Electronic Memory Design: from Archiving to Rehearsal Software

in (Capturing Intention) Published by Emio Greco | PC and AHK Amsterdam, 10|2007
ISBN 978-90-810813-2

editorial support: Scott deLahunta

A brief history of designing interfaces for choreographic and dance information: "Improvisation Technologies" (CD-ROM 1999), "That's Kyogen!" (DVD-ROM 2000), "Nagarika" (DVD-ROM 2006) and "Double Skin/ Double Mind [DS/DM]" (Installation and DVD-ROM 2007).

In the early 1990s, the World Wide Web, as a "public digital memory", and the CD-ROM were emerging as promising new approaches to documenting and archiving artistic knowledge. This was when I began my work, in 1993, at the Center for Art and Media (ZKM), Karlsruhe in the Department of Visualmedia. The aim of the Department was to build up a MediaLab dedicated to developing interactive media installations for museum exhibitions and CD-ROMs for Publishing. In addition to publishing content on CD-ROM, such as for ZKM art-catalogues, we also gave artists the means to explore them as an artistic platform.

Digital Dance Archive: visualizing space and time

My first assignment with the MediaLab was a series of projects with choreographer William Forsythe who had invited the Lab to assist him and his company, Ballett Frankfurt, in building up a digital video archive. The company was seeking innovative ways to archive and access their large number of rehearsal and performance videos. There were at least two aims of these projects: one was to support new dancers in learning the works of the company before going into rehearsals. The second was to properly document the rehearsals and performances of choreographies that were evolving over time, that resisted being 'finished'. Our first project was to create an archive of the developmental changes of the choreography Loss of Small Detail that premiered in 1991.

As part of this project, a prototype interactive media installation was designed to support the preparation of new dancers. This installation, set up as a single terminal, gave access to the history of rehearsals and performances and included a first try-out of simultaneous recorded multiple camera angles. It also included short lectures by Forsythe in which he introduced the movement principles of "Improvisation Technologies"; a technique he had developed for 'real-time choreographies'. This is when we first used graphic overlays to augment his lectures. [insert figure: "Loss of Small Detail" Screen Shot. Graphic overlays on lecture.] These visualizations made it much easier to understand the 're-organised' relations between body, space and time he wanted his dancers to understand and work with. [see Figures 1, 2 and 3] Another archival project, completed in 1994, focused on the development of a new work Self Meant to Govern for which a unique 'knowledge base' of videos including rehearsal and the premiere performance, recorded to facilitate an interactive multi-angle camera interface, was created. [Insert Figure: "Self Meant to Govern" Screen Shot. Multi-angle camera interface.]

For the design of the combined archive/ teaching tool for Loss of Small Detail, which carried over into Self Meant to Govern, we proposed a cross-linked archive of theory (lectures) and practice (rehearsal, performances). The specific needs of the rehearsal context made it necessary for fast access to the information; hence the material was broken down to short lectures and samples from rehearsals and performances. The navigation was always available as a list of the short lecture titles at the right side of the screen arranged in chapters. The videos played in the center of the screen; and single letters in the corners gave access to different levels of information linked to the lecture. For each chapter there was T - for theory, E - example, R - rehearsal, P - performance. [Insert Two Figures: "Self Meant to Govern" Screen Shot. Navigation list. and "Improvisation Technologies" Screen Shot. Studio demonstration.]

Finally, these projects resulted in the creation of a CD-ROM for public release in 1999 with the title "William Forsythe: Improvisation Technologies, a tool for the analytical dance eye". This 'tool' was a more general description of Forsythe's movement principles, it no longer documenting the development process of a choreography, and there was no rehearsal or performance material. The R - rehearsal and P for performance were taken out leaving only T - theory and E - examples (dancers demonstrating the lectures in the studio with additional graphics). [see Fig. 6 and 7] The CD-ROM also includes a solo of Forsythe performing an improvisation using as many of these principles as possible. The CD-ROM doesn't introduce the viewer to Forsythe's creation process (something often misunderstood by those who use it), only how to understand dancing as a multi-layered language re-organizing an architecture of space and time.

Significantly, the design of the interface in particular around the lectures was the result of a long conversation and collaboration with Nik Haffner, a performer with the company, who was able to explain the process of learning and performing. With my background in Architecture, Design and Media Art and Haffner's in dance and some film work, we made a strong interdisciplinary team. Up until these series of projects, documenting and archiving dance was largely done at the point of performance, but with Improvisation Technologies a part of the process that may be used in creation is captured and shown by one body and demonstrated in others. For dancers and dance scholars this becomes an important new way of accessing dance information. Improvisation Technologies also borrows space and time concepts from other disciplines like architecture, film and philosophy; it then reveals itself to be a language for relating these other fields to the conditions of a physical performance on the stage.

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