Composer, performer and roboticist Sarah Angliss undertook a part-time residency to explore poetic approaches to robotics on stage.

Over the last nine years, Sarah Angliss has been performing live with music augmented by robotics. Most of the robots she has created are figurative or electromechanical updates of ancient instruments. One, for example is Hugo, a roboticised 1930s ventriloquist’s dummy who performs vocal samples. Another is Wolfgang, a miniature robot drummer in a dapper 1960s suit. And then there’s The Ealing Feeder, a polyphonic carillon (bell rig) that plays riffs at lightning speed. Sarah is fond of these bandmates and knows they have quite an impact on stage, but she was keen to develop her practice and devise more poetic forms of robotic performance that don't rely on human figures and other traditional tropes. With the generous support of Arts Council England, Sarah took time out of her performing schedule to experiment with more imaginative combinations of music and roboticised objects.

Supported by Watershed and Falmouth University, Sarah spent dedicated time at Pervasive Media Studio and AiR Falmouth to develop Trace, a live electronic music and poetic robotic performance that took discarded everyday possessions - handbags, furniture, kitchen utensils and so on – and robotically animated them so they mimicked the breaths, postural changes, arm movements and other gestures of their former owners. She also included sounds from the objects as they moved and (where possible) fragments of conversations with their owners.

Through this work, Sarah created a new, poetic form of motion capture: an impressionistic playback of absent persons, using their discarded, former possessions. She aimed for a humanistic yet non-figurative form of robotic art that’s distinct from traditional automata and stereotypical metallic sci fi robots. The resulting work that formed Trace, was an uncanny (Unheimlich) and compelling performance - a visitation of sorts.

This project was supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.

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