Vaughan Macefield Tag

Erin Gee - Swarming Emotional Pianos

Swarming Emotional Pianos

(2012 – ongoing)

Aluminium tubes, servo motors, custom mallets, Arduino-based electronics, iCreate platforms

Approximately 27” x 12” x 12” each

Swarming Emotional Pianos is an installation that features a large, looming projection of a human face surrounded by a set of musical chime robots.  The projected face is that of an actor, who for 20 minutes moves between extreme emotional states in 5 minute intervals. During the actor’s performance, Gee had hooked the performer up to a series of biosensors that monitored how heart rate, sweat, and respiration changed between emotional states.  The music that these robots play is in reaction to these physiological responses: the musical tones and rhythms are responding to an algorithm that analyzes shifts and intensities in emotional state and translates these shifts to musical scales. While the musical result is almost alien to hear, one might see as an abstracted lie-detector test.  Is the actor sincere in their performance?  Micro bursts of emotional sentiment are thus amplified by the robots, providing an intimate and abstract soundtrack for this “emotional movie”.

My final goal is a live performance whereupon actors are hooked up live to biosensors and their emotional data is wirelessly streamed to the robotic musical instruments. This will require extensive biofeedback testing. I maintain an active dialogue with microneurographer and neurophysiologist Vaughan Macefield, in anticipation of networked, telematic performances that involve tiny needles inserted directly into nerves that reflect emotional arousal. The use of microelectrode needles inserted directly into the nerves of awake human performers to pick up on direct electrical neural activity is a unique technical component of this project.

The goal in creating this work is to illuminate and explore the complex relationships between body and mind in human emotions. Emotional-physical outputs are extended through robotic performers as human actors focus on their internal states, and in fact activate their emotions mechanistically, as a means of creating change in their body, thus instrumentalizing emotion.

Custom open-source biosensors that collect heartrate and signal amplitude, respiration amplitude and rate, and galvanic skin response (sweat) have been in development by Gee since 2012.  Click here to access her GitHub page.

Credits

Thank you to the following for your contributions:

  • Martin Peach (my robot teacher) – Sébastien Roy (lighting circuitry) – Peter van Haaften (tools for algorithmic composition in Max/MSP) – Grégory Perrin (Electronics Assistant)
  • Matt Risk, Tristan Stevans, Simone Pitot, and Jason Leith for their hours of dedicated studio help
  • Concordia University, the MARCS Institute at the University of Western Sydney, Innovations en Concert Montréal, Conseil des Arts de Montréal, Thought Technology, and AD Instruments for their support.

Swarming Emotional Pianos (2012-2014) Machine demonstration March 2014 – Eastern Bloc Lab Residency, Montréal