Immersive Juggling Research

Circus Geeks received Lab:Time funding to carry out research into an immersive juggling experience.


Doreen Großmann, Iñaki Sastre and Arron Sparks spent 3 days in the Creation Studio at the National Centre for Circus Arts generating juggling material and working through experiments on a friendly guinea pig voluenteer audience.

Inaki Sastre suggested the concept of creating a juggling piece in an alternative enviroment from the traditional show format of a juggling performance- imagining what and how a juggling installation might function. From that original concept, Arron generated a series of questions to explore and an array of different directions the research could head.

“Over the first couple of days we created two short pieces, one in which the external viewer could move where ever they pleased while a juggling piece took place in the same space (much like how a traditional gallery space operates with a sculpture). In the second version the performers guided an audience of one through the piece which happened over, around, to and with the aid of the audience member.

Based on audience feedback from day two and our own insights we decided to focus on the second more personal method used. We spent day 3 creating a 7 minute piece which we then performed as a continuous loop for close to two hours, receiving feedback throughout and testing adjustments.

With more research time it is probable that the first “free-range” method could be developed and refined to get over the obstacles we encountered, such as the audiences self imposing rules which restricted their viewpoint, enjoyment and even understanding of the piece. This could be circumnavigated by stating the rules of engagement from the start (with, for instance, the use of a sign) and is an area of research that could de explored and tested in its own right.

Exploring the possibilities of putting a non juggler into the world of juggling is something I have considered before. In an early version of Beta Testing we attempted (unsuccessfully) to simulate the pressure onstage that a professional juggler has to confront with an audience volunteer. However in this research -thanks to the questions we set out with and the softer, intimate approach Doreen and Iñaki brought to the performance helped us communicate to an audience the physical experience of juggling and the pleasure that it brings us.

After 3 days of research and a series of tests and feedback we are confident that this is an area of juggling rich with possibilities. We hope to further explore the area of immersive juggling in the near future.”

Arron Sparks

Immersive Juggling Research made possible thanks to the National Centre for Circus Arts, the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, The Production Shed and all our friendly guinea pigs.


Luke Wilson – Moisture Festival – April 2011

I’m currently sat in a hotel lobby in a foreign country typing on a MacbookPro Retina, which Luke would have particularly have approved of. Not only for my superior choice of technology, but also the pretend rock star status of living on the road.

I went through periods of seeing Luke every day, almost every waking hour for a few months, to seeing him randomly once every few months. So it’s only recently that I’ve really come to appreciate that I’m never going to see the particularly skinny Englishman again. Until now it was possible that not running into Luke was an unfortunate side effect of busy calendars. But now, 2 years since his death, I think my brain has fully accepted that meeting Luke is not going to happen again.

Sadness asides, I thought it would be interesting to those who never knew Mr Wilson or his work to use this anniversary as an opportunity to analyse a little of his work and try and understand some of the detail and reasoning in his compositions.

I’ve been watching a version of Luke’s club routine (which he mentions in Repetition, posted on Circus Geeks), filmed by Alan Plotkin. In Alan’s words, “This was the last time I filmed Luke Wilson. It was at Moisture Festival 2011 at the Vashon Island venue. I challenged him before the performance to go drop free and he nailed it.”

Unfortunately I never got to see this version live so I am almost certainly missing detail which video cannot convey. I did however see two versions of Luke’s older club routines live and Luke shared a couple of different older versions on video with me.

You can watch Luke talk briefly about his Moisture festival here:

The Moisture Festival version is my favourite of his club routines and in my opinion the most interesting and developed. It gives a clear definition of Luke’s artistic choices and yet leaves a couple of unanswered questions.

Act breakdown

Luke stood sideways on stage looking across stage- not at the audience. He is holding 5 clubs- two clubs in his left hand, visible to the audience.
0:28 Routine starts
Places 5 clubs one at a time precisely on stage in a line, using his hands and feet. Reminiscent on Sergei Ignatov.
0:41 Hands in pocket, takes a moment to collect the image.
0:44 Foot lingers, almost flirtatiously around the first club
0:49 Hands out of pockets in stylised way.
1st Club kicked up. Manipulation thumb roll sequence
0:53 2nd club kicked up
0:57 3rd club kicked up – juggle walks forward and turning
1:00 Stand still – leaning into juggle run
1:04 4th club kicked up – 4 in doubles, classic fountain. Walks forward – odd feet – reaching for the remaining club
1:15 5th club kicked up
1:21 Triple into scissor catch in squat. Looks at audience.
1:26 Club down – fake drop – foot catch into 4 club routine: multiplex
4 club fast triples
4 club singles
53 iIn triple singles – turing backwards in a circle
Switch to synchronous – splits
1:59 High throw into multiplex bend back
2:02 Freeze with odd catch. Look at audience. Manipulation turn
2:10 Careful placement of balance – finger – cross armed set 3
2:14 Clubs with a balance – left-handed start – 3 chin rolls – drop into 4 – 53 chin roll turing
2:26 collect
2:27 Pass club around body getting lower until on the foot.
2:31 Kick club causing it to roll on floor
2:34 Odd jump – pick up other club
2:35 Slow hand – look at remaining club – turn walk to it with purpose
2:43 5th club in kick up position – look at it
2:44 Kick up into multiplex pattern
2:57 Scissor catch look at audience – club still rocking gently
3:01 Stand up
3:05 Turn and throw 2 clubs away*
3:09 Almost a new person – new routine
3:13 Odd feet and club movements – puppet like – repeating patterns
Odd patterns, placements and wrist traps – odd starts and stops
linking moves, half turns
3:52 Chin roll combinations
3:57 Chin roll reverse cascade
4:01 Balance
4:06 Multi placements
4:09 Helicopter kick up – backcross combination – flat front 44strange1
4:15 Stylish 2 on a 342
4:20 Wilson 52242 wrong-end
4:22 Squat again – fast juggle – doubles with music
4:25 Fast doubles
4:27 Flats turning
4:33 High throw – Ignatov – slapbacks – half turns
4:45 Catch all 3 in right – squat – look at audience
4:52 Fake hard throw of one club
4:54 Slow 1 club slide – lego – puppetry movement style
5:05 Point
5:09 Helicopter wrist trap kick up – Luke signature
5:44 Ends kick up sequence
5:47 Contortion cascade
5:50 Under arm trap – problem and solution
5:57 Leg catch freeze – build up tension
6:04 Triplex kick up
6:07 1 up Pirouette
6:09 Throw clubs behind him
6:14 Bow
6:24 Exit stage

Luke starts the routine standing still on stage, not looking at the audience – an interesting choice. It isn’t till a few seconds in that he looks at the audience, allowing them to take in his appearance and identity. Before that first look Luke is almost secondary to the props, the oddity in his moment and choices are clear but we don’t know how he feels about it.

The juggling begins with Luke kicking up into a 3 club cascade, he turns in a circle allowing the audience to take in this first and most classic pattern. From then on there are only a few classic juggling patterns which have been chosen for specific reasons. Most of the act consists of juggling created by the performer, something which used to be a rarity in juggling.

The first compliment (freeze) allows the audience in, before we have seen a window into his world, a taste of skill and things to come but that eye contact allows us to catch up and take Luke in. The freeze itself is an interesting position, in a sitting squat, far from a unusual ballet-influenced circus poses.

The section where Luke is continually moving and adjusting his legs, arms and clubs are a slight (but only slight) exaggeration of his OCD tendencies. Going for a coffee with Luke could be fun; moving the cutlery or various napkins off-centre would result in him subtly readjusting till everything was back to being in its rightful place, square and proper.

Watching Luke warm up every night for several months was also a chance to see how much he enjoyed systems which would be carried out pace for pace, throw for throw every night. Luke enjoyed his discipline. These puppet-esque movements sit very well with his energy on stage and yet are surprising and unusual, far from the normal movement qualities jugglers traditionally use.

The precision of placing the club into a balance on Luke’s head, is something that is common in many of his routines. Moments of careful precision that Luke was so excellent at, the weight and gravitas he gives the prop and the detail of the pinky finger out – reminiscent of a delicate tea cup which Luke was so fond of and makes for an important moment, heavily contrasting with some of the fast and complex juggling that has preceded it.

Luke runs his own version of a classic 423 kick-up using wrist traps to catch the kicked-up club (Luke help popularise wrist traps in club juggling, taken from another juggling prop – the devil stick. Luke invented many variations with wrist traps, now commonplace in contemporary juggling). This pattern is run for 33 rounds and lasts over half a minute. It’s an unusual choice of trick to run for so long.
Luke has chosen a unique trick to him, subtle in detail. It would be easy to miss the wrist trap if it were ran for only one or two rounds and it’s not a particularly difficult trick in a single repetition. As the pattern plays out the tension builds, we see Luke begin to struggle from the shear repetition and final relief when he breaks out of the loop. Repeating the pattern for so long allows the audience to take in and possibly understand the juggling and gives effective dramatic build in the act.

Luke also particularly enjoyed kick-up tricks which may also explain why he chose to repeat his 423 variation. He finishes the routine with a triplex kick-up, a trick Luke loved and is covered extensively in this video tutorial we made together in 2009.

The pirouette is the final full stop for the juggling, enforced by the dropping of the clubs**. The holding of breath as the audience begins to show it’s appreciation and the exhale of relief helps underscore how much concentration has gone into performing such a complex and well thought-out performance.

Luke was a talented magician and I can see it’s influence in the whole routine, particularly in his bow which was obviously thought out and practiced. The unbuttoning of his jacket and classic open hand position reminiscent to me of dove magician, Lance Burton as was Luke’s immaculately folded sleeves.

Luke left nothing to chance and thought out every detail of his work. Everything had been gone over with a fine comb, from the choice and variation of prop (Luke could probably have written a book on this subject) to his method of rolling up his selves.

Perhaps the biggest lesson for me to take from Luke’s work is to question every choice, be aware of every decision.  Do what you believe in.

I miss Luke.

**The dropping of the clubs really confused me. When studying on my degree Luke taught lessons examining at the nature of status and how we treating our props on stage adds to the communication of how much an audience should care about what we are doing (trying not to drop in the most part). 
Theories for Luke’s end throw include, it was as simple as a stylistic choice or that he got carried away after performing such a perfect routine. However both these reasons don’t fit well with me, they don’t take into account Lukes meticulous nature or his lessons on giving the props value.
For my money, the best guess comes from Jay Gilligan, he said that in one of the MRL laboratories Luke was exploring the idea of finding an ending that could not go on. Jay went onto say, “in one case his [Lukes] solution was to make an ending that was not only conceptual but also literal in the sense that he threw the clubs away from him, preventing any further contact and therefore erasing any doubt at all that he would continue.”
* At 3:05 into the act Luke turns and throws 2 clubs away. It looks slightly award and messy, if we understand the end drop then I cannot fathom this prop dump. My only attempt to grasp Luke’s choice here is that it’s a stylistic choice (or someone was supposed to take them from him?). I wish Luke was around now so I could quiz him about it.
Many thanks to Lauren Hendry,  Sean Gandini, Jon Udry and Jay Gilligan for their thoughts and feedback.

Beta Testing – Creation Week 1

We’ve spent a taxing yet rewarding week working on new material for Beta Testing, some planned from the initial stages of the project, some thought of in the morning mind mapping sessions.

Our average day has run something like this:

8something AM – Get up, breakfast etc. (not for Arron he likes his sleep and can run on air for a few hours)
9ish AM – Go to a supermarket and buy lunch (often various kinds of chicken)
10 AM – Start. Sit around a table with whiteboard laid flat (why is this not sold as a product?!), mind-map, discuss, suggest, joke, inspire, timetable.
11ish AM – work on more spoken word based work.
12:30ish PM – 1 hour lunch – much chicken, listen to Radio 2 ‘Death Hour’, make phone calls, send emails.
1:45 PM- work on new juggling technique needed for the show.
Midafternoon PM 10 min Coffee Break! <– No Such Thing!
4:45 PM – Club Passing practice
5:27:34 PM (allow 15 min-ish discrepancy) Endurance Practice & 6/7 technique
6goingon6:30 PM finish
7SomethingStillPM Craft Beer Pub – drink/food or both if you’re feeling rich!
ApproxPM – bed

We finished the week feeling exhausted, probably juggling more in the week than we had collectively done in the last 3 months. Celebrated a birthday, laughed a lot, picked up far too many props off the floor and probably spent more time than is healthy with each other. All this whilst avoiding getting hit over the head with a chair.

Excited for it to all start again on Monday.
Creating feels good.

Here’s a video of us failing…


Already this morning I’ve watched two videos which have amazed and inspired me (isn’t the internet marvellous?)! Both are juggling videos and have some very nice and original content. Interestingly (at least for me) in both cases I see similar inspirations that have been a starting point for some of my latest work, thoughts and ideas.

Obviously carried out (and I have to say, producing better results) in a very different direction to mine. Clearly both videos have other insparations mixed in, as well as a different starting point and intention. It’s not ground breaking stuff to say everyone is different but I like being reminded of it now and again!

Send me some nice acrobatic/aerial videos please!

An average day

Someone asked what’s an average day for a professional juggler. It’s a pretty difficult one to answer succinctly as the average day varies so much. Over the summer I was performing pretty much every day, right now I’m not performing so much and able to concentrate on new projects and on practicing juggling.

At the moment my average day is working out a bit like this (and I love it):

8:30 Get up

9 Running

10-11:30 e-mails, RSS feed, Facebook, Twitter and breakfast.

12-3 Juggle

3-4 Gym

4-6 Coffee, more internet catchup. Plan stuff for Beta Testing.

6-7 Eat.

7-12 fun time/pub time.

12-8:30 bed.


Touring Video

Over the last couple of months I’ve been touring with Gandini Juggling. I decided to document my travels a little, to give a feel for what it’s been like. The videos not so juggling focused but might be interesting for any circus artists, even if your not a massive juggling fan

Photos and video all filmed on a iPhone 4S and edited in iMovie for iPad. I like Apples.

Morbid Fascination

A few days ago I performed with Gandini Juggling in Bergamo, home to some of the best pizza in the world, inventor of Stracciatella ice-cream and the resting place of one of the greatest and most influential jugglers of all time, Enrico Rastelli.

Arron at the grave of Enrico Rastelli
Arron at the grave of Enrico Rastelli

Even though it was only a short trip to Italy we managed to fit in a visit to Rastelli’s grave, a first for me and something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.

As an atheist it felt a little odd to wonder through a grave yard so heavily entrenched in religious symbols. But it was a fitting time and location to reflect on Rastelli’s achievements. While I don’t believe his spirit was looking down on us as we placed the flowers by his feet I’d like to think that if Rastelli were alive then he’d appreciate the gesture.

It was nice to know I was treading in the footsteps of other jugglers who had been to the grave before me. It also reminded me that I really must get round to visiting Cinquevalli‘s grave in South London.

Perhaps as jugglers we care more about pioneers of our art than other circus performers or perhaps we’re just more pompous. I’ve never heard of aerialists or acrobats visiting the grave of someone who pushed their particular discipline, but I could easily be ignorant of the facts. I hope so.

If you’ve ever visited the grave of a famous circus performer or proprietor I’d love to know more, leave a comment below.

Things Jugglers Say

I have always liked kick-up tricks with clubs, and have over the years somewhat specialised in them to a greater or lesser degree, including teaching workshops at juggling conventions specifically about that particular trick, and releasing a couple of videos onto the internets based around some of the variations possible. This has lead to me being perhaps somewhat known in the juggling community for this particular trick.

Yesterday I performed my club juggling act at an event held at a circus institution: a press conference type show with circus students and teachers, and various city officials in attendance.

It wasn’t my best show, but I did my job reasonably well, and was, as far as I could tell, well received by all. After the show, one of the jugglers (who had mentioned already that he had done one of my above mentioned workshops some years ago, and was also very interested in kick-ups himself) complimented me on my act, and then followed that up with: “but you don’t do many kick-ups in your act.”

I agreed with him, and talked a little about how I have been doing less kick-ups in general in recent years, due to the wear that they put on the knees and ankles, and the worsening injuries that that in turn entails.

Whilst this is true, and there are specific kick-up variations that I no longer practice for that reason, I have now thought a little more about his statement, and what it could mean.

For the fact of the matter is, that in the act I performed, which lead directly to the comment of “you don’t do many kick-ups in your act”, I do 5 different kick-up variations, for a total of 43 individual kick-ups in a 6 minute act.

That actually seems like quite a lot of kick-ups!

Is it me? Do I think I’m doing a lot and I’m not really? Perhaps, but no-one has ever said to me before that “it’s not very many kick-ups.” Quite the opposite, in fact: audience members commenting specifically on the kick-ups (rather than the absence thereof) is a rather common occurrence. But to be clear now, I refer now to non-juggler audience members.

I don’t know how possible it ever is for us to put ourselves truly in the position of the audience, to overcome our preconceptions of technique, to enter into the mindset of the outsider. And as I have surely written before, the responsibility to mould that mindset rests strongly with us as performers. But we have to first be clear ourselves as to what we are communicating.

A lot of modern/contemporary/new-school/creative/manipulation-based juggling is based around non-repeating patterns. About short sequences, single throws and rapid changes. And in some ways, I find that to be a shame. Only variation and repetition can lead to images and recognition, and I consider such things to be important aspects of our juggling reality.

Perhaps my 5 kick-up variations are too few? Or the repeating patterns too many? But too few for who, and too many based on what criteria, exactly?

How many variations on a theme are too much? When does repetition cross the line from boring pattern to strong image (and back again)? As a juggler, can I ever truly “see” my juggling from the outside?

And how do I know how many kick-ups is enough?

Practice Systems for Juggling: Pyramid System

In the ever growing world of juggling, people are improving, at different rates, all over the world. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect. The thing that surprises me is that a lot of jugglers are happy to spend hours practicing their hobby, but do not train in a structured and organised manner. I am constantly surprised at people who arrive at the training space, completely unaware of what they intend to practice and how to do it. I am however impressed at the increase of skill made by people with good practice discipline as opposed to those with no or bad practice structure.

As juggling is a huge part of my life, I have spent time trying to find the most efficient way to practice. I understand that not everyone likes to practice in the same way, and that some systems will suit some people more than others, but I have seen some people slog away at a trick for years with no progress, and I am shocked that they haven’t tried to find the reason why. I firmly believe that if you find a practice system that is good for you, then you shouldn’t strictly only stick to that chosen system. I feel it is important to mix things up, try other practice structures and challenge yourself.

I am not the creator of these systems. Some of the systems I have fused with others to develop them in ways that I feel make them stronger. I have also, taken inspiration from some systems, to develop others in ways that are more suitable for me. I’m not claiming that all of these systems are going to work for you.

These methods are starting points for you to test for yourself and see if:

  1. You enjoy them.
  2. See any improvements in your juggling.

I’d be interested to hear about your opinions, experiences and own training methods and how they compare to mine so please leave any comments or feedback below.

Practice system 1: Pyramid system

The Pyramid system is a common and efficient juggling system. Though at times it can be tedious to execute, if you are dedicated to it, you WILL get results. This system is suited mostly to patterns as opposed to tricks. The main goal of this system is to solidify patterns to a consistent level.

Example: 5 clubs

  • 5 catches (a flash) x 10
  • 10 catches x 7
  • 15 catches x 5
  • 20 catches x 3
  • 25 catches x 1

Above is a pretty classic example of a Pyramid system. Obviously the Pyramid will be altered depending on one’s level. You must complete the first layer, in this case the flash x 10, before you proceed to the next level, and so on.

Creating your Pyramid
In order to begin this splendid exercise, you first need to create your perfect Pyramid. I am sure there are many ways to do this, but here is the method that I would use if I was creating a Pyramid for 7 balls.

  1. Find the amount of catches that you know you can achieve. For me, I know I have achieved 100 catches a few times. So this is going to be the top of my pyramid, because if I get this, I will be very happy.
  2. Next, I would work my way down to the second layer, to just over half way. For me I will have 30 catches. This I will have to achieve three times. I go just over half way because I feel that if I waste my energy doing 35 catches, then 40, then 45, that I do not have enough energy to concentrate on the full 100 catches. But that’s just me.
  3. Next I will go down to the third layer which is 20 catches. I will have to achieve this 5 times.
  4. The second to last layer I use is 10 catches this I want to get 7 times. This is the amount I would ideally like to perform.
  5. Finally I get to just a flash. This I try to make as perfect as possible and do this 10 times. As one should always start from the bottom of the Pyramid, the first exercise should be easy, and should act as a warm up for what is to come.

Now that that is my Pyramid designed, I would now have to execute it. Starting at the bottom and working my way up to the top. In doing this I would take regular short breaks (maximum 1 minute) every 5 minutes. If I do not achieve my Pyramid that day, then that is ok. It’s either too hard for me, or I’m just having a bad day. Give yourself a time limit. If your Pyramid isn’t complete in say 30 minutes, then admit defeat and try again tomorrow.

I hope that this practice method helps in someway. If there are any questions then please email me at

Have fun!

Synthetic Video

Jugglers prepare for depression/inspiration (depending on your philosophical out look on life), Wes Peden has released his most recent pay for view video digital download, entitled ‘Synthetic’. And it’s epic.

I should probably write a little more on the contents but I’m not going to bother, you all know the deal. If Wes puts 18 months into a project you know it’s going be worth €15!

Buy ‘Synthetic’ here!

I guess if you really need to know more then have a read of this blurb by Wes…

Synthetic is a film displaying the new work of Wes Peden. The material was inspired, in a concrete way, by the strength of each prop and how to best take advantage of these qualities. The general aesthetic of the juggling was particularly influences by asymmetry, clarity, and trick shape.

The video is 45 minutes long and comes with an additional 25 minutes of bonus tricks and remixes. inside you will find 3 club slapping sequences, the coolest 5 ball pirouette Wes has ever done, 25 new ring patterns, a German 6 ball piece, 3 balls and a sweater, THE THROWING AWAY SECTION, the holy club/cuphead/ball part, site specific head rolls, flipping forehead balances, the 2012 five club routine, and so very much many more!

Teachers Week

Right now I am sitting in the backseat of a small van / large car: sandwiched comfortably between a yoga teacher and an aerialist. In the front seats are a burlesque performer and, driving, one of our two producers. We are en route to our second venue as part of the Cwtch Cabaret tour in Wales.

But I want to write now not about touring in the UK (which is a great and wonderful novelty for me!), but about a project which shows once more that jugglers are the geekiest of the circus community.

Earlier this month I was in Berlin for a week, participating in the first Juggling Teachers Meeting, held at the Berlin Juggling Center. Arranged by the centres owner, Alan Blim (the original founder of Berlin’s Juggling Katakomben), this five day workshop was supported by a European initiative for teaching, and had participants from Hungary, the Czech Republic, the UK, Italy, Spain, and of course Germany.
Berlin Juggling Center

So in all we had around a dozen students, and four teachers completed the group: myself, Alan Blim, Marco Paoletti, and Tim Roberts (long-time juggling teacher at the Chalôns school, now head of Higher Education at the Circus Space in London, and president of FEDEC).

Each of us was to teach a day (and to participate as students in the other days), and a target of the week was not only to teach our usual workshops or themes, but also to go deeper into the actual teaching theory behind our work. Each teacher had their own style and manner of course, which also meant that different teachers went at different levels, and in differing depths, into the theoretical aspects behind their teaching.

It became clear by the third day that teaching juggling in general can be divided into two large and different themes: long-term teaching (such as at a professional circus school, with the same students over a period of years), and short-term (like an hour workshop at a juggling convention). Knowing the context that the teaching is happening in informs the content and the detail of the work that is appropriate. Long-term teaching allows more personal research, and the teacher-student relationship can be more equal, with the teacher taking on something of a professor or mentor-like role. In short-term teaching, quicker results are usually desired by the students, and it can be more important to place focus on quick results – cool tricks or simple sequences.

Each of the four teachers material and teaching styles were very different from each other, but common themes showed themselves each days: suggesting that there is some common or shared vocabulary amongst us all. Building a strong foundation of technique and content, creating neutral space for new creation, exploring existing elements as deeply as possible, and noticing (and then breaking) habits we have formed.

Another major topic of discussion was a theme which I have talked about in previous blogs here: the reasons for, and the consequences of, the lack of permanent juggling teachers in comparison to those of other disciplines. As I have also postulated, I believe this is part of the reason for jugglers, historically speaking, pushing further creatively than other artists. But that has always seemed to be an accident of the situation (caused by students having a multitude of visiting, performing teachers), rather than the schools explicitly choosing to provide teaching in that manner.

The desire was always to create something more tangible from the weeks research, and through Tim’s involvement came the decision to write a juggling teachers manual for FEDEC. FEDEC has an ongoing project to create training manuals (free to download from the FEDEC website) for the circus disciplines, to promote exchange between the schools and a good level of teaching across all subjects. There are ten “chapters” so far, and two further (single wheel and straps) already in production. They start with the most basic of technique and preparatory work, before moving onto more advanced material. It became clear that the juggling manual doesn’t need low-level teaching material (the juggling students at the professional circus schools already enter with a high technique level), and so the focus shall be more directly centred on the artistic and theoretical aspects of the work.

Perhaps that approach can then feed back into the other disciplines, just as we jugglers can learn from them. It is also hoped that the work that was begun over the week can be continued and added to: to arrange another meeting, perhaps in London, with a greater mix of teachers with a greater range of experience and styles. Although the week was inspiring and felt very important, it also felt very much like a first step – a step towards a bigger and clearer project.

MaMux, Paris

It’s been almost two months since my last post, and for that my humblest apologies (hmmmm, going a bit Stephen Fry there!). In that time I have collected many notes of subjects and themes, for essays and other writings, but it seemed appropriate to make my first post after my hiatus, and my first in 2012, as Circus Geeky as possible, and thus I shall devote this entry to the recent “Séminaire MaMux: Mathématiques, musique et relations avec d’autres disciplines”, which took place in Paris last Friday, January 6th, with the subject “Théories du jonglage et applications musicales”.

To go into detail about any single facet of the day would demand much more than a single blog post, and so I shall content myself with giving an overview of the day, rather than a detailed study of the lectures and demonstrations.

Quick background: IRCAM, in their own words, “carries out research and development into the symbolic representation of musical structures, languages and computer paradigms adapted to music.” They are a Paris based organisation, with their own (Piano and Rogers designed!) building adjacent to the Pompidou Centre. For some ten years they have organised and hosted a monthly meeting “MaMux” – which explores the relationships between music, mathematics and other disciplines.

This month the theme was “Juggling Theory and it’s Musical Applications”, which came to life thanks to the work of the minimalist composer Tom Johnson (who has been based in Paris for some years). I began an exchange with Tom in 2008, and he has since been involved in collaborations with various jugglers: including teaching for a week on the Juggling and Music research course in Stockholm, and composing pieces for the Gandini Juggling group.

His own compositions are usually mathematically based, and it happens that he has been particularly interested in recent years with the mathematical phenomena of tiling, which relates very directly to juggling’s siteswap notation. This is what drew him into the world of juggling.

On this occasion, the seminar moved from it’s usual (low-ceilinged!) room to the Petite Saal of the Pompidou Centre, to accomodate the juggling patterns that would be demonstrated. In the course of the day people came and went, but around 30-60 people were always present in the audience (a big audience for MaMux, largely made up in this case of the Parisian juggling scene).

The seminar (whose usual themes include “Systèmes évolutifs à mémoire”, or “Langages synchrones”) began at 2.30pm with a lecture from Jean-Christophe Novelli and Florent Hivert, of the Université Paris-Est Marne-la-Vallée and the Université Paris-Sud. After a general introduction to juggling theory they jumped quite quickly into the deeper mathematics lurking behind, in the form of combinatorics. This was clearly a lecture by mathematicians with an interest in juggling, rather than the other way round, and that was to be the feel of most of the rest of the day.

A particularly elegant state map, and a particularly geeky jumper: both modelled by Jean-Christophe Novelli of the Université Paris-Est Marne-la-Vallée.

Following their presentation, Tom Johnson took the podium, accompanied by the mathematician Franck Jedrzejewski, the juggler Jonathan Lardillier (a recent graduate of the Fratellini circus school in Paris), and myself.

Tom spoke about the mathematics behind his work, and showed how the maths could become juggling, and the juggling could become music. He described the compositional processes behind some pieces he had worked on, and some current projects, before Jonathan demonstrated his solo version of Steve Reich’s “Clapping Music” (2 balls in each hand, phase shifting with one hand), and I spoke briefly about the piece “Dropping Balls” that Tom composed for me, and which I would perform later in the evening.

Franck Jedrzejewski went even deeper into the mathematics behind music, especially the “well-formed scales”, which form the basis of Tom’s current compositions for jugglers.

After a brief interval, the day finished with a showing of the video from the Premiere last September of Tom’s piece “Three Notes for Three Jugglers”, written for Gandini Juggling (and played on electronically triggered sound emitting balls), and my own performance of “Dropping Balls” (a spoken word / singing piece).

It is hard to know how much importance to place on an event of this kind – a subculture of a subculture colliding with another, specialists of such precise subjects meeting others. But that an organisation of such prestige as IRCAM, with the support of the Pompidou Centre, could host such an event, and bring together such people, is, in my opinion, something extremely valuable and important in the continuing story of juggling, of circus and of art. I am proud to have been part of this event, and feel that we have taken another small step forward in blurring the fake distinctions between art and science, between mainstream and intellectual art, and find ourselves moving ever onwards to greater things in our work.

Luke Wilson, Jan. 10th 2012, Cologne

The event:

IRCAM on wikipedia:

Tom Johnson:

Clip of “Three Notes for Three Jugglers”, written for Gandini Juggling:

The STEIM sound balls in progress:

Clip of “Dropping Balls”, written for Luke Wilson (the piece starts at 9mins 35 secs):