The Sonic Body

How does the body’s anatomy sound? Media artist Antoni Rayzhekov created a specially designed machine which is scanning performer Federica Dauri’s body in real-time during the entire piece – Topology of the Sonic Body – and translating its curvature directly into sound. In an interview the artists talk about the new opportunities for different strategies of choreography creation, the notion of the body and its politics.

Clara Herrmann: How and when did you start the collaboration for Topology of the Sonic Body?

We met in Sicily in 2013, where we spent two weeks in a residency under the auspices of the creative platform Trasformatorio #0 in the remote and rural area of Montalbano, researching possible strategies of interaction between movement and sound, using computer vision and movement analysis. Afterward we were invited to continue our research within the artist-in-residence programs of the famous studio for electro-instrumental music – S.T.E.I.M and later at the choreographic and dance production house DansMakers in Amsterdam, under the name Pan::Ik – a collective consisting of Federica Dauri, Antoni Rayzhekov, and Alberto Novello a.k.a JesterN. Our investigation focused on exploring different strategies of sonifying body movement. Sonification is a process where a stream of data is transformed into an audible form of sound. The movement stimulated different sonic textures, based on field recordings taken from specific places where we were working.

CH: What exactly is the »sonic body« and what role does the performer’s body play in the piece?

Federica Dauri: In my latest project corporale, I’ve been investigating the sonic aspects of my body by using breathing, voice, body percussion and amplified internal sounds without the use of advanced technological interventions. The intention of the movement is focused on the causality of the sound steaming from it and vice versa, altogether generating a flow, in which none of the elements is predominant. It is a process of internal listening and reproduction of something we can call – a »sonic body.« When Antoni proposed to me the project Topology of the Sonic Body as a collaboration, I found a new opportunity to explore a different sonic property of my body, something that I could not have explored without the media he created.

Antoni Rayzhekov: I had been working already on several pieces involving movement and generative sound and when we started working together I was inspired to compose a specific piece for Federica. In it, we can partner through a custom designed media, interconnecting the anatomy of the performing body with an organic relationship to technology. The body can be perceived as a complex living surface, consisting of multiple curves, manifesting itself through shape and topology. In that sense, we use the body as a map which forms a musical score – based on the body curvature, its shape, its expressive tensity and physical structure being the primary and only source of the sonic material. A specially designed machine is scanning the body and translating its curvature directly into sound. We do not use prerecorded sounds or any other external sonic materials than the body curve itself, extracted by a white line scanning the performer in real-time, during the entire piece. Now we can attempt to hear how the body’s anatomy sounds. We use this machine as a medium where we both can meet as partners on the stage.

CH: How is the performance choreographed? By the performer, the director, or the media?

The choreographic structure stems from the conversation and the interdependence between the two of us, framed and carried out by the media. The performance is situated within a very limited physical space on a platform of just two by one meters. Sound and light are produced only when we both agree; when the body crosses the scanning line or vice-versa. In that sense we’re entirely interdependent on each other. Those are instant decisions within a living composition in which we investigate the possibility of the postmodern body as a compound instrument. Such a conversation should be alive and available for constant re-evaluation and development.

Our concern about the aesthetics of the movement are not only based on the visual perception of it, but also on its sonic qualities: It is not only about how the body looks in a specific posture or movement, its motivation and what it evokes, but also about how it sounds. Such constraint opens up interesting opportunities for investigating on different strategies of choreography creation.

CH: What notion of body do you (both) follow in your artistic practice? What is your critical approach and investigation on body politics?

FD: My intention is to embody a corporal landscape that at the same time expresses carnality and rawness, as well as a disembodied and ethereal silhouette, which demonstrates not only a broadening approach to performance, but also to creative research. I use the body as a multifunctional tool within different art practices, starting from dance to body-installation.

I primarily focus on the feminine body in its entirety in order to investigate its transparency, its fragility, its strength, as well as the pulsation that animates it. Through a deep listening of the inner body, a self-awareness is created that gives information about what a body is, what the body can do and how it can interact and build relations.

AR: Perhaps, because my background lies in theater and is closely connected to performing arts, where the body is the performer’s main tool, I examine the body as an interface, as an instrument and as an organic oscillator. In contrast to my practice in new media and digital technologies, my investigation of the performing body is focused on reveling the hidden relationships, being established during a performance and amplifying the subtle, yet significant states of the body in the state of performing. For the past three years I started a series of projects using biofeedback, motion tracking, and using other specialized technologies to research on the performing body. There is so much happening with and within the performing body, usually hidden and not accessible for the audience. I want to harvest all those vibrations, oscillations and irregularities of the performing body, revile and amplify them. I’m looking for an organic way to interconnect creative technologies and performing practices related to the performing body.

CH: The performance also made me think of one of John Berger’s famous quotes: »To be naked is to be oneself. To be nude is to be seen naked by others and yet not recognized for oneself.« What is your perspective on nakedness concerning the body performance in the composition of this piece, but also as a performer?

FD: Nudity has transformative qualities. It is pure transparency. It does not carry the signature of time, a specific place or a culture. My perception of it is mostly anatomic. The body becomes the spatial and temporal site through which social norms can be explored, challenged, and deconstructed. The majority of my works are long durational performances in which one can experience how the body reacts and wears down through time. Working with accurate and micromovements or even absolute immobility reveals time’s impact on the body under tension, only when the body is stripped.

AR/FD: In our piece, the nakedness is necessary due to the nature of the sound extraction, based on the curve of the body. Any additional layers of meaning, brought by a costume or more elaborated scenography, would result in a different sound – a sound of a disguised or hidden body. We previously mentioned the notion of compound instrument. Taking this further, we can attempt to examine the sonic body as a symbiotic organism incorporating technology and the authenticity of the body presence into one.

AR: As much as the body is stripped from its movement mannerism and appearance and left to the very essence of its presence, the technological media is reduced and constrained to use only the body’s curve to produce sound and light in the same way. Therefore the sound’s specific rawness reflects the body’s nakedness and results in a synergistic audiovisual experience.

CH: The intense, almost sculptural movements of the body carry a specific signature. What performance and art practices have influenced the choreography (movement aesthetics)?

FD: My formation as a performer started with the more traditional studies in ballet and modern dance at the National Academy of Dance in Rome. Feeling restricted by the techniques’ formality, I decided to look for a different approach of the investigation of the body, where I could explore it as a multifunctional tool. My creative work expounds on a critical engagement with Rudolf Steiner’s system of Eurythmy, a rhythmical and physical vocal expression, as well as the Japanese performance art Butoh, with Akira Kasai in Italy, and Masaki Iwana in France, in addition to the performance art studies with Trisha Brown in New York. I specialized in a more critical investigation on body politics, philosophy of corporal movement, phenomenology, and critical theory. My studies enabled me to pursue a manifold range of artistic mediums regarding body art, including spatial and temporal interventions, oration, installations, and mixed-media work.

AR: My interest in the performing body is rooted in my background in theater and the research in artistic practices and methodologies related to the works of Jerzy Grotowski, the Meyerhold’s Biomechanics and Antonin Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty. Departing from traditional and modern theater, I pursue a different approach to directing, performance-making, and choreography by designing custom media, through which I can constrain and direct the performers. In my works, technology is a partner and often also a protagonist.

CH: You plan to develop the piece further, and work with more performers with different bodies. What artists do you want to work with?

AR: On September 23, we will have a public presentation of the project in Sofia, Bulgaria, as part of the DA Festival – which is dedicated to new media and digital arts.

We are looking forward to continuing the project as a quintet and we’re actively looking for production houses to partner with. We plan to extend the work and employ nonstandard bodies of different ethnicities and genders — as well as include senior performers. Every performing body will produce a different timbre of sound and will have its own base frequency. Perhaps in this context it is interesting for us to orchestrate the differences into a musical piece and find a harmonic solution.