Between grammatization and live movement sampling

Norman, Sally-Jane (2016) Between grammatization and live movement sampling. In: Bleeker, Maaike (ed.) Transmission in motion: the technologizing of dance. Routledge, London, pp. 185-198. ISBN 9781138189430

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Documentary and archival traces of dance, which are encountered in media spanning several millenaries, form an abundant, ambivalent set of records. Meanings derived from such traces are remediated by multiple, possibly contradictory cultural forces due to the often unpredictable resurgence of layers of history, and to the specific slant of our own readings. These are further confounded by the ways digital technologies record and restore compelling multimodal projections of phenomena: computational models whose nested scales, patterns and textures of events characterize complex dynamic systems (the dancing body being one such system) yield holistic, evolving visions that can belie their discrete digital underpinnings. Yet however sophisticated their outputs, our means of engaging with digital recording and archiving technologies are marked by prior cultural traffic with indices and symbols, souvenirs and mementos, and other such echoes of movements. Past practices elucidate our approaches to traces as witnesses of passed time, revealing the diverse epistemic sediments on which they are founded, and to which they appeal. These revelations shed light on the idiosyncratic, contingent nature of our own quests.

Four-thousand-year-old Egyptian tombstone reliefs feature sequential inscriptions testifying to choreographic practices that honour the deceased through the rejoicings of the living. Depictions of Hathoric rites from the Sixth Dynasty tomb of Mereruka show dancers holding a mirror in one hand and a wand topped with a sculpted hand in the other: use of the mirrors supposedly to capture reflections of the dancers' hands or of their wands suggests a giddy choreography of physical and virtual images, with whirling movements accentuated by weights tied to the ends of the dancers' long hair. Ostensibly sparse etchings offer environmental and lifestyle clues: depictions of dancers executing steps that evoke the movements of the crane have been interpreted as auspiciously linking this migrant bird's Nile fishing halt to the grape harvest. Black- and red-figure paintings on Athenian ceramics (600-400 BC) provide information on human movements and gestures per se, and intriguing insights into how we might be physically moved to read them: intricate scenes or serial images on amphoras or circular dishes, which must be rotated in order to be fully perused, demand (and reward) their beholder's gestural engagement in keeping with notions of embodied interaction that seem remarkably contemporary.

Dance records like these are pictorial constructs created by human hand for specific cultural contexts. By virtue of their chiropoietic status (cheiro: hand, poieo: to make), such traces belong to the broader domain of writing practices. Their modes of transmission are analogous to and part of the wider history of dissemination of written (chirographic), printed (typographic), then digital documents. This opens up comparison between the status of dance records with respect to live motion, and that of writing with respect to spoken language. Questions as to how "live" speech and "dead" writing have been addressed by analog then computer recording and archiving technologies have spawned original scholarship and concepts, including reflection on technological "grammatization" (Auroux) and digital "discretisation" (Stiegler). In keeping with the spirit of Renaissance, Enlightenment, and later positivist traditions, systematic and analytical rather than more synthetic, systemic approaches to movement have tended to dominate the history of dance since its sketchy beginnings as a theoretically transmissible art form. Its positioning as a legitimate domain of study has inevitably brought dance in line with prevailing scientific methods and discourse.

Digital tools that today record and transmit human movement in keeping with principles of direct capture and sampling, instead of indirect inscriptional and notational conventions, seem to adopt a more flexible and fitting modus operandi than the drawn-and-quartered analyses of earlier computational systems. Rotman's reflection on the corporeally grounded nature of our most rarefied concepts and practices, and his differentiation between the notation and capture of movement inspire new ways of apprehending and transmitting human motion. The following thematic sections attempt to trace a range of approaches to the recording, capturing, and archiving of dance, in order to set contemporary developments in a broader historical and conceptual context.

Item Type: Book Section
Schools and Departments: School of Media, Film and Music > Music
Research Centres and Groups: Sussex Humanities Lab
Depositing User: Sally-Jane Norman
Date Deposited: 05 Jul 2016 09:58
Last Modified: 31 Aug 2017 20:22

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