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Scores as research tools

Since the 1950s scores are used in performing arts. We can name John Cage as being the first to be interested in scores as a way to explore the notions of chance and indeterminacy in artistic practice, doing the same but different. In the context of performing arts scores provide instructions for the artistic practice, whether for a performance or an improvisation as part of a creative process. Having the outcome of a (dance) score practice necessarily different every time, makes a score a valuable tool for the artistic research in movement, dance, performance art, music and theatre. Meg Stuart’s aim for her collaborative interdisciplinary improvisation series “Crash Landing” in 1997 was “to be out of control, to make spontaneous decisions, share responsibility and dare to fail.”

Many dance artists working with improvisation methods such as members of the Fluxus collective in the 1960s, and later the dance makers in the Judson Dance Theatre, all used scores of some kind to plan or frame their events.

In the 1990s Nancy Stark-Smith developed the “Under-Score”. In the beginning she started making notations describing patterns and states that she observed ocurred with regularity in a contact jam, an open space for the practice of Contact Improvisation. She systematically named these more than 20 different patterns and states and added a simple graphic that allowed a visual identification. Eventually the UnderScore turned into a descriptive-prescriptive score providing a map for dancers “to create their own movements, dynamics, and relationships—with themselves, each other, the group, the music, and the environment.“[1]

Score versus experiment

It seems fruitful in this context to sense the dichotomy between scores and scientific experiments (for this purpose I will exclude experiments like field studies related to disciplines as psychology or anthropology). The scientific research method requires “reproducibility” in order to have the delivered results be recognized by scientific research. The same setting of the experiement should give the same outcome, every time it is repeated.

A score is built around the idea of the irreproducibility of events. The same instructions will necessarily give a different result every time. We could say that a score provides a schaffolding for (desired) irreproducible events to occurr. And in this sense artistic research that works with and examines improvisation, might be rather called an investigation, thus pointing out that the object of research is the unknown.

My curiosity as a dance artist and movement researcher is at the interface where the data and material generated in the score practice require new strategies and practices of thinking for their evaluation and analysis. The pronounced idea here is to develop an interface-language that bridges between the language of the cell to the academic discourse.


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