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Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL

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Digital Notation as a Tool of Thought

Digital Notation as a Tool of Thought

Designing a tool has been a constant influence in the way we think. In the last 10 years, this phenomenon is uniquely shared on the crossovers of Architecture and Dance choreography, where reciprocal exchanges of common words regarding the body, geometry and methods of notating moving elements are explored.

In dance choreography, digital notation systems have developed from analog ones with a shift in the way they are used. Instead of simply recording and notating what has been already created, the digital notations are fed back to the performers, using different mediums (e.g. visual or sound). These interactive notations have explored and suggested through the conversation between scientists and artists, translating the journeys of body movements to realisations of the scenarios.

In Wayne McGregor’s recent piece ‘Atomos’, a visual tool ‘Becoming’ has created by digital artists Marc Downie (OpenEndedGroup) and Nick Rothwell (CASSEIEL). Performers use the feedbacks of computer-based visuals as inspiration for further movement.

OpenEndedGroup 'Becoming' for 'Atomos'

OpenEndedGroup ‘Becoming’ for ‘Atomos’


WayneMcGregor Rehearsal for ‘Atomos’


Using these creative tools, the concept of biometric data is transferred through dancer’s body movement by capturing biological rhythms around their body. Here is a video in which three of the collaborators explain the tool creation and concept realisation for Atomos.



OpenEndedGroup has been a long-term contributor as digital artists team for dance choreography. With notable choreographers, such as Merce Cunningham and Trisha Brown, each project has been constantly updated through the conversation between these artists and their systems have become more articulated in order to achieve a certain goal. Mathematics and physics have bridged here the emerging sequences and architecture around the body.

‘Loops AI’ by OpenEndedGrpup for Merce Cunningham

‘Triangle’ by OpenendedGroup for Trisha Brown



Trisha Brown ‘how long does the subject linger at the edge of the volume’

Score for ‘Loops AI’ by OpenEndedGroup


Developed from OpenEndedGroup’s former piece ‘autonomous choreographic agent’,  a creature ‘Becoming’ depicts a computerised ‘body’, which drives with the data coming from the informational sources. It’s form, (therefore never be the same), offers a kinesthetic relationship and became a dancer’s duet partner. During the rehearsals, these movements are fed through the sensor system (designed by Studio XO) to form a series of physical objects, which become another dancers resources to develop their movements, and so a constant and continuous creative process is created.



Furthermore, behind these tool creations, how a digital system participates in choreographic development as their thinking tool is explored. In the lecture video, David Kirsh, a professor in the Department of Cognitive Science at the University of California, talks about ‘thinking with the body’ on the process of his research with Wayne McGregor at R-Research (RANDOM DANCE).



Whilst the use of analog notation systems supply the criteria of fundamental design (I write about this in other blog here), they have limitations which are overcome when digital systems are used. Thinking about moving elements, they are found to be more flexible and have potential when there are requirements for changes in scale and timelines. It offers new way of understandings in the context of measuring Architecture.

In my next blog article, I will write about how we can measure Architecture with these digital notation systems, here.


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