Below is a collection of ideas from a range of artists that can be used as a resource when planning projects or reflecting on composition. The sources for these notes can be found in the Bibliography.
Jonathan Burrows' book 'A Choreographers Handbook' is filled with words of wisdom for art making (not just dance).
Here are a few:
- Inspiration is useful if you can get it, but working is more useful.
- Work against them to make them conscious
- Make a piece only with your habits
- The difference between a repetition that is only filling time and a repetition that resists deliciously our desire for the new, without ever feeling bored or frustrated.
- The smallest imperfection stands out like a punctuation
- If I didn’t want to risk everything every time- I would have nothing to risk
- It’s just a stupid dance
- What performance changed everything for you and why?
"Our job as choreographers is to stay close enough to what we’re doing to feel it, and at the same time use strategies to distance ourselves enough to grasp momentarily what someone else might perceive."
- The first thing the audience sees-- establishes how they read it.
- Can be broken- which can be a way of communicating…
- You are teaching the language at the same time you are using it…
Breaking the Rules:
- the rules are only useful if they are working
- if its not working- drop it (on a need to break the rules basis)
- It’s nice when people of a theoretical mind are interested in what we do. It blesses us with a different perspective -which carries a seductive sense of validation, that the mess we create can be grasped by a logical mind.
- The mess is also quite seductive
- When you allow yourself to make a discovery- then there is something there for your audience to discover. When you try to agree too much with your collaborators, then there’s nothing new to discover- for you or the audience.
- Talking is only one way to collaborate
- Talking shouldn’t become an easy escape from the frustrations which might eventually lead you somewhere
- You can’t make a piece by trying to be original
- What is going on around you? What is the historical context in which you jump? Can you know this and still work?
- History is looking over your shoulder
- Is there something you haven’t done you want to do?
- Sometimes the thing we need is so close to us that we can’t see it, so we undervalue what we know, in favor of what we don’t know.
- Why you started doing this in the first place…maybe that has been buried under other people’s classes and performances
- Contemporary performance has to establish its conventions and then stretch them. This is connected to the way in which creativity is seen as something which must involve a breach or transgression.
- Burrows: the function of an artist is to evoke the experience of surprised recognition.
- The challenge to subvert can be too strong- before something has a chance to reveal itself
- What if there was nothing to improve?
- How do you want to move?
- The aesthetic agenda held within our bodies from a lifetime of training create perimeters that both enable and limit our ability to imagine what might also be possible. ..how might we hold onto these physical blessings, whilst liberating ourselves from the boundaries they sometimes set to our imagination.
- It will do its job weather you focus on it or not
- The audience enjoys skill, but anybody doing what they want to do, and doing it well, appears skillful.
- Squeezing movement into the wrong time frame can be quite gripping. The dancer is engaged in the attempt to negotiate the conundrum, and because they are engaged, the audience is also engaged.
- Its’ just a way to wake things up
- The dance that goes all speeds is unpredictable- this then becomes predictable
- Audiences like change
- The tendency to dance without a beat (which led contemporary dance to establish itself as an art form) leads to longer works than can be sustained by a short dance form. Theatrical forms with no pulse
- It is often the attempt to so what you’re doing which makes us intrigued.
- As long as they know that you know you’re failing- if you are uncomfortable about it they will feel uncomfortable
- Accepting self consciousness
[from Sensuous Geographies]
A great source about how our bodies multi-sense space.
“Gold suggests that there are perhaps as many as ten basic senses. ‘Besides taste, smell, sight, and hearing, there are four tactile or skin senses of pressure, pain, cold and warmth, and the two body senses of balance (the vestibular sense) and kinesthesis (the sense of movement in any part of the body)’ (1980:50). Each of these clearly has an impact on geographical experience.”
“Creativity, as it is understood within this method, is not a property of some enlightened few. ‘Creativity’ requires training. And the way we approach that training , that practice, is turning our focus away from the very decision, to direct it to the ‘noise’ settled in our bodies, namely under the forms of ‘habits’, ‘convictions’ and ‘expectations’. When that ‘noise’ is excessive, it works as friction and makes us waste time. It deactivates the capacity to read a new situation , becoming the main obstacle to implementing creativity as the operative system of our decisions.”
[from The Enteric Nervous System]
“Take a step into neurobiology. According to recent studies, there is a brain
in the belly, literally. The basic research in this area has been conducted by
Michael D. Gershon (see his The Second Brain) whose work was summarized
in the New York Times by Sandra Blakeslee:
‘The gut’s brain, known as the enteric nervous system [ENS], is located
in sheaths of tissue lining the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and colon.
Considered a single entity, it is a network of neurons, neurotransmitters,
and proteins that zap messages between neurons, support cells
like those found in the brain proper and a complex circuitry that enables
it to act independently, learn, remember, and, as the saying goes, produce
[from Dance and the Passing Moment: Deleuze's Nietzsche]
Action and response – an interaction – negotiation -Dancing as a Mode of Activity: From Deleuze and the Body.
“The two-fold aspect of the will to power- both receptive and determining – speaks to the sense in which all dancing is inherently improvisational. While improvisation commonly refers to sub-species of contemporary dance (as a work of a subject who ‘produces’ movements in the moment), there is a sense in which every passing moment of movement –every emergent body- makes a particular use of those available forces to which it is related: by engaging the bodies (and their implicit forces) which lie to hand. The plasticity of the will to power is one aspect of this improvisation. It captures the responsiveness of the will to power in dancing to that which is available, to the related forms of force which meet by chance in the moment. …Improvisation lies at the crossroads of chance; it takes up and produces what follows. The dancing lies in the flow from meeting to meeting, in the successive simultaneity of action predicated upon response."
Department of Contemporary Dance at Concordia University:
"Choreography is nothing else but a committed, if not obsessive, exploration of a margin of maneuverability - a fraction of time/space in between the material inertia (of a memory) and the immaterial velocity (of a desire). Sometimes it is enough to speak of this margin and you are already dancing it. Sometimes you will need to shut up and move. In any case, the most important thing that you have to learn is how to maintain yourself inside this no man's land where all the safe binaries between body and mind, presence and language, identity and difference are brought into question. ..dance yourself into and out of the confusion."
“…The perfect dance critic understands that “technique” is a vast term that applies to the ways in which dancers can access effectively and intelligently the numerous expressive possibilities that are available to them in their bodies. The perfect dance critic understands that “virtuosity” can apply to the most idiosyncratic of weight shifts.”
The process of forming a general concept by omitting every distinguishing feature from our notions of some collection of particular things; -an abstraction is the concept or idea that results from this process.
It is a philosophical construct of a process. However, in order to be realized, it needs such devices. Each artist has his or her own filtering system in which these tools get used. How he or she uses them to create, combine, exchange, mold, and produce images is determined by style preferences, visions and intentions.
You can see the dance and know in your gut what it is about even though you may not be able to say what it is that you know so clearly-
by speaking directly to your experience (126)
Abstracting (mathematicians) synonymous w/ intelligence itself
In depiction- find a way to say it- not just draw the object..
Picasso- don’t just look with your eyes- look with your mind.
“The higher processes of art are all processes of simplification…that is indeed very nearly the whole of the higher artistic process; finding what conventions of form and what detail one can do without and yet preserve the spirit of the whole.”
To look at a very complicated thing and see in a flash it’s essence- simplicity..
[from Visual Contrast: The Art of Display & Arrangement]
This is from a book called Visual Contrast, a book about how to place things in the home aesthetically- below is the contents. It's great to see how these terms can be applied to the composition of any art form.
- Scale- Small Vs. Big
- Dimension- 2D Vs. 3D
- Form- Organic Vs. Geometric
- Temperature –Cool Vs. Hot
- Tone –Light Vs. Dark
- Strength –Subtle Vs. Bright
- Contrast –Positive Vs. Negative
- Orientation –Horizontal Vs. Vertical
- Quantity –Single Vs. Multiple
- Order –Symmetrical Vs. Random
- Age -Contemporary Vs. Antique
- Attitude- Serious Vs. Playful
- Culture- Ethnic Vs. European
Bernstein, Michele and Robert:
[from Sparks of Genius]
The chapter titles are:
- Rethinking Thinking
- Schooling the Imagination
- Recognizing Patterns
- Forming Patterns
- Body Thinking
- Dimensional Thinking
“If you can’t conceive of things that don’t exist- then you can’t create anything new.”
To know in the gut- Intuition
Imaginative understanding- then logical expression
“To think creatively is first to feel. The desire to understand must be whipped together with sensual and emotional feelings and blended with intellect to yield imaginative insight.”
Dr. John Burnside:
“One of our educational failures is a lack of serious recognition and attention towards the gut feeling or inclination of common sense. Perhaps because this inclination is non-numerical it is glossed over as the art medicine- implying instinct, passion, or the primeval. But I believe it can be defined and should be taught.”
Schooling the imagination
“…The same disconnection between academic knowledge and physical experience continues to plague education today.”
Knowing is not the same thing as understanding
Having failed to develop your own illusory but insightful ‘eye of the mind’, the eyes in your head will not show you much of anything at all.
Einstein: In creative work- Imagination is more important than knowledge
Picasso: “art is a lie that makes us realize the truth”
Many “feel ideas emerging” before the words develop…
“Knowledge is fragmenting at ever-increasing speeds- understanding becomes ever more rare. If society cannot find ways to make integrated understanding accessible to large numbers of people, then the information revolution is not only useless, but a threat to human civilization.”
“What the hand cannot draw- the eye cannot see.”
“That which has not been drawn has not been seen.”
“If you are not skillful enough to sketch a man falling out of a window, during the time it takes him to get from the fifth story to the ground, you will never be able to produce monumental work."
Go Observe and then create.
Our eyes see mainly in two dimensions.
“All knowledge pattern are warped, first by collective pressure and stream of our time and race, second by the thrust of our individual personalities.”
The purpose of practicing observation is to link sensory experience and mental awareness as closely as possible.
Observing is making sense of sensations.
The act of depicting something disciplines and strengthens attention, obliging us to cover the whole of the phenomenon.
Non verbal imagery plays a central role in invention.
We tend to privilege the visual sense in our imagination.
“the most perfect musical instrument in the world is the composers mind.”
Mental concepts relying on language- may be better transmitted through art…
(mathematicians) synonymous w/ intelligence itself.
In depiction- find a way to say it- not just draw the object.
Picasso- don’t just look with your eyes- look with your mind.
“ The higher processes of art are all processes of simplification…that is indeed very nearly the whole of the3 higher artistic process; finding what conventions of form and what detail one can do without and yet preserve the spirit of the whole.”
To look at a very complicated thing and see in a flash it’s essence- simplicity.
Bare essential forms.
To start with the model/ then work without it…
“To perceive a pattern means that we have already formed an idea of what’s next.”
Our ability to recognize patterns is the basis for our ability to make predictions and form expectations.
Humor- you have to satisfy the task – but avoid predictability.
Rhythm is best learned through the ears and legs- not the brain.
For musicians – seeing the musical pattern can be as important as hearing it- and so can feeling the musical pattern as a series of movements, as a kinesthetic pattern.
“The only interesting fields of science are the ones where you still don’t know what you are talking about.”
Culture and personal environments influences pattern recognition.
Juxtaposing one element or operation with another in a consistent way yields a synthetic pattern that may be much more than, and far different from, the sum of its parts.
Pattern –to-pattern forming that bring mediums together- from one realm of human experience to another.
Polyrhythm- 2 different rhythms same time- where the connection for- patterns
Wolf- In writing I seem to discover what belongs to what…hidden patterns- builds a philosophy. The purpose of writing was to make the patterns manifest- bring them to life.
Cunningham- patterns in nature- everyday actions “More as puzzles than works of art”
The striking thing about pattern forming is not the complexity of the elements that are combined, but the cleverness and unexpectedness with witch the combinations are made.”
Rene Parols- Optical art – theory and practice
What we can know directly with our eyes, nose, ears, mouth and skin is so limited as to be truly humbling. (Magnetic fluxes of the earth, electrical fields, atmospheric or water pressure…)
“…it is not our senses that limit or liberate us, but our ability to illuminate the unknown by means of analogies to the known.”
Comparing the relationship between known properties and our senses of them-
A great mathematician- analogies upon analogies…
Only when we see things for what they might be and not just for what they are can we begin to use them in novel ways.
When we seek out and find hidden identities of function and purpose, ‘degree by degree’, we ‘surround’ our perception of world and self with meaning. And then, suddenly, we understand.”
The body as an instrument of thought
“Thinking with the body depends on our sense of muscle movement, posture, balance and touch.”
Automatic and unconscious
Jumping is a kind of thinking- Keller with Cunningham
Psychologist Walter Cannon (50 years ago) points out “Proprioception also includes how we feel viscerally and emotionally. Our posture and movements reflect out moods, and our moods are reflected – in turn- to how we fee in what Cannon called our ‘internal milieu’ our gut and mind.”
Rodin- The Thinker:
“He thinks not only with his brain- with his knitted brow, his distended nostrils, and compressed lips, but with every muscle of his arms back and legs, with his clenched fists and gripping toes.”
Sympathetic action of the observer- internal kinesthetic responses…
Extensions of the body- (Oskar Shlemmer)
Picasso- only when we feel our way in to the space around us- do we truly sense and interact with it.
Many choreographic failures are due to the insensitivity of people
Temple Grandin Thinking in Pictures and other Reports from My Life with Autism
…yes but do you know what it feels like to be a piston in an engine?
First Class Empathizer:
- Practice- inner attention on things we see hear touch and feel….what it feels like to open the door…Observing your own responses to the world- and remembering physical and emotional memories of your responses.
- Practice external attention to people and things outside yourself
- Imagine what the object of your external attention is sensing and feeling- get close to it.
Means moving from 2D to 3D- changing scale- proportions – dimensions
Anamorphosis- altered shape
Huge amounts of the brain are taken up by the lips, tongue and fingers- little space is given to larger area such as back/ stomach…
Size and time matter- different kinds of things happen in the universe at different scales- moving between scales in temporal or material ways offer insight into new phenomenon- types of problems- physical and psychological principals
A person moving near the speed of light could travel to another star and return a few years older, only to find all of her children long gone…
Colloquial time vs music time…different
“Multidimensional Kinesthetic Thinking” “Emotional Space” (I love you from different distances)
Many more people are form blind than color blind
To model an object is to posses it…understanding and control
The most sophisticated models are usually combinations of-
- Representation or physical model: Physical characteristics
- Functional model: capturing the essential operations
- Theoretical Model: Basic concepts governing the operation of some process
- Imaginary Model: features of elements we can’t see directly
To build a new work (musically or otherwise) based on an existing structure (classicism…etc.)
3d in ones mind is not the same as 3d kinesthetically and tactically
“We can think what cannot be said, and we can invent new ways of saying previously unsayable things- if we do it as a game.”
Principal of limited sloppiness
Breaks the rules of serious activity and creates its own
Practice Playing: enhances skilL
Foot print discovery – after the modeling- playing- patterning- playacting etc- transformed the findings into kinesthetic, visual hominids
Dance notation for understanding medical conditions
Synthesizing: This kind of understanding depends upon an integrated use of thinking tools such that, first, we synthesize sensory impressions and feelings and, second, we fuse our sensory synthesis with the abstract knowledge that exists in our memories as patterns, analogies, and other higher-order mental constructs.
For Wassily Kandinsky, colors evoked sound, kinesthetic feelings, and many empathetic emotions…
Synesthesia- a union of the senses
This is natural because…we store memories and ideas as kinesthetic, visual, auditory, and other sensory forms or patterns
we know more than we think we know
“My perception must be not a sum of visual, tactile, and audible givens: I perceive in a total way with my whole being which speaks to all my senses.”
Only when an experience is synesthetic do we really loose ourselves and become one with it.
“To know is passive; to understand is to be able to act on one’s knowledge.”
- Aldous Huxley
It must perceive a likeness between things outward and things inward, a correspondence between the seen and the unseen.
In everyday life, all our senses work in tandem within the mind, just as the body and mind cooperate to move us in a coordinated and balanced manner.
All creative work is based: sensation, feeling, memory, and rational thought.
The intellect can intuit nothing, the senses can think nothing. Only through their union can knowledge arise.”
Synosia is not an ideal or a dream; it is a necessity.
[from 86 Aspects of Composition]
This list came in handy for writing about composition. When talking about a work- it's great to have some clear vocabulary to push off from.
Mike Vargas works internationally as a freelance composer performing, teaching, recording, and improvising. Primarily a solo artist and a pianist, Vargas also specializes in percussion and electronic music. He regularly presents concerts of his work, sometimes collaborating with other musicians and artists, often in relatively small ensembles.
- abstraction—To what extent would two people from the same community agree about the meaning?
- appropriation—How precisely and in what proportion to the whole have the ideas and constructs of others been incorporated into this creation?
- balance—How do the qualities and relative importance of the constituent aspects counteract each other, both inside and outside the system?
- breath—Where is the alternation between tension and release, inhalation and exhalation?
- center—Which areas, events, or ideas does our attention revolve around or return to?
- coherence—How well do the elements involved maintain their physical or conceptual connections to each other?
- collaboration—If there is more than one person or element involved, how are they cooperating?
- color—What shades, tones, or spectral qualities do these particular combinations of vibrations and their reflections create or evoke?
- community—Who is involved with the making and perceiving of this work?
- complexity—How many different streams of meaning, gestures, or materials are there, and do they interfere with each other?
- Context—What are the circumstances surrounding creation and perception, and what bearing do they have?
- continuity—How does this move from idea to idea, from place to place, from beginning to end?
- contrast—How different is one thing from another?
- control—How tightly is the outcome predetermined?
- conviction—To what extent is there an absence of doubt or hesitation, and how big a role does this play in the potential to inspire?
- definition—What features distinguish this from everything else and are they expressed clearly?
- density—How many elements are present simultaneously or in close proximity in a given area or at a given time?
- detail—How finely are the small qualities and features chiseled and how important are they to the functioning of the whole?
- development—What changes as time and space extend and how does this affect coherence?
- diversity—What degree of variety is present among the components and what effects does this variety produce?
- duration—How much time goes by from the beginning to the end of each event? of each subdivision? of the whole?
- emotion—Which human feelings can be found in this creation or perception and what importance are they given relative to the other ingredients?
- emphasis—Which aspects are meant to draw our attention and how is this achieved?
- exertion—How much physical and/or mental effort is involved and to what extent is it important for this to be visible?
- expectation—Do assumptions held by the creator or perceiver influence continuity or predictability?
- familiarity—How important is it to maintain or evolve recognizable situations, ideas, environments, or feelings?
- frequency—How fast and how often do the events and the materials vibrate or occur?
- function—What role does this play in the world, and what roles do each of the ingredients play relative to each other and to the whole?
- generosity—What is being given freely?
- geography—Where do things happen?
- gesture—How is movement of the materials organized, and what shapes and qualities do the trajectories of this motion create?
- hierarchy—How are importance and power organized?
- humor—How do factors such as smiling, laughter, surprise, lightheartedness, or delight contribute to the nature of this work?
- hybridization—Is there an intentional (or unconscious) blending of forms?
- imitation—How much do internal elements seek or exhibit similarity among themselves, and how much do they or the whole seek or exhibit similarity with external models?
- innovation—How great a role do new ideas play?
- inspiration—How does this work give and receive motivating energy?
- intention—What desired state or outcome is motivating the decisions that predetermine the nature of this process?
- interpretation—How do history, personal opinions, emotions, and skills affect the transmission and reception of the original message or intention?
- intuition—What percentage of creation/perception occurs spontaneously or without logical explanation, and how does this component in the composition interact with the intellectual component?
- language—What conventions, rules, methods of organization, or vocabularies distinguish this communication from others, and who understands them?
- leadership—Who makes the decisions?
- limits—What kinds of restrictions help to focus the expression?
- logic—What intellectual paradigms or conceptual maps are determining the basis for decision making?
- memory—How does the ability to store, label, and then retrieve impressions from the near and distant past impact creation and perception?
- mystery—How much reference is being made to not-knowing; how big a role does conscious (or unconscious) not-knowing play in conception and execution, and how necessary is knowing or not-knowing for appreciation?
- mythology—What roles do heroism, archetypes, folklore, and oral history play?
- organization—On what basis are the materials ordered, and what effect does this order have on the way they are perceived?
- originality—What percentage of the content is unique, and how does that affect the value of the whole?
- palette—What collection of physical and conceptual materials is being combined in this particular case?
- perception—How do the attributes and mechanisms of the human senses and mind color this process?
- perspective—From which physical or mental position was this created, and from which vantage points are the various elements and qualities best perceived?
- planning—What role does advance thinking, organizing, and deciding play?
- precision—Which ideas, gestures, or aspects must manifest in an exact way and which can be more general or approximate?
- preference—What proportion of qualities or choices is guided or determined by personal affinities or taste?
- process—What is the sequence and nature of the physical and intellectual events that determine the outcome?
- proportion—What are the relative quantities, sizes, and importance of each aspect with respect to the others and to the whole?
- proximity—What importance does the degree of nearness of players or elements have, internally and with respect to the perceiver?
- pulse—How much of the organization involves the regular marking of time or space with a steady placement of weight or events?
- punctuation—What devices help to delineate and separate units of meaning and activity?
- purity—How much allegiance or adherence to particular styles, ideas, traditions, or methods is present or necessary?
- reference—Toward which other elements, relationships, meanings, or memories is our focus directed when an element (or the whole) points outside of itself?
- relationship—How do these materials, organizers of the materials, and observers interact with each other?
- repetition—What happens again and again, how often, and with what intentions or results?
- reproduction—To what extent and how precisely are these materials or characteristics meant to resemble something from the past?
- resolution—How and when does this balance itself enough to start a new chapter or begin again?
- resonance—How do the effects of sympathetic vibrations play a role in the transmission of energy and inspiration, internally and with the environment?
- responsibility—How do social and environmental conscience influence the process of the creator, the perceiver, and other elements of the composition?
- scale—How large is this, relative to its conceptual and physical context?
- sensation—How does physical interaction with the medium, through the senses and systems of the body, affect the process and the nature of the experience?
- sequence—What events or ideas or materials follow each other, and in what order?
- shape—What are the qualities of the outline or contours created by the relative positions of materials in time and space?
- speed—How quickly do things happen?
- spirituality—What importance is given, either in the creation or in the perceiving, to contemplation, kindness, and matters of the soul?
- spontaneity—How much of the composition is determined by gestural, organizational, or conceptual decisions made in the moment?
- stability—Is there a sense of underlying predictability or steadiness, and how is this achieved?
- story—Is the series of events or the arrangement of elements such that it narrates or describes a human situation or perspective?
- symmetry—What types of correspondences exist between opposing sides or halves, either of the whole or of the individual ingredients?
- technique—What skills are necessary to clearly transmit and receive these energies or ideas, and how important is the mastery of these skills?
- Tension- Where is there a physical (or other kind of) pull or push between elements or ideas?
- Texture- What overall consistency or surface quality is created by the arrangement of material?
- Timing- When do things happen and how important is precision in this regard?
- Tradition- What lineage of creators, styles, philosophies, politics, methods, context, or other factors have influenced this composition?
- Transition- What manner of bridges or connectors serve to span the gaps between ideas, chapters or arenas?
- Variation- What proportion of this process involves change, manipulation, or evolution of material or energy?
- Vibration- When and how does cyclical alteration (of position, qualities, states, etc.) play a roll, and how do the relative speeds of these oscillations interact?