The Body as Machine

Written by Cara Rose DeFabio  

Platform  Album Cover

Platform Album Cover

When Charlie first mentioned to me that he and Liane were interested in making a dance to Holly Herndon’s album Platform, I was thrilled and excitedly asked which track they would be using.

“All of them”, he replied.

Sixty full minutes of dancing onstage sounded like a challenge to begin with, but the full ambition of the project is hard to know unless you’ve heard the album. Platform, the album, is both driving and haunting, employing the full spectrum of Herndon’s rhythmic and vocal skills to great effect. Each track chews on a different aspect of our digital lives, laced with all the hums and whirrs of machines known and unknown. The album in its entirety is a bit like a sonic puzzle, begging the listener to re-listen and sort through the debris to make sense of it all. It is controlled chaos, lush in its layering, and at times impossible to count.

These dancers have met that challenge head on and completely changed the way I hear this music. Specificity is the currency of both in ways that enliven and enrich one another. Every time I watch Platform, the dance, I hear new things in Platform, the album. Even more remarkable is that now every time I hear the music I can see the sounds as gestures, as if they were made by the grinding of metal gears, or air passing across plastic pipes. There is a mutual exchange here that is exciting to take in.

Photo by Kegan Marling

Photo by Kegan Marling

Herndon’s palette is wide, using dripping water, warped start-up sounds, and metallic clicks, as well as her skilled and filtered voice. Each of these sounds jockeys for attention and asks the listener to distinguish between natural and unnatural sounds. What is flesh and what is fiction? The choreography echoes this same question, at times by insisting on a unison so exact it brings to the foreground every minute difference in the bodies onstage - these infinite organic differences that make us so human.

Behind the scenes, the structure of the choreography is meticulous. Charlie and Liane have made movement phrases like building blocks: stacking them high, knocking them down, and turning them so the audience against each wall gets a different view like a giant Rubik's Cube twisting towards a solution. Even some of the improvisational structures use an ‘if, then’ logic that is not unfamiliar to computer programmers, creating decision trees for the dancers that retain a sense of urgency. You could even call this live processing: choices made in the moment, a trigger and a response. The more I think about the structures of formal choreography, the more dances begin to look like any human designed system, adjusting levels of order and chaos until you reach the desired outcome.

Photo by Kegan Marling

Photo by Kegan Marling

Computer logic has become THE way of understanding our world. As we try to build systems that capture the world around us, we can only capture what we can categorize; everything that doesn’t fit into the system is left out. What systems of knowledge might we be leaving behind? Where does the body fit into the digital world we are building up around ourselves? Our computers have nearly become appendages. Our hands now feel empty without their cell phones, and I can’t even imagine what a Holly Herndon track would be without the sophisticated layering and processing her machine provides.

But, what place do our physical bodies have in a world augmented by technology? This work answers by examining the body as machine, pushing towards exhaustion, and showing that work on the platform of the stage is as valuable and varied as the work hours spent running software on any computer platform.


Cara Rose DeFabio is an artist, writer, and event producer focusing on how technology is changing our lives. 

[Editor's Note: FACT/SF invited Platform collaborators to write about their experiences witnessing rehearsals and contributing to the development of the work. In addition to the writing above by Platform Dramaturge, Cara Rose DeFabio, FACT/SF has also shared reflections from James Fleming (Creative Advisor), Maurya Kerr (Creative Advisor), Cara Rose DeFabio (Dramaturge), Liane Burns, (Co-Choreographeand Charles Slender-White (Co-Choreographer). In offering these thoughts, questions, observations, and impressions, FACT/SF aims to provide some insight into our creative process and a bit of context for Platform's conceptual considerations.]