(Photo by Brady Dale)
An art installation called ‘The Robotic Church’ opened at the Amorphic Robot Works this weekend in Red Hook.
Featuring artist Chico MacMurtrie, Amorphic is a collaborative that builds unique robotic installations capable of interacting with different environments. Their studio is in a former church, and the installation and performance takes advantage of its features as a religious space to create an immersive, multi-level environment.
About 60 people were there to see the free show, which quickly ran out of tickets after getting noticed in The New York Times. More tickets are available for future performances on Eventbrite. There will be shows through Oct. 27th, though not all of them have been posted yet.
Said MacMurtrie, the main artist behind the show: “Most of the robots are run by software, but about 10 percent of them are live,” meaning he or a member of the crew is controlling the robot by remote control.
Primarily, the robots that move across the floor, such as “The Tumbling Man” and the dogs are live. The software used to control the robots was designed for the animatronic industry.
A part of what makes the show interesting is that, unlike other musical performances, the mechanical musicians can be seen all around the space. There are robots in every part of the room, such as the “String Body” to the upper left and the giant xylophone player to the upper right. Some robots don’t necessarily make sound, but move from time to time in ways that viewers may find meaningful, such as the Transparent Body in the upper front in the room. The body occasionally makes what seems like conductors’ movements or perhaps simply sad waving.
MacMurtrie has been working on inflatable sculptures in recent years, and his use of that work is perhaps one of the most striking moments in the approximately 45 minute long show, near its apex.
A few features of the performance make it somewhat different than other musical performances viewers may have attended.
- The audience seems to have no compunction about narrating the performance when the players are robots
- Pause and surprise are a bigger part of the overall composition than you are likely to see in performances by human musicians
- Light will sometimes indicate for attendees where one should look, but not always, and that doesn’t mean that another robot might not also be doing something interesting elsewhere
- Pneumatics feature prominently in the soundscape
Amorphic Robotworks is actively seeking interns now, looking for people with some training in sculpture, various kinds of engineering or computing that would like to learn more about high tensile robotics.
MacMurtrie has been working out of his space in Red Hook for about 10 years now, he said. He has always been drawn to ‘industrial wastelands,’ he said, and the neighborhood had that quality when he arrived there, though it’s not so much like that any more. He and his team have been setting up The Robotic Church for the last year.-30-
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