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User Preferences: Tech Q&A With Sarah Dahnke

<p>Each week we chat about the tools of the trade with one outstanding creative to find out exactly how they do what they do.</p>

Photo credit: Sue Ngo

Each week we chat about the tools of the trade with one outstanding creative to find out exactly how they do what they do. The questions are always the same, the answers, not so much. This week: Sarah Dahnke.

The Creators Project: Who are you and what do you do?
Sarah Dahnke:
My name is Sarah, and I’m a dance maker. I create performances and installations for traditional stages, gallery spaces, warehouses, the Internet and the camera. I’m currently working on a performance for video in the desert in New Mexico. Sometimes I refer to myself as a “choreographer and multimedia artist,” but when it comes down to it, everything I do involves moving bodies.

What kind of hardware to you use?
I really like to use technology in ways that feel appropriate. Not everything I create has the newest, most high-tech gadget attached to it because sometimes a human body and a few clip lights can make a powerful statement on their own. I really like using soft circuits because they are easy to subvert and make subtle, while not taking away from the power of movement. To create these, I primarily use the Lilypad Arduino and lots of conductive fabric from Less EMF in Albany. And Xbees because they allow my dancers to avoid being tethered to the computer. I also utilize projection, sometimes making it interactive by using camera tracking, usually with the simple help of a webcam or PS3 Eye.

What kind of software do you use?
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m more proficient at building circuits than I am with programming, but I have a couple go-to pieces of software. To create the audio feedback and distortion in “Switched” and “Attached” I used Max/MSP. I have also used Jitter (within Max/MSP) for projection mapping, and I really love the flexibility and ease of Isadora for projecting and manipulating imagery.

What piece of equipment can you simply not live without?
My handheld Panasonic HD camcorder! It was a gift last year from my parents, and I literally use it every day. I document rehearsals with it. I create videos for installation with it. I’ve been away at artist residencies all summer, and I’ve appreciated how tiny and lightweight it is, while still capturing really stunning, high-quality imagery. It’s kept me from having to lug around a giant camera so many times.

If money were no object, how would you change your current set up?
If we’re talking physical space, this is something I dream about often. I want a giant live/work space in Brooklyn that operates as a rehearsal studio, workspace, gallery space and performance space. I want to have a place that feels like an artist community center, centered around sharing ideas and experimenting, that is also comfortable enough for me to call home. I have such a large network of really creative people, combining the extremely passionate New York dance community and the amazing community of innovators I met while in grad school at ITP. It is my dream to find a way to bring all of this together into one space.

Is there any piece of technology that inspired you to take the path you did?
Don’t laugh, but it’s a toss up between the Flip camera and Wordpress. Many years ago, I had this idea that I wanted to do something with video and dance, but I didn’t exactly know what I was doing or how to do it. So I got in the studio with my friend Karilyn, tied a Flip camera to her and just experimented with the footage that kept coming out as we’d change the camera’s location on her body. Later that year, I created an Internet-based project called This Dance is a Cliché, which was a response to some creative block I was going through. It was a brief Internet sensation and sort of took me down this path of realizing I was interested in finding other tools I didn’t even know existed in order to expand the capabilities of how an audience perceives a performer or a performance.

What is your favorite piece of technology from your childhood?
My portable tape deck. My brother and I would record mock radio shows on blank tapes and send them to my grandma. I think she probably still has them.

What fantasy piece of technology would you like to see invented?
A pair of rocket boots. I own them in a recurring dream I have. I really want to be able to fly.