Birdmachine evolves expressive movement qualities through its mechanical parts, materials, an algorithmic code structure and quadraphonic sound. The morphology of the Birdmachine explores the potential for a puppet or robotic body to be an empathic, autonomous, and dynamic site.
Concept and Build- Ivan Thorley.
Sound Composition and Supercolider Freak- Federico Rueben.
The Birdmachine installation is made up of multiple robot creatures that are disfigured in form and appearance. These curious robot creatures inhabit a Grotesque world where their mechanical, moving parts evolve expressive qualities. Birdmachine is an evocative and poetic installation artwork constructed around four abstract, dystopic robots. Each robot is unique in its character and movement potentials.
The Birdmachine project is not an attempt to produce a Frankenstein or replication of the human self-image or to win the Turning Test. Instead, the project offers an unconventional approach to combining mechanical parts outside of traditional notions of engineering or instrumentation. I investigated as choreographer and puppeteer, the ability of the robotic body to express meaning and empathy through the movement of its mechanical parts. The notion of an expressive robotic form challenges the range of choreographic methodology. If a robotic body dances and expresses itself in an empathic way, then is this truly a robot? I was interested in exploring and extending the limits of technology and it’s humanistic qualities through choreography and movement.
The installation is made up of four robots hanging in space, with sound, light and a curved, 4D landscape. The space between these elements, the audience and the robot body becomes implicit in developing form and meaning through the sonic, physical environment. As an expressive and discreet entity, the Birdmachine questions how consciousness and empathy are perceived in the most unnatural of creatures. Robots inherit rigid, physical abstractness through their mechanical parts. Exploring expressive qualities of the robots materiality and movement, aims to transfigure the role of the robot in choreographic practice and digital performance.
The sonic landscape and functionality of the Birdmachine was key to its success. Using a sonic code program called Supercollider, Frederico Rueben and I were able to compose a dynamic relationship between sound and modes of behavior. Supercollider is an environment and programming language for real time audio synthesis, with the ability to write programs that generate or process sound in real time or non real time. Supercollider can be controlled over a network via Open Sound Control. Sound composer Federico Reuben utilized sound generated directly from the installation site, through small pizeo microphones, to generate activity and feedback in Supercollider. This information was then sent over an Open Sound Control network as a set of numbers, to activate the robots through MAX MSP to a Phidget micro-controller. The inter-relationship of sound and robotic behavior was achieved through real-time activity in the installation environment. I implemented a sound listening strategy to drive the robotic activity- to more easily manage the aliveness of the installation. Due to the multiple inputs needed to drive a dynamic intermedia relationship between the robots and audience, sound was the best solution in this case.
Thanks to Brunel University, Federico Reuben, Kjell Peterson, David Plans, Gretchen Schiller, Stelarc, The SCOPE program (Australia), my family, Alice Osborne, CSSD, The Little Angel, The Puppetry Centre and TrinityLaban.