One year, a student came to Bradley with an idea: He was a ballroom dancer and wondered if the technique could be used to generate new forms of choreography. The conversation sparked a project, and eventually the approach culminated in a program called Chaographer that uses a similar idea to Dabby’s, mapping an original dance sequence and then varying it, using animation and motion capture. The technique was demonstrated in a 2007 performance in Boston called “Con/cantation: chaotic variations.”
These techniques are decidedly not automated creativity. They still require the ear or eye of a person to curate the movements or passages, culling good ideas and tossing the ones that don’t make sense. In dance, impossible transitions need to be somehow controlled for or eliminated. In musical variations, gaps sometimes show up in the variation that make little sense to the human ear. But diversity—the thing celebrated in culture, music, and biology—needs to come from somewhere, and the variation generator is like a brainstorming device that takes the lid off all the possibilities.
Along the way, Dabby’s work in chaos seems to have had another, more personal effect. As a pianist friend told her, all this time thinking about variations had changed the way Dabby wrote music. It had become part of her. Over the years since her first encounter with science, the musician, remade as an engineer, had become a chaotic variation herself.