John Robert Ferguson


AMUC/Performance Technologies

In March 2007 at Culture Lab Newcastle I was parachuted into a motion capture session with Gretchen Schiller and Peter Wiegold. Negotiating a role within the supposed hierarchies of conductor, musician, dancer was a liberating experience, in which I discovered the joys of conducting as the art of dancing and making music at the same time.

The AHESSC report states that: From the obvious starting point which consisted of “conducting” dance, the session proceeded to explore ways of avoiding reciprocal mirroring and simplistic mappings in responsive, gestural dialogue-type situations. Musician John Ferguson, specialised in improvisatory techniques, joined the session and played guitar to add a further layer to the interaction. Relations between the musician, conductor and dancer rapidly acquired exciting fluidity and complexity, with shifts in steer of improvisation architecture (music ranging from accompaniment to dramaturgical interaction with the other two performers).’

‘Viewing the motion capture data after the session had a disinhibiting effect and the relatively abstract trajectories reflected - and encouraged - types and ranges of gesture that would probably not have been inspired by realistic film footage. This session raised the question of possibly using capture data as a score for improvising artists, which would in turn place a new set of constraints on indexing. This led to concrete discussion about the design of data annotation and retrieval processes which might accommodate developments of this kind.’

On 4th and 5th October 2008, Culture Lab hosted ‘Performance Technologies: Interaction & Improvisation’, a workshop involving several Culture Lab residents and a group of performing artists from Brunel University.

The workshop, led by Sally Jane Norman (Culture Lab), Bennett Hogg (Newcastle) and Gretchen Schiller (Brunel) was designed to explore methods and models of improvisation across disciplines and how these might work together to create interesting tensions between performing artists. The performers from Brunel, who are all currently undertaking an MA course in Digital Performance, had a wide range of styles ranging from ballet to breakdancing.

Newcastle University music students and Culture Lab residents Paul Bell, John Ferguson, Adam Parkinson, Will Schrimshaw and Nick Williams combined a range of musical improvisation techniques with the physical improvisation of the dancers. These exchanges were captured using Culture Lab’s motion capture system and the physical trajectories of both musicians and movers was reintroduced into the arena as an aspect of the performance.

The event was an excellent opportunity to cross disciplinary and institutional barriers and the ongoing debates and discussions which arose from the event have been solidified into a number of emerging proposals for collaborative projects.

Images courtesy of Will Schrimshaw. See more here.