The Dress That Eats Souls: A Robot In Progress

Lucid Possession, a multimedia performance, premiered at Roulette in Brooklyn, and combines musicians, VJ mashing, and stage-controlled robotic projection screens to present a contemporary ghost story – a poetic musing on managing the mass of information “noise.” Todd Reynolds live scores and composed the finale. Hai-Ting Chinn stars in the video and sings onstage. I run all cues from the stage and scrub video across multiple screens. Elliott Sharp composed the song cycle. The technologies of Lucid led me to a new installation project.

Lucid Possession and The Dress That Eats Souls will be part of a retrospective on my interactive work to be presented in early 2018 at The Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Fla.

First a little on Lucid Possession. The central character, Bean, is a young artist who designs virtual personalities and is plagued by ghosts. Her mind is like a live Twitter feed that “picks up people” …but without technology. She creates an avatar, an exaggerated alter ego that goes viral on the Internet and makes her a minor celebrity. People stop her on the street. They want something, and she isn’t sure what it is. Anxiety exponentially increases her paranormal sensitivities, and a ghost from the past emerges from the noise.

I was thinking about the way we live in analog and virtual worlds simultaneously – how we live an augmented reality through social networks and online connections that merge with our life in the physical world. It’s ordinary – but fantastic. A TV remote, social networks, ATM machines – they’re like pedestrian spoonbending. With telepresent agency – our bodies extend beyond their edges. Our boundaries blur. I was also thinking about how this landscape has turned us all into performers grasping for attention in a sea of market share. Everything becomes a popularity contest. How many likes for your cat video? Here’s a clip from the premiere.

Making Lucid Possession involved creating a complex intranet – an engine of linked technologies with many elements that included the production of LED costumes and robotic screens. The expansion of my technical vocabulary combined with further experiments with embodied interface inspired me to focus more closely on some of the possibilities these elements presented.

Building Lucid’s robotic screen: from sketches, to construction, to the projection of Bean’s Avatar. The arms and legs are selectable video loops scrubbed in real time. The head uses a neural net and vocal analysis to lip synch live to a performer. The robotic screen is controlled by motion sensing onstage or by OSC on an iPad.

The costumes were constructed with LEDs. This was before the current explosion of Raspberry Pis and micro controllers, conductive thread and flexible electronics for wearables. We had a guy with a soldering gun running around after our actors during the film shoot. In 5 years there’s been enormous advances in wearable technologies and the availability for easy use is everywhere. Karen Young: Costume design, Leif Krinkle: technology and controls.

I began thinking about the explosion of technologized wearables. It seemed to be dominated on many fronts by the fusion of narcissism and commodification. A new installation project started to percolate. The first sketch:

THE DRESS THAT EATS SOULS: An Interactive Robotic Dress Installation

progress, n. a forward movement: an advance: a continuation: an advance to something better or higher in development: a gain in proficiency: a course: a passage from place to place: a procession: a journey of state: a circuit. – v.i. progress, to go forward: to make progress: to go on, continue: to go in progress, travel in state: to go.Chambers 20th Century Dictionary

Xenophanes: “The gods did not reveal to men all things in the beginning, but men through their own search find in the course of time that which is better.”

Or not:

The Dress has a 14′ layered scrim skirt that acts as a projection screen and a cinemascope rear projection screen that hangs overhead. The robotics of the bodice and skirt are controlled by a kinect gaming interface. As a viewer standing in front of the Dress moves, the Dress mirrors their movement. It behaves as if you are wearing it. The Dress speaks to you. It’s rather chilly – like a lizard. It’s the combined human agendas that drive technology. The installation cycles between the Dress speaking and POV experiences on the overhead screen and skirt that put you inside the minds of the people who have worn the Dress as it evolved – 200 years of the human body shaped, molded and colonized by technology. Viewer head movement navigates the cinema space.

So I’ve started to build and script it. Brooklyn Research is working on the Robotics. Rene Steinke, the novelist, is working with me on the voices. Tommy Martinez is programming. Paul Geluso is designing the spatialized sound. Ben Light is prototyping and constructing elements of the Dress design. Leif Krinkle is technical director. Karen Young is helping with costume construction. Andy Dintenfass and Art Jones are shooting the video material with me. And many thanks to students from Parsons Design and Technology for their labor and brainstorming. Here’s some of the prototyping and building process:

First: lots of testing and discarding elements to discover the best way forward. Finally: building the robotic screen system. Robotics building and testing is going on at Brooklyn Research. The first Kinect test with Johnny Lu. Then the more evolved version – a serious robot!

We’re simultaneously building the skirt and bodice elements, testing media and programming navigation on a small mockup of the installation at the studio. This video shows Tommy using the kinect. The white cube in the first section shows how the Kinect sees and tracks his head movement. The second section shows how he navigates between 5 video streams with head motion.

Stay tuned for further developments as The Dress That Eats Souls evolves!

Finite/Infinity ///Toni Dove and Bora Yoon: behind the scenes

Bora Yoon recently asked me to do a music video for her new album Sunken Cathedral. I was definitely up for it – there were some things I wanted to try out with cameras and lenses and this was the perfect opportunity. The song is Finite Infinity.

SUNKEN CATHEDRAL is a multimedia release that began with the album release performance in April 2014 as Asia Society NYC. The (Gr)album trilogy launched in November 2014 and is available in the iTunes store (http://bit.ly/gralbum) and the staged theater production premieres in January 2015 at the PROTOTYPE Festival (http://www.prototypefestival.org/show/sunken-cathedral).

/// BORA YOON
Bora Yoon is a TED Fellow, Korean-American composer, vocalist, and pioneering sound artist who explores the connection of sound to the subliminal. Featured on the front-page of the The Wall Street Journal for her musical innovations, she creates architectural soundscapes using found objects from different cultures and centuries, chamber instruments, digital devices, and voice.

We shot for 4 days around lower Manhattan. The footage in the rain was shot on my street corner with a C stand, some plexi and a Hudson sprayer. Andy Dintenfass, our cinematographer brought ideas like this to the table. Andy shot some of the first rock videos for Stevie Nicks and  Billy Joel. Art Jones was AC and beyond. It was a three person crew with me directing – having three artists on board allowed us freedom and creative opportunities not possible with a larger crew. We switched roles, tried things out. Bora was a trouper and game to experiment with us.


We shot by the river below Chambers street and on the sidewalk bridge going over the highway. Some of the beautiful color and vintage cinema feel were due to a Dog Schidt optiks lens. It has a very special quality and when attached to an Iscorama anamorphic adapter, it gave us oval bokeh like a classic anamorphic cinema lens.

This location is near the Lower Manhattan Community College looking through to the river. They were loading something the night we shot and it was…well… not a bug, but a feature. We were pushing the camera at night with only available light, but it held up.

Mixing the dynamic range of the raw video and the digital sensor with vintage lenses and the Iscorama anamorphic adapter creates a cinematic quality that I haven’t found before in video. The language of lenses! Beautifully crafted optical machines – seeing machines. I wanted to experiment with an anamorphic adapter, vintage lenses and the Magic Lantern hack for the Canon 5Diii that allows you to shoot raw video. It turns a DSLR into an amazing cinema machine. Here’s the rig we used. 15mm rails and a cage, follow focus, battery pack, and external monitor on a tripod. Very portable.

A Leica R 90 mm f2 modded for cinema by DuClos and a Dog Schidt Optiks 58mm lens with a fixed oval aperture. This is a rehoused russian vintage Helios lens. It’s known for a particular swirly bokeh. In addition we played some with a Go Pro to do some underwater photography. In my bathtub and with footage I shot at the beach on the vineyard to add some dimension to the water.

Please stay tuned for information on an upcoming project. I’m hard at work on a robotic dress cinema interface. Learning about soft robotics, muscle wire and 3D printing. This music video is a rehearsal for the cinematic component of the upcoming piece. More as it develops.

Spectropia Episodes 6-10 Online!! The adventure continues…

“Fans of offbeat cinema or science fiction might find aspects of Spectropia intriguing, because moments suggest an eerie blend of The Big Sleep, Brazil and La Jetee.”

The adventure continues as Spectropia inside Verna’s body in 1932 tries to solve some perplexing problems about her father’s disappearance in time. A mystery and a romantic triangle unfold across centuries as two women in one body drive a man crazy. More info in the Spectropia category to your right.

“Shifting eras and moods are powerfully evoked by the design, from the rich cinematography and costumes to Elliott Sharp’s eclectic soundtrack.”

– The Columbus Dispatch

Featuring the song “This Time, That Place” with vocals by Debbie Harry.

SPECTROPIA Episode #6: “Time is slipping”

Ghosts appear and the mystery deepens. What the Duck knows.

SPECTROPIA Episode #7: “Keeping secrets?”

An argument and a visit to Sally Rand. Collecting clues.

SPECTROPIA Episode #8:

“It’s not a straight line at all”

Stumped and stymied. Nothing is what it seems. Who is William?

SPECTROPIA Episode #9: “The triangle ends”

William lies and Verna gets fed up.

SPECTROPIA Episode #10:

“A private detective of memory”

Looked at in a certain way, time is random access.

Elliott Sharp composed the soundtrack for Spectropia. Check out his CD Spectropia Suite featuring the song “This Time, That Place”, Vocals by Debbie Harry and his CDIncident that includes songs written for Toni Dove’s Lucid Possession with vocals by Hai-Ting Chinn and Bora Yoon. More info below.

You can also find Spectropia on
VimeoYoutube and Reel House.

Stay Tuned for an app that will release Toni Dove’s Lucid Possession is 6 episodes. It will be released when we figure out how to do it!

We’ll keep you posted here on our progress and on some other projects involving robotic clothing.

SPECTROPIA Online Now!! Episodes 1-5

“…it’s just plain cool to watch. Highly recommended.”

– Jeremy Barker, Culturebot

Spectropia is a hybrid of sci-fi and film noir, with elements of time travel and telepathy. The story opens in the future where Spectropia, a young woman in her twenties, lives in the salvage district of an urban center known as the Informal Sector. It’s a black market subculture of salvage and barter where knowledge spans only a person’s experience and recorded history is forbidden. More info in the Spectropia category on the right

Elliott Sharp composed the soundtrack for Spectropia. Check out his CD Spectropia Suite featuring the song “This Time, That Place”, Vocals by Debbie Harry and his CD Incident that includes songs written for Toni Dove’s Lucid Possession with vocals by Hai-Ting Chinn and Bora Yoon. More info below.

SPECTROPIA Episode #1: “It just looks like garbage”

The adventure begins. The future, 2099. “Give it a minute, it might grow on you.” It’s a black market subculture of salvage and barter where knowledge spans only a person’s experience and recorded history is forbidden.

SPECTROPIA Episode #2: “Maybe I can find him”

The future scans the past. Spectropia searches for her father, lost in time looking for a vanished family inheritance.

SPECTROPIA Episode #3: “I feel a little woozy”

Spectropia finds herself in the body of another woman in another time.

SPECTROPIA Episode #4: “What planet are you from?”

Spectropia inside Verna’s body navigates a strange romance and an old mystery.

SPECTROPIA Episode #5: “I think I’m beginning to see”

Spectropia gets a grip and begins to understand how it all works. The Duck worries some more.

The film’s cast features the actress Aleksa Palladino (Sidney Lumet’s Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead and Find Me Guilty; Todd Solondz’s Storytelling, Boardwalk Empire) as Spectropia and Carolyn McCormick (Law and Order) as Verna, Simon Jones as the Duck (Arthur Dent in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, 12 Monkeys), Richard Bekins as William (Mad Men, The Good Wife)Helen Pickett (recently with the Forsythe Ballet of Frankfurt and The Wooster Group) as Sally, Paul Lazar as Eddie (Manchurian Candidate, co-director Big Dance Theater)

Elliott Sharp and the ’31 Band featuring Debbie Harry and Sirius String Quartet: “Spectropia Suite” (Neos Jazz 40905) 22 relatively short segments whose stylistic range oscillates between E#’s renowned computerized action, über-distorted and typically twisted guitar solos, swinging big bands (“an imagined meeting of the music of Duke Ellington and Edgard Varèse”), and XX century chamber music (the gorgeous “Folding” and “Unfolding”, executed by Sirius with soul and brain). The rock ballad “This Time That Place”, sung by a Marianne Faithfull-like Debbie Harry — “Heart Of Glass” has never sounded so distant — constitutes the main theme of the opus appearing in various instrumental guises all over the CD.

Elliott Sharp: “Incident” Including unusual songs from Toni Dove’s multimedia work Lucid Possession sung by Hai-Ting Chinn and Bora Yoon. The opener, Send Us A Message, features Hai-Ting’s crystalline soprano over a lattice of Sharp’s unique and lush guitar sounds. Avatar Star shows off the power and beauty of Bora Yoon’s voice over a hard metal track with electric sitar. Viscus Non Exurum is a medieval chant sung in ‘fake’ Latin by a double-tracked Hai-Ting.

To be continued – stay tuned for the final five episodes
coming in early March

You can also find Spectropia on
Vimeo, Youtube, Film Skillet and Reel House.