Michael Moschen: Juggling as art ... and science
March 3, 2002
Michael Moschen puts on a quietly mesmerizing show of juggling. Don't think juggling is an art? You might just change your mind after watching Moschen in motion.Michael Moschen
Quite simply, Michael Moschen has revolutionized juggling, refining it into an art and a bit of a science. With a few flying balls and well-chosen props he will completely re-wire your notions of the physically possible. Full bio
Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
I started juggling a long time ago,
but long before that, I was a golfer, and that's what I was, a golfer.
And as a golfer and as a kid,
one of the things that really sort of seeped into my pores,
that I sort of lived my whole life, is process.
And it's the process of learning things.
One of the great things was that my father was an avid golfer, but he was lefty.
And he had a real passion for golf,
and he also created this whole mythology
about Ben Hogan and various things.
Well, I learned a lot about interesting things
that I knew nothing about at the time, but grew to know stuff about.
And that was the mythology of skill.
So, one of the things that I love to do is to explore skill.
And since Richard put me on this whole thing with music --
I'm supposed to actually be doing a project with Tod Machover
with the MIT Media Lab -- it relates a lot to music.
But Tod couldn't come and the project is sort of somewhere,
I'm not sure whether it's happening the way we thought, or not.
But I'm going to explore skill, and juggling,
and basically visual music, I guess.
OK, you can start the music, thanks.
Thanks. Thank you. Now, juggling can be a lot of fun;
play with skill and play with space, play with rhythm.
And you can turn the mike on now. I'm going to do a couple of pieces.
I do a big piece in a triangle
and these are three sections from it.
Part of the challenge was to try to understand rhythm and space
using not just my hands -- because a lot of juggling is hand-oriented --
but using the rhythm of my body and feet,
and controlling the balls with my feet.
Thanks. Now, this next section was an attempt to explore space.
You see, I think Richard said something about people that are against something.
Well, a lot of people think jugglers defy gravity or do stuff.
Well, I kind of, from my childhood and golf and all that,
it's a process of joining with forces.
And so what I'd like to do is try to figure out
how to join with the space through the technique.
So juggling gravity -- up, down.
If you figure out what up and down really are,
it's a complex physical set of skills
to be able to throw a ball down and up and everything,
but then you add in sideways.
Now, I look at it somewhat as a way -- when you learn juggling
what you learn is how to feel with your eyes, and see with your hands
because you're not looking at your hands,
you're looking at where the balls are or you're looking at the audience.
So this next part is really a way of understanding space and rhythm,
with the obvious reference to the feet,
but it's also time -- where the feet were, where the balls were.
Thanks. So, visual music: rhythm and complexity.
I'm going to build towards complexity now.
Juggling three balls is simple and normal.
We're jugglers, OK. And remember, you're transposing,
you're getting into a subculture here.
And juggling -- the balls cross and all that.
OK, if you keep them in their assigned paths you get parallel lines
of different heights, but then hopefully even rhythm.
And you can change the rhythm -- good, Michael.
You can change the rhythm, if you get out of the lights.
OK? Change the rhythm, so it's even.
Or you can go back and change the height. Now, skill.
But you're boxed in, if you can only do it up and down that way.
So, you've got to go after the space down there.
OK, then you've got to combine them,
because then you have the whole spatial palette in front of you.
And then you get crazy.
Now, I'm actually going to ask you to try something,
so you've got to pay attention. Complexity:
if you spend enough time doing something, time slows down
or your skill increases, so your perceptions change.
It's learning skills -- like being in a high-speed car crash.
Things slow down as you learn, as you learn, as you learn.
You may not be able to affect it, it almost drifts on you. It goes.
But that's the closest approximation I can have to it.
So, complexity. Now, how many here are jugglers?
OK, so most of you are going to have a similar reaction to this.
OK? And whoever laughed there --
you understood it completely, right?
No, it looks like a mess. It looks like a mess with a guy there,
who's got his hands around that mess, OK.
Well, that's what juggling is about, right?
It's being able to do something that other people can't do or can't understand.
All right. So, that's one way of doing it, which is five balls down.
OK? Another way is the outside.
And you could play with the rhythm.
Make it faster and smaller.
Make it wider.
Make it narrower.
Bring it back up.
OK. It's done. Thanks.
Now, what I wanted to get to is that you're all very bright, very tactile.
I have no idea how computer-oriented or three-dimensionally-oriented you are,
but let's try something.
OK, so since you all don't understand what the five-ball pattern is,
I'm going to give you a little clue.
Enough of a clue? So, you get the pattern, right? OK.
You're not getting off that easy. All right?
Now, do me a favor: follow the ball that I ask you to follow.
OK, you can do that? Yeah? OK.
Now, let's actually learn something.
Actually, let me put you in that area of learning, which is very insecure.
You want to do it? Yeah? OK.
Hands out in front of you. Palms up, together.
What you're going to learn is this.
OK? So what I want you to do is just listen to me and do it.
Index finger, middle finger, ring, little.
Little, ring, middle, index. And then open.
Finger, finger, finger, finger, finger, finger, finger, finger.
A little bit faster.
Finger, finger, finger, finger, finger, finger, finger, finger.
Finger, finger, finger, finger, finger, finger, finger, finger.
All right. A lot of different learning processes going on in here.
One learning process that I see is this --
OK. Another learning process that I see is this --
OK. So, everybody take a deep breath in, breath out. OK.
Now, one more time, and --
finger, finger, finger, finger, finger, finger, finger, finger. Open.
Finger, finger, finger, finger, finger, finger, finger, finger. OK.
Shake your hands out.
Now, I assume a lot of you spend a lot of time at a computer.
OK? So, what you're doing is, you're going la, la, la,
and you're getting this. OK?
So that's exactly what I'm going to ask you to do,
but in a slightly different way. You're going to combine it.
So what I want you to do is -- fingers.
I'll tell you what to do with your fingers, same thing.
But I want you to do is also, with your eyes,
is follow the colored ball that I ask you to follow.
OK? Here we go.
So, we're going to start off looking at the white ball --
and I'm going to tell you which color,
and I'm also going to tell you to go with your fingers. OK?
So white ball and --
finger, finger, finger, finger, finger, finger, finger, finger. Pink.
Finger, finger, finger, finger, finger, finger, finger, finger. Green.
Finger, finger, finger, finger. Yellow.
Finger, finger, finger, pink or finger.
Pink, finger, finger, finger, finger, finger, finger, finger.
How did you do? Well? OK. The reason I wanted you to do this is
because that's actually what most people face throughout their lives,
a moment of learning, a moment of challenge.
It's a moment that you can't make sense of.
Why the hell should I learn this? OK?
Does it really have anything to do with anything in my life?
You know, I can't decipher -- is it fun? Is it challenging? Am I supposed to cheat?
You know, what are you supposed to do?
You've got somebody up here who is the operative principle
of doing that for his whole life. OK?
Trying to figure that stuff out. But is it going to get you anywhere?
It's just a moment. That's all it is, a moment. OK?
I'm going to change the script for one second. Just let me do this.
I don't need music for it. Talking about time in a moment.
There's a piece that I recently developed which was all about that,
a moment. And what I do as a creative artist
is I develop vocabularies or languages of moving objects.
What I've done for you here, I developed a lot of those tricks
and I put the choreography together,
but they're not original techniques.
Now, I'm going to start showing you some original techniques
that come from the work that I've developed. OK?
So, a moment, how would you define a moment?
Well, as a juggler, what I wanted to do was create something
that was representational of a moment.
All right, I'm going to get on my knees and do it.
So, a moment.
OK? And then, what I did as a juggler was say,
OK, what can I do to make that something
that is dependent on something else, another dynamic.
So, a moment.
Excuse me, still getting there. A moment that travels.
A moment -- no, we'll try that again. It separates, and comes back together.
Time. How can you look at time?
And what do you dedicate it to, in exploring a particular thing?
Well, obviously, there's something in here,
and you can all have a guess as to what it is.
There's a mystery. There's a mystery in the moment.
And it has to settle. And then it's dependent on something else.
And then it comes to rest. Just a little thing about time.
Now, this has expanded into a much bigger piece,
because I use ramps of different parabolas that I roll the balls on
while I'm keeping time with this.
But I just thought I'd talk about a moment.
All right. OK. Can we show the video of the triangle?
Are we ready to do that? Yes?
This is the piece that I told you about.
It's a much bigger piece that I do exploring the space of a geometric triangle.
Thanks. The only thing I'll say about the last session is,
you ever try juggling and driving the car with your knees
at 120 miles an hour?
The only other thing is, it was a real shock.
I always drove motorcycles. And when I bought my first car, it shocked me
that it cost three times more than my parents' house. Interesting.
constant movement to find an approach to stillness.
Balance: making up the rules so you can't cheat,
so you learn to approach stillness with different parts of your body.
To have a conversation with it. To speak. To listen.
Hup. Now, it's dependent on rhythm,
and keeping a center of balance. When it falls, going underneath.
So, there's a rhythm to it.
The rhythm can get much smaller.
As your skill increases, you learn to find those tinier spaces,
those tinier movements. Thanks.
Now, I'm going to show you the beginnings of a piece
that is about balance in some ways, and also --
oh, actually, if you're bored, not here, here's one use for it.
You can go with the "Sticks One" music.
Thanks. That has a certain kind of balance to it, which is all about plumb.
I apprenticed with a carpenter and learned about plumb, square and level.
And they influenced that, and this next piece, which I'll do a little segment of.
"Two Sticks," you can go with it. Thanks.
Which is again exploring space, or the lines in space.
Working with space and the lines in space in a different way.
Oh, let's see here.
So, I'll come back to that in a second. But working with one ball,
now, what if you attach something to it, or change it.
This is a little thing that I made
because I really like the idea of curves and balls together.
And then creating space and the rhythm of space,
using the surface of the balls, the surface of the arms.
Just a little toy. Which leads me to the next thing,
which is --
what have I got here? OK. All right.
I'm actually leading up to something,
the newest thing that I'm working on. This is not it.
This is exploring geometry and the rhythm of shape.
Now, what I just did was I worked with the mathematics --
the diameter and the circumference.
Sometimes these pieces are mathematical, in that way
that I look at a shape and say, what about if I use this and this and this.
Sometimes what happens in life affects my choice
of objects that I try to work with.
The next piece that I'm going to do -- which is the cylinders piece,
if you want to get that up --
it has to do with cylinder seals from about 5,000 years ago,
which were stones with designs that were used to roll over wet clay
with all sorts of great designs. I love ceramics and all of that.
It's a combination of that, the beauty of that, the shape,
and the stories that were involved in it,
as well as the fact that they protected the contents.
The second influence on this piece came from recycling
and looking into a tin can recycling bin
and seeing all that beautiful emptiness.
So, if you want to go with the music for cylinders.
Talking about geometry and everything,
if you take the circle and you split it in half --
can you run "S-Curve music?"
I'm going to do just a short version of it.
Circles split in half and rotated, and mythology.
Anyway, that piece also has a kinetic sculpture in the middle of it,
and I dance around a small stage so --
two minutes, just to end? The latest piece that I'm working on --
what I love is that I never know what I'm working on, why I'm working on it.
They're not ideas, they're instincts.
And the latest thing that I'm working on --
is something really -- I don't know what it is yet.
And that's good. I like not to know for as long as possible.
Well, because then it tells me the truth,
instead of me imposing the truth.
And what it is, is working with both positive and negative space
but also with these curves.
And what it involves,
and I don't know if my hands are too beaten up to do it or not,
but I'll do a little bit of it.
It initially started off with me stacking these things,
bunches of them, and then playing with the sense of space,
of filling in the space. And then it started changing,
and become folding on themselves.
And then changing levels.
Because my attempt is to make visual instruments,
not to just make -- I'll try one other thing.
For work in three dimensions, with your perceptions of space and time.
Now, I don't know exactly where it's going,
but I've got a bit of effort involved in this thing.
And it's going to change as I go through it.
But I really like it, it feels right.
This may not be the right shape, and -- look at this shape,
and then I'll show you the first design I ever put to it,
just to see, just to play,
because I love all different kinds of things to play with.
Let's see here.
To work with the positive and negative in a different way.
And to change, and to change.
So, I'm off in my new direction with this to explore rhythm and space.
We'll see what I come up with. Thanks for having me.
Quite simply, Michael Moschen has revolutionized juggling, refining it into an art and a bit of a science. With a few flying balls and well-chosen props he will completely re-wire your notions of the physically possible.Why you should listen
A high school dropout turned MacArthur "genius grant" recipient, Michael Moschen is an art juggler, spawning scores of imitators and an entire methodology of crystal-ball juggling he likes to call Dynamic Manipulation. (The previously mentioned imitators call it "Contact Juggling," a term that Moschen himself despises.)
With a penchant for discipline, choreography, and catching flying balls -- and using props that include flaming torches, hoops, rods, and a ten-foot plastic triangle enclosure within which he stands, bouncing balls against the sides to achieve incredible patterns and velocities -- he creates illusions of speed and light that push the envelope of what is possible within this age-old circus art. Many of his techniques and routines are showcased in In Motion with Michael Moschen, a program produced in 1991 for National Public Television's Great Performances series.
The original video is available on TED.com