Using the MiniBees for Outdoor Performances and Installations in the context of Trasformatorio

During our one-week residency at STEIM between in March 2013 we (Alberto Novello and Federico Bonelli) had the opportunity to learn and experiment with the MiniBees assembled and programmed by Marije Baalman.
The MiniBees are wireless micro-controllers connected in a network and coordinated by a central computer. The user can add sensors (on top of the built in accelerometer) and customise their behaviour. They’re easily wearable, cheap on energy consumption and stable. We thought it was the perfect tool to bring to Sicily between 1st till 14th April 2013 for the first edition of Trasformatorio: in which Practitioners and art students from various countries participated to one week of workshops and one week of residency on different artistic practices. The main goal was using off-grid technology to allow interventions in nature or places with limited electrical facility thus stimulating site-specific and energy-sustainable art.

In two weeks time week the variegated community developed few experiments  that were presented in a final exposition for the local community, newspapers, authorities and curators.  The MiniBees, for their flexibility were used in the following projects:

Epi::Akten dark (motion tracking studies)

By Alberto Novello a.k.a. JesterN and Federica Dauri

We used a combination of technologies to create a flexible and transportable low-impact energy motion-tracking system. Through the SenseStage microcontroller boards we can determine the acceleration of joint positions wirelessly. It took couple of days to understand of the accelerometer works and what kind of data is transmitted. How to stabilize/lowpass the data and eliminate jitter. At the end we use modulo of the acceleration in 3directions, so it doesn’t count the direction of the acceleration just its intensity. We finally chose to put one on each arm plus one on the back of the dancer. This choice leaves the legs free to express which seems a good compromise to have a creative output and not just a demo of a system.

The advantage of the SenseStage sensors compared to Kinect and other similar devices is the absence of a camera, thus allowing the possibility of 3d tracking (especially when joints get covered by other body parts). Another advantage is the extended space, we tried with a 30m room with perfect detection and very-low latency. Disadvantage is the estimation of the skeleton relative positions, but we think it’s possible.

Another advantage is the lightness of computation allowing one computer to do all kinds of processing. Which means also less energy impact when used with a solar energy, longer performance durations, transportability etc.

The dancer was inspired by the metaphors of body giving/body receiving in her actions and could construct autonomously several improvisations which were always very creative and different. The aesthetic imposed by the developed technology plays a lot with synchronicity of machine-human action-reaction. Mostly the dancer decides when to trigger sound events but sometimes the unexpected sound trigger the creativity of the dancer which adds a random creative element in the discourse.

We feel the experimentation have big potential and will be further explored in the context of a future performance.

Thanks to STEIM/Marije Baalman for the SenseStage microcontroller boards and Insolaria/Daniele Pisasale for the solar energy system.


Rosa Dei Venti(An installation about the human will to control the god-made elements)

By Alberto Novello a.k.a. JesterN

During the Residency at the Trasformatorio in Montealbano (Sicily), the wind was blowing so much that i wished i could stop it with a simple gesture. So i decided to build an installation in the pitch-dark long corridor of the museum of the castle to recreate the scary atmosphere of a storm at night and allow the visitors to control/play with “the elements”.

In line with the concept of the Trasformatorio, the challenge was how to create a big convincing storm sound and be eco-friendly. Usually big sound requires big expensive equipment in terms of money and energy.

I captured the sound of the wind outside and diffused it through several loudspeakers which were enough to deliver the high frequencies of the wind character. I used resonators to make vibrate the walls, windows and metals plates of the castle to generate a bigger, more realistic low thundery sound. Finally i programmed a wireless sensor system (powered by cell phone batteries) to allow the people to control the intensity of the wind with their hands.

The whole system could run on solar energy. During the day a solar panel would charge a car battery and during the night the electricity could power the whole installation: amplifiers, computer and sensors.

Thanks to Daniele Pisasale/Insolaria for the sun energy system and STEIM/Marije Baalman for the SenseStage microcontroller boards.


ULISSE: Un racconto popolare (a performance of physical theater and a laboratory, inspired by the tradition of oral storytelling)

By Francesco Piotti and Eugenia Demeglio

The laboratory is from time to time designed around a stable core of artists participating to the show, who collect fragments of the story that are then re-arranged to compose the show line, which includes not only the Homeric hero, but uses the entire hypertext of modern aura that flourished around the figure of Ulysses. The show is designed to be represented in different locations, both outdoors and indoors, using all different languages and dialects available.

The first work-in-progress and has been created and presented during Transformatorio, a laboratory-residence in Montalbano Elicona, in Sicily. Ulysses: A popular story is a collaboration between the director Francesco Piotti, the choreographer Eugenia Demeglio, sound artist Alberto Novello and many performers involved in Transformatorio. It narrates the return journey of Odysseus as it is imagined by the inhabitants of Ithaca, divided and dominated by inequalities, and looking for one hope: the reversal of their own destinies.

The MiniBees sensors were very used to trigger sound events connected to the actors’s actions, in different ways. They provided a perfect solution when the cables could not reach or follow the actors’ movements on the stage or around on the hills surrounding the historical theater.


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