38:30
TED2002

Michael Moschen: Juggling as art ... and science

Filmed:

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.

- Juggler
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

I started juggling a long time ago,
00:19
but long before that, I was a golfer, and that's what I was, a golfer.
00:21
And as a golfer and as a kid,
00:27
one of the things that really sort of seeped into my pores,
00:31
that I sort of lived my whole life, is process.
00:34
And it's the process of learning things.
00:37
One of the great things was that my father was an avid golfer, but he was lefty.
00:39
And he had a real passion for golf,
00:43
and he also created this whole mythology
00:45
about Ben Hogan and various things.
00:48
Well, I learned a lot about interesting things
00:50
that I knew nothing about at the time, but grew to know stuff about.
00:52
And that was the mythology of skill.
00:56
So, one of the things that I love to do is to explore skill.
00:59
And since Richard put me on this whole thing with music --
01:02
I'm supposed to actually be doing a project with Tod Machover
01:06
with the MIT Media Lab -- it relates a lot to music.
01:09
But Tod couldn't come and the project is sort of somewhere,
01:11
I'm not sure whether it's happening the way we thought, or not.
01:14
But I'm going to explore skill, and juggling,
01:17
and basically visual music, I guess.
01:21
OK, you can start the music, thanks.
01:28
(Music)
01:30
(Applause)
04:28
Thanks. Thank you. Now, juggling can be a lot of fun;
04:31
play with skill and play with space, play with rhythm.
04:40
And you can turn the mike on now. I'm going to do a couple of pieces.
04:44
I do a big piece in a triangle
04:47
and these are three sections from it.
04:50
Part of the challenge was to try to understand rhythm and space
04:52
using not just my hands -- because a lot of juggling is hand-oriented --
04:55
but using the rhythm of my body and feet,
04:59
and controlling the balls with my feet.
05:01
(Applause)
06:22
Thanks. Now, this next section was an attempt to explore space.
06:27
You see, I think Richard said something about people that are against something.
06:35
Well, a lot of people think jugglers defy gravity or do stuff.
06:39
Well, I kind of, from my childhood and golf and all that,
06:45
it's a process of joining with forces.
06:48
And so what I'd like to do is try to figure out
06:51
how to join with the space through the technique.
06:52
So juggling gravity -- up, down.
06:55
If you figure out what up and down really are,
07:00
it's a complex physical set of skills
07:07
to be able to throw a ball down and up and everything,
07:09
but then you add in sideways.
07:12
(Applause)
07:37
Now, I look at it somewhat as a way -- when you learn juggling
07:43
what you learn is how to feel with your eyes, and see with your hands
07:48
because you're not looking at your hands,
07:52
you're looking at where the balls are or you're looking at the audience.
07:54
So this next part is really a way of understanding space and rhythm,
07:57
with the obvious reference to the feet,
08:02
but it's also time -- where the feet were, where the balls were.
08:04
(Applause)
09:25
Thanks. So, visual music: rhythm and complexity.
09:35
I'm going to build towards complexity now.
09:40
Juggling three balls is simple and normal.
09:42
(Laughter)
09:46
Excuse me.
09:48
(Laughter)
09:50
We're jugglers, OK. And remember, you're transposing,
09:52
you're getting into a subculture here.
09:55
(Laughter)
09:57
And juggling -- the balls cross and all that.
09:58
OK, if you keep them in their assigned paths you get parallel lines
10:01
of different heights, but then hopefully even rhythm.
10:05
And you can change the rhythm -- good, Michael.
10:08
You can change the rhythm, if you get out of the lights.
10:12
OK? Change the rhythm, so it's even.
10:14
Or you can go back and change the height. Now, skill.
10:18
But you're boxed in, if you can only do it up and down that way.
10:24
So, you've got to go after the space down there.
10:28
OK, then you've got to combine them,
10:37
because then you have the whole spatial palette in front of you.
10:40
And then you get crazy.
10:49
(Applause)
10:59
Now, I'm actually going to ask you to try something,
11:03
so you've got to pay attention. Complexity:
11:07
if you spend enough time doing something, time slows down
11:10
or your skill increases, so your perceptions change.
11:14
It's learning skills -- like being in a high-speed car crash.
11:17
Things slow down as you learn, as you learn, as you learn.
11:21
You may not be able to affect it, it almost drifts on you. It goes.
11:24
But that's the closest approximation I can have to it.
11:28
So, complexity. Now, how many here are jugglers?
11:31
OK, so most of you are going to have a similar reaction to this.
11:37
OK? And whoever laughed there --
11:48
you understood it completely, right?
11:50
(Laughter)
11:52
No, it looks like a mess. It looks like a mess with a guy there,
11:54
who's got his hands around that mess, OK.
11:57
Well, that's what juggling is about, right?
12:00
It's being able to do something that other people can't do or can't understand.
12:02
All right. So, that's one way of doing it, which is five balls down.
12:06
OK? Another way is the outside.
12:09
And you could play with the rhythm.
12:14
Same pattern.
12:18
Make it faster and smaller.
12:21
Make it wider.
12:24
Make it narrower.
12:27
Bring it back up.
12:32
OK. It's done. Thanks.
12:35
(Applause)
12:38
Now, what I wanted to get to is that you're all very bright, very tactile.
12:41
I have no idea how computer-oriented or three-dimensionally-oriented you are,
12:48
but let's try something.
12:53
OK, so since you all don't understand what the five-ball pattern is,
12:55
I'm going to give you a little clue.
13:01
Enough of a clue? So, you get the pattern, right? OK.
13:14
(Laughter)
13:18
You're not getting off that easy. All right?
13:21
Now, do me a favor: follow the ball that I ask you to follow.
13:26
Green.
13:31
Yellow.
13:33
Pink.
13:35
White.
13:37
OK, you can do that? Yeah? OK.
13:40
Now, let's actually learn something.
13:43
Actually, let me put you in that area of learning, which is very insecure.
13:46
You want to do it? Yeah? OK.
13:51
Hands out in front of you. Palms up, together.
13:55
What you're going to learn is this.
14:00
(Laughter)
14:03
OK? So what I want you to do is just listen to me and do it.
14:05
Index finger, middle finger, ring, little.
14:09
Little, ring, middle, index. And then open.
14:12
Finger, finger, finger, finger, finger, finger, finger, finger.
14:16
A little bit faster.
14:20
Finger, finger, finger, finger, finger, finger, finger, finger.
14:22
Finger, finger, finger, finger, finger, finger, finger, finger.
14:24
(Laughter)
14:28
All right. A lot of different learning processes going on in here.
14:29
(Laughter)
14:33
One learning process that I see is this --
14:35
(Laughter)
14:38
OK. Another learning process that I see is this --
14:40
(Laughter)
14:45
OK. So, everybody take a deep breath in, breath out. OK.
14:48
Now, one more time, and --
14:53
finger, finger, finger, finger, finger, finger, finger, finger. Open.
14:55
Finger, finger, finger, finger, finger, finger, finger, finger. OK.
14:59
Shake your hands out.
15:02
Now, I assume a lot of you spend a lot of time at a computer.
15:04
OK? So, what you're doing is, you're going la, la, la,
15:07
and you're getting this. OK?
15:10
So that's exactly what I'm going to ask you to do,
15:12
but in a slightly different way. You're going to combine it.
15:14
So what I want you to do is -- fingers.
15:17
I'll tell you what to do with your fingers, same thing.
15:20
But I want you to do is also, with your eyes,
15:22
is follow the colored ball that I ask you to follow.
15:25
(Laughter)
15:28
OK? Here we go.
15:30
So, we're going to start off looking at the white ball --
15:32
and I'm going to tell you which color,
15:34
and I'm also going to tell you to go with your fingers. OK?
15:36
So white ball and --
15:38
finger, finger, finger, finger, finger, finger, finger, finger. Pink.
15:41
Finger, finger, finger, finger, finger, finger, finger, finger. Green.
15:46
Finger, finger, finger, finger. Yellow.
15:51
Finger, finger, finger, pink or finger.
15:54
Pink, finger, finger, finger, finger, finger, finger, finger.
15:57
All right.
16:02
(Applause)
16:04
How did you do? Well? OK. The reason I wanted you to do this is
16:07
because that's actually what most people face throughout their lives,
16:12
a moment of learning, a moment of challenge.
16:17
It's a moment that you can't make sense of.
16:20
Why the hell should I learn this? OK?
16:22
Does it really have anything to do with anything in my life?
16:25
You know, I can't decipher -- is it fun? Is it challenging? Am I supposed to cheat?
16:29
(Laughter)
16:32
You know, what are you supposed to do?
16:33
You've got somebody up here who is the operative principle
16:35
of doing that for his whole life. OK?
16:39
Trying to figure that stuff out. But is it going to get you anywhere?
16:42
It's just a moment. That's all it is, a moment. OK?
16:45
I'm going to change the script for one second. Just let me do this.
16:48
I don't need music for it. Talking about time in a moment.
16:51
There's a piece that I recently developed which was all about that,
16:54
a moment. And what I do as a creative artist
16:58
is I develop vocabularies or languages of moving objects.
17:01
What I've done for you here, I developed a lot of those tricks
17:05
and I put the choreography together,
17:08
but they're not original techniques.
17:10
Now, I'm going to start showing you some original techniques
17:12
that come from the work that I've developed. OK?
17:14
So, a moment, how would you define a moment?
17:16
Well, as a juggler, what I wanted to do was create something
17:19
that was representational of a moment.
17:24
Ahhh.
17:30
All right, I'm going to get on my knees and do it.
17:33
So, a moment.
17:36
(Rattling)
17:38
OK? And then, what I did as a juggler was say,
17:45
OK, what can I do to make that something
17:48
that is dependent on something else, another dynamic.
17:50
(Rattling)
17:59
So, a moment.
18:09
(Rattling)
18:13
Another moment.
18:15
(Rattling)
18:17
Excuse me, still getting there. A moment that travels.
18:23
(Rattling)
18:28
A moment -- no, we'll try that again. It separates, and comes back together.
18:34
Time. How can you look at time?
18:41
And what do you dedicate it to, in exploring a particular thing?
18:44
Well, obviously, there's something in here,
18:48
and you can all have a guess as to what it is.
18:51
There's a mystery. There's a mystery in the moment.
18:53
And it has to settle. And then it's dependent on something else.
18:55
And then it comes to rest. Just a little thing about time.
18:59
Now, this has expanded into a much bigger piece,
19:07
because I use ramps of different parabolas that I roll the balls on
19:09
while I'm keeping time with this.
19:12
But I just thought I'd talk about a moment.
19:14
(Applause)
19:17
All right. OK. Can we show the video of the triangle?
19:20
Are we ready to do that? Yes?
19:26
This is the piece that I told you about.
19:28
It's a much bigger piece that I do exploring the space of a geometric triangle.
19:30
(Applause)
20:29
Thanks. The only thing I'll say about the last session is,
20:34
you ever try juggling and driving the car with your knees
20:38
at 120 miles an hour?
20:42
(Laughter)
20:44
The only other thing is, it was a real shock.
20:46
I always drove motorcycles. And when I bought my first car, it shocked me
20:48
that it cost three times more than my parents' house. Interesting.
20:52
Anyway, balance:
20:57
constant movement to find an approach to stillness.
20:59
Cheating.
21:06
(Laughter)
21:07
Balance: making up the rules so you can't cheat,
21:10
so you learn to approach stillness with different parts of your body.
21:14
To have a conversation with it. To speak. To listen.
21:25
(Laughter)
21:35
Hup. Now, it's dependent on rhythm,
21:36
and keeping a center of balance. When it falls, going underneath.
21:39
So, there's a rhythm to it.
21:47
The rhythm can get much smaller.
21:51
As your skill increases, you learn to find those tinier spaces,
22:01
those tinier movements. Thanks.
22:07
(Applause)
22:11
Now, I'm going to show you the beginnings of a piece
22:15
that is about balance in some ways, and also --
22:17
oh, actually, if you're bored, not here, here's one use for it.
22:24
(Laughter)
22:30
You can go with the "Sticks One" music.
22:40
(Music)
22:47
(Applause)
24:11
Thanks. That has a certain kind of balance to it, which is all about plumb.
24:18
I apprenticed with a carpenter and learned about plumb, square and level.
24:24
And they influenced that, and this next piece, which I'll do a little segment of.
24:30
"Two Sticks," you can go with it. Thanks.
24:33
Which is again exploring space, or the lines in space.
24:39
(Music)
24:43
(Applause)
25:44
Working with space and the lines in space in a different way.
25:46
Oh, let's see here.
25:54
(Applause)
26:27
So, I'll come back to that in a second. But working with one ball,
26:29
now, what if you attach something to it, or change it.
26:34
This is a little thing that I made
26:41
because I really like the idea of curves and balls together.
26:43
And then creating space and the rhythm of space,
26:49
using the surface of the balls, the surface of the arms.
26:55
Just a little toy. Which leads me to the next thing,
27:00
which is --
27:04
what have I got here? OK. All right.
27:06
I'm actually leading up to something,
27:19
the newest thing that I'm working on. This is not it.
27:20
This is exploring geometry and the rhythm of shape.
27:24
(Applause)
28:13
Now, what I just did was I worked with the mathematics --
28:20
the diameter and the circumference.
28:23
Sometimes these pieces are mathematical, in that way
28:26
that I look at a shape and say, what about if I use this and this and this.
28:29
Sometimes what happens in life affects my choice
28:32
of objects that I try to work with.
28:37
The next piece that I'm going to do -- which is the cylinders piece,
28:39
if you want to get that up --
28:42
it has to do with cylinder seals from about 5,000 years ago,
28:44
which were stones with designs that were used to roll over wet clay
28:51
with all sorts of great designs. I love ceramics and all of that.
28:56
It's a combination of that, the beauty of that, the shape,
29:00
and the stories that were involved in it,
29:04
as well as the fact that they protected the contents.
29:09
The second influence on this piece came from recycling
29:13
and looking into a tin can recycling bin
29:18
and seeing all that beautiful emptiness.
29:21
So, if you want to go with the music for cylinders.
29:24
(Music)
29:27
(Applause)
32:17
Talking about geometry and everything,
32:20
if you take the circle and you split it in half --
32:23
can you run "S-Curve music?"
32:28
I'm going to do just a short version of it.
32:30
Circles split in half and rotated, and mythology.
32:35
(Music)
32:39
(Applause)
34:17
Anyway, that piece also has a kinetic sculpture in the middle of it,
34:24
and I dance around a small stage so --
34:29
two minutes, just to end? The latest piece that I'm working on --
34:32
what I love is that I never know what I'm working on, why I'm working on it.
34:36
They're not ideas, they're instincts.
34:40
And the latest thing that I'm working on --
34:43
(Clattering) --
34:45
is something really -- I don't know what it is yet.
34:51
And that's good. I like not to know for as long as possible.
34:56
Well, because then it tells me the truth,
35:02
instead of me imposing the truth.
35:04
And what it is, is working with both positive and negative space
35:07
but also with these curves.
35:10
And what it involves,
35:12
and I don't know if my hands are too beaten up to do it or not,
35:14
but I'll do a little bit of it.
35:17
It initially started off with me stacking these things,
35:19
bunches of them, and then playing with the sense of space,
35:22
of filling in the space. And then it started changing,
35:28
and become folding on themselves.
35:37
And then changing levels.
35:44
Because my attempt is to make visual instruments,
35:48
not to just make -- I'll try one other thing.
35:53
For work in three dimensions, with your perceptions of space and time.
35:58
Now, I don't know exactly where it's going,
36:04
but I've got a bit of effort involved in this thing.
36:06
And it's going to change as I go through it.
36:08
But I really like it, it feels right.
36:12
This may not be the right shape, and -- look at this shape,
36:14
and then I'll show you the first design I ever put to it,
36:18
just to see, just to play,
36:22
because I love all different kinds of things to play with.
36:25
Let's see here.
36:28
To work with the positive and negative in a different way.
36:30
And to change, and to change.
36:37
So, I'm off in my new direction with this to explore rhythm and space.
36:39
We'll see what I come up with. Thanks for having me.
36:44
(Applause)
36:48

▲Back to top

About the Speaker:

Michael Moschen - Juggler
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.

More profile about the speaker
Michael Moschen | Speaker | TED.com