Infinite Auditions: Dance as Data Set and Habit

Curator's Note

Bodiless bodies are stacked inside the rhythm and moves; fleshless dancers skim keys eliding their epidermal realities; and a global competition is never broadcasted or announced outside of the circle of participants unless the performer-player chooses to break the content agreement and proudly display their win. In Nexon's Audition, dance moves are coded as data sets that are to be retrieved as a performance against a rhythmic phrase by combining predetermined key strokes. This Korean company has popular versions of this massively multiplayer on-line game in Thailand and Korea that are advertised on TV, but the US portal launched just in April 2007. What strikes me is not so much that there is a massive on-line game that is in effect, yet another dance competition, but that it reminds us where most dance practice is located and how that dance is channeled and honored as such. It reveals the process of dis-membering inherent in any dane technique, literally taking the moving body apart, fixing joints as relational algorithmic equations and creating a database of possible moves that are then sourced as combinations for, can we call it improvisation? The most popular types of moves in Audition reveal a habit of disavowing the power of blackness as it travels disguised as pop culture. I am seeing the big cake on massa's table and wondering if I can kick that bottle he's hung up in the tree...


Thanks for posting this Anna. I hadn't known about these games, and checking out the site and the designer company found that they are already very popular abroad, with expert game players posting their versions of choreography on the web, along with technical advice. I'm wondering about the differences, if any, that might emerge in the renditions players create in the different markets. As you say, there seem to be a limited number of moves available for selection through the up/down/side/side/ space bar choices, and I'd love to know more about the behind the scenes writing of that program--that is, the parameters that limit the improvization possibilities. Was it originally motion-capture? Based on live choreography then transferred to these avatars? I think you are on to something with the improvization idea. And the fleshless-ness you draw our attention to yields a sort of undifferentiated kinesthetic rendition--no real sense of weighted moves, of effort in the more technical sense--just that endlessly unrolling up/down side/side/ turn which is mesmerizing in itself. I wonder too about how we could pursue further the point you raise about the evacuation of blackness in this circulating pop culture realm, and how that is received in, say, South Korea, vs Thailand, vs. now the U.S., each with a somewhat different relation to (and imaginary of?) African-American cultural practices and cultural products. There's also--at least on first take-- an interesting anime/manga style to the way the faces and hair are drawn--and I wonder how that will travel to the U.S. given the increasing penetration of those forms (anime and manga) into the U.S. pop culture market. Will there be a similar evacuation or muting of cultural origin among consumers here?

Thanks for responding, Jane. Yes, this game is extremely popular and even advertised on television. I put some examples in the play list linked to my blurb. These are in fact motion-captured movements. I am not sure who choreographed and who showed up to to be captured, but it is interesting to note that players call their series of movement selections "chains." There is also a real sense of addiction among the players as they learn how to make unusual combinations through ingenious keystroking. In this clip, I find the performer in the yellow the most interesting to watch, but as "she" was not the player capturing the session, she is not featured as much. What draws me to her is the way she is settled in the pocket of the rhythm, giving her avatar enough time to "dance the move all the way out." Very weird experience, as there is no weight as you point out, and it is negotiating weight over time which is part and parcel of funkiness! An OG dancer scholar replied to me off line that I needed to be more careful assigning all urban dance moves to blackness. He is quite right and it should be stated that "traditional" Korean dance is quite full of the funk in the way in which distribution of weight over the rhythm is utilized over time. That said, there is a way in which moves traveling without bodies poses some interesting issues for cultural formations: is it possible to learn new moves first in your hands and then transpose it to your body? Are the players really only dancing virtually or do they go and learn stuff in social settings and come and try to put together a chain on line? Another dancer scholar wanted to know how much this staging reflects an understanding of the cipher. Yet another pointed out that the moves are so immature that a person cannot mature within them and will eventually abandon them and thus"the culture"to those who are yet capable if understanding exactly what it is they are doing. SO much there! Thanks for you enticing comments!

These are great issues, Anna! And I hope some others will jump in here even though our official "dance media" week is over. I especially love the challenge of tracking the interplay between learning, doing (in real time/space/body), and keyboarding that you and your other interlocuters are bringing up. And whether or not this can travel both ways--from a club to a screen avatar and from a multiply re-choreographed avatar to a club (vs. --to go back to one of the earlier threads last week--the circuit from TV to rec room or club and back in Soul Train, or the Dick Clark show or SYTYCD--where one is watching mediated dance images, but with more sense of the viscerality of the weightedness and precision timing that we've been discussing as missing in this game). We need to think more about this kinesthesia of the fingers--the actual keyboarding-- and how it relates to the full body sense of embodiment for the players. I'd love to talk to some of these players to see what they are seeing/thinking/feeling. Has anyone done some of that "fieldwork" yet? And coming back to the "dancing" cockatiel (knew I'd get back there, didn't you!)--I wonder too how central the dancing part of this game is to the participants and whether there are other similar games where they are improvising chains of moves--must be--that have less appeal. Maybe the chaining of moves is critical to the pleasure, as opposed to a constant stream of instantaneous movement/ decisions to avoid obstacles, hit targets and so on as in other games. Finally (like with the bird video), what role in this production of pleasure and perception is the music playing (as opposed to explosions, crashes, gun shots etc. of other games)?

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