Creation

There is a video, which is not completed yet (two cluster computers have crashed in the making of it).

Creation is a performance piece featuring robotics by Arnelle Etienne, Cleo Miao, Anna Rosati, and Elliot Yokum. It is inspired by the Chinese story of the creation of humans, in which the goddess Nuwa created the first humans out of clay.

In Creation, Arnelle plays the goddess, and with her singing, she brings two creatures to life–one a minimalist puppet resembling wings controlled by Anna, the other, a human played by Elliot. Over time, the goddess begins to play with a metallic percussion instrument–after growing bored, gives the instrument to the human. The human plays with the instrument by themself at first, only to soon discover technology, which they then use to play the instrument. Through live mixing done by Cleo, the sounds grow throughout the room, as machine replaces man’s job.

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The goddess perch, with the heat sink instrument.

For this project, we chose to build an atmosphere out of the room through sculptural elements, including a depiction of the goddess atop a podium which Arnelle sat on, and a large floating orb which hung from the ceiling. The puppet Anna controlled was our final major structural component.

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Anna and her wings puppet.

We used two robotic elements in the piece, using an Arduino with a motorshield. We had a motor which rhythmically plucked a string attached to the floating orb, which Cleo then live mixed. We also had a solonoid on the ground near where Elliot sat, which was used to strike the heat sink percussive instrument.

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The final setup. The block Arnelle is sitting on is where the string for the motor was placed, and the floor nearby is where the solonoid was placed.

Our project went through several iterations and concepts: early ideas included making a color theremin, rolling marbles down pipes, and making a robotic music box. However, upon finding two heat sinks, and hearing the interesting noises they made while struck, we decided upon doing something with that. Eventually, the topic of the Chinese creation myth came up in a discussion about Cleo’s heritage, and Anna, a sculptor and puppeteer, came up with several pieces that could be used as sculptural elements. The combination of these two somehow turned into the performance piece we’ve created.

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An early brainstorming session.

We had several technical difficulties with this project. None of us were very comfortable with the Arduino software. Our motor would randomly refuse to work and our motorshield would occasionally start smoking. Many of the motorshields available for use were burnt or broken, leaving us with very limited quality material. We had two failed performances due to issues with the Arduino, but finally managed to succeed a third time, creating a performance that integrated storytelling, puppets, song, and robots.

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