The use of digital technologies
According to Isabelle Van Grimde
In recent years I have oriented my choreographic practice towards an interaction between dance and digital technologies. This corresponded with my interest in transdisciplinarity: dialogue with scientists, engineers and designers from different disciplines. In particular, it corresponded to my research on the body, and particularly the “body of the future,” which will be inevitably linked to digital technology. Although we are often forced to abandon these technologies due to a lack of access, resources or knowledge, we continue to be fascinated by their complexity and near-magical aura.
I like to view digital technology as a bona fide medium of choreographic composition, which enriches our ways of perceiving and creating dance, and opens up new and diverse ways of staging the body and human relationships. These technologies make it possible to tear down temporal and spatial boundaries and to reinvent the boundaries of bodily images. As such they are formidable tools for research and creation, removing physical constraints, providing access to other dimensions of time and space, transforming the relationship between the work and the spectator… They have, moreover, incredible poetic and metaphoric potential, which will remain untapped if we resist using them.
Creating with digital technology, however, imposes its own constraints. Technological tools set their own rhythm: the programming time must be considered; the need to be in a theatre to calibrate the technologies with the space; the increased assembly and disassembly times in the logistics and transport, etc. All of this in addition to the expense, the complexity of the tools, and the fact that we often feel totally illiterate when trying to talk to these machines (and their designers!). But with experience using digital technologies you learn how to organize creative time differently, how to break the process down, how to set up research labs with the technologies, how to collaborate with designers, how to document the trials and errors and learn from them. All of these things allow you to see your practice in a new light, to renew it, question it.
To integrate new technologies into your practice, you must therefore go through the process step by step. First of all, familiarize yourself with the digital world, learn about the tools, the possibilities, what is currently being done. Then, experiment with the tools that may be of particular interest to you. This is the most delicate stage, because it requires material and human resources that may be substantial. It is from this observation that I launched the Pépinières Danse et numérique project: “incubatory” spaces for the exploration of dance and digital technologies, designed to give artists the chance to experiment with these new tools and modes of creation. The first presentations provided a space for discussion among peers to better understand digital space and, a fortiori, what it brings and demands in the creative process. Starting from the concrete practice of artists and designers, we attempted to grasp and define what we call digital and—who knows?—instill a desire to experiment with it.
How are the technologies used?
Different approaches to technology in the live arts
The use of digital technologies in the artistic process may seem counterintuitive to performing artists. And yet it is worth mastering this new form of creation, as it opens up a world of possibilities. By learning to interact with technology, as if it were another dancer, it is possible to make its use more organic, not in the least cold or antiseptic. A certain sensitivity to technology, however, is needed to interact with the machine. Flexibility is also important, since managing the unexpected is a big part of the job, as is the ability to work with several mediums at once: sound, image, body. [repetition, see p. 5]
Practical terms defined
Generative vs. Interactive: Generative = content generated by means of the computer (unrelated to what is happening in real time in the environment.) Interactive = two-way system with direct reaction to what is happening in the environment (input required for reaction, e.g. tracking, audio, button pressed on stage, etc.).
Technical design: Finding the right design solutions, ways to work together.
Tracking: Pinpointing the position of an object or person. Several different techniques. Active tracking = with sensor. Passive tracking = without sensor (anyone can enter the zone of play and it will work).
Timecode: time reference used to synchronize audiovisual content (e.g. to synchronize sound and images).
Augmented Reality vs. Virtual Reality: Virtual reality immerses the user in a 3D virtual environment (making the user live the experience, as opposed to watching a computer screen). Augmented reality adds virtual elements to a real environment (e.g. 3D elements appear in the environment that can be seen via a phone screen).
Motion capture: Records the movements of objects or people and transcribes them in 3D, so that they can then be controlled or manipulated (e.g. with an avatar or 3D model).
Kinect: A motion sensing device that controls a digital interface without a joystick. Created by Microsoft to accompany the XBox, the Kinect can be used alone for its motion detection and voice recognition functions in the environment.
Affordance: When the function or use of an object/element/button/interface is obvious without any necessary instructions (e.g. through the design or ergonomics of an interface). The result is a natural interaction between the object and user.