My journey in practice-based academic research started in the middle of a studio writing session for a pop artist. While draping melodies across frequencies and shaping words with my eyes closed, I noticed a “quirk” that has been there all my life. My hands were floating with fingers created various gestures while my whole body was dancing in the space. This was probably just another Tuesday in my world & how the women in my family communicate. I was alone and my body was the conduit of music and lyrics. I wondered to myself in that moment if there was a way to create a digital audio workstation or program that could record my movement and interpret it into the resulting music and lyrics. After discussing this with a friend, she suggested that I look into The University of Huddersfield in England and their Center of Emerging Research in Experimental Music. Though my background was in Audio Engineering, Music Production & Vocal Performance the university accepted my proposal for their 2016 Masters by Research program (MAR).
The core of my research was centered in making a bespoke system, that I later called The Tesseract. It captured and mapped whole body movement for the creation and feedback of audio/visual works. My strategies of mapping movement to sound or visual effects, the creation of custom audio chains and fine tuning for various gestures as well as my resulting portfolio of works using the system won a Distinction upon graduation in 2018. Traceforms is a short film which explains The Tesseract in more detail. The works and achieves of movement theorist and classical painter Rudolph Laban resided in North Yorkshire. I was able to access a rich source of info and apply Laban Movement Theory to my mapping strategy. Movement Therapy research and practices from Trinity Laban Conservatory in London, encompassing psychology and connections between movement and emotion, was used in fine tuning/mapping of gesture.
While in the UK, my research took a turn due to the 2016 UK Brexit vote and the US Presidential election results. As a maker and practice-based researcher it is natural that lived experiences will shepherd direction. In a climate of heightened xenophobia, racism, sexism & classism I was a “foreign”, “cis fem-woman”, “Cuban-American”, “neurodivergent”, “mature student” in an area where all of these identifiers had been under-represented and completely misunderstood (if regarded at all). I found myself in a land where the language seemed the same but meaning was not. It began to awaken ancestral programming, wounding, and story of resilience. I felt what it was like for my grandmother and mother when they emigrated from Cuba to the US. I felt their stories and began to see memories from my childhood in a completely different light through this lens of being “other” in a new place. I began exploring embodied trauma, ancestral coding, communications and connections across culture, space and time to integrate into the system I was building (figuratively and literally).
Here and There is an audio/visual piece from my portfolio of works. It opens with my daughter dancing while mapped to The Tesseract. Her movement shaping the sound of her own voice. As the piece progresses I am introduced into the space, separately mapped to the system in the same fashion while working on my notes for my MAR dissertation. At times our movements & the way they effected the sound were combined while at other times they are soloed. All the while, the film shows us as we lived our lives in the same space, mapped to the same system, effecting her voice. A living mobius- her (my future) dancing 5 hours in my past and me (her past) writing 5 hours into her future.
While in the UK a research award made it possible for me to travel to Berlin to look into the work of sculptor, painter, choreographer and designer Oscar Schlemmer at The Bauhaus as well as the Architecture of Le Corbusier and his works with composer Xenakis. These added to the spacial relativity factors between the body, the space it occupies, the way movement effects that space while the space shapes the movement. More personally, I was able to viscerally experience the land of my paternal lineage who I knew next to nothing about. It was a profound experience. Research on movement therapy work related to trauma and memory inspired the creation of another MAR portfolio piece Ghost Dance. It is the story about history left in spaces that cannot be seen but felt. It is about the ghostly echoes that we think does not belong to us as it lingers. It is about the eventual dance we do with the invisible phantom hearts and hands that reach through the veil to move us. It is about our choices to become aware, observe and take the time to accept this dance, honoring the invitation to bring peace where there is a trapped fragment of delayed reverberative pain.
Back in Yorkshire, I was inspired by the sculptural works of Barbara Hepworth at The Hepworth Wakefield and Tony Cragg at Sculpture Park. The movement in Hepworth’s and Tony Crags sketches and sculptures over all shape of separate items informed various parameters in The Tesseract for sound and visual sculpting elements as well as conceptual ones. Inter-act and I remember feature this development.
Memories of Filey combined the above elements with the processing of traumatic memories from other times and other lands while feeling the weight of the trauma in body and voice. I used bits of film and photos from my time in England along with field recordings from the seaside town of Filey, UK. I only saw the ocean once during my two years in North Yorkshire England. Although it was the furthest place from Miami, the ocean was the closest I got to it from 2016-2018. Other footage was filmed underwater in a swimming pool once back in the US. I vocalized and moved in a dress from my teen years designed by my mother and sewn by my grandmother. My movement was captured and mapped to the system to shape the field recordings played through an underwater speaker. I sang into a hydrophone that I made which also recorded the sound of the chlorinated water sculpted North Sea. Towards the middle of the film the sound slowly finds it’s own voice as rhythms and tones are extracted and join with one another into a more organized fashion. The music then dissolves slowly back to the original field recording of the ocean on the other side of the world. This short film was featured at the Seeing Sound Symposium in Bath, UK and Noise Floor Festival in Stafford, UK.
2018 began with Harvard’s CS50 offered at the local community college in the evenings. I needed to learn how machines thought as well as how to program. This in turn helped me to organize my own experiences and processes. A composition called Transmutation, featured at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival played by PA Trembley on the HISS (stereo-diffusion system) and an interactive sound sculpture called Paper Sings displayed at the CS50 Innovation Bash came from that experience. I was especially interested in comparing and contrasting human movement and gestures to both macro (planetary movement) and microscopic (DNA/RNA replication movement) levels of movement in the hopes to overlay three works, one at each level, eventually. This would involve data. Independently, I continued to pursue more information, find communities and experiences to create with data, machine learning and AI. I also continued to explore Human Computer Interaction (HCI) integrating gesture and movement mapping with various controllers including: Kinect 1414, Microbit, Touchboard, Leap motion, Mi.Mu gloves, Gliss app, Sound Control/Wekinator, Muse brainwave monitor, Kinect Azure Dev Kit.
The 2019 performance piece Somnium was made possible by folding data into a gesture control-practice and the spacialization of the movement of 400 years of planetary orbital data across Virginia Tech’s impressive venue and sound system The Cube. In addition to controlling dynamics and musical intervalic nuance with Mi.Mu gloves and an iOS device called Gliss, this collaboration with artist Sofy Yuditskaya and Margaret Schedel featured the gesture-control of a star-field projected across the 4 story venue from laser machines installed at each it’s corners.