7.3 My Body Is Technology
The major recurring theme in the research presented herein on embodiment and the human/technological relationship is the role of the body as a form of technology and an interface for the integration of technological practices. I further that cultivating physical awareness and an embodied practice can help performance designers create original work that respects its performers and preserves their agency as individual creators within an organized system.
“One of the keynotes of technological advance is its tendency, as it refines a tool, to remove real human agency from the tool's workings.” ... “in its place we get an abstraction of human agency that represents the general desires of the masses as deciphered, or imposed, by the manufacturer and the marketer”(Carr 77).
At the end of my piece FutureMoves, the audience is encouraged to dance and chant repeatedly the words “My body is technology”. We are creating together, in a way that is prescribed, towards a collective strength and agility. The work is self-aware, pointing this out as something to be potentially wary of, while simultaneously seeming to encourage it. My hope with this work is to induce a physical experience of this phenomenon as a way of drawing attention to the ease with which we fall into patterns of following.
Whether we are discussing vocal work, dance, performance art, textiles or other forms of embodied performance, an awareness of bodies as integral to the technological process and as a form of technology in itself is key. This can be elaborated to highlight the fact that when we work with human collaborators, these people and their lives are also our creation materials. This must be handled with care and responsibility. A way to remain sensitive to this is to integrate a holistic approach to performance creation, allowing performers agency and space to explore in a working process.
“Any tasks that require caring, whether for people or nature, any tasks that require immediate feedback and adjustment, are best done holistically. Such tasks cannot be planned, coordinated, and controlled the way prescriptive tasks must be” (Franklin 17).
Remembering the body and the whole being as technologies has been an essential factor in my creative and theoretical development. Taking the time to consider how elements interact in technological processes, and specifically holistic technological processes, allows for integrated work and surprising new formations. Asking how the performing and creating body can interact technologically with different materials, and retaining this consideration of the body as both form and content within fluctuating systems is key to facilitating embodied performance practices in education and in professional settings.
7.1 Three Intertwining Threads
In the style of working I have developed and refined during the period of this research, I can identify three major intertwining “threads” or dimensions to my approach:
The first is musical experimentation and blending of vocal styles in multiple contemporary music contexts.
The second is a theatrical sense, both for the visual/physical and for an audience-performer relationship that is “cool” in terms of Marshall McLuhan's definition of cool media which encourages reciprocal participation or completion of a work by the audience or receiver of the information/message.
The third is curiosity for work surrounding or integrating various technologies, whether this implication be theoretical/thematic, practical, or both.
The place where the threads cross is another dimension – this concerns a constant questioning of how form and content relate.
In his essay Long Form, included in the collection Utopia is Creepy, contemporary media theorist Nicolas Carr refers to a cyclical relationship between form and content displayed through the invention of the long form “LP” (long-playing vinyl phonograph record). Introduced by then-Columbia Records president Edward Wallerstein as a medium for audiences to enjoy recordings of classical works at home, the LP “set off a burst of incredible creativity in popular music. Songwriters and bands began to take advantage of the new, extended format, turning the longer medium to their own artistic purposes. The result was a great flowering not only of wonderful singles, sold as 45s, but of carefully constructed sets of songs, sold as LPs.” (Carr 45). He goes on to to state that “the long playing album, in sum, not only gave buyers many more products to choose from, it gave artists many more options for expressing themselves” (Carr 45). As one branch of academic music moves forward in the direction of The New Discipline, consideration of form becomes as important as consideration of content; the traditional concert-music experience is no longer a given.
I situate the works I have profiled above in this stream; in many of my explorations I have started from content in order to find form, which in turn generated new and unexpected content. I have done this by pursuing interests that seem unrelated and then finding ways to connect them, often unintentionally or despite myself. Allowing enough flexibility and giving oneself the space to ask the question of form is imperative in this sort of work; a fluidity between medium and message must exist. Sometimes I have begun a work with solid ideas of form and content only to become convinced that one of them needs to change in order to serve the other, or the overarching message. This fourth dimension is the place where the threads cross, and is essential to the outcome of my research.
7.2 A Proposed Framework for Performance Design
These threads come together through a process of exploration which feeds performance design:
1 – Idea/inspiration – beginning with an image or a viewpoint to express
2 – Collecting information, discussions – becoming more familiar with the issues surrounding this idea, what is its background, what are the important things to consider?
3 – Materials research – getting in a room with the people and things that are interesting, and trying ways of working together. Working directly with the materials differs from working outward from a score, even if the ultimate version will be remembered or organized through a formal written score.
4 – Grouping materials together - creating “movements” or “building blocks”. In this step, material in development is treated like lego bricks, from which a performance is later constructed – here the focus on content in relation to form. Form both serves content and is drawn from it.
5 – The next step is considering the performance setting, and assembling the bricks into an order or a form that makes sense. How do we decide which form? This is part of the methodology – looking at the content to decide the form while always looking outward from the standard concert setting.
6 – Refining and reorganizing – Once the work has been performed, remaining open to adjusting elements when necessary.