notation du mouvement

David Ralley is a programmer. He actually works between Paris, for IRCAM, and the Department of Dance at The Ohio State University in Columbus,Ohio, as programmer of LabanWriter, a Laban notation editing software.
David, how after computer studies did you come to work on programming software related to music and dance?

I was looking for a position that would combine my interest in the arts and in programming. I interviewed with a number of firms, but felt that the experience I could gain building a whole application myself would be an ideal place to start. In larger organizations one tends to be a cog in a wheel, responsible for only a small part of a large program. With LabanWriter I had the chance to develop everything, from the interface to the icon, from the file format to the menu items.
LabanWriter exists thanks to Lucy Venable – notation expert who has directed the project since its start, and the programmers who worked on the different versions of the software. How do you work together?

At the start Lucy took the time to teach me the symbols and rudiments of Labanotation, and with that knowledge and the interface from the previous version of LabanWriter, I devised the new interface, trying to keep the number of symbols to a minimum, and keep them well organized.
Lucy relies on me to present her with the possibilities of the computer, but I rely on her to tell me if a particular design will work or not.
Thus, after starting to use drag-and-drop to move symbols around, I suggested that we extend that to allow users to duplicate symbols by holding down the option key while they drag, the same functionality you see in the Macintosh finder. Lucy would have never realized that this was a possibility, but was immediately delighted at how it worked.
On the other hand, I originally devised a body palette that included only the right half of the body, forcing users to flip all the symbols for the left half, reasoning that this cut the number of symbols on the palette by half. Lucy tried this, but eventually decided that having both halves of the body readily available was more important than a smaller palette.

Your team is carefully listening to users wishes. How do you make evolve the software using those demands?
Lucy is a master of organization, and with a dozen different scraps of paper she keeps track of requests and bug reports from users around the world. We look at suggestions together to weigh their usefulness, and the time involved in implementing them. Some things are adopted immediately, while others wait on our wish list.
I always learn from talking to users directly. It often takes direct contact for them to offer new ideas or show me bugs, and often the functionality they want is there without their knowing about it.

You worked on version 4, totally rewritten in C++. What were your reasons to totally rewrite the software with another language?
When I started, it was clear that although LabanWriter had been an important program when it was first released, it had fallen behind the times, and needed a facelift. There were faults in the symbol othography, and limitations of the functionality that really needed to be addressed.
The old program had been written in Pascal, the standard language of the day, but a language that was being phased out in 1995. Clearly the program had to be rewritten from the ground up.
Initially I looked at C++ and Java, but I didn't believe that Java was advanced enough to handle the kinds of manipulation of fonts that I wanted to handle. Having some familiarity with the C++ compiler for the Macintosh, and the interface framework that went with it, I decided to go that route, which sped up development, and allowed me to implement lots of things faster than would have been otherwise possible. Even so, the process of rewiting the software took 4 years!
The result is a notation program that offers more options with a clearer interface. The ability to use drag and drop to import and export images has been great for users who want to edit symbols, or add their own, and having a file format that is text has facilitated the exchange of information with programs like Lifeforms, and even inspired others to take the file information to make music.

The last version was released in January 2002 Are you already working on a next version? What will be the new features?

The last version was mostly concerned with fixing bugs, and updating various components of LW to be as current as possible. The priorities for the next version are adding the ability to print floorplan markings, giving users a way to insert pages into the middle of a score, improving LW's ability to export the score into other formats, and finally to provide a way to resize staves more easily on the score, so symbols can be enclosed by staff boundaries without overlapping other staves.
We've also put out a version of LabanWriter for OSX, and are in the process of fixing bugs that have appeared there.
New versions not only have to respond to users needs and requests, but also to keep pace with the moving computer technology as well.

Interview by e-mail, March 2002, by Marion Bastien