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 six musical chime robots.
The projected face is that of an actor (Laurence Dauphinais or Matthew Keyes), who for 20 minutes moves between extreme emotional states of surprise, fear, anger, sadness, sexual arousal, and joy in 5 minute intervals. During the actor’s performance, Gee hooked the performer up to a series of biosensors that monitored how heart rate, sweat, and respiration changed between her emotional states.
The music that the robots surrounding the projection screen play as the actress moves between emotional states is in reaction to these physiological responses: the musical tones and rhythms shift and intensify as heart rate, sweat bursts, blood flow and respiration change in the actress. While the musical result is almost alien to assumptions of what emotional music might sound like, one might encounter the patterns as an abstracted lie-detector test that displays the unique internal fluctuations of the actress that move beneath the surface of her large, projected face. Does emotion lie within the visibility of facial expression, or somewhere in the audible made audible, the patterns of bodily sensation in her body? Is the actor sincere in her performance if the emotion is felt as opposed to displayed? Micro bursts of emotional sentiment are thus amplified by the robots, providing an intimate and abstract soundtrack for this “emotional movie”.
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 if you would like to try the technology for yourself, or contribute to the research.
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