Why Should Our Bodies End at the Skin? for sensor-equipped belly dancer, robotic percussion, and live sound processing, explores questions of intersectionality and fluidity between organism and machine as raised in Donna Haraway’s 1984 essay “A Cyborg Manifesto.” In a broad sense, these intersections between human and machine suggest hybrid bodies, raising questions about embodiment in our contemporary techno-culture where the lines between organism and machine become indistinguishable.

This performance enacts Haraway’s idea of a “cyborg world” consisting of “lived social and bodily realities in which people are not afraid of their joint kinship between animals and machines.” Why Should Our Bodies End at the Skin? realizes the capability of the hybrid body in performance, sonically connecting mechanized human movement and humanized robotic action. Robotic percussion surrounds the dancer, serving as a visual and sonic extension of the dancer’s body. The RAKS (Remote electroAcoustic Kinesthetic Sensing) system, a wireless wearable sensor interface, translates the dancer’s movement into activations of the robotic percussion instrument CADI (Configurable Automatic Percussion Instrument). Through the RAKS system, the dancer also controls computer-generated sound processing and synthesis.

The interaction between dancer, CADI, and sound processing is modeled after the drum solo, a Middle Eastern musical form consisting of a fast-tempo virtuosic improvisation where the lines between leader and follower are indistinguishable. The piece reflects this blurring of roles in the relationship between human and machine, creating a feedback loop between the dancer’s movements and CADI’s mechanical actions. The choreography reflects the mechanical nature of robotic movement with isolations and body locks, while CADI produces a visual and sonic echo of this movement through rhythmic and sustained textures.

Keywords  

Electroacoustic Music
Robotics
Sensors
Cyborg
Belly Dance

Steven Kemper composes music for acoustic instruments, instruments and computers, musical robots, dance and video. Photo: Tracy Kumono

Steven Kemper

Assistant Professor of Music Technology and Composition Mason Gross School of the Arts Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Steven Kemper composes music for acoustic instruments, instruments and computers, musical robots, dance and video. He is a co-founder of Expressive Machines Musical Instruments (EMMI), a collective dedicated to designing, building, and composing original music for robotic instruments, and co-designer of the Remote electroAcoustic Kinesthetic Sensing (RAKS) system, a wireless sensor interface developed with composer Aurie Hsu. He has received awards from Meet the Composer, the Danish Arts Council, and the International Computer Music Association. Steven received a Ph.D. in Composition and Computer Technologies from the University of Virginia and is Assistant Professor of Music Technology and Composition in the Music Department at the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.

Photo credit: Tracy Kumono

Aurie Hsu is a composer, pianist, and dancer. Photo: Rosen-Jones Photography

Aurie Hsu

Assistant Professor of Computer Music and Digital Arts Technology in Music and Related Arts (TIMARA) Department Oberlin Conservatory

Aurie Hsu is a composer, pianist and dancer. She performs with the Remote electroAcoustic Kinesthetic Sensing (RAKS) system, a wireless sensor interface developed with composer Steven Kemper. Aurie has presented at NIME, ICMC, MOCO, SEAMUS, SIGCHI, Pixelerations, the Logos Foundation, and the Cité International des Arts. She received a Ph.D. in composition and computer technologies from the University of Virginia and holds degrees from Mills College and Oberlin Conservatory. Aurie is Assistant Professor of Computer Music and Digital Arts in the Technology in Music and Related Arts (TIMARA) Department at the Oberlin Conservatory.

Photo Credit: Rosen-Jones Photography