simply soft. simply cyborg. (updated)

The mask is an empty shell for a soft creature to hide in. (James Ensor

I have [finally] refined my idea to the point where this project once again makes sense to me and stays true to my intention of using technology to bring us back into our bodies. And also to the point where I feel ready to start making the physical elements of the piece. I am going to look at touch and how touch can be healing/therapeutic in that through touch a hybrid body (i.e the soft cyborg) can find recognition and through that recognition can begin to feel whole. I delve deeper into the reasoning behind my ideas on my Concept Development blog.  What I will discuss here are the more technical elements of the piece.

Technical Breakdown

The mask for this soft cyborg will remain simple, just blinking eyes and a large nose. The nose will be made out of conductive felt. Inside the mask will be a Arduino Pro Mini connected to a Bluetooth Mate Gold. When a certain amount of pressure is applied to the nose (i.e. when the cyborg experiences a genuine physical connection with another body) that information will be sent the softcyborg Twitter feed to record the number of times the soft cyborg has been touched over the course of the day.

Performance Breakdown

Because process has become such a large part of this project, I was given the suggestion last week in my Presence and Telepresence class that my performances also be process based. Which means I will be doing a durational performance in various spaces around OCAD on Thursday, April 7th from 9am to 5pm. I will distribute cards to each of the people that I interact with providing the URL of the softcyborg Twitter feed. Through the materiality of the soft cyborg and its movements, I will try to initiate physical connections with people. It will be interesting to see, through the data collected, if certain spaces make people more or less comfortable to reach out and touch the soft cyborg.

Explorations

Working off a Instructable’s tutorial I attempted to make conductive felt. The tutorial recommends bronze metallic wool (such as those sold by Lustersheen and Soft Expressions), but for times sake I thought I’d just experiment with steel wool. Not the best idea. Steel wool rusts so the longevity of working with the material, especially on a sweaty body, would be considerably shortened. Not only that, but having steel wool on the body is going to do a bit of damage. I roughed up one of my hands just prepping the steel wool to be carded. Finally, I was using superfine steel wool which is ideal because its fineness will make it less obvious when I blend it with sheep’s wool. The problem here being that the staple (the length of the fibre) of the wool and the staple of the steel wool did not match up. The more I carded the two fibres together, the more the steel wool clumped up. As a last resort I tried unraveling a coarse bronze scrub pad but it was too bulky and wouldn’t catch onto the teeth of the combs.

For a successful attempt at making conductive felt, check out my more recent blog post.

Materials/tools for making conductive felt

Putting the fibres on the carders (i.e. cat brushes)

Clumps!

Bronze wool (too thick)

Schedule:

Thursday – Bluetooth lab with Kate. Also, explore OCAD for potential performance spaces.

Friday – Purchase any remaining components (Lawrence said he should have more Bluetooth Mate Gold in stock by Friday.)

Saturday – Make the remainder of the mask; the base is complete, the nose and the eyes need to be made. I’m going to keep the soft cyborg’s guts on a tiny solderless breadboard for next week in case I need to tweek anything.

Sunday – Post progress to blog.

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¹ Jones, Phil. Drama as therapy: theatre as living. New York: Routledge, 1996. 145.

Earthquake Skirt: The Glamorization of Disaster

For my final project I would like to construct a skirt whose movements are driven by near-real-time data of earthquakes around the globe.

The skirt would be programmed to grab, at preset intervals, global earthquake updates from the US Geological Survey Website. Through  USGS, earthquakes are broadcast within a few minutes for California events, and within 30-minutes for worldwide events. When there is an earthquake, the skirt would “rumble” by way of several small vibrators sewn into the inner fabric.  Red leds would flash and flicker as the skirt reacts to the earthquake.  The effects would be scaled to the magnitude of the earthquake (1.5 magnitude earthquake would set the vibration and LED activity to 15%, 7.0 magnitude earthquake would set the vibration and LED activity to 70%, etc.).  The fabric of the skirt would be light and airy so that the movement of the material would be noticeable.  Additionally, there would be a small LCD display attached to the garment that would print the magnitude and region of the earthquake.

Conceptually, this piece would illustrate what I am coining “the glamorization of disaster”.  This is the sensationalizing of natural disasters in mainstream media and conveying them with fleeting entertainment value rather than presenting them as the (ongoing) humanitarian crises that they are.  To turn devastating natural events such as earthquakes into a fashion piece is a simplification of this process in order to highlight the issue.

Parts:

  • Lilypad Arduino
  • Lilypad Xbee Shield
  • Lilypad Xbee Radio
  • LCD display
  • 6 vibrators
  • Red leds
  • Misc. electronic components
  • Software: Arduino, Processing

Some Wearable Tech Skirts:

Skirt Full of Stars

I like the design of this skirt

Skirt Full of Stars

Kinetic Mechanical Skirt

Stir It On

HearWear Skirt

Continue reading Earthquake Skirt: The Glamorization of Disaster

Chance Operations of the Body

My final project expands on a project I started last semester called the Belly Dance Sound Belt. Middle Eastern dance, particularly Oriental dance or “Belly Dance” as it is called in North America, is based on improvised body movements that are inspired by the delicate nuances of middle eastern music. The dancer’s role is to make the music come alive with her body, rarely repeating the same sequence of movements twice. As well, the musicians who accompany her, rarely play the same song the same way twice.

Some classical middle eastern pieces of music contain rhythmic structures that don’t repeat for 14 beats, leaving huge gaps of rhythmic silence that beg to be filled. For a MIDI sample of this type of rhythm structure, click here. These somewhat unstructured patterns allow dancers and musicians to fill these gaps in any way they feel. Improvisation is based on their feelings but the choice of notes played and type of body movements used is somewhat left up to chance, although one could argue that it is muscle memory that kicks in at these moments. To see an example of how this works, click here. However, the idea of chance and randomness is what I want to work with by eliminating any type of structure for the dancer to follow unless she creates that structure with her body.

In the Kegal Organ project, I was trying to use the random contractions of my kegal muscles to create music. I’d like to do the same with this project, using the arms, hips and stomach movements of the bellydancer to make a very abstracted form of music – much like the compositions of John Cage who composed music for the Merce Cunningham dance company. Here’s an example of their work together. Cage and Cunningham both consulted the I Ching, a form of divination based on chance operations and randomness, to compose/choreograph their music/dance. By using a variety of sensors such as an accelerometer, tilt sensor and perhaps stretch sensor to track body movements, I will use the random numbers of the serial output to activate sound tracks on an MP3 trigger and/or buzzers. The MP3 tracks will consist of recorded sounds, some abstract and some recognizable. I think the challenge here will be making the transitions from one sound to the next fluid and I will be relying on help from those of you who are skilled at programming.

Aesthetics

The project will take the shape of a traditional bellydance costume, similar to the one the dancer is wearing in the youtube video, consisting of a bra and belt and long skirt. However, in the spirit of modernity and honesty, I plan on making all the electronic components visible and part of the overall aesthetic of the dance costume. Other industrial items like washers and nuts will be incorporated for visual effect. I will post a sketch shortly.

Collaboration

I am collaborating with a dancer, Denise Mireau, founder of the Studio for Movement on this project. She will perform in the costume on presentation day.

I’m not sure how this project by Kenneth Smith works but it is a pretty good example of where I’m coming from.

Electronic Materials

Accelerometer

Lilypad Arduino

Speaker wire

Fabric snaps

Conductive Thread

Costume Materials

Black stretch fabric

Speaker wire

Transparent thread

All purpose thread

Buckrum

Bra cups

A sample text widget

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