Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Movement as Dynamic Interaction

Recently, I have been working my way slowly through a highly informative survey paper by Michael D. Mauk and Dean V. Buonomano entitled "The Neural Basis of Temporal Processing." In the course of last night's reading, I was reminded of a fundamental principle of movement that I had once learned but not retained very well:
Most movements involve the coordinated activation of agonist muscles to initiate motion and antagonist muscles as a brake.
We tend to think of movement as a matter of going from a source to a destination, without giving much regard to the nature of the movement itself. Indeed, most dance notation system tend to use this principle as a basis for what should be abstracted through the notational symbols. However, this masks the physiological principle that all movement involved an ongoing interplay of advancing continuously attenuated by braking. Each of those two dynamics may have its own "energy strategy," which accounts for why there can be so much difference in the quality of the movement itself, as both dancers and actors know full well.

Rudolf von Laban appreciated this distinction. He did not capture it in his Labanotation (Kinetography Laban) system. However, his 1947 book Effort tried to propose a theory of the dynamics of movement to complement all the positional information captured by Labanotation. He developed an alternative set of symbols, intended to augment a Labanotation document, rather the way that symbols for dynamics and tempo augment the basic symbols of pitch and duration in music.

As we know, in music those latter symbols are not as denotational as the former, resulting in the need for considerable contextual knowledge required for their interpretation. The same is true for Laban's "effort" symbols. However, where movement is concerned, the distinction may be greater. One might say that, through those symbols, Laban was trying to add information about velocity and acceleration to the Labanotation symbol base. The problem is that velocity and acceleration are effects of how mind makes the body move, so to speak. We may need to go back to basics to see if there is some abstract notation that can better capture the causes behind such movements.

1 comment:

DigitalDan said...

We were discussing this at a rehearsal last evening. The issue was how a staccato (dot) notation was to be interpreted. The conductor noted that when orchestrators attempt to increase the detail in order to make all such decisions explicit, chaos ensues. Beyond a certain point, it is better for conductor and performers to interpret the provided notations in context. This is why it takes practice to "get to Carnegie Hall," I guess.