Rebody : Dynamic Drawings and Sonic Textures

Statements at the ORCIM Research Festival 2010 

Michael Schwab – Dynamic Drawings


Dynamic drawings are drawings that continuously re-constitute themselves; they are to be distinguished from animated drawings whose constitution is permanent since they simply move in time. It is the necessary re-drawing of the drawings that gives dynamic drawings their particular quality since during the re-drawing of a drawing the drawing process is exposed or, rather, re-exposed. The drawing process is made evident through repeated re-exposure. At least two aspects may be observed: Firstly, a sense of the conceptual regulation of the drawing appears, which promises in time to reveal all that is required to know in order to make such drawings. In this sense, dynamic drawings belong to the field of conceptual art. Secondly, however, dynamic drawings make a space visible within which they operate. Although dependant on the drawing process, this space is also determined by the material of the drawing, in our case the motion-tracked data of the dancer Valentina Moar during a performance of 'Bodyscapes', an interactive dance/sound work co-created together with Gerhard Eckel and David Pirro. This second factor transforms the dynamic drawings into detectors, indicators or screens for the movement of the material. The material's quality, however, can become known if the concept of the drawing is reflectively subtracted from it, which is only possible after the drawing process has entered the understanding. As a result, the material remainder is left a-conceptually exposed to our visual understanding. In this second sense, dynamic drawings belong to the field of post-conceptual art, which renders material accessible to thought despite its non-intelligible constitution.

Dynamic drawings expose both the drawing process and its material. They simultaneously operate within two cognitive domains, the conceptual and the a-conceptual. The conceptual aspect does not represent the abstract pole while the a-conceptual represents the concrete pole, which in the case of 'Rebody' may conveniently be seen as body; rather, it is the a-conceptual that is more abstract, because dynamic drawings, in demanding understanding of the material, push thinking into the abstract. In comparison to the concrete and regulated drawing process, it is the material that is most abstract, but only if it is thought. If the material remained simply the cause for an experience mediated through a drawing, such access to the abstract would not be given. 'Rebody' offers such access that allows the transformation of the material into thoughts, which by definition cannot be represented conceptually and thus not offered in a direct manner to the understanding. The dynamics of the drawings stems less from the movement of the dancer; rather, it is the continuous re-drawing of the drawings that is the un-doing of conceptual and the re-doing of abstract thought done by those who think. This is because the thinking of a movement is a rupture of a given movement, that is, a rupture of experience. As the dynamic drawings give space to movement they expose movement to thought.


Although the body of Valentina Moar as recorded by the motion-tracking software is not her body, its data is all we have to start with. Following this, the motion-tracking machine retrospectively re-creates an ideal body as which we expect any real body to appear. This is the reason why the rather crude sample rate of x frames per second and the machine's recording errors, for instance, but also the lack of details, such as hands and fingers, seem not to matter when it comes to the recognition of a body. In its image, real and ideal body conflate re-confirming the stability and consistency not only of this given body but also of us and everything else. This is to say that imaging technology re-creates and re-confirms the world in its image. The conflation of real and ideal body is a fact that is programmed and that, thus, happens automatically.

A transbody is the transformation of a body into the space between itself and another body or other bodies. It is the investment or the exhaustion of a body into a space not occupied by a body. A transbody is a fragile thing that constantly solidifies itself as body even if this body is a new and alternative body that fills the gap between a body and the next. When a transbody becomes a body a new set of gaps is created into which this and other bodies might again exhaust themselves. A body, however, will miss its exhaustion, while a transbody can delay the multiplication of separated bodies.

Bodies have identities while transbodies have not making it impossible to decide whether a transbody is in fact another transbody or not since lacking identity a transbody can neither have the same nor a different identity than another transbody. This makes a transbody difficult to think, at least in the register of conventional and propositional knowledge, and, despite its visibility, a transbody is usually not seen.

Images not always work to give space to transbodies; in fact, images are complicit in the bodification of transbodies. Images 'work' because of their ability to bodify. It is in such work of the image that the transbody disappears, and it is down to us whether we accept the transbody's disappearance or whether we delay the image's working process and focus on the ambivalent play of appearance/disappearance through which a transbody exhibits itself.

The transbody is not an optical illusion, but the mode in which gaps, that is to say, connections in-between bodies are thought. Without seeing a transbody, we will not be able to understand how a body relates to another body. Bodies are images of confined entities, while a transbody transgresses imaginatively programmed confinement.

Artistic Research

Artistic research is the transformation of art into understanding. Because art is so developed, difficult and contradictory it cannot be known as we know a table or a chair. Rather, artistic research has to borrow from art its methods without stopping short, like art does, solely in the making of works. However, to follow through the meaning of a work requires some distance from art, but it also requires a lot of understanding of art. Knowledge gained through artistic research may or may not be put to use in the making of art, that is to say, artistic research need not have a purpose in art.

Artistic research is first of all an intellectual endeavour. It is an attempt to find out what could be known if artistic methodologies were accepted as knowledge generating. The fact that despite being desired artistic research has not yet been satisfyingly established shows that the registers of knowledge with which art is approached are still not right and still require transformation and re-invention. Not what we know is crucial, but how we know, for it is the how that determines the what. Aren't all artists practitioners and masters of the how? Should we not be better in re-inventing ourselves and knowledge in particular?

The trouble is that the kind of knowledge artistic research generates disappears with the artistic moment making a quick reference to an artistic research outcome impossible. This is first of all a question of capacity: artistic research teaches us that our capacity is limited and that we will be able to know well enough only a handful of things, and that 'art' is an ideal term and a simplification. The capacity in question is not a passive container for artistic knowledge that is just not big enough; rather, it is a lack of intellectual flexibility insofar as the thinker has to be transformed by the thought, since the re-marking of the thought in the thinker is a creative act, which cannot be passed on formally as information.

The figure of the artist re-appears during the passing on of artistic research. The understanding artist is not a maker, but a re-maker, when he or she listens to or is touched by things. It is not originality but artistic appropriateness and with it artistic precision that characterises the artistic researcher. He or she has to put forward a thought together with a mode and conditions, in which this thought can be thought, and has to hope that thought, mode and conditions are right for a re-making, that is, understanding to happen.

Gerhard Eckel – Sonic Textures

Sonic textures are endless streams of sonic events. Their composition does neither determine a beginning nor an end. Only experiencing them is necessarily bound in time; it starts and ends at some point for pragmatic reasons.

The absence of temporal boundaries implies an absence of development. The overall quality of a sonic texture is that of stasis. But, in order to unfold its identity in our experience, the texture has to change all the time (and not only, but also because sound is change – change of air pressure). We could define sonic textures paradoxically by saying that they remain the same through changing persistently. Thinking in terms of sonic textures is a way to create non-teleological structures, akin to Erik Satie's musique d'ameublement.

Composing sonic textures means negotiating identity and difference, repetition and variation, periodicity and aperiodicity, determinacy and indeterminacy. In this sense it is similar to composing other kinds of music.

It is particular to the sonic textures I am dealing with in my work, that they are defined algorithmically and produced by computational models, allowing the composition to intervene on all temporal levels. The lowest level being the one of the sound sample, which typically lasts only for about 20 us (meaning that about 50000 of these sonic quanta make up one second of sound). There is no upper boundary for the temporal organisation of a sonic texture.

As every aspect of sonic experience is related to temporal phenomena, the concept of the sonic texture maintains a kind-of tabula rasa situation with respect to how musical time may be structured. If it is timbre, pitch, grain or rhythm, or any other musical attribute – they are all based on temporal phenomena. A compositional approach starting out from an initially unstructured notion of time may operate in between established categories of composing and experiencing music. This motivation also drove Karlheinz Stockhausen when he developed his theory of musical time.

Thinking in terms of sonic textures is at the heart of a compositional approach aiming at provoking the unforeseeable by staging collisions of heterogeneous strategies of temporal organisation. In a laboratory situation these strategies are developed and experienced at the same time. When a sonic phenomenon of interest appears – is discovered – attempts are made to stabilize and understand it. This is a performative process in which the composer improvises with the modelling instruments and continuously adapts, refines and assess them through direct experience of the sound they are able generate.

Instrument building, composing, performing and analysing cannot be distinguished any longer in such a compositional practice, which understands itself as artistic research. The main motivation of this research is to better understand ones own practice and to find ways to communicate about it, to share it with others. This brings me to the second concept, the model and the process of modelling.


With the invention of electronic music in the middle of the last century composers lost a very important tool: the notation. There is no notation for electronic music that comes close in quality to standard music notation. Notation is an important means to communicate music to performers, but it is also essential to the compositional process itself. As a means to represent musical structures, every form of notation invites certain manipulations of the musical material represented, and impedes others. When composing we invent and speculate as much on the level of our sonic imagination as on the level of the representation we use to write the music.

Computer-aided composition can be understood as a process of modelling in which the model replaces traditional notation as a compositional tool. The particularity of the model in this case is that it functions as a representation and as a generative system at the same time. The same model is used to compose, to represent and to produce the music. When models are implemented to function in real-time, they can even be played, in which case the notions of score and instrument merge.

With a model we create a space to represent and manipulate the objects we compose and compose with. Modelling can be tailored to meet particular requirements of a compositional problem or research question. Besides allowing to tackle formulated questions, the modelling activity usually generates new and unforeseeable questions. Models are a very interesting medium to communicate questions and results to a research community, as they represent a sonic structure as much as they allow to realize and thus experience it.


In the performance version of Rebody, which we will experience in a few moments here, 12 dynamic drawing by Michael Schwab, based on Valentina Moar's dance movements, have been transposed into sonic textures through a process of analysis and modelling. In a second step, each of the 12 models has then been applied to the 11 other dynamic drawing they where not designed for, resulting in a total of 144 transpositions. A selection of 57 of them can be experienced in the installation version of Rebody, which we have installed for you in the foyer. This was motivated by the desire to make other possible choices accessible – an idea that is in line with a question raised by Stephen Emmerson in the first session this morning. He proposed to produce recordings with a number of interpretation alternatives of a piece, displaying the choices a performer might take.