Far too much time has passed without blogging. It happens every term. Immediately upon returning from Spring Break we lost a day to snow – so we had to tighten up the syllabus a bit. This actually worked in our favor, since it gave us a bit more time to sort out what we wanted to do with the Solo olos piece (a mid 1970s dance by Trisha Brown that has a set framework with an indeterminate structure so one “caller” assembles the pieces differently during each performance). Our original intent was to work with Abby Yager, who has staged the piece two years ago, to help us create a simplified version, but our schedules did not allow for that to happen. So Bob and I mapped out what this would look like with a really primitive movement piece that all students learned and then a more complex one they would put together on their own. We discussed the piece with them and then taught them our movement pattern and then had them work on their own in groups. We discovered that we had to modify our pattern slightly and that we really didn’t give very clear instructions to the students on creating their piece. Returning the next class we modified both.
The point with this process was to get students not just thinking about indeterminacy, but also actively engaging with it. So Bob pointed out the notion of embodied cognition and that doing, rather than just talking about, allows for a deeper connection. We put the two pieces together mirroring the pattern in the original dance piece, starting slowly and then building from there. Having students execute a set pattern and then one that was indeterminate in and around it proved to be far more interesting than we thought it would. Students that performed the movement patterns and those that called the piece discovered how complicated something so simple could become. For many, but certainly not all, it was a useful and informative process.
We followed this up with a brief overview of some key elements of chaos theory and the Bob set the students up to do some drawing based on Leonardo Da Vinci’s process of rubbing for texture and then pulling images and ideas out of the chaos. That day was followed by one built purely on exploration – glitch sound and images, circuit bending, Theremin and analogue synthesizer, and a wet media version of the Da Vinci process. With all of this material students that got it, got it and found the ideas useful. Others simply struggle to see the point, which at this point in the term we should be beyond. But we have seen this every time we have taught the class. Some simply resist the subject matter or how the class is taught. Our strategy has been to invite these students to challenge the material if they want to. Some take us up on this, other do not.
Then into the second major project – the fragmentation project. We had some really nice responses to this the last time we taught the class. Basically students need to take something (generally a work of art) break it into smaller pieces, and then rearrange the pieces based on an indeterminate system. The students that created their own system tended to get a bit more out of the process than students who used things like online randomizers. Some very clever solutions with interesting outcomes. The tough part here is to get the students to see beyond the chaos that is often created to pull from the results something useful. A new understanding of the original or a new discovery in the remix. It also suggests that just about anything is fair game for this process.
So – that brings us to the close of the second Unit. As with the first, students are responding to a writing prompt. We noticed with the first one that no one has really been left behind. Everyone has at least a basic understanding of what we have been discussing. Both Bob and I feel that across the board it is a slightly deeper understanding at this point in the term from where we were last time due to a number of changes. But the first unit has a much different rhythm from the second. A bit more philosophical and introspective, the second unit was driven more by doing. More in-class work and fewer reading assignments. The next class will be a decompress from unit two followed by a revisit of the Self, Society, and Cosmos ideas we discussed at the start of the term. the a class to sort of wrap things up and suggest some contemporary examples before turning the students loose to work on their final projects in the last week and a half of class. We still need to sort out what the project will look like, but before we do we want to ask students for input and direction.