Círculo e Meio

by Joana Chicau and Renick Bell

An audio-visual live coding performance combining choreographic thinking and algorithmic improvisation.

Choreographic and musical references

To develop a concept for the performance piece < Círculo & Meio >, the authors have been collecting scores and scripts which address the concept of the ‘circle’ as a spatio-temporal construct which has been informing various authors throughout history. Notation systems convey notions of standardized measures, codes, gender, class, rituals, beliefs, ideologies, formation of habit and perception (Aureli, 2016). Within media technologies, we can observe the tactical use (and abuse) of the settings, protocols, and abstract status of notations, which determine the concrete conditions and ways in which we inhabit and produce both physical and digital spaces (Aureli, 2016). Under the hypothesis that our interfaces are “scripted” with ideologies (Tomás, 2016), we want to engage in critical practices of live notation by understanding the political significance of these references. Thus the inventory [1] being built supplies triggers for questioning the (normative) power of abstractions (Feyerabend, 1999) and geometrical definitions as well as their power of transgression, commonality, consciousness, and freedom.
To illustrate the later, we analysed scores from various choreographers; for example, Eshkol- Wachman Movement Notation created in 1950 by the Israeli dancer and choreographer Noa Eshkol in cooperation with the architect Avraham Wachman (EWMN, 2001). EWMN is an abstract model which combines principles of geometry and mathematics with an algorithmic codex for the generation of movement. EWMN became a relevant reference for the coexistence and interplay of human beings and technology in the digital culture; following principles of cooperation, transformation, and assemblage. It “utilizes a spherical system of coordinates, similar to latitude and longitude on a globe”, considering both human and non-human bodies as networks of actors with equal rights within a mediasphere (EWMN, 2001). In this way it surpasses previous performative conceptions, opening up to self-reflexive and self-organized compositions via the notation, also to technological entities and to the unpredictability of their actions and networking.
In dance, the circle is regarded as “one of the oldest known dance formations it is a style of dance done in a circle or semicircle to musical accompaniment, such as rhythm instruments and singing." (Sachs, 1938).
References to circles and roundness abound in music, but here only a cursory examination is possible. Anku describes the African concept of time as circular or spiral in nature and describes its manifestation in traditional African drumming practices (Anku,2000). Many of those rhythms can be generated by the Euclidean rhythm algorithm and visually expressed as events along the circumference of a circle. (Toussaint, 2004) Though the drum circle has been a fixture of the hippie subculture, circles or semi-circles of drummers have been documented among many cultures over a longer timespan, such as in (Greco, 2008) and (Williams, 2015). Drum circle etiquette echoes the ethical prescriptions of the feminist approach the authors have adopted. (Hull, 2011; Hull, 2018)

Writing spaces: a hybrid language and dual interface

The authors make use of two distinct but connected digital interfaces for engaging in live algorithmic composition-making processes, exploring the intersection of existing and new semantics (technical and conceptual) for generating the performance “Circulo e Meio”.
Renick Bell uses Conductive, an audio system live coded in the programming language Haskell, and Joana Chicau uses the web browser and live codes in JavaScript. The two interfaces are in constant dialogue, connected through OSC tools enabling data-sharing and possibilities for each to influence the other’s system. Thus these interfaces or writing spaces serve as a stage for cross- referencing language systems performatively linked to the “co-creation of a discursive vocabulary”. Serving as platforms for “talking” (Laermans, 2015) dance and sound or “speaking code” establishing the “limits defining a space of communication” (Cox, 2012). In this performance piece not only is space seen as linguistic, but language is seen as spatial: “The static analytic space both allows these mutually referring chains to complete circles and the space of language to cut itself free from reference...Language becomes a series of synchronous spatial relationships that work to defer meaning not in time but in space.” (Sack, 2017).

Figure [top]: Joana Web environment: Chicau will be activating her choreographic score written in web programming languages (HTML / CSS / JavaScript). Chicau will use the the browser (Firefox) console to write functions that draw on choreographic concepts. She will be using both local files and already existing interfaces, such as google search. [bottom] Renick Conductive: Bell will live code in Haskell, using functions from the Conductive library to compose, perform, and improvise the musical component of the performance to support the choreographic goals of the piece. He will be triggering sounds specifically designed for the performance as well as some sound processing through external hardware also connected to the live coding environment.

A live performance

Following our conceptualization of the círculo, the choreographic thinking being developed brings repetition and reversibility as central concepts to the dramaturgy of the piece. The live coding interventions in the different web interfaces and the tempo of the actions unfold in a circular pattern. The code input written in the web browser will be revisited and activated in different moments of the piece, and as part of the nature of online platforms (such as Google search) unpredictable results will be displayed. To augment the notion of circularity, a series of relational dynamics will set the stage for various interactions between the code read by the computer machine and our human understanding and perception of the same. Euclidean rhythms are used as a starting point for creating rhythms with a particular feeling to give this piece its unique character. The title of the piece can be translated as “a circle and a half”. With regard to Euclidean rhythms, this “half” is interpreted loosely to mean an incomplete circle. In concrete terms, one or more complete cycles of a Euclidean rhythm plus an incomplete cycle are auditioned for the audience. Up to three base rhythm patterns are used, including both standard Euclidean rhythms and “circle and a half” rhythms generated using the Euclidean algorithm.
Sound design gives flesh to this theoretical skeleton. A selection of common percussion instruments were recorded, edited and processed by Bell to strengthen the connection to the idea of drum circles and emphasize the universality of Euclidean rhythms. The electronic processing was done to increase the range of what could be expressed with these sounds. A three-stage mapping of (1) text theme to (2) emotional/sensorial/perceptual characteristics and finally to (3) sonic characteristics was used to design additional sound atoms for the piece.
The live performance structure will be divided into moments of live coding in which one or both screens are active and will potentially include physical movement in the performance space.

Conclusion & Future Goals

“Circulo e Meio” proposes a new set of conceptual tools to construct new landscapes for scores and scripts, alternative visual scenarios, soundscapes, and forms of embodying notations guided by choreographic methodologies and rhythmic structures. In the future we would like to experiment further with the notion of writing spaces as dynamic, decentered, multiple, inclusive platforms, and to engage in more complex interactions between the systems. In addition, we would like to involve more performers, all connected to the network and with their systems being presented, in order to open up the discussion and experience to more practices and practitioners.

Find here an update of this paper presented at the Internartional Conference on Live Interfaces 2018


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The research project has received support from: