Scientists at NASA and artists from StudioKCA wanted people to experience the movement of satellites through space. The NASA Orbit Pavilion was the result of that collaboration. In this exhibit, the trajectory of 20 earth-orbiting satellites, including the International Space Station where represented by a series of amplified surround speakers. The arrangement of these speakers lead to a spiralling symphony of satellites, each with their own distinct sound, Spiralling sounds were mirrored in the spiral of the pavilion. This symmetry between the sound and the shape of the pavilion helps to immerse both the visual and aural senses. I thought that this was a wonderful way to sonify data moving in space. This brings me back to my thoughts on sound in 3D space and the movement of sound. As the satellites circle the room, you can hear musical elements fall in or out as certain satellites move faster or slower. If you listen closely, you can hear the pairing of orbital chords when “satellites” converge on each other. The sounds of the satellites, and the satellites themselves, form regular patterns that are repeated. Repeated patterns occur all around us; from orbiting celestial bodies to stream networks to spectral reflectance (see previous post). Many of these patterns can be represented by mathematical principles. However, with every pattern, with every symmetry, there is also asymmetry and anisotropy. Music also mirrors these principles. There is an excellent video by the Santa Fe Institute that discusses this very point; the marriage between music and math. Many classical composers used patterns and symmetry in their music, like Bach. But on the other hand, there were avant gardes like Ornette Coleman, that destroyed any sense of patterns. These ideas of both the identifiable and the abstract interest me. With all these recent thoughts on musical patterns, sound geolocation (see previous post) and chats with Christina about transferring musical patterns into movement, I think I have some new ideas for updates to the Eco Orchestra code.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about legacy and lineage in both art and science.
I’ve had the privilege to witness two modern dance pioneers in Philadelphia this month - groundbreaking postmodern choreographer Yvonne Rainer spoke in Philadelphia a few weeks ago, and the Martha Graham Dance Company (the performing company of arguably the founder of modern dance) came through on their tour this past weekend. Both had indelible impacts on the field of modern dance. Martha Graham developed a modern dance technique and showed the world a kind of performance that had never been seen before. Legendary choreographers Merce Cunningham and Paul Taylor got their start dancing with Graham and went on to radically advanced the dance world forward in their own ways. Both of them have also begat contemporary giants of the field, such as neoclassical giant David Parsons. Yvonne Rainer built on Graham’s legacy by rebelling against it - breaking open the form and structure of dance. Today, choreographers often trace their lineage to describe and position their work.
This idea seems important in science as well as art. I often hear scientists talking about the concept of “standing on the shoulders of giants” - the idea that you’re only where you are because of what others did before you. For both artists and scientists, there is deep importance of knowing where you come from in order to develop something new. We are always building on the knowledge and discovery of those who came before.
Seeing both of these great dance masters in the past few weeks has helped me clarify a number of things about my own choreography - thinking about ways to apply some of these ideas and principles, and establishing and acknowledging the roots of this project that I’m working on now.
For example, Merce Cunningham usually developed his choreography in complete isolation of the music - a recent reflection I heard about his work noted that often, the only thing his choreography and the music had in common was their duration. He often used chance in order to determine the sequence of his movements, including utilizing the I Ching. This resonated with me as I consider how to approach data-driven music - the music isn’t random, but as I’ve written in previous blog posts, there are aspects of it that are particularly complex to enter into choreographically, since they are not planned out by the human compositional hand. So I’m chewing on ways that I can utilize chance to develop the movement for the piece that David and I are hoping to develop together.
It is important to me that the choreography that I develop has a relationship to the music that is more than simply duration - I want it to be an interpretation of the music of the land after all – but nevertheless I think there is a lot I can take from the work of chance in dance by modern dance masters like Cunningham. Perhaps instead of developing a sequence comprehensively, I could say that a certain gesture equals a certain data range in the music, allowing the data to drive the structure of the movement. Standing on the shoulders of giants, in my case, has opened up new ways of thinking about how I approach this contemporary sciart work.
Visit our other residency group's blogs HERE
David Lagomasino is an award-winning research scientist in Biospheric Sciences at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, and co-founder of EcoOrchestra.
Christina Catanese is a New Jersey-based environmental scientist, modern dancer, and director of Environmental Art at Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education.