Steven Maheu – Elements of Creative Force

Steven Maheu, a composer currently based in my home state, reached out to me about an idea he has, for realizing, documenting, and hearing creative ideas:

“I felt you may be interested in a type of toolbox I had created for music and art.  It has roots in an old ballet notation that has wide use in kinesthetics, but I have completely overhauled, added to and repurposed it.

Often, explaining it as ‘soundtracking’ seems to register with people more than anything else.  When using it, I can HEAR simple modulations and combinations of elements almost immediately.  I feel that this is particularly great for brainstorming ideas.”

Steven has in a new way adopted the work of Rudolf von Laban, a dancer and theorist who developed Laban notation.  This method documents physical human movement in a way that is effective, versatile, and still used today in the dance world.

In short, Steven has created a system of notation that describes not just musical elements, but non-musical elements that find their way into all of our music.  This shorthand notation is something we will be discussing in future posts.  It is graphical, musical, alphanumeric, and color-based.

To quote one text Steven used in developing his method:

“…Laban found that there are four components of movement.  He called these components the effort elements of Focus, Pressure, Time, and Flow (control).  Laban further found that each of these effort elements could be varied between qualitative limits.  This produced a model of eight basic movement qualities.  Lamb’s adaptation of Laban’s model is shown below:


Indirecting <—> Directing


Decreasing Pressure <—> Increasing Pressure


Decelerating <—> Accelerating


Freeing <—> Binding

This model is extremely useful for recording movement quality.  Since the eight effort qualities can occur either singly or in various combinations with each other, the system allows the movement observer to accurately and objectively describe and movement quality he sees performed.”

Action Profiling: Movement Awareness for Better Management, by Carol-Lynne Rose

Here is another way of thinking about this approach:

“The Effort factors are always present in movement as quantities.  Any movement always involves a certain amount of tension and a quantity of weight; it takes time and travels in or occupies a certain amount of space.  But when the mover concentrates on changing the quality of any of these factors, you observe it as an appearance of one of the eight effort qualities.  Thus the changes in flow of tension can be either free or bound; the quality of weight can be either light or strong; the quality of time can become either sustained or quick and the quality of spatial focus or attention, either indirect or direct.”

– Cecily Dell

Steven’s manuscript and some sample exercises will follow.  In the meantime, please check out and download his work here.

Stay tuned for an in-depth look at this method!



One thought on “Steven Maheu – Elements of Creative Force

  1. Pingback: Steven Maheu’s Elements of Creative Force – Part 2 – Composer's Toolbox

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