the rite of computing: Dancing a Universal Turing Machine

Abstract sent for the Movement and Computing (MOCO) Conference (1)2019, in order to present la consagración de la computadora as a performance.

The proposal was accepted but I couldn't attend the conference.

Text adapted from its original version in LaTeX.


Photo of a rehearsal of the rite of computing in process: People dance with the shapes and objects according to the current choreographic configuration. Photo of a rehearsal of the rite of computing in process: Detail of a shifting of active shapes taking place in the worm. Photo of the six different shapes that are used in the rite of computing.

the rite of computing is a dance in which its participants collaborate and become a new kind of computer, machine, organism. It originates from two questions: What else can computation look like (besides a logic of efficiency and productivity, based on material, natural, and social exploitation)? What if computation was a ceremony, a party, a dance?

The work is an exploration of computing in terms of slowing down, powering off, and "the pleasure in the confusion of boundaries" [4]. It is also an exploration of movement in terms of group awareness, mutual agreement, and joy.

the rite of computing is a rule-based improvisation influenced by repetition. In it, human and non-human elements embody a reinterpretation of the Universal Turing Machine described by Minsky [6] and also discussed by Feynman [3]. For this implementation, the computer emulates what Turing called circle-free computing machines [7]; these are "[algorithms that] remain in a state of becoming, endlessly modifying the result" [5]. The dance performs a computation that may never reach an end.

The machine consists of 23 states and 6 symbols: 23 choreographic configurations and 6 different shapes built with blocks.

Our stage space contains a mix of the following elements: single blocks, engraved plaques, shapes built with blocks, humans, and the worm: a row of shapes.

The plaques contain formulas that describe the operations to perform during a given configuration. These operations consist in shifting the current point of action in the row of shapes, transforming} a current active shape into another, and transitioning to another configuration.

Once set in motion, the interactions between these heterogeneous parts cause emergent properties that perform computation; in that sense this machine is in dialog with the concept of assemblage as described by DeLanda [2].

Each choreographic configuration is represented by a specific symbol in a plaque that invokes a predefined atmosphere to improvise with.

The dancers follow the formulas of one of these plaques held in the air, while performing discrete operations on the shapes of the worm. Sometimes these shapes will trigger a formula that require a transition: the plaque is exchanged for another, and the choreography changes into the new configuration.

A difference between this work and other Turing machine dances that could be found [1] is the absence of electronics in its workings and creation. By removing electricity as much as possible, the idea is to help blurring boundaries (organic - inorganic, human - machine) and to prompt questions about the nature} of computers.

Wechsler differentiated between "art that is concerned with computers, or art that is merely created using computers" [8] when discussing dance, computers, and art; the aim of the rite of computing is to be dance concerned with computers, and to be a computer that is [merely] created using dance.

Symbols corresponding to the 23 choreographic configurations in the rite of computing. They contain the formulas that describe the operations to perform during each of them.

full image of the symbols (png, ~1.5MB)


Performance; Choreography; Turing Machines; Unconventional Computing

CCS Concepts

Applied computing~Performing arts
Theory of computation~Abstract machines


[1] Jennifer Burg and Karola Luttringhaus. 2006. Entertaining with Science, Educating with Dance. Comput. Entertain. 4, 2, Article 7 (April 2006).
[2] Manuel De Landa. 2016. Assemblage theory. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh.
[3] Richard Phillips Feynman. 1996. Feynman lectures on computation. Addison-Wesley, Reading, Mass.
[4] Donna Jeanne Haraway. 2017. Manifestly Haraway. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.
[5] David Link. 2016. Archaeology of Algorithmic Artefacts. Univocal Publishing, Minneapolis.
[6] Marvin Minsky. 1967. Computation: finite and infinite machines. Englewood Cliffs, N.J., Prentice-Hall.
[7] Alan M. Turing. 1936. On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem. Proceedings of the London Mathematical Society 2, 42 (1936), 230–265.
[8] R. Wechsler. 1997. Computers and art: a dancer’s perspective. IEEE Technology and Society Magazine 16, 3 (Fall 1997), 7–14.

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