Hey, just like me! (Wow, there’s a realisation, right there.) About 1/3 of that was ballet, another third cycling (mostly road at the moment, but some cyclocross), 1/6 bouldering, and the remaining 1/6th a mix of yoga and core training.

Oh, and supposedly I burned around 121,000 calories, which is about 60 days of eating 2000 calories a day. I’m not really convinced about this. I think it’s more of an imaginary number, and not the mathematical kind.

What else? Speed, both average and top are derived from iPhone GPS. I’m not sure how much dispersion there is in this, but I suspect it can easily be 5km/h or more in either direction. My next gear purchase (after … umm … new brakes and probably new rear derailleur pulley wheels) is a speed/cadence sensor — which probably means also a proper cycling head unit instead of phone …

I seem to unintentionally train in 9-10 week blocks, then give up in despair for a couple of weeks, then, like a goldfish circling its bowl, forget all that and get right back into it. Knowing that this might be my natural rhythm though, it could make sense to train in 9 week blocks with a week off, if for nothing else than keeping my enthusiasm. Also I doubt I’ve been training like that this year, my rhythm’s all over the place.

My maximum heart rate seems to be constant around 190 (excluding the huge jumps into the 200s that were either the battery going flat, the sensor getting jostled, or actual random heart weirdness from having stupid fun training in -10º weather). I dunno, I have no context or expertise for reading anything into these figures, other than I seem to like training if it involves a degree of discomfort and some suffering — which I didn’t need a heart rate sensor to tell me.

So, a year of data. What to do with it? No idea! Will I keep using it? For now, yes. It’s become automatic to put it on. I don’t really use it during training, though I’d use it for cycling if I could find an iPhone mount that could hold my ancient 4S. But mostly I do it on feel, and that corresponds pretty closely to the various heart rate zones. I do do regular post-training gawks, to compare how I felt with actual data — and knowing that data across sessions gives me a bit of a feeling for where I’m at on a particular day or week. And one other thing: I train a lot less than I think.

Worth it for seeing a year of training all pretty like that? Yup!

Polar Flow and H7 Heart Rate Sensor — One Year Weekly Training Report
Polar Flow and H7 Heart Rate Sensor — One Year Weekly Training Report
Polar Flow and H7 Heart Rate Sensor — One Year Daily Training Report
Polar Flow and H7 Heart Rate Sensor — One Year Daily Training Report

Black Metal 1: How it Started and Some Notes about Music

All this began a couple of months ago, when Isabelle Schad said, “looks like I won’t have time in April to get in the studio with you, so here’s a week for you, call it a mini-residency.” Her studio, Wiesenburg Halle in Wedding, is in a 150 year-old, abandoned former homeless people’s asylum on the Panke canal that was built on funds from the Berlin Jewish community, then appropriated by the Nazis, used as a factory for manufacturing insignia, then munitions, then bombed and shot to all crap, then quietly returning to forest while the original owner’s descendants live in the front apartment building (an entire story in itself) – and a few years ago, Isabelle and the Wiesen 55 e.V. got funds to turn one of the decrepit halls (well, mostly its walls) and neighbouring areas into a rehearsal space surrounded by gardens. Huge and airy, and with a full lighting and sound rig, plus a kitchen, mezzanine, garden full of birds and life, a lot like being in the forest and not in a big city.

So I arrived on Monday with bike (cos I was taking full advantage of being in Wedding to go morning cyclocross-ing in the forest), two bags of stuff, and one “I have no idea what I’m doing.” It’s been a long time since I was in a studio making art, and a solo … that’s something I’ve not really ever done. Solos are the present currency of performance makers of all stripes, in large part because they’re cheap to stage and tour, in part also because of the ongoing fixation on autobiographical authenticity, but I’ve always preferred the intermediary of dancers (even if I performed in my own work). Doing a solo has always been a mix of “I have nothing to say,” and “I have no idea what to do,” and inflicting one on myself … maybe now I’m capable of it cos I don’t really give a shit anymore.

Black Metal is a lot about that last bit, doing stupid stuff in my bedroom to amuse myself, not caring about potential audience (or lack of) or all the usual games of funding, producing, venue-ing. Of course watching the video of the showing it has to be ‘good’ in the sense of I myself as my own audience have to get a kick out of it and go, “fukkenyeeeaah!” which means I have to go all spectacle on my own arse – to put it another way, in choreographing and performing myself, I have to be convincing to my other self as audience, I have to be good (competent, artistic, compelling) at what I do.

Lucky I had some ideas. Not big ones, not many, only four – really only one but call it four – not very ambitious, not wanting to make something big or complicated or involved. I’ve been trying on and off for a few years to get a solo out, and kept falling into the trench of unrealisable ideas, paralysed by too bigness, things that require budget and support and all, and seeing Germany is consistently uninterested in what I do, the likelihood of making a big work with several dancers and all the rest is highly improbable, which left a solo, which kept failing when my thinking modality banged up against incommensurability with budget. So, basically bedroom stupidity. With metal.

Things I love: Heavy metal. Hoonage. Swearing.

When I was a student in Australia, SBS used to have Top Fuel drag racing on a Friday night. Fukken heaven. This isn’t a piece about that or swearing, but there’s something of the cultural displeasure at both in it, what’s acceptable and what’s not. Heavy metal – in any of its derivatives, death, speed, thrash, hair, black, folk, doom, power, and on and on – is only really palatable to an outside audience if it’s made ironic. Metal might be many things but it’s never ironic. The commitment to the theatre of the act never lets up, never gives a knowing wink at the audience, no matter how ridiculous and embarrassing it might look – listen and look at Lost Horizon, or Gorgoroth’s Kraków, brilliance all round.

There’s a close relationship between punk, goth, and metal; I’ve been all three and can say, Metal Rulez!!! In seriousness and partisanship here, I think there is a larger possibility for creativity in metal than the other two which comes in part from the—wait, must headbang to Sword in the Metal Wind for a bit—ok, back … comes in part from the theatricality (not to confuse that with playing pretend, theatricality here is the performance of image), and part from the joy of music. Listen to Sword in the Metal Wind or Gorgoroth’s Antichrist, constantly changing time signatures, rhythms, melodies, keys, even Slayer’s Raining Blood goes all over the place. It draws on the history of western classical and folk music (or for Taiwan’s Chthonic, traditional Taiwanese music), and for me there’s a lineage I can hear with say, Trelldom or Sunn O))) and Hildegard von Bingen across a thousand years. Which is maybe to say there’s a greater intellectualism (as differentiated from politicalism in punk) in metal that its theatricality doesn’t always make apparent.

Metal, yeah, I could go on about it all day. I’ve used metal music in pretty much every work I’ve made, it’s probably one of those things I should deny myself in the interests of getting over my habits and devices. This piece I wanted to go into the least-liked of subgenres, the one of church burnings, murder, neo-Nazis, Norway, corpse paint, that inadvertently made some incredible and influential music. And as I went along, Gaahl, the lead singer of Gorgoroth, and with his own project Trelldom (and others), tall Gaahl from a fjord village north of Bergen with the haunted eyes and penchant for burning churches and torturing people who cross his line, gay Gaahl, became central. I’d planned to only use music from him or in which he sung, but that didn’t work out during the residency, limited to what I had on my laptop. So, Sunn O))) which I’ve used so many times it’s a cliché, Gorgoroth from immediately before Gaahl joined (the incredible eponymous track from the Antichrist album), fucking Nazi Burzum – going to go into why I’m using Burzum and why it doesn’t seem like a bad idea right now: maybe it’s possible to appropriate his music, and maybe within the context of black metal and the history of the last millennia of northern Europe it’s apt, maybe also it elucidates without nuance the arrogant misogyny, nationalism, hetero-bro-ing, racism of black metal, and by extension all metal and most contemporary music genres.

And then there’s Hildegard von Bingen,  who you should really read about cos she was well awesome. I wanted to use some mediæval music, and obviously my proclivities and interests meant the composer should be a woman, and best if it was from 12th century-ish northern Europe. This doesn’t leave so many possibilities, but lucky my ongoing enjoyment of Mechthild von Magdeburg led to her, though they likely never met and were on opposites of Thüringen. I was trying to find some non-folk music that was instrumental, but seems like gaping yaws is the default, so her O Tu Suavissima Virga swings between too beautiful, too easy, too overbearing, too saccharine, quite a few other toos, but also might be the piece. After the showing we had plenty of talking about music, about Hildegard and soaring mediæval sacral music, and how the showing was a one-to-one relationship of music to dance. A proper sound design is one possibility, though I wonder if that might become too complicated and not crap enough. For the moment I’m not sure. Same goes for lighting, though I’d love to have Giacomo Gorini along. Either way whatever I do needs to be convincing even without sound or lights.

Inadvertently I’ve jumped from a general what I was doing and how it came about to a long blab about music. Which means I’ll have to save writing about what I was doing for next time.

Video

Black Metal 1: Wiesenburg Halle Residency Showing Video

And here’s the video from the showing of Black Metal at Wiesenburg Halle on Sunday, April 24th. 33 minutes of bedroom metal idiocy plus mediæval chick music (that’d be Hildegard von Bingen).

I haven’t actually watched this all yet, just a quick cleanup edit (it was a showing, a bit of start-stop) – and thank you Dasniya Sommer for pointing camera very nicely at my highjinks. I tend to video most of what I do when I’m working, so I can be my own choreographer / director, and in the context of my residency in Wiesenburg Halle, this was just another day and first attempt at stringing everything together plus having a few people watching. Some of it I like; some of it I’m ambivalent about – writing through the whole thing is for another post.

Music-wise, yes, that’s Burzum; yes, he’s a white shit fucking Nazi. Other music was Gorgoroth, curiously not with Gaahl on vocals, as he is somewhat a primary part of this piece and his solo work, Trelldom has been fully thrashed while I was in Wiesenburg. More Gaahl; less Varg. And yeah, a conversation about black metal and Nazi fuckery is one I am both having with myself and putting aside. Also Sunn O))). And at the end, Hildegard von Bingen, who is metal as hell. Which is to say, the audio is a semi-placeholder.

Anyway, enough bollocks. Here’s the video of me, black metal bedroom. (It’s  462mb, so prolly not a good idea to slay it on your mobile phone or crap internet.)

Also: Again thanks to Dasniya Sommer for video and a huge number of other things; Sarah-Jane Norman for metalicity; Charlotte Pistorius for make-up, costume, and other assistance; David Young for art & theatre discussions; and Isabelle Schad & Wiesen 55 e.V. for providing my residency in Wiesenburg Hallen.

Ballet & Tech (A First Attempt)

Me (on and off for the last couple of years): “It would be awesome to have a power meter or something so I can go all data on my training…”

Twitter:

Has any dancer ever measured a performance with a fitbit or pedometer? How many steps? How far do they dance? PLEASE will someone do this?

Me (in Jo Siska’s ballet class on Wednesday): “OMG Jo! Look! Data!”

Inaccurate data. But that’s what this is, a test of how to get meaningful and accurate(-ish) data on what goes on when I’m dancing.

When I was living in Wedding, part of my training routine was morning cyclocross rides in the forest around Flughafen Tegel. Last year when I inherited an (old, 4s) iPhone and stuck Trails app on it, I started to see what the intangible feeling of each ride represented. A couple of things were missing though, one of which I finally prodded myself to buy this week – a Polar H7 heart rate sensor (yeah, I got the pink strap). The other is one of those crazy expenses I’m unlikely to throw euros at unless I have around four thousand of them spare for a new bike: a power meter.

Power meters tend to be the province of bike crank arms, pedals, or hubs and cost about double what normal people spend on a whole bike. And none of them are objects you can take into a dance studio. Slightly getting there is the rpm2 shoe insert power meter, still no good for dance though. Which leaves the very new Stryd – and very cheap, not much more than a Fitbit (which I’ll get to later), and about the same size as the H7 – a power meter for runners.

Before all that, Wednesday. In the studio with my heart sensor on and my iPhone beside the barre, cos it uses Bluetooth to sync. That’s several problems right there. First, doing ballet (or generally dance) training with an iPhone lodged somewhere is not so practical, which means a pedometer is going to count exactly zero steps. Second, Bluetooth is possessive, it likes quasi-line-of-sight and proximity. Bouncing around ten meters down the studio with heart monitor facing away from it is going to generate some highly improvised heart rate info. If, for the sake of science, I slip my iPhone into my trackie pocket, I’ll get pedometer info, but any GPS-based data capture (speed, distance, location) is comically useless, having an accuracy of greater than 4 meters. I was dumping my heart info into Trails, which is a fine app for cycling training, and much of the time it had my location not even in the same building, plus my altitude changed by 24 metres.

Thursday on my morning training ride around Tempelhoferfeld, I used both Trails and Polar’s Polar Beat. The data resolution of both is pretty good, Polar Beat is more fine-grained, and neither had a problem with my phone being in the back pocket of my jersey. I’ve been doing enough cycling with data recording to know what looks right.

Which leads me to Fitbit, cos my flatmate has one. It stores the data locally so no need for a live Bluetooth connection. It does heart rate, pedometer, a bunch of other useful garbage, makes pretty data, syncs to phone, laptop, or to fitbit.com, and looks like a dainty watch strap.

So, Friday, ballet again. This time with a Fitbit and my H7 going to Polar Beat.

I’m siding with Fitbit when they say their data accuracy decreases outside fairly limited activities: both heart monitor and step counter are dependant on arms not windmilling for acquisition of useful data. Perhaps it requires repeated use to find the best spot on my wrist, but compared to the H7, Fitbit reported my average heart rate at ~20bpm less – I stuck fingers to neck and what the H7 shows is a good match. As for steps – and ignoring the first 18 minutes or so where I have no idea who it thought I was – it gave around 250 for the entire 40 minutes of barre, and 2200 for the class; obviously not counting a pas de bourée as three steps.

The H7 doesn’t do step counting – unless you pair it with their walnut-sized Stride Sensor somehow affixed to your foot. Its heart data though is magical. You can see every exercise through the class mirrored in my increased heart rate, and check out the centre adage starting at 40 minutes, where the curve is almost identical for both times, and the arc through the entire class, building intensity in small stages at the barre until peaking through the centre into longer and longer periods of maximum effort, before révérance-ing out. I can also look at sections, so if I select just the centre, then my average heart rate goes up to 167 and only once drops below 120. Lots of good data you can do stuff with. (And I can even assign training to Ballet, with a fancy Olympic-looking arabesque!)

But what about power? Or other stuff? Stryd for the power (and heart rate), and RunScribe for everything else? Would they even handle dancing? RunScribe would be awesome for visualising the mechanics of dancing, g-force, velocity, ground contact time, pronation – if it could handle the foot chaos. And then what to do with all this information? If it’s all just for a bit of woohoo! then Fitbit and its social network gamification of sleeping is fine. But if it’s for the purpose of improving performance, technique, being more diligent in how you train, that’s a whole other thing.

Ballet training with Polar H7 Heart Rate Sensor
Ballet training with Polar H7 Heart Rate Sensor
Ballet training with Fitbit Charge HR
Ballet training with Fitbit Charge HR

Gallery

42a a cameraphone recollection

A recollection of 42a from my phone, somewhat disordered.