Dream like, the deliberately partial and elusive Voice (a retracing) provides new insights into the movement research practice that is improvisation. We might say that the work gives voice to the utterances of a diffused and disparate presence: “listen.. there is nothing… but wait… dear dancer/ dear practice”“Shifting, sliding, tracing routes, finding pathways” in an effluence of articulations, where fragments of words and ideas tumble, stumble forth.

Tracing enfleshed experiences of dancing and speaking where each rubs, marks and tarnishes the other. At the same time, the importance of language, written and spoken, as dialectic exchange and sonic form, recurs, in such a way that the emerging lexicon of this work is not only a device through which to discuss key ideas, but also fundamental to the conceptual and creative processes embodied within it. 




Luciano Berio, Thema (omaggio a Joyce) from Luciano Berio - Many More Voices (RCA Victor Red Seal, Audio CD, 09026-68302-2, 1998).


William Forsythe, William Forsythe Improvisation Technologies (Hatje Cantz, CD-Rom, 2000)


Katrina Mcpherson, Forces of Nature (Goat Media, DVD, 2011)


Vida L. Midgelow, 'Dear Practice...:the experience of improvising', Choreographic Practices, vol 2, issue 1 (2011) pp. 9-24.

Beginning as an exploration of improvisational dance practices Voice (a retracing) has become a layered exchange of moving image, sound and written text.  As the ghostly figure of dance artist Vida L Midgelow shifts, slides and blurs, the words “I am starting to forget” scroll across the screen, and, in the complex sound-score created by Tom Williams, words, sibilants and vocal utterances are heard – “DDDDDear Dear Practice c c c c c……” . In this intersection of movement, image and word a visual/sonic landscape emerges that (re)presents improvised dance and treads (un)known paths to test different routes. For Voice (a retracing) embodies a collection of conceptual ideas and creative processes that expand the discourses of dance improvisation and electroacoustic music.

Focusing on notions of time, memory, (dis)appearance and pleasure the video reframes ‘in the moment’ acts of dancing, and is edited to echo and reveal the experiential and embodied nature of improvised dance: “Uncurling in time and space” “I have lost myself

Based in somatic practices, this video (re)presents dance improvisation as a critical mode in which knowings are understood to be embodied, and are elaborated through particularized strategies and forms. This is a reflexive practice that echoes the important task of phenomenology. Thereby the dance / video practice seeks not to so much to depict, or represent, or describe experience, but rather to catch experience in the act of making the world available. The aim thereby, of this dance practice as phenomenology, reframed by video/sound, is to draw an audiences attention to experiences and knowings in the making.

Evolving from movement to writing, movement to image, writing to sound and from sound back to image, the creative processes of making this work entailed a set of interlinking stages. These stages were circular and interactive in such a way that, for instance, the video material was developed and edited as a response to the sound score – which in itself is already an embodiment in sound of the experience of improvising. 

The sound-score gives voice to the sounds of human life: breath, gasps, the makings of speech; it is the dissection of speech and the bifurcation of the semantic and the phonetic. This is a liminal land of partial meanings and visceral interpretations within a (electro-)musical discourse where words and sounds are open to (re)interpretations. The opening half-minute of the score has only a few words surfacing to a level barely understandable.  Each word that surfaces references both an existential and a musical preoccupation within, paradoxically, a disembodied vocal soundscape: “I’m.. I’ … lost myself… Listen… Nothing… unfolding… time… move on nowhere,… inside the repeating,… Dear Practice…”

The vocal discourse of Voice (a retracing) references, in particular, the seminal, electroacoustic vocal works of Luciano Berio composed over fifty years ago.  In these works Berio used solely the voice of Cathy Berberian. In his piece Thema (Omaggio a Joyce) (1958), which reinterprets the opening words of the chapter “Sirens” from James Joyce’s Ulysses, the word “listen” is deconstructed with the sibilance contained within the word “lisssten” becoming a musical theme developed throughout the composition.  But ‘listen’ is what we all ask our fellow humans to do; and, of course, all composers ask for their music to be listened to!  While in Visage (1961) the only word that ever spills out of the twenty minutes of vocalisations of Cathy Berberian is “parole”: the Italian for ‘word’. In a related fashion in this work it is words that form the basis of the sound and visual world as the dancer and viewer/listener are called upon to “Wait”. “Wait”, yes, and Listen”, for here in playful intersections and (re)interpretations the “the routes/roots [of improvisation] become more exposed”.

This focus upon language may perhaps seem a perverse choice in a research project which seeks to capture the non-verbal practice that is movement improvisation. Yet the spoken and written word are ways through which we can come to understand (movement) experiences and share those experiences with others. Recognising this contradiction, the use of language in Voice (a retracing) attempts to avoid repeating norms wherein language operates solely as a representational form. Rather, words, emerging from the lived experience of the body in motion, are acknowledged as a bridge that gives shape to experience that, as part of a thick nexus of sounds and images, enable unique assemblages of knowings to become more present to the viewer. 

The difficulties (not to say impossibility) of capturing performance practices, without denying the nature of the moment/movement, have been well documented. Yet, rich evocations of improvisation can be found in the video work of Katrina McPherson and the interactive documentation of William Forsythe. These artists both purposefully document improvisatory forms in studio and performance contexts. Here the difference between artwork and its documentation are blurred, such that the work becomes a self-reflexive artefact. In doing so, and echoing the experience of improvised movement, the video eludes the desire to capture or to represent dancing, emphasizing instead the complex and oft times messy nature of improvisation. Resisting fixities of form the video image is treated in such a way that the body appears, at times, as an abstracted morphing form that emerges only to slide away, for it is the nature of improvisation to decompose in the very act of appearing. Further the image of the solo dancer is layered palimpsestously, evoking the improvisers’ experience of dancing as a collection of traces; a collection of revisited moments. As such the visual and audio materials implicitly address the ways improvised performance embodies both ‘presentness’ and a concomitant untraceable (dis)appearance. Thereby the work celebrates and lapses into the never complete, through video/sound materials that (deliberately) fail to reconstruct. For we “move to blur your absence/presence”. 

The sound uses the voice of Midgelow (with no other sound source) reading a collection of (imaginary) letters between two interior voices – Dancer and Practice. These letters are Midgelow’s articulation of her movement practice. As a sound source this gives rise to an exploration of semantic resonances and qualities of onomatopoeia within spoken text. The complex unfolding of this spoken text becomes then an abstract electroacoustic musical discourse, in such a way that the sound composition is an acousmatic interrogation of sonic material.

Voice (a retracing): an emerging lexicon

Vida L Midgelow and Tom Williams

In the series of video clips below Tom Williams (composer) and Vida L Midgelow (dancer and videographer) discuss a creative lexicon emerging from their collaborative video/sound work Voice (a retracing)

To give a little background: In 2007 Vida Midgelow began a research project that centred around two key questions: What are the ontologies of solo improvisation in dance? And, how might improvisation, and the experiences of it, be articulated? It was this second question that gave rise to explorations of how to 'capture' improvisation in video, writing and sound. Articulating improvisation in writing took the form of a series of imaginary letters between the interlocutors, 'Practice' and 'Dancer'  (Midgelow, 2011) and these letters were the basis of her collaboration with composer Tom Williams.

In creating the composition, Williams used Midgelow's voice recording as she read her imaginary letters. This resulted in an acousmatic piece entitled Voice. Subsequently, Midgelow, with assistance from the video artist Tim Halliday, reframed and re-edited  improvised video pieces, forming a layered work of (dis)appearances in response to the acousmatic composition. As such Voice (a retracing) was formed through a looping process of exchange between disciplines, that both addresses the original research questions and follows their own particular interests.

Here we seek to share our understanding of this work. In the conversations below a series of words were used to prompt the revealing of research ideas and illuminate creative processes. The words used are ones that recurred throughout the making and are embodied/embedded in the work itself, becoming a lexicon surrounding this sound/video work. As each word is considered both Midgelow and Williams trace their creative processes and reflect on the resulting work.  As the discussions unfold the similiarities and divergences from the point of view of two disciplines - music and dance - become evident. Emphasising the authors' rationale for particular aesthetic and compositional choices, individual intricacies and complexities are evident, resisting (we hope) the forming of closed interpretative accounts. Further the emerging lexicon holds conceptual resonances and experiential knowings that carry connections to discourses in improvisation, acousmatic composition and creative documentation. These connections are variously picked up in the ten dialogues below, and also in the written exposition, that together form framing documents for Voice (a retracing).

1. trace   2. wait   3. (dis)appearance   4. nothing  
5. language   6. voice   7. repeat   8. breath  9. emerge  
10. choice