Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Backbeat Timeline: Introduction To The Boogaloo Rhythm

Tonight, I introduced Solares to the boogaloo rhythm.

It had reached that stage where the tumbao moderno practice was in danger of being entrenched, of participants feeling that the tones were synonymous with the back-beat; and they're not - they are one of a number.

So it was late on in the day, the last ten minutes of the session, when I put it on as a contrasting activity (they'd made good headway into the shaker-tumbao entrainment exercises).

It began as a briefing, that a feature of the boogaloo is in how the backbeat timeline is highlighted with hand-claps - present or implied.

We then listened to a number of tracks from the original boogaloo period out of New York i.e. 'chachachá with a backbeat' (e.g. Joe Cuba); to migrated interpretations in Puerto Rico (e.g. El Gran Combo), and Colombia (e.g. Grupo Gale); and modern versions.

Participants were then given one track with which to clap along to, using both hands or one hand against a thigh; and another track where the shaker single tone was substituted for a hand clap.

There is work yet to be done, for participants to be presented with a progressive flow of exercises next session. But the introduction served its purpose: to illuminate the path ahead for the backbeat timeline workshops.


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Two Feelings, Two Walks

We began Solares as we did last week: playing the audible tones of the tumbao moderno: "gung-gung" and "pak" on the shaker; while performing the Caribbean sway basic. Having made such delicious progress last week, I was keen to maintain the practice so that participants could reliably and quickly enter the state of flow.

Throughout the session, entrainment was achieved more quickly at under two minutes and in songs at higher tempi ~160bpm. Encouraging though this is, there is still a distance to be made up, with my 'holy grail' objectives being entrainment: in less than thirty seconds, and at a tempo of +190bpm.

Additional challenge was incorporated by the use of two shakers, one in each hand, of differing tone and/or loudness.

Two Feelings
Participants began to "drive into the floor" i.e. derive more leverage (stack joint toque curves) from the floor. Because they had not yet been shown how to damp the resultant force, it evidenced as a more staccato 'punchy' movement. They were not aware that they were moving more percussively.

I drew their attention to this, and asked them to accentuate the sway in the cradle of their hips, to deflect (not dampen) the resultant sideways. This restored the smooth action, but with an intrinsic gain of power.

The shorthand for the two qualities was "punchy" and "smooth".

Two Walks
We also investigated the relevance of the two shaker tones: the single, and the double, with respect to the salsa walk. At this point, I introduced them to the concept of the two walks:

The 'rhythmic walk' where the vocalisation and step-sizes are matched as "short-short-long" to create the "quick-quick-slow" rhythm. This walk opens a clear space for the double tone of the shaker.

The 'pinch-a-bit walk' where: the first step is taken early on beat one; the second step is 'in the pocket' on beat two; and, the third step is taken late on beat three. It's called the 'pinch-a-bit' because the dancer pinches time from both sides of beat four to give it to the first and third steps. This results in a smoother, slower, flat-triplet feel to the walk. As the second step was taken in the pocket, this was synchronised with the single tone of the shaker.

We took the time to have a qualitative discussion on the merits of both, and the circumstances under which they might be preferentially employed.

Additional supporting information was provided by referring to my web tutorial on:

'Figure 2.2. Fault tolerance' illustrates the two variations of walks.

The row labelled 'Tones' corresponds to the back-beat timeline played on the shaker(s).

The row labelled 'Accurate' represents the 'short-short-long' rhythmic walk.

The row labelled '2, slow' represents the smooth 'pinch a bit' walk (for torneo and setenta). '2' means it's calibrated to beat 2 (single shake of shaker); 'slow' means a pinch more time is added between steps 1&2, and 2&3.

That we are now examining the qualitative rhythmic nature of dance in solares is encouraging. It shows that participants are developing an increased sensitivity to the aural and kinesthetic dimensions of dance. And the possibility of greater fulfilment. I wonder what that might look like.


Wednesday, September 07, 2016

A State Of Flow

Yesterday was the first Solares after my return from the Far East. I'd been pondering the learning approach to the session, and had predicated the learning plan on the probability that the participants would have done very little practice. Hence I designed the workshop as a practice session, not as an overt learning session in a flipped classroom context.

The purpose to doing that was the removal of anxiety.

As we'd moved into investigating the domain of timelines and fundamental rhythms, solares participants are being asked to re-frame their embodiment activity as percussionists. Achieving a "state of flow" is essential to the activity's success.

According to Owen Schaffer's white paper "Crafting Fun User Experiences: A Method to Facilitate Flow, Human Factors International" (2013), there are seven conditions to be met for a state of flow to be achievable:
  1. knowing what to do;
  2. knowing how to do it;
  3. knowing how well you're doing;
  4. knowing where to go (if navigation is involved);
  5. high perceived challenges;
  6. high perceived skills; and
  7. freedom from distractions.
In practice, these were satisfied within the exercise of: generating shaker tones synchronised to the audible tones of the conga's tumbao moderno, while performing salsa's atiempo embodiment rhythm, to a salsa track.

Conditions 1 & 2
were met through revision of exercises one through three from the last session (see: http://salsadiary.blogspot.co.uk/2016/08/percussion-concept-attack.html).

Condition 3
was fulfilled by the short impulse sound of the shaker, providing immediate feedback on quality of performance.

Condition 4
largely irrelevant, was met by self-determination in the direction of the rhythmic walk.

Conditions 5 & 6
were satisfied by the as-yet undeveloped proficiency in the synchronous performance of two timeline rhythms: back-beat and embodiment; to a qualitatively stringent level (less than 40 milliseconds).

Condition 7
was met by the studio environment (privacy), exercise design (solo practice), and unobtrusive support (subtle remedial intervention).

Three common states disrupt the maintenance of flow:
  • apathy - low challenge level, low skills level, engenders a general lack of interest
  • boredom -  low challenge level, high skills level, causes a distracting search for higher challenges
  • anxiety - high challenge level, low skills level, creates a feeling of uneasiness.
The latter is why the session was planned the way it was; to maximise the possibility of achieving the state of flow.

It succeeded.

At just before the workshop's mid-point, it was observable that each participant had entered (albeit inconsistently) entrainment. (See also PDF on entrainment by the Open University: http://www.open.ac.uk/Arts/experience/InTimeWithTheMusic.pdf). As proficiency increased, so did the need for challenge to maintain interest for flow. Adjustments to only three parameters were necessary:
  1. variations in tempo,
  2. quality of shaker tone, and
  3. fine synchronisation between timelines.
This was the first time I'd seen solares' participants enter the biomusic state of flow, and it heralds an exciting threshold of possibilities in the workshops.

Loo Yeo