Random Access Movement

Random Access Movement (RAM) was a collaboration between myself, artist Allison Kudla and choreographer Elizabeth Spatz. This piece utilizes data collected from the audience before the show to control the order of discrete sections. No two performances of the piece were the same, and all reflected the audience energy data from which they were drawn.

dance design

This was a rare piece to work on in that the dance was the first element completed. Elizabeth was pregnant and due about a month before the piece was to premiere, so she was finishing the creation of the dance right about the time I joined the project. Her desire was to use data collected from audience activity to control the order of several discrete sections. Each section is open-ended and contains improvised dance of an indeterminate length, based upon rules that each dancer memorized. The dance is as much an experiment in improv as it is in communication and coordination.

visual design

For the performance, the dancers received section change cues from the lights designed by lighting designer Michael Wellborn. Each lighting cue was tailored to each section so that the dancers could quickly and easily tell when to change. The original idea involved putting the lighting cues under complete computer control, but was reduced to the computer calling changes to the crew.

The only other visual element happened before the show. Since we needed to collect audience data, we placed the camera at center stage with a spot light on it so that it would be sure to be noticed by the audience. We also made an effort to be noticed striking the camera from the stage before the show.

sound design

To enhance the difference between sections, I created several vignettes of sound that could be played in any order, for any length of time. Each section consists of stochastically organized material with an overall gestural shape that is generated in real time. There exist similarities between the various sections so that there is an overall ‘feel’ to the piece, and not just a selection of random events.

There are three basic 'sounds' that mix in different ways to create each section:

  1. a jittery wavetable oscillator instrument with 9 different wavetable featuring different strength harmonic series
  2. band-limited noise with variable center frequency and envelope
  3. granularized vocal sounds played a with different speeds and durations

To compose the music, I video-taped a rehearsal with each section separated out so that I could sync the sound and video. During the course of rehearsals, I modified the music to fit a wider range of time and used top level envelopes to determine aspects such as density, duration, and pitch. I focused more on the structural needs of the open form design than on the quality of sound, so that I could use the sound to emphasize the differences between sections and move the piece along with the gestural construction of the sound.

The SuperCollider3 code for RAM can be found here:

data collection algorithm

The order of sections in the piece is determined by data collected by video taping the audience before the show taking their seats. It was our intention that the energy levels of the audience would map into the energy level of the piece. To determine this, Allison and I created an algorithm that uses Jitter to compare the pixel differences from frame to frame and writes this information into a table of values that fluctuates over time. The sections are ranked in order from lowest energy to highest energy and the table is normalized to a range of nine values. This table is read in real time during the performance to determine the next section and its duration. The code actually 'calls' the lighting changes using the built-in Mac speech functions.

The MAX/MSP/Jitter code can be found here:


Random Access Movement was performed May 18-21, 2006 at the Meany Studio Theatre, UW campus.