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April 18, 2006

Ken Goldberg's Ballet Mori


A Ballet Conducted by the Earth

To commemorate the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, Ken Goldberg conceived Ballet Mori to engage the Earth as a living medium and a conductor for dance. For the first time, network technology was combined with ballet to directly link the natural world to classical performance.

In this improvisational performance, SF Ballet Principal Dancer Muriel Maffre responded to a musical composition modulated live by the unpredictable fluctuations of the Earth's movement as measured in real time by a UC Berkeley seismometer at the Hayward Fault. [Wired article]

"April 18 is the 100-year anniversary of San Francisco's Great Earthquake. How can we understand sounds far too sublime to be perceived by the human ear?

This question was brought to the fore by a team of American media artists led by UC Berkeley's Ken Goldberg in "Ballet Mori," performed at the San Francisco Opera House April 4 to commemorate the 1906 Earthquake. Muriel Maffre, a principal dancer of the SF Ballet, danced to sound activated directly by the movements of the earth. Seismic data from the Hayward fault was transmitted to the opera house via the Internet and transformed into a soundscape by composer Randall Packer using Max/MSP. All in real time. The performance brought to mind Walter Benjamin's concept of the "optical unconscious." Just as the technology of photography makes it possible to see things normally invisible to the naked eye, Ballet Mori's networked sound system facilitates a meditation on the "acoustic unconscious." It allows the audience to hear the sound of the earth, which cannot be heard with the naked ear. The result was a suggestive and very beautiful synaesthetic experience that challenged the classical ballet audience and ordinary patterns of hearing. Video clips are online at: http://goldberg.berkeley.edu/art/Ballet-Mori/"--Ballet Mori and the Acoustic Unconscious by Anna Orrghen.

Anna Orrghen is a PhD Candidate in Media and Communication Studies at Stockholm University. She is currently finishing her dissertation, which explores the process by which a new medium emerges, with special attention to the discourses of art and Swedish mass media at the turn of the 21st century. She also works as a cultural critic in Sweden. e-mail: anna.orrghen[at]sh.se

Posted by jo at April 18, 2006 05:26 PM