[ISEA2020] Paper: Doug Van Nort — Gestural Metaphor and Emergent Human/Machine Agency in Two Contrasting Interactive Dance/Music Pieces


Keywords: Interactive Dance/Music, Emergence, Gestural Metaphors, Human/Machine Agency

This paper presents composition and system design across two contrasting dance/media pieces, created contemporaneously, having very different affordances and constraints. In each case, the structure of the music and its sonic details were driven by the movements of the dancers through the use of electromyogram and motion sensing, machine learning and adaptive transitions between sections. The first piece was a collaboration with the National Ballet School of Canada in which twenty-one dancers from different countries arrived in time for a single rehearsal before public performances. The second piece was developed over the course of multiple sessions with a team of media artists and dancers, using existing cultural metaphors related to the elements in order to create a shared focus on gestural language, providing a shared perspective on non-human agency that resided “above” the level of movement, sound or light. The first piece was much more top-down due to realworld constraints as well as affordances of the genre, while the second was designed as a bottom-up approach from its beginnings. In each case there were important elements of fixed structuring as well as emergent gestures across sound/movement/light that resulted from the interactions of the dancer collective and the emergent agencies of the interactive systems employed.

  • Doug Van Nort is an artist, researcher, composer and improviser. His work is concerned with distributed agency and sensorial immersion in improvised performance contexts that are mediated by affective and visceral experiences of the sonic and haptic senses, and guided by the the complex and embodied nature of listening. Spanning from professional music to public installation contexts, he creates compositions and frameworks for improvisation that integrate machine agents, immersive environments, interactive systems and experiences of telepresence as conditions to explore the myriad ways that performers negotiate emergent, collective meaning outside of spoken language. Van Nort is currently Canada Research Chair in Digital Performance and an Associate Professor at York University (Toronto, Canada), cross-appointed between the departments of Computational Arts and Music. At York he has founded the DisPerSion (DIStributed PERformance and Sensorial immerSION) Lab, dedicated to explorations in distributed agency, improvisation and technologically-mediated performance.