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the diptik experiment

 

The aims for the production of DIPTIK#1 were retrospectively quite ambitious. While we succeed in producing a work that demonstrated 'sound is movement, movement is sound', only one instrumentalist was able to demonstrate contrasting ideas in sound and movement simultaneously. However, this was touched on briefly and was not included in the final work.[1] This was due to insufficient time which resulted in the methodology not being fully put into practice. This is reflected in notes kept from the project and feedback from the performers and the audience. Most of the R&D period was utilised refining an aesthetic and developing a language as the methodology for creating the performance piece. Another factor is that the score produced for the creation period contained a large amount of material which required time for investigation. Furthermore the use of the co-director model based on Cage-Cunningham may not have been a sufficient mode of direction to satisfy all of the objectives of this project.

 

The Commission

The aims and objectives for the project were:

  • to tear down the wall between musicians and dancers in the performance space,
  • to provide a platform for an up-and-coming choreographer and composer to create a high quality cross-art performance work,
  • to work with dancers and musicians who were trained in both fields, including two performers using clarinet/bass clarinet and harp,
  • to develop a language for communicating a performance piece where dancer-musicians can create sound while moving at the same time,
  • to create a work lead by the co-directors, also in collaboration with the dancer-musicians, that pushes the boundaries of dance and music,
  • to utilise dancer-musicians but not be restricted by this practice – each performer could vary the music and dance, either alternating roles or performing both simultaneously,
  • to explore the relationship between performer and instrument and the scope of possibilities for creating sound and movement simultaneously,
  • to include both improvised and choreographed sections for the work
  • to provide an audience an entirely new experience of a work where one cannot tell the difference between dancers and musicians,
  • to perform this piece in the Resolution! 2015 festival at The Place.[2]


Aesthetic and Skills

To satisfy the above objectives the co-directors (Katarzyna Witek and Elliot Galvin) chose an aesthetic to convey the notion of 'sound is movement'. To achieve this the performers were instructed to use natural, functional movements[3] and exercises in awareness were required. The aesthetic had the further affect of bringing in additional skills other than dance and music. These skills included acting, vocal techniques and percussion.[4] Performer and audience feedback indicates that the level of acting skills for the group could have been improved. The surveys detail two performers who indicated they were not trained in acting and struggled with this skill[5] - this was noticed by at least one audience member.[6] The documentary evidence during the R&D period indicates that the vocal techniques of the performers could have been improved and it was maintained that more funding for a vocal coach and additional time could have facilitated this improvement.[7] Similarly in the performer feedback it is signified that percussion and body percussion techniques could have been more polished.[8] On top of these additional skills, the performers might have benefitted from more time to train in the area of music or dance they were less experienced in, thus bringing both skills up to a professional standard. It can be seen at 11:12 in the video above that the performer at the rear of the group playing the bell did not follow a strict meter as is indicated in the score. In the surveys, one dancer wanted more time so that the dancers could improve their music skills. Likewise one of the musicians wanted more time to improve their movement skills[9]. For the performers to convey this aesthetic to the best of their abilities with the skills required, more time could have been utilised to bring all of these skills up to a professional standard.
 

Awareness

Witek ran awareness exercises as the first step in our development.[10] She used Deborah Hay’s ‘playing awake’ process. This process took the form of an improvisational exercise where instructions were given that are:

1)   impossible to realize,
2)   embarrassing to ‘do’ or idiotic to contemplate
3)   maddeningly simple.[11]

Questions were asked that were:

1)   unanswerable
2)   impossible to truly comprehend, and, at the same time,
3)   poignantly immediate.[12]

Hay herself describes that this process is to:

 

…trick myself into being in this body, into noticing time passing, so that I’m there, in that room, in the experience. I can’t grasp it all, and that’s precisely the point.[13]

This practice resulted in a frame of mind, or awareness, that could be transferred over to the creation of  sound and movement in a natural way - responding to ones environment as if having never experienced it before.[14]

 

Language

Having attained this heightened awareness of body and space, the directors decided to use a notated score to provide instructions for the dancer-musicians. We needed to find a language for communicating both sound and movement ideas to performers from the score. We first tried graphic notations and compared those to more traditional music notations and found that the musical notations were more clearly understood by performers for describing sound. We followed the same process with movement and found the same instructions could be used for describing movement as all performers aside from one could read music. This was realised from experimenting with interpreting the music notations as if they were DanceWriting,[15] or in a similar vein to Ruth St Denis’s 'synchoric orchestra,' which:

[makes] visible distinct orchestrations of a musical score through the imitation of that scoring by dancers on the stage: a specific dancer might equal a specific instrument or musical motif.[16]

To convey the message of the work, a shared language consisting of musical fragments and phrases of words, such as 'as slowly as possible', was developed. This needed to be effective in both sound and movement, thereby consistently understandable for performers. The next task was to find a vocabulary so that if each performer were to interpret the same notations it would be understood by the audience that each performer was reading the same score.

The process we used to refine our vocabulary focused on the experimentation of notations. We structured an improvisation exercise where we took turns in interpreting music notation as sound, music notation as movement, word phrase as sound, word phrase as movement - this can be seen in the two R&D videos below.[17] We tried various musical fragments and word phrases and once we found those for which our interpretations were clear and consistent, we used these as our vocabulary for a score.

R&D score

Score

Galvin's final score, created with this language for the creation period, contained a comparatively large amount of material and required a lot of time to explore. Although this score was refined down to a smaller section, audience feedback shows that there still may have been too many ideas and it might have been more effective to have fewer, more polished concepts.[18] This indicates that the score contained enough material to be developed into a much larger work.

One performer identified the most illustrative cell from the score, for the purposes of this study, was asking bass clarinet and feet:

Observations from when I practiced this cell were that it did immediately reminded me of  how I felt when playing parts of The Little Harlequin which I had looked at previously. It also reminded me of a time when I played in a marching band and had to perform simple choreography while playing a melody I had previously learnt. This feeling I can equate to patting myself on the head with one hand and rubbing my stomach with the other. The sense that even though I knew how to play the music alone as written and conversely tap my feet as written, putting them both together was an entirely new sensation. On this occasion I had to learn each bar at a time, taking both notes and feet simultaneously in a composite rhythm to be able to learn the cell and have it enter my muscle memory correctly so that this action could be repeated.[19]

What was discovered here seems to be a completely new skill, somewhat removed from previous training. Having a high level of training in both music and dance evidently was not the only prerequisite for attempting to do both at the same time. An expert in one field cannot simply transfer the same level of skill to something outside their domain. As Richman points out in his chapter The EPAM model, this is because one uses domain knowledge[20] when solving problems ‘expertly’.[21] Prior expert knowledge of either dance or music could not be immediately applied to allow the performer to do both simultaneously.

This false assumption of expert knowledge transference also applies to the co-directors. The use of co-directors - experts in their own fields - may not have been adequate for seeing the investigation through to its fruition in answering all of the questions raised. Much like with the performers where music training plus dance training does not equal a dancer-musician; having an expert in dance and an expert in music is not enough to produce a dancer-musician methodology.

The same performer as above was the only one to provide a description of any method for learning sound and movement simultaneously:

In the bass clarinet/feet cell, the foot line was constant and an accompaniment. I therefore practiced separately with my feet. Next I slowed the tempo down and added the melodic line piece by piece to line it up in my muscle memory until I knew exactly how it felt to do both at the same time. I then slowly increased the tempo as I became more and more comfortable with doing both simultaneously.[22]

The process described above, taking each bar beat by beat with both sound and movement is what neuroscientists call 'chunking'.[23] Chunking is how dancers learn choreography where they ‘take a set of [movements] and turn that into one long phrase and then take a dozen of those phrases and put them into one long movement.’[24]  For a dancer-musician this process requires the additional inclusion of movements relating to playing a musical instrument within her/his chunks. The process of chunking differs from person to person and there is no right or wrong method. Possibilities of approaches include using rhythm, body weight shifts, spatial awareness, imagery, internal monologue... or any combination of tactics.[25] Dianne Soloway describes this process as follows:

Most dancers share a relatively similar path, first learning the choreography and then adding layers of detail and color [sic]. Finally, they absorb the work so completely that its elements literally become automatic, leaving the dancer's brain free to focus on the moment-by-moment nuances of the performance.[26]

It could be argued that the first layer for an instrumentalist who wishes to dance simultaneously is their technique on that instrument. If one can play an instrument with as much fluency as, for example, speaking – where one is not conscious of all the details of sound production – their mind is free to process other performance aspects as Soloway suggests. The same could be said of body awareness in dancers who wish to play a musical instrument while they dance. Therefore, a dancer-musician who wishes to perform both simultaneously to a professional standard does need to be completely fluent in both art forms. While being a professional in both art forms does not alone make a dancer-musician, it is still preferred in order to effectively facilitate the layered learning of a performance piece.

This method of chunking and layering can be seen in multiple percussionists. In works requiring multiple percussion, percussionists are required to have mastered techniques for a vast amount of instruments and play any number of these instruments simultaneously if necessary[27]. Karen Ervin suggests choreographic techniques for learning the art of multiple percussion.[28] Ervin describes a process of ‘planned motion'; the meticulous practice of rapid motion and pauses for orientation.[29] It could be argued that this process resembles chunking, thus a parallel can be drawn with both dancer-musicians and multiple percussionists as they can combine two skill sets, mastered separately, through a process of chunking.

Multiple percussion became an accepted practice in the 1980s.[30] It is therefore arguable that dancer-musician practice can be considered an art form in itself. Through using a process of chunking, the performer above was able to successfully demonstrate two contrasting ideas in movement and sound simultaneously. This art form subsequently needs further inquiry to develop a methodology that provides dancer-musicians the opportunity to understand their process of chunking individually.


Footnotes

 

[1] Appendix 1, Appendix 2

[2] Appendix 1

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Appendix 2

[6] Appendix 3

[7] Appendix 1

[8] Appendix 2

[9] Ibid.

[10] Appendix 1

[11] Michelle Steinwald. ‘Deborah Hay: The Outlier as Insider’ <http://www.walker

art.org/magazine/2012/deborah-hay-outlier-insider> (accessed 28 July 2014)

[12] Ibid.

[13] Michelle Steinwald and Susannah Schouweiler. ‘Deborah Hay: Turn Your F’ing Head’ <http://blogs.walkerart.org/performingarts/2012/page/4/> (accessed 28 July 2014)

[14] Appendix 1

[15] Ibid.

[16] Van Stiefel, ‘A Study of the Choreographer/Composer Collaboration’, 4

[17] Ibid.

[18] Appendix 3

[19] Appendix 2

[20] ‘Domain Knowledge: valid knowledge used to refer to a specialized discipline’ - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domain_knowledge

[21] Howard B Richman et al, ‘Perceptual and Memory Processes in the Acquisition
of Expert Performance: the EPAM model’ in The Road to Excellence: The Acquisition of Expert Performance in the Arts and Sciences, Sports and Games, ed K. Anders Ericsson. (New York: Psychology Press, 1996), 167-168. 

[22] Appendix 2 

[23] Dianne Solway. ‘How the body (and mind) learns dance’ <http://www.nytimes

.com/2007/05/28/arts/28iht-dance.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0.> (accessed 2 April 2015)

[24] Ibid

[25] Ibid

[26] Ibid.

[27] Steven Schick. ‘Multiple Percussion’, in The Encyclopedia of Percussion, ed. John H Beck. (New York: Routledge, 2007)

[28] Karen Ervin, ‘Choreography in Multiple Percussion Playing,’ The Instrumentalist 32/8 (1978), 97

[29] Gabriel Kyle Beach. ‘An Interpretive Study of the Percussion Solos Opus 21 & 24.1 by Nebojsa Jovan Zivkovic’. (DMA diss, Ball State University, 2013), 14

[30] Schick. ‘Multiple Percussion’