Merce Cunningham has died at 90, having continued to work on innovative new choreography and digital choreography as recently as this year. His age makes that loss no less difficult artistically, and many of us are deeply indebted to his singular sense of time, as I discuss alongside electronic music connections on CDMusic.

But he leaves behind, as well, a unique legacy in digital movement, one that is echoed in unending electronic portraits of him and his own motion. Merce led the way in applying digital techniques to motion – electronic movement, if you will – using software like the LifeForms package he employed and helped develop, top. That software remains available via Credo Interactive.

This work continues, too, with Open Ended Group’s Loops, seen below, a perpetual portrait of Merce. Fittingly, it allows his motion to live on visually in the installation, never repeating or ceasing to change:

Loops is a portrait of Cunningham, but it attends not to his appearance, but to his motion. It is derived from a motion-captured recording of his solo dance for hands and fingers. The motion-captured joints become nodes in a network that sets them into fluctuating relationships with one another, at times suggesting the hands underlying them, but more often depicting complex cat’s-cradle variations. These nodes render themselves in a series of related styles, reminiscent of hand-drawing, but with a different sort of life. Many viewers liken their experience of seeing Loops to that of gazing into nature: its flickering motions put them in mind of fire or of primitive biology, perhaps seen under a microscope.


We could use your help. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a fully satisfactory history of the use of LifeForms and related tools, though I suspect one may be out there. With that and his other contributions, it would be terrific to trace the evolution of digital motion in Merce’s work. If you have resources you’d recommend or specific landmarks to recall, let us know – and pass along our call for help, if you can, as well.

More at the Merce foundation: