Chance Operations of the Body

My final project expands on a project I started last semester called the Belly Dance Sound Belt. Middle Eastern dance, particularly Oriental dance or “Belly Dance” as it is called in North America, is based on improvised body movements that are inspired by the delicate nuances of middle eastern music. The dancer’s role is to make the music come alive with her body, rarely repeating the same sequence of movements twice. As well, the musicians who accompany her, rarely play the same song the same way twice.

Some classical middle eastern pieces of music contain rhythmic structures that don’t repeat for 14 beats, leaving huge gaps of rhythmic silence that beg to be filled. For a MIDI sample of this type of rhythm structure, click here. These somewhat unstructured patterns allow dancers and musicians to fill these gaps in any way they feel. Improvisation is based on their feelings but the choice of notes played and type of body movements used is somewhat left up to chance, although one could argue that it is muscle memory that kicks in at these moments. To see an example of how this works, click here. However, the idea of chance and randomness is what I want to work with by eliminating any type of structure for the dancer to follow unless she creates that structure with her body.

In the Kegal Organ project, I was trying to use the random contractions of my kegal muscles to create music. I’d like to do the same with this project, using the arms, hips and stomach movements of the bellydancer to make a very abstracted form of music – much like the compositions of John Cage who composed music for the Merce Cunningham dance company. Here’s an example of their work together. Cage and Cunningham both consulted the I Ching, a form of divination based on chance operations and randomness, to compose/choreograph their music/dance. By using a variety of sensors such as an accelerometer, tilt sensor and perhaps stretch sensor to track body movements, I will use the random numbers of the serial output to activate sound tracks on an MP3 trigger and/or buzzers. The MP3 tracks will consist of recorded sounds, some abstract and some recognizable. I think the challenge here will be making the transitions from one sound to the next fluid and I will be relying on help from those of you who are skilled at programming.

Aesthetics

The project will take the shape of a traditional bellydance costume, similar to the one the dancer is wearing in the youtube video, consisting of a bra and belt and long skirt. However, in the spirit of modernity and honesty, I plan on making all the electronic components visible and part of the overall aesthetic of the dance costume. Other industrial items like washers and nuts will be incorporated for visual effect. I will post a sketch shortly.

Collaboration

I am collaborating with a dancer, Denise Mireau, founder of the Studio for Movement on this project. She will perform in the costume on presentation day.

I’m not sure how this project by Kenneth Smith works but it is a pretty good example of where I’m coming from.

Electronic Materials

Accelerometer

Lilypad Arduino

Speaker wire

Fabric snaps

Conductive Thread

Costume Materials

Black stretch fabric

Speaker wire

Transparent thread

All purpose thread

Buckrum

Bra cups

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