A performance instrument that creates a dance between control and being controlled.
produced by: Claire Kwong
Automarionette consists of two gloves. The left glove has a DC motor in its palm, and a pressure sensor on its thumb. The right hand has an accelerometer on the back of its hand. The gloves are connected by a string wound around the motor. The instrument is intended for a performer to use, but anyone can also play with it.
The project explores themes of control. The performer's right hand moves involuntarily as it's pulled by the string, but the performer can also use force to counter it. The instrument is also a prosthesis that explores the intertwining of human and machine. How much autonomy do people have in a world increasingly controlled by technology? The habitat I explore is my own body. I'm used to moving freely within its constraints. Automarionette is a prosthesis to limit my movements and induce new ones. It's a metaphor for how technology can control us, as well as the other way around.
Technically, the yaw of the gyroscope controls the motor direction. If the right hand palm faces down, the motor winds the string, pulling the hands together. If the palm faces up, the motor loosens the string, allowing the hands to be further apart. The gyroscope's pitch controls the motor speed. The further the right hand palm faces left, the slower the motor will spin; the further right (turning away from the motor hand), the faster. Finally, the gyroscope's roll controls the delay between motor movements.
Despite these controls mapped precisely onto axes, the motor movement still feels somewhat arbitrary and unpredictable. I intentionally built this in to create a more dynamic performance. The accelerometer controls creates deliberate unpredictability, as gyroscope values fluctuate a lot. It's also difficult for me to think of hand movement along 3 axes - I naturally move in arbitrary directions. The physics of the thread spooling can also be beyond my control - a loop in the thread can set the motor running in the other direction.
For the instrument, the fine grained control (pressure sensor) couples well with the loose control of the accelerometer to give me final control. I need this because the thread can wind around the motor too tightly, become unspooled, or catch on the motor. However, this somewhat underlied the concept of the motor being unpredictable. I don't feel risk while wearing the instrument because I can always stop it. However, I think overriding human control is necessary for any project that involves physical danger.
In this project, I experienced the challenges of designing a soft, wearable product. The performer's movements risk breaking wire connections, so I tried to make them as sturdy as I could. I also had to make the wires long enough to span my body, which led to more opportunities for disconnection and data loss. If I were to develop this project further, I would make the wires sturdier and more invisible, so I can freely move with the instrument as if it were part of my body.
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