Interactive Structures Facilitated Through Precedent Technology Ryan Lawber Southern Illinois University Carbondale Illinois, United States
Abstract Music and choreography have a unique bond with visual form, and incorporating this into architecture creates an interactive structure. Including prior Theremin technologies as an interface to the reality of the dancers invokes a proximal empathy from the patrons of this dance theater. Creating this interactivity allows users to preview what they will observe in the upcoming performance and after the show is over, mimic what has been seen on the stage inside and adapt the technology to become one of the performers. This Theremin interface creates a bond between the users and the professionals. To enhance the experience, the structure is clad in lighted panels which respond to the orchestral tones and volumes produced. A higher pitch creates a stronger pronunciation of light; a louder tone creates a larger geometry, etcetera. Inside, the theater is canopied by arrays of lights creating a sealike collection of amorphous shapes produced by ambient sounds. During performances, dancers maneuver between sets of glass panes which are illuminated by exciting molecules, making the transparent walls translucent. These movable sheets contain Theremin equipment to produce the audio/visual show. The exterior skin reveals hints of the occurrences inside, uniting the internal and external.
Keywords Interactive architecture, Theremin, performance, theater, proximity
“Hands create… music” – Anonymous
The Theremin Instruments In the early twentieth century, Professor Leon Theremin created an instrument that used magnetic fields to create tones and volumes. This was the beginning of electronic instrumentation.1 On a typical Theremin instrument, the left hand designates the volume and the right hand controls the pitch depending on the proximity to the projecting metal rods. The performer does not touch the rods. Sound and tone are based on the magnetic fields continuously and subtlety configured by the performer’s hands in their relative spatial location with the charged rods. A small metal rod protrudes from the top of the music stand, from which there is another metal coil located on the side. On the music stand itself, which is connected to the power supply for illumination, rests the music score. The conductor moves near and, having set off a switch, begins to wave his arms, as if conducting. Immediately, sounds begin flowing out from a speaker pointed in the direction of the audience… With one’s hand close to the metal rod the vertical antenna you hear a sound which becomes ever lower as the hand is moved away, while it becomes increasingly acute as the hand is brought closer. Removing the hand completely from the presence of the antenna, the sound ceases completely. It’s never necessary to touch the antenna. The coil located horizontally on the left side of the machine the horizontal antenna serves only for modifying the intensity of the sound produced. Lowering the hand on the coil, the power, and therefore the volume, decreases. So, the right hand regulates the pitch while the left hand regulates the intensity…2
Theremin also developed more elaborate electrical instruments, such as the Terpsitone, in which frequency (pitch) and amplitude (volume) are controlled by the magnetic field created by the entire body3 and the Rhythmicon, where a keyboard like instrument produced tones in a chord according to a preset number of beats per measure.4 Theremin dancers use devices such as the Terpsitone to create music in direct relation to their bodily movements. This type of presentation differs from typical dancing in that the music is created by the performance, rather than the dance being formed around the music. This is what is incorporated in the structure of the dance theater as the participatory space of action and events, albeit directly engaged as it is with the social realm. The forms of the music and various bodies in space are immanently coupled in kineaesthetic symbiosis. An intrinsic relational space, often overlooked, is formed through this dynamic social interplay and raised to a new, celebratory level.
Incorporating and Forming with Theremin Technology Integrating this Theremin technology into the composition of a building will allow for an empathetic approach between the patrons and the performers. Artists have been segregated from the patrons in typical theaters. The barricade of the stage prohibits the dance participation for the viewers. By incorporating technology, this barricade can be dematerialized.
The form of the main building was taken from the figure mapped out on an oscilloscope. Shapes the Theremin produced are seen as sine waves of different modulations. A typical wave composition from a generic position to each metal rod was used to deliver a form for the structure (see figure 1). This wave was used to provide the shape of the columns in the entry. 5 Figure 1 (left): The sine wave form of the structural elements of the theater.
Figure 2 (right): Mapping the notes of the Rhythmicon to produce a form for the public spaces. 6
A separate curve produced by mapping out the notes/rhythms of another one of Leon Theremin’s instruments, the Rhythmicon (see figure 2), delineate the audience and performance areas. Each key on the instrument is tuned to produce tones in the same key. Unlike a piano, when the key is depressed, the note continuously plays according to a set time. For example, key one will play a note every measure. Key two will play two notes every measure in the same chord, key three will play three notes every measure for a designated duration in the same chord, and so on through 16 overtones. 7 The design of this curve was used as the initial shape for the public area. Figure 3 (left): Hand distance and pitch correlations on a typical Theremin. 8 Figure 4 (right): The form of the theater developed by the oscilloscope.
To create a threedimensional form from this, the Rhythmicon curve was lofted to the curve of the horizontally oriented sine wave shape of the columns. This produces a usable form for the public spaces (see figure 4). Multiples of Theremin’s Terpsitone were placed in the columns of the entrance conduit. By doing this, users arriving to see the performances can experience and interact with the technology in the performance before they see the professionals and, after the show, attempt to mimic what they have viewed on stage. This provides an empathetic view of the Theremin dancers, allowing the users to feel what the professionals experience when performing the ethereal acts. Theremin dancing, or Thereminics, 9 produces sounds and tones from the magnetic field created by the performer. In this, moving a finger or lowering a shoulder could produce a
diminished tone, and an arm motion could change an octave.10 Possibilities and combinations of motions are limitless. Patrons/performers cooperating with one another can produce more interesting tones, depending on their combined positions and proximity to the devices, providing for a greater range of movement in dance. The presentation becomes a field of pure artistry. 11 Additionally, the tones produced by the participants will correspond with lighted panels solidifying the mesh of the form, creating a soft glow for glissandos, sharp flashes for staccato notes, and changing colors to signify dissimilar notes. When necessary, the panels can be used to display notices and graphics of the next performance or correspond to the dance occurring inside, thus creating a continuously updated façade.
Elaboration The site of the building is next to Mies Van Der Rohe’s Federal Center in downtown Chicago, Illinois. The entire façade of the structure is in a state of haeccity, or nowness,12 displays change in continuous flux. Participants interact with each other creating a network of participatory activity. An incline leads participants through the field of Terpsitoneinfused columns to the entrance. From there, users can view what is occurring outside on the reverse side of the sine curve wall, but cannot interact with the devices. This allows for a transition stage. Once inside the theater, viewers watch the performers on stage whose actions/sounds are transcribed into light patterns in a luminous canopy. The performance is more about the dancers/musicians and their artistic expression through sound and light. When the show concludes, the viewers become participants again, attempting to recreate the occurrences on stage. Figure 5: View of the theater near context of the Federal Center in Chicago. People passing by can immediately interact with the structure, creating their own volume and tones to transform the façade to their own rhythm.
Figure 6: Participants in the field of columns below the glowing sine wave structure near an incline leading to the main entrance allowing them to view the professionals’ style of Thereminics. 13
Figure 7: Section through the sine curve form and columns showing incline through Terpsitone field.
F. K. Prieburg. Musica ex machina, 1963. http://www.thereminvox.com/article/articleview/8/1/1/ D. E. Ravalico, Prodigi e misteri delle radioonde, 1934. http://www.thereminvox.com/article/articleview/8/. 3 C. P. Mason, Theremin “Terpsitone” A New Electronic Novelty, 2004, reprinted from 1936 Radio Craft article. http://www.thereminvox.com/article/articleview/17/1/1/. 4 Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey. 5 Ibid. 6 Ibid. 7 Ibid. 8 A. Harrison, Notes From Our 2002 Theremin Conference, 2002. http://home.att.net/ ~theremin1/2002.htm. 9 Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey. 10 Ibid. 11 C. P. Mason, Theremin “Terpsitone.” 12 I. Semetsky, Experiencing Deleuze [book online], 2004. Accessed 14 July 2005. Available from http://www.arts.monash.edu.au/phil/department/semetsky/rp2experdeleuze.pdf; Internet. 13 Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey. 2