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Prix 1987 - 2007

Ars Electronica Linz & ORF Oberösterreich

Marc Downie, Shelley Eshkar , Paul Kaiser

Loops is a portrait of Merce Cunningham, but it attends not to his appearance, but to his motion. It is derived from a motion-captured recording of his solo dance for hands and fingers. The motioncaptured joints become nodes in a network that sets them into fluctuating relationships with one another, at times suggesting the hands underlying them, but more often depicting complex cat’scradle variations. These nodes render themselves in a series of related styles, reminiscent of handdrawing, but with a different sort of life.

The initial source is Cunningham reading diary entries from his first visit to New York City in 1937, when he was 17 years old—a marvellous evocation both of Manhattan and of the young Cunningham. The intonation and rhythm of these voice-overs are propelled into a virtual instantiation of Cage’s prepared piano. The pattern of the notes they strike is picked out and then evolved by autonomous musical intelligences, not only “listening” to the sound of this speech, but also “reading” the content of its sentences: the compositional structure derives from the spatial/metaphorical structure of that text. These processes seek a middle ground between the communicative needs of language and the abstraction of music’s rhythm and melodic contour.

The musical “score” for this work is not a representation of the notes to be played but a codification of the possible transformations of the ongoing narration. Loops is computed in realtime and is, in effect, a live performance (the program is the only other “performer” of this choreography than Cunningham, who has never set the work on any other dancer.) Thus Loops, the digital program, confers a weird kind of immortality on Loops, the physical dance, for in essence it keeps improvising itself. Manifesting itself through the probabilistic interaction of its distinct parts, it reveals something new with every playback.