Soon we may have body notes:
- Scientists are developing ways of capturing human movement in three dimensions which would allow music to be created with the gesture of an arm.
….The system is being developed at the school of music in the University of Leeds.
Dr Kia Ng of the Interdisciplinary Centre for Scientific Research in Music is leading the project, which captures 3D movements using infra-red light.
The light is projected onto tiny reflective balls attached to clothing and monitored by 12 cameras.
The computer recognises the changing positions of the balls and turns different gestures into instructions for music software.
“Effectively a person could play a note by blinking an eye or moving a foot. The possibility is for anybody to control a musical composition,” Dr Ng told the BBC programme Go Digital.
Of course there are risks that the wrong gesture could lead to a bum note, so the system is also going to have a more pre-composed system that can intelligently guess what a series of gestures represents.
“The biggest challenge is to train the system to anticipate movement,” said Dr Ng.
“To make sense of a gesture it need to know not only where an object has been and where it is, but also where it will be,” he added.
He is hopeful that the system can be put to the test at a live concert by the end of next year. [BBC]
This story is also fascinating from a philosophical standpoint: music is literally the dance of particles in space – movement IS music. As T. S. Elliot said, “There is only the dance.”
All human societies dance. Even those that don’t have “music” as we know it have some sort of ritualistic rhythmic movement. This movement is often that society’s most important form of expression. The Dogon of West Africa dance to honor their dead and to “assert their vitality in the face of death.” (Maybury-Lewis in Millennium)
The Native American Ghost Dancers of the Western Plains of the U.S. sought no less than to bring back an army of the dead through dance to resurrect their way of life lost to white rule. The Islamic whirling dervishes used dance to merge with the supreme consciousness by spinning their way into a state of natural intoxication. The Turkish government outlawed this activity. The Siberian shamans use dance toward a similar end. The Chinese use t’ai chi to induce a sense of calm and balance.
There are reasons that dance is imbued with this kind of power. In The Silent Pulse, George Leonard states, “Music is a reflection in sound of the world’s structure, making explicit the rhythmic quality of all things…The body is made of emptiness and rhythm. At the heart of the body and the world, there is no solidity – there is only the dance.”
This observation works on both religious and scientific levels. As Capra observes in The Tao of Physics, “Shiva’s dance is the clearest image of the activity of God. The dance of Shiva is the dancing universe; the ceaseless flow of energy going through an infinite variety of patterns that melt into one another.”
Subatomic physics keeps delving deeper and deeper into the structure of matter, and finding less and less to depend upon. Physicist Max Born cheerfully confirms this view, “We have sought for firm ground and found none. The deeper we penetrate, the more restless becomes the universe; all is rushing about and vibrating in a wild dance.”
Capra continues, “Modern physics has shown that the rhythm of creation and destruction is .. the very essence of inorganic matter. (In) quantum field theory: all interactions between the constituents of matter take place through the emission and absorption of virtual particles … Every subatomic particle not only performs an energy dance, but also is an energy dance … Shiva’s dance is the dance of subatomic matter.”
Myth-meister Joseph Campbell relates a conversation between a social philosopher and a Shinto priest: “We’ve been to a good many ceremonies and shrines, but I don’t get your ideology. I don’t get your theology.” The priest repied, “I think we don’t have ideology. We don’t have theology. We dance.” Birds do it, bees do it, subatomic particles do it.
As the matter/energy issue becomes ever more blurred with the discovery that the smallest subatomic units possess properties of both matter and energy – both particle and wave – it becomes more philosophically satisfying to assume that the mind/ body differential is equally illusory. The ancient Chinese symbol of yin/yang (male/female, light/dark) connects seeming opposites into a unity.
William Blake, the great Western mystic/poet/artist dismisses the duality, “Man has no Body distinct from his Soul; for that call’d Body is a portion of Soul discover’d by the five Senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age.”
In more systematic Western thought, the Hegelian dialectic views history as the “absolute spirit manifesting itself so to realize its inherent nature.” But, this is “not a smooth transition from one phase to the next … Each stage gives rise to its opposite in a continual pattern of transcendence leading toward higher unities.”
The duality is again illusory. The dance is where this duality is harmonized. Campbell believes that our existential search is “to be in accord with the grand symphony that this world is, to put (the) harmony of our own body in accord with that harmony.” This is why dancing is at the center of parties. Dancing is among the last of our rites. Ritual, viewed from an intellectual point of view, is illogical, impractical. Hence the suspicion of dance in the age of science, where all things are judged by their objective result.
With all of this sensual abandon and particles rubbing together, is it any wonder that dancing is often associated with sex? Dancing, in its pursuit of rythm and rejection of restraint, is commonly held to be a metaphor for sex. Upon reexamination, isn’t sex perhaps a metaphor for dancing? Regardless, dancing and sex are linked in the social landscape. Alcohol, as a chemical inhibition remover, serves to grease both of those engines. Is it any wonder that the state seeks to regulate and restrict all three?
Dancing appears sensually suspicious, or even dangerous, and to be intellectually frivolous, but as Langer writes, “Rites in themselves are not practical, but expressive. Ritual, like art, is essentially the active termination of a symbolic transformation of experience.” Dance is, then, both the literal foundation of reality, and our symbolic representation of that reality. Through dance we attune ourselves to our rhythmic essence.
Dance is viewed by many writers as central to self-awareness. Dance is one of the traits that Montague sees as necessary to life-long youthfulness: “Children are born with a natural sense of rhythm..developed in the womb..in co-oscillation with the mother’s movements, and the syncopated response to the mother’s heartbeat. (The) baby is in tune with the deepest rhythms – the dance of life.”
G. Stanley Hall deplores the decline of dancing in the schools: dance is needed to “give poise to the spirit, schooling to the emotions, strength to the will, and to harmonize the feelings and the intellect with the body that supports them.”
Plato praises dance as developmental of “physical soundness, agility and beauty by securing for the various parts and members of the body the proper degree of flexibility and extension and bestowing also the rhythmical motion which belongs to each.”
Havelock Ellis describes dance as “a release and replenishment of psychic energy that leaves one with an oceanic feeling of freedom from which all constraint has fallen way..One is infused with lyrical joy … this feeling of being in tune with the universe..is so uplifting and constructively beneficial (that) it would be difficult to think of any activity of greater therapeutic value.”
Making music via movement could turn out to be very satisfying indeed.