Biological dynamics in performance space (bio-performance)


Yiannis Melanitis,

38 Kynigon str, N.Kifisia, PC 14564, Athens, Greece

Performance artist, MA Digital Arts,

Phd Fellow at the School of Architecture, Athens, Greece


Collaborator at the Sculpture Deptm., Athens School of Fine Arts, Athens, Greece




In this paper I attempt to investigate biological dynamics in the field of performance space. I use my term 'bio-performance' [1] in an effort to describe performance procedures deriving from genetics. In a large-scale performance work entitled "The Garden" ( partially performed in Athens, 2005, videofile:, the music interpretation of the genetic sequence (antenappedia gene) of a mutant fruitfly consists the environmental sound (background layer).



A dictionary definition [] of the term 'genetic algorithms' is that they are "typically implemented as a computer simulation in which a population of abstract representations (called chromosomes) of candidate solutions (called individuals) to an optimization problem evolves toward better solutions. Traditionally, solutions are represented in binary as strings of 0s and 1s, but different encodings are also possible. The evolution starts from a population of completely random individuals and happens in generations. In each generation, the fitness of the whole population is evaluated, multiple individuals are stochastically selected from the current population (based on their fitness), modified (mutated or recombined) to form a new population, which becomes current in the next iteration of the algorithm."



Though, in what way such representations may be used in the artistic process? Perhaps an innovative way to use genetic algorithms is when they operate within a work without -at least in the first case- been so evidently noticed even if they formulate the structure of the work. [Heraclitus r. 54: An unapparent harmony is stronger than an apparent one.] [2]



Concerning "The Garden" and "The Diffusion of The Elements" performances, space is not considered to be 'a place of action'. Instead of this, we might consider it as a field with inputs and outputs where interactivity interlinks the assortment of the elements. As explained later, technology concealed inside the elements aims to provide an interconnection between various space qualities.



The music evolution procedure paradigm used (explained below), is that of 2 genetic pools interchanging data (inheritance (the notes stay for some time in pool 1) mutation techniques inspired by evolutionary biology such as inheritance, mutation, natural selection, and recombination (or crossover).









Every performance involves an agent, acting within a spatial configuration serving as its container. Their interaction triggers the "event". This threefold set of "agent-space-event" is dynamic and perpetually interactive: it develops in time by means of formal modifications. The event, i.e. the interaction between the agent (figure) and its spatial configuration (environment), occurs as a kind of mutation- hence the performance proceeds in an evolutionary mode: a series of figural and spatial changes which is represented by sequences of their transformations.




"Might not the dancers be real puppets, moved by strings, or better still, self propelled by means of a precise mechanism, almost free of human intervention, at most directed by remote control ?" Oscar Schlemmer



The distinction between geometrical and functional space in performance theory was emphasised by Oscar Schlemmer in his works and lectures at the Bauhaus.[3] Geometrical space refers to linear constructions and orbital dancing methods, whereas functional space invokes the response of the agent. Schlemmer's "Dance in space" and "Figure in space with Plane Geometry and Spatial Delineations" performances, intended to transform the body into a "mechanised object" operating into a geometrically divided space, pre-existing the performance. Moreover, the proposition for the remotely controlled dancer of the mechanical ballet might serve as an endeavour to reform the body into a receptor of information that comes from the container space. Hence, movement is precisely determined by the information from the environment.







Fig.1. Oscar Schlemmer, "Slat Dance".





Fig.2. "Figure in Space with Plane Geometry and Spatial Delineations."





Fig. 3.The dance from the film "Vita Futurista",1916, by Marinetti, Balla,




The Futurists proposed the system of human-machine and their interactions as the model of new aesthetics. They manifested an expansion in time and space for the body that emerged from the power and the glorification of the machines.

Umberto Boccioni, in his manifesto named "Absolute Motion + Relative Motion= Dynamism 1914", writes: "Absolute motion is a dynamic law inherent in an object. The plastic construction of the object must here concern itself with the motion which an object has within itself, whether it be at rest or in movement? Relative motion is a dynamic law which depends on the object's movement. It is quite incidental whether we are talking about moving objects or the relationship between moving objects and non-moving objects. In fact, there is no such thing as a non-moving object in our modern perception of life."


Marianne W. Martin in "Machine Aesthetics and the Dehumanization of Art" : "Marinetti hoped that the artist would overcome his physical limits and 'merge' into the infinite of space and time' and initiate 'the mechanical kingdom' supplanting 'the animal kingdom'. Appropriately enough, Marinetti also envisaged the accompanying evolution of a new being, an immortal superman who will be 'mechanized' with replaceable parts.' " [4]





Bio-performance, a theory based on the conception of the "analogical body" (as

opposed to digital), attempts to re-establish the corporeal status of experience de-depending the body from the domination of simulations or virtual allusions.

Performance has to be defined as the dialectical mechanism between body and context. The concept of performance is based on interaction, in the sense that the body of the performer is dynamically -and non-reversibly- transformed by the environment, as well as the environment is transformed by the movements of the performer. Interaction occurs and evolves because the body does not have an overview of the context. Hence the body needs to move. Movement in turn, causes transformation of the spatial configuration as well as of the body itself, a perpetual process. The question then becomes what are the operations for these alterations? Do they fall into patterns and/or other regularities? Here is the point that we have to reverse the question. We do not have to leave the body move voluntarily, but the genetic algorithms might provide a grid for their trajectories in space, so these patterns are varieties inside our evolutionary pathway.



Fig.4. Drawing from the Bauhaus.



From information systems to bio-information processes- the invasion of information on the body.

Within the borders of bio-capitalism, biotech is formalising nature into molds, mechanising organic systems, applying informatics in the bio-organic level. Placed within this framework, information is transformed to bio-information which is mechanically imposed on the body, potentially altering its developmental perspective. As P. Rabinow claims in his essay titled "Artificiality and Enlightenment: From Sociobiology to Biosociality" [5]: " the object to be known- the human genome- will be known in such a way that it can be changed. This dimension is thoroughly modern; one could even say that it instantiates the definition of modern rationality". Genetic information, due to its complexity, provides a source of transforming the body into a complex system which brings about unpredictable outcomes.

If a performance theory aimed to present the body as a bio-analogic system, all representations and interactions should be replaced by competitive systems and evolutionary processes.

A substantial discrimination between the geometrical space of Oscar Schlemmer and bio-performance may be observed in their relationship with the body :



Virtual Reality performances





space= soft {As Schlemmer puts it:

"a space filled with pliable substance

in which the figures of the sequence

of the dancer's movements were to

harden as a negative form."

The body of the dancers obtain an

'object' quality, moving in

a rather predictable way. [3]




The body "disappears" and is

remotely controlled. Its

feedback is determined by

external information or

through interactions.



body= soft, malleable. The body

should have a "liquid space"

movement within space.






In the bio-performance, the information is perceived from the outside, processed by the body and exported to the initial source (the environment) [6] . Environment though, is a complex concept, that may include self-derived parts or functions of an organism which can potentially be activated in relation to it. (e.x some genes within an organism may be part of a gene's environment )[7]. In this sense, performer and environment become comparable entities. The concept of the performer owning an altering body whose form is perpetually dissolved and recomposed, leads us to consider performance as an organism.[8] The technique of this transformation is realised by emphasizing its bio-analogical responses.










Schematic of the performance space










Fig. 5, Diagram for the spatial arragment of the Garden performance. Below, Fig. 6., the ancient Greek Theater diagram with Orchestra, Theatron["theater," lit. "place for viewing," from theasthai "to behold" (cf. thea "a view," theates "spectator") + -tron, suffix denoting place. ,)], Skene and Parodos.









Fig. 7. Schlemmer's stage diagram for Gesture Dance,Bauhaus, 1926














Chorus and the sound synthesis of the performance


'Music is sound, that is, movement. The goal is to bring sound itself to life.'

Xenakis, in Balint Andras Varga, Gesprache mit Iannis Xenakis, trans. Peter Hoffmann. p.62





ancient drama

Chorus of the ancient drama



Chorus of 3 women

singing: aischrologia (=abuse words)






Transformations through codifications (encoding letters inside the notes)


Encryption of the word "BACH" inside the fugue from J.Sebastian Bach at the last work Art of the Fugue/Die Kunst Der Fuge.


The third theme of the unfinished four-part fugue starts with the sequence from Si-La-Do-Si minor ("BACH")


Fuga_a_3_Soggetti_Contrapunctus 14.aif ________________


Fuga_a_3_Soggetti_Contrapunctus 14.aif(Fragment 6:00-6:03)____


Less visible in Contrapunctus 4____


Contrapunctus 4(bar135-136) played by the viola


Also in Contrapunctus 11, at the satrt of the anti-theme with eights (after the initial fugue theme) and finally forms the 3rd theme of the fugue








Genetic algorithms (real-time DNA transcription) in the Garden performance


The sound synthesis consists of three sound layers:


1. the background 'environmental' synthesis, based on the DNA sequences of the mutant fruitflies. sound file (through MAX/MSP) [file: backgr3.aif]


2. the ‘male’ foreground synthesis based on the thermal scanning of space. Thermal outputs are transformed to skirl real-time sounds (through MAX/MSP) [file:Thyrsus20050528takeB.aif]


3. the female chorus, consisting of seven women which periodically sing a synthesis based on the names of the 4 DNA bases (adenine (A), thymine (T), cytosine (C) and guanine (G)) resembling female abuse, as women practised in ancient Thesmophoria. [file: femaleChorus1.aif]

The series by which the four proteins appear in time, is the DNA chain. The DNA chain is transcribed to syllables (parts of the names) of the four proteins. Each singer sings one phoneme at a time.



The mutant fruitflies/ background 'environmental' synthesis


One of the most striking mutations in Drosophila is the conversion of antennae into legs by the gain-of-function dominant mutation, Antennapedia.



Fig. 8. HOMEOTIC TRANSFORMATIONS involving the Antennapedia Complex (ANTC)

Adult fly heads: wild type, antennapedia (antennae transformed to 2nd thoracic legs) and a double mutant proboscipedia/ antennapedia (antennae to 2nd thoracic and proboscis to 1st thoracic legs).




How music is derived from the DNA sequence of the mutant fruitfly


Music Fly

The DNA of a fly (894 bases) is used as a base for the production of music. A specific algorithm was designed for the interpretation of the DNA code. This music piece is then arranged to aesthetic preference and transformed to a new DNA sequence which becomes a representation a "music" fly. This new organism could even be produced /in the lab as new organism /or as a computer model.


The 894 bases of the antenappedia gene:

1 atgacgatga gtacaaacaa ctgcgagagc atgacctcgt acttcaccaa ctcgtacatg

61 ggggcggaca tgcatcatgg gcactacccg ggcaacgggg tcaccgacct ggacgcccag

121 cagatgcacc actacagcca gaacgcgaat caccagggca acatgcccta cccgcgcttt

181 ccaccctacg accgcatgcc ctactacaac ggccagggga tggaccagca gcagcagcac

241 caggtctact cccgcccgga cagcccctcc agccaggtgg gcggggtcat gccccaggcg

301 cagaccaacg gtcagttggg tgttccccag cagcaacagc agcagcagca acagccctcg

361 cagaaccagc agcaacagca ggcgcagcag gccccacagc aactgcagca gcagctgccg

421 caggtgacgc aacaggtgac acatccgcag cagcaacaac agcagcccgt cgtctacgcc

481 agctgcaagt tgcaagcggc cgttggtgga ctgggtatgg ttcccgaggg cggatcgcct

541 ccgctggtgg atcaaatgtc cggtcaccac atgaacgccc agatgacgct gccccatcac

601 atgggacatc cgcaggcgca gttgggctat acggacgttg gagttcccga cgtgacagag

661 gtccatcaga accatcacaa catgggcatg taccagcagc agtcgggagt tccgccggtg

721 ggtgccccac ctcagggcat gatgcaccag ggccagggtc ctccacagat gcaccaggga

781 catcctggcc aacacacgcc tccttcccaa aacccgaact cgcagtcctc ggggatgccg

841 tctccactgt atccctggat gcgaagtcag tttggtaagt gtcaaggaaa gtga


There are only four different bases and thus only four different nucleotides. The four bases are adenine (A), thymine (T), cytosine (C) and guanine (G). Genes are sections of DNA, in which the neucleotides are viewed in groups of three called "triplets" or "codons". Each codon "codes" for a particular amino acid (amino acids are glued together to make proteins.)



Antenappedia protein sequence:














Foreground synthesis

Music is derived from the thermal scanning of the performance space (a FLIR thermal camera was used for this reason, connected to a computer running MAX-MSP) while the protein sequence rows through real time music transcription:





Fig. 9.Thyrsus-Cyclops diagram (assembled in collaboration with composer V. Kokkas): DNA is used to shape noise waves thus creating the acoustic environment.The current DNA base creates a ramp which drives the parameters of FM1 and FM2.


Nine triangle wave generators which are controlled by the chromatic codes of the thermal image captured by the camera. The main performer was appearing in my first sketches as  bird-like mutant,[fig. 10] so the parameters of this system are adjusted to yield timbral (in greek=ixoxromatiki) texture which is a synthetic model of the birds' voice. [see natural birds' voice in diagram, fig. 11]




Fig.10. Drawing by Yiannis Melanitis, first thoughts on the male performers’ image,  ballpoint pen on paper, 2004




Fig.11. sound wave diagram of the Blue Jay


_the music of the thyrsus is based on the song of the bird Blue Jay [Thyrsus20050528takeB.aif]


_the sound wave diagram of the Blue Jay is also triangle shaped


_sound sample of Blue Jay: [blueJaySound.mp3]












‘The Garden’ is an interactive environment for 4 performers and a three-member female chorus






Fig. 11.’The Garden’, Image stills and video: <>



Forthcoming steps

In the ensuing evolutionary steps of the work ‘The Garden’, a work partially performed, being under a transformative process itself, genetic algorithms will define its basic parameters (from agents trajectories till bodily prosthetic forms.) Genetic algorithms are not merely guidelines for formalistic interpretations; more essentially, they should function as a ‘source of metaphors to remodel life, aiming, in partial, to reveal the area that comprises the ‘parental scheme’, the initial philosophical idea concealed under the external schemes, before the metaphors, still before the first, the inceptive transfer…

As Derrida says,[9] in all human words, a .scheme had been parently stamped, a materialized scheme and when they were all new, they represent a certain perceptible image….inevitable materialism of the vocabulary… Whist in ‘The Garden’ the place of vocabulary coincides with the genetic base sequence, our concern are not the coding transformations ; more extensively our aiming is in the approximation of the initial, non-transferable concept…

For the definition of the genetic algoritm through use of simulation computer program for the fruitfly tests Yiannis Melanitis is collaborating with Bouzaklas Ioannis, Geneticist, BSC in enetics MSC Molecular Medicine, Phd Medical School of Athens,










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