Elly Jessop Nattinger, Experience Engineer

people + space (+ technology)

Powers Sensor Chair

Photo by Karen Almond

In coordination with the February 2014 performances of Death and the Powers at The Dallas Opera, we wanted to create an interactive installation where a participant could play with the sonic world of Death and the Powers, extending some of the movement capture technologies used in the live performance into experiences in which anyone could participate. This installation, the Powers Sensor Chair, allowed visitors a special glimpse into Death and the Powers by giving them a new way to experience the auditory world of the opera, including vocal outbursts and murmurs, the sounds of the show's special Hyperinstruments, and rich spatialized textures. The Powers Sensor Chair was inspired by the original Sensor Chair designed at the Media Lab.

In this installation, a solo participant sitting in a chair discovers that when she moves her hands and arms, the air in front of her becomes an instrument. With a small, delicate movement, a sharp and energetic thrust of her hand, or a smooth caress of the space around her, she can use her expressive movement to play with and sculpt a rich sound environment drawn from the opera. The sound surrounds her and the other visitors who become an audience for her performance.

Importantly, rather than using the sort of spatially-specific control models used in the original Sensor Chair, the new Powers Sensor Chair was designed with a focus on qualities of movement as the primary method of control. Similar to the aims of the Disembodied Performance System used in Death and the Powers, the goal of the Powers Sensor Chair is to augment a visitor's natural physical explorations, rather than to teach him a particular gestural vocabulary or a fixed and predetermined way of physically interacting with the experience. While this is a type of instrument, it is an instrument that allows each player to find his or her own way to play it.

The Powers Sensor Chair was played and experienced by a wide variety of audiences at the lobby of the Winspear Opera House, where it ran during the Dallas performance of Death and the Powers as well as for special Dallas Opera events. The chair was then transferred to the Perot Museum of Nature and Science for two weeks.

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