Thursday, January 28, 2010

Janos Fugedi's Comments on the April 7, 2008 Open Theory Meeting

Submitted by János Fügedi - written June 21, 2008, posted March 24, 2009

First of all I thank all of you to devote your time and energy dealing with the points I raised in my 2007 ICKL paper on Unit Timing of Touching Gestures. Your practice of discussing notation and movement analytical subjects is an exceptional example for our community how we should work and make research. I follow your activity with great interest, even if your area is different from my practice. Your meeting inspires me to initiate something similar in our region and in our specific field dealing with notating European traditional dances.

In the following I copied here some of your points from the Minutes which I reply or comment. Your text is highlighted green, mine blue to make it easier to identify “who's speaking”. A third color (purple) is used to cite other sources.

Tina: János' context seems mainly to be teaching notation to beginning students.
1.) Not really. My primary goal is to make notation simpler to be used by many instead of a handful highly trained experts. Most of dance representatives (dancers, choreographers, teachers) reject notation because of the complexity they don't need and can't acquire. How about a slogan: Simple notation for simple needs?
2.) My teaching experience is that in the mind of students the touching gestures are represented the same way as a not touching gestures, mainly because there is no difference in the rhythm of a touching and a not touching gesture. Both arrives on the same moment to the desired destination. Only a long and tedious training can change this understanding in students' mind.

Tina: In other words, is this a theory issue or a pedagogy issue?
Lucy: Or is it an “understandable” issue.

Reply: Exactly, this is primarily and basically an issue of movement understanding. All the other come next.

Lucy: Do the rules for what is written make the notation more understandable?
Reply: I think so. Symbols and rules form the system. But there is a third component, the understood (learned) interpretation of a written movement. It lies in the “style”. Even a simple step notated would be performed very differently by a ballet and folk dancer.

Ray: One issue is the visual aspect. Is what you see on the page what you get? If you use specific timing you may be writing what is there, but does that make the notation more confusing?
Reply: Definitely an important aspect. Especially when UT and ST are used mixed in a notation, as we usually do: UT for not touching gestures and ST for touching ones in the same score.

Ray: A person familiar Hungarian Folk dance would not have problems with a “simplified” score, but a person not familiar with that style of movement may find such a score difficult to read.
Reply: Everybody who is not familiar with Hungarian traditional dance may find such a score difficult to read, just as a jazz pianist a Bach score, if s/he's never been trained in classical music. This is the “third component” I mentioned above.

Ray: When you simplify you leave out things. What is not said is what often is important. In unit timing, details about the movement are left out that may be important to recording the style of the movement.
Reply: I'm afraid not really. The way I propose using UT is a question of understanding notation and movement, and no information is left out. See more about later.

Tina: Maybe we need manuals for notating different movement techniques and styles.
Comment: Sort of. Just have a look at the 10 page glossary of “The Bournonville School” by AHG.

Sandra: The discussion of unit timing versus specific timing has been going on for decades. Conventions are used to solve problems associated with this issue. When choosing between unit or specific timing, the notator needs to go by the conventions that are built into the type of movement that is being notated. For instance, in ballet, if one writes a port de bras and supports with detailed timing, it could be very confusing because then it would look like there are many things going on with different timings. Writing exactly with great detail can give too much information and make the score very difficult to read. Conventions pull everything together; then the reader's mind fills in all the miniscule blanks so that there will be three dimensional movement.
Comment: JF deeply agrees.

Lucy: Perhaps we should have keys for certain abbreviations and conventions.
Comment: Mária Szentpál compiled one for the Hungarian “subdialect” which I once distributed in ICKL.

Charlotte felt that one of the main issues in János' paper can be summarized as follows: In standard notation, gestural touching is written as shown here below in Ex. 3, and gestural touching with clapping is written as in Ex. 4.
Reply: I'm really sorry, but it is not so. In “standard notation” (meaning structured LN) currently we use ST for touching gestures. Ex. 3 is a way of notation in consequent UT, which is not introduced into the system “officially”. But the paper should be visited how the whole subject was deduced.

Charlotte (continuation): János feels Ex. 4 is visually confusing because the hook and clap do not coincide. János proposes the touching should be written as in Ex. 5.
Comment: It is not really the visual aspect, what bothers me, but the understanding of a movement type depending on the timing of a hook on a direction symbol.

Charlotte (continuation): That way the hook would coincide with clapping indications, as in Ex. 6. This would not work using standard rules because Ex. 5 would be interpreted as a transient touch. However, János opines that this is really not a problem because, as he sees it, there is no such thing as a transient touch. (He says “transient touches” are actually sliding movements and should be notated as such).
Comment: Now yes.

The group was not sure if János' premise is correct. They physically demonstrated examples that they felt could be considered transient touches (without sliding).
Reply: A KEY POINT. Let me cite now a part of a former mail between Judy van Zile and me (September 13, 2007 - accentuation by underline is made by me):
I think your proposal for how to notate Hungarian dance, and to use UT with placement of the hook anywhere on a gesture, relies entirely on your belief that there is no such thing as a transient touch. If there is no such thing as a transient touch, then a single hook on a gesture can ONLY mean a terminating touch, and then accepting UT becomes easier.
Therefore if anyone can demonstrate that “transient touches (without sliding)” exist, the concept outlined in my paper can be easily and immediately contradicted. To judge that demonstrations at the meeting really represent the so called “transient touches” I would welcome a video of that (not impossible nowadays). But let me call your attention that now we are talking of touching a passive object (the floor) with an active body part (e.g. a part of the foot), where this approach works (see the “movement analytical axiom” in the paper).

I experienced at the conference that we might have a different understanding of a “transient touch”. Billie Mahoney demonstrated tap examples of “transient touches”. She also showed us her notation where a single foot hook was placed at the beginning of a direction symbol meaning a “transient touch”, you can see examples in AHG's Labanotation (Guest 2005, 193-194). In my understand all the demonstrated examples were passing sliding. Actually in European traditional dances passing sliding gestures happen frequently (and tap stems straight from a type of a well known European traditional dance), therefore we, Hungarian notators are quite familiar with this movement phenomenon, since it is an important part of our dance “language”. But I am not alone with this understanding of tap movement. If you have a look at Sheila Marion's tap notations (Tap Dance: A Dictionary of Steps in Labanotation, Labanotation checked by Ann Hutchinson, Muriel Topaz, Ray Cook, Judy van Zile, Lucy Venable) you can find that Sheila also understood those “transient touches” as passing sliding gestures - very consequently. Compare e.g. the notation of Time Step, Cramproll, (Marion 1986, p.35) with the first measure of Time Step Single Buck in the last edition of Labanotation (Guest 2005, 193), a notation contributed by Billie Mahoney - I suppose the two movement sequences should be performed the same way, but their notations definitely differ in this specific point.

Let's continue with Judy, and I think her next point exposes a difference in our movement understanding. Her point of “fluid motion” did not come into my mind at all, and perhaps it helps clarifying the difference in approaches.
And here I think there is a problem with the "definition" of "transient touch," and with "fluid motion." If I start with my right leg right side low and move it to forward low, I can do this action without stopping, and on a continuous (that is, undeviating) pathway. But if I decide to touch the floor somewhere along the way, I think I can still do it without stopping (that is, with continuous action), but the pathway must deviate momentarily in order to make the touch. I'm not convinced that the action cannot still be fluid, while having the pathway "break" momentarily. And I think this is a key issue in accepting what you are proposing.
Sandra said that in Ex. 4 (see above), in order to have the gesture and support coincide with the clapping, she would make the direction symbols shorter.
Reply: The same was proposed by Billie Mahoney at ICKL 2007. While it might takes us to a common platform, I'm not really enthusiastic about this solution because it makes the rhythm recognition a bit complicated again. But perhaps the difference in our approach to movement can be discovered here: traditional dances are very rhythm centered, we might say, rhythm is equally important to spatial aspects.

Charlotte: But shortening the symbols changes the length of the gap between symbols, thereby making it look like the pauses between movements are longer than they really are (see Ray's comment for Ex. 2 above).
Comment: Exactly it is why I would be happy to avoid such a solution.

Charlotte: Another thing to consider is resultant touches, which are not discussed in János' paper. For instance, Ex. 8 shows the standard way to write a resultant touch. János' rule is that hooks should be written using specific timing. Therefore, the notation would be written as in Ex. 9. In this case, which example is clearer? 

Reply: A very important question again. My basic approach is, what Judy van Zile pointed out, and which I have not stressed enough in the paper (only verbally at the conference): I would welcome indicating the MOVEMENT TYPE (here: type of touch) which includes its timing, simply because that type cannot be performed in any other way. Therefore: a resultant touch is dependent of how fast the weight is transferred from one leg to the other, and it is indicated by the support symbol, so all the same, where the foot hook is placed within the time frame defined by the support sign. (Am I clear enough? Sometimes I'm not sure…)

Sandra: Often in ICKL papers, notation examples make sense only because they are given out of context. It is important to show how proposed indications would look in complex scores that contain a variety of situations.
Comment: Sure, sometimes it happens. What's worse than that, even in textbooks we can find the same problems.

Sandra: For instance, for the topic under discussion perhaps it would be instructive to show longer notation sequences or even whole dances.
Reply: There were “longer” sequences at the end of the paper. Actually long enough to demonstrate and compare the difference between usages. Even if a whole score was appended, the notation situation would have not changed.

Sandra: What happens when János' ideas are applied to other types of movement besides Hungarian Folk dance? Would János' proposals work when there are more complex arm indications, gesturing of other body parts or the torso, variation in tempo, body part initiations, resultant touches, palm facings, etc.?
Reply: We should try. I gave my examples where the proposal works (at our last meeting the Hungarian notators all agreed the tool is useful). Perhaps next time one can create notation situations where UT of touching gestures is problematic. In Sandra's list I can see only one which is about touches, and even that (resultant touches) was answered above. But let me call your attention, that the main conflict is not among gestures, but between corresponding support and gesture indications. I think I do not have say, why.

Charlotte: At the end of his paper János says, “Exploring the ways and conventions of UT notation needs further, thorough investigation- the present paper can be regarded only a step into this direction. Certain further questions (such as understanding of touching gestures longer than a time unit, sliding gestures, ending in a hit, and perhaps the most important one, the result-centered description of, e.g. rotations) were intentionally taken out of the scope of the paper.”

The group felt it would be useful to know if János' proposal is intended just for Hungarian dance, where perhaps the items Sandra listed would not be in the score. Or is his paper intended as a proposal for standard notation that is the default for all styles?

Reply: Definitely not “a proposal for standard notation that is the default for all styles”, but not “just for Hungarian dance”. The “style” I am familiar with more or less is the traditional dances of our Central European region, though I think the “nature” of movement creation is not very much different in other regions of the European traditional dances.

ST is a good and precise analytical tool to notate movement in high details and definitely it would be a loss not having it. All I wanted was to prove, if we use a simpler solution we loose no information while notation is easier to read, rhythm is easier to recognize.

Thank you very much again for your attention!
János Fegedi
  • Guest, Ann Hutchinson (1979): The Bournonville School. Part 4 Labanotation (Ralov, Kirsten. ed.) Audience Arts, a division of Marcel Dekker, Inc., New York and Basel
  • Guest, Ann Hutchinson (2005): Labanotation. Fourth edition. Routhledge, London and New York
  • Marion, Sheila: Tap Dance: A Dictionary of Steps in Labanotation. A Ray Cook Publication, New York, 1986

No comments:

Post a Comment