I was pleased to present a paper at the Oxford Conducting Insitute Conducting Studies International Conference in June. There were some excellent papers and great to talk with some like-minded people about all things conducting!
Here is the title and abstract of the paper:
Title: Capturing the Contemporary Conductor: Using Motion-Capture Technology to Study Conducting Gesture
Abstract: In September 2017 seven professional instrumentalists and three conductors (Holly Mathieson, Geoffrey Paterson and myself) convened in the Biomechanics Laboratory at the University of Southampton to rehearse and record my brand new three movement composition Captured: Three Mo-Cap Conducting Experiments for Small Ensemble.
More than one hundred motion-capture markers were attached to each conductor (face, hands and body) following a specially designed and tested protocol, which allowed the multi-disciplinary project team to capture precise three-dimensional representations of all movements made by the conductors with a high-end, high-resolution motion capture system. A multi-track audio recording of the ensemble and a wide range of video documentation were also collected. The mo-cap data set and other documentation is currently being prepared for future study by the team and other researchers through open online access.
In this paper I will discuss my contribution to the project outlining some of the key conducting gestures I identified for capture through drawing on my own conducting experience and a review of relevant literature, considering how my compositional approach and preoccupations were informed by the unique exploitation of the new work and reflecting on my experiences as a conducting laboratory guinea pig. I will also use the data-set to undertake a comparative analysis of how the three conductors approached a short section of Captured.
This project is funded by the British Academy and the Leverhulme Trust. We are grateful to VICON who provided additional cameras and technical support.
And here is a sneeky peek of one of my examples from the presentation, which shows my beat gets smaller (I predicted that) and the ictus gets higher (didn’t know that!) as the tempo increases…
After months of planning and two days of setting up equipment, Capture Day finally took place on 27th September 2017. The team arrived early to make sure the systems were up and running ready for the conductors and ensemble.
Thanks to Vicon’s generosity in lending us additional cameras and devices for the capture system, as well as technical support to optimise the system, we managed to obtain high quality face, body and hand data from the conductors.
In addition to the Vicon motion data, we have video of the conductors and ensemble from 7 cameras (including a 360 degree video) in various locations, plus motion data from a Kinect 2, audio recording from stereo and close microphones and muscle data from four wireless EMG devices on the conductors’ biceps and triceps.
The day ran very smoothly, with help from Harry Matthews, Beth Walker and Sergiu Rusu (student and recent graduates) to help with unsticking and sticking markers amongst other activities!
We are deeply grateful to Bob Dimmock, Phil Bacon, Matt Oughton and everyone at Vicon for all their help and generosity in making this day a success. We’d also like to thank Geoff and Holly for being such willing guinea pigs, and also our ensemble, for their wonderful patience and playing: Anna Durance (oboe + electronics); Vicky Wright (bass clarinet); Julian Poore (trumpet); Joley Cragg (percussion); Liga Korne (electric piano); Aisha Orazbayeva (violin) and Dan Molloy (double bass).
Finally, of course our thanks to The British Academy and the Leverhulme Trust for their funding of the project.
I’ve just finished a new piece called Captured: Three Mo-Cap Experiments for conductor and small ensemble. This work will be rehearsed and recorded on 27 September n the motion-capture laboratory at the University of Southampton by seven professional musicians and three conductors (me, Geoffrey Paterson and Holly Mathieson). The piece is scored for seven players (oboe, bass clarinet, trumpet, electric piano, percussion, violin & double bass) and is in three movements (or experiments).
Each of the three experiments in this work are designed to challenge the conductors in different ways and facilitate understanding of how conductors work and the gestures they use to communicate effectively to performers.
For example in conducting Experiment 1: “Wonky Blues” some of the following elements will be need to be managed: asymmetric time signatures at different tempi; phrasing of sustained melodic ideas, sometimes in counterpoint; articulation and dynamic variation; syncopations; abrupt tempo changes; fermatas; tempo modulations (rit. & accel.); and cues. Whereas in Experiment 2: “Watch Out” the conductor has more of a controller/facilitator role, coordinating the ensemble through conducting flag notations and double arm gestures. The conductor in this second movement also has to negotiate conducting with a click track. In Experiment 3: “Three Rooms with the Same Wallpaper” the conductors will have to: understand an execute a range of metric modulations; deal with complex textures; manage homophonic texture coordination; conduct asymmetric time signatures at slow, medium and fast tempi; and shape lines.
I am certain each of the conductors will find their own way of managing the different challenges but that there will be shared techniques and approaches that will be seen across all three of us. It will be fascinating to explore the data after the capture day.
My compositional approach and preoccupations were certainly informed by the context in which Captured… will be used, i.e. in an experiment, and I’m excited to see how the piece works.