Unfolding an algorithmic formula

Meeting Place is a duet which plays with visually unfolding an algorithmic formula.

An algorithm is a step-by-step list of instructions that need to be followed to solve a problem. Algorithms are heard about in the context of computers, for example Google uses an algorithm to turn our search terms into a list of relevant links, and there was a lot of attention in 2011 on how algorithms are infiltrating more of our lives for example in the stock market. But there are much simpler algorithms that we use regularly, such as recipes which tell what ingredients are needed to make a dish and what steps to follow.

Systems music and algorithmic composition use such sets of instructions to make music with minimal human intervention and Meeting Place began by applying this approach to movement; with a simple algorithm that builds up a number of simple steps.

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Pascal’s Triangle

As you may know, an interest in numbers was something that brought us together in Meeting Place. Here’s a simple example of how we used maths in our choreography.

Pascal’s triangle (named after the French mathematician, Blaise Pascal) is a famous number pattern in mathematics. To build the triangle, start with ‘1’ at the top, then continue placing numbers below it in a triangular pattern. Each number is just the two numbers above it added together (except for the edges, which are all ‘1’):

This has been used in the past as a compositional tool in music, for example by minimalist Tom Johnson and is something we’ve used in our own for movement.

As the video below shows, we used the first four rows of Pascal’s Triangle as a compositional device, to structure movements with 1, 2 and 3 elements (we also used 4 and 6 elements later on).

Although we then went on to modify, rearrange, discard and build on some of this movement, it was a helpful tool and not an entirely arbitrary approach as some of the relationships remained. For example in the video above, each cycle of movement (i.e. each row of the triangle) is marked by the ‘1’ move (walking backwards in a circle, bent double) and ‘peaks’ with a more complicated combination of elements. This simpler ‘1’ motif, that appears to restore and reset calm, went onto be used as a marker of different episodes in the work.

Hamish and Martine will be premiering ‘Meeting Place’ on 10 January 2012 at The Place, London as part of Resolution!, a season of dance works by emerging choreographers. You can buy tickets online, Over the phone (020 7121 1100) or in person at The Place: Robin Howard Theatre box office, 17 Duke’s Road, London WC1H 9PY.