Inside Rensselaer
* “The Ascent” Art Installation/Ride
“The Ascent” Art Installation/Ride Links EEG Headset and Theatrical Flying Rig

A team of students has created a system that pairs an EEG headset with a 3-D theatrical flying harness, allowing users to “fly” by controlling their thoughts. The “Infinity Simulator” will make its debut with an art installation in which participants rise into the air — and trigger light, sound, and video effects — by calming their thoughts.

Creative director and MFA candidate Yehuda Duenyas describes the “Infinity Simulator” as a platform similar to a gaming console — like the Wii or the Kinect — writ large.

“Instead of you sitting and controlling gaming content, it’s a whole system that can control live elements — so you can control 3-D rigging, sound, lights, and video,” said Duenyas, who works under the moniker “xxxy.” “It’s a system for creating hybrids of theater, installation, game, and ride.”

Duenyas created the “Infinity Simulator” with a team of collaborators, including Michael Todd, a Rensselaer 2010 graduate in computer science. Duenyas will exhibit the new system in the art installation “The Ascent” on May 12 at the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC).

Ten computer programs running simultaneously link the commercially available EEG headset to the computer-controlled 3-D flying harness and various theater systems, said Todd.

Within the theater, the rigging — including the harness — is controlled by a Stage Tech Nomad console; lights are controlled by an Ion console running MIDI show control; sound through Max/MSP; and video through Isadora and Jitter. The “Infinity Simulator,” a series of three C programs written by Todd, acts as intermediary between the headset and the theater systems, connecting and conveying all input and output.

“We’ve built a software system on top of the rigging control board and now have control of it through an iPad, and since we have the iPad control, we can have anything control it,” said Duenyas. “The ‘Infinity Simulator’ is the center; everything talks to the ‘Infinity Simulator.’”

The May 12 installation of “The Ascent” is only one experience made possible by the new platform, Duenyas said.

“‘The Ascent’ embodies the maiden experience that we’ll be presenting,” Duenyas said. “But we’ve found that it’s a versatile platform to create almost any type of experience that involves rigging, video, sound, and light. The idea is that it’s reactive to the user’s body; there’s a physical interaction.”

Duenyas, a Brooklyn-based artist and theater director, specializes in experiential theater performances.

“The thing that I focus on the most is user experience,” Duenyas said. “All the shows I do with my theater company and on my own involve a lot of set and set design—you’re entering into a whole world. You’re having an experience that is more than going to a show, although a show is part of it.”

The “Infinity Simulator” stemmed from an idea Duenyas had for such a theatrical experience. “It started with an idea that I wanted to create a simulator that would give people a feeling of infinity,” Duenyas said. His initial vision was that of a room similar to a Cave Automated Virtual Environment, a room paneled with projection screens, in which participants would be able to float effortlessly in an environment intended to evoke a glimpse into infinity.

At Rensselaer, Duenyas took advantage of the technology at hand to explore his idea, first with a video game he developed in 2010, then — working through the Department of the Arts — with EMPAC’s computer-controlled 3-D theatrical flying harness.

“The charge of the Arts Department is to allow the artists that they bring into the department to use technology to enhance what they’ve been doing already,” Duenyas said. “In coming here (EMPAC), and starting to translate our ideas into a physical space, so many different things started opening themselves up to us.”

The 2010 video game, also developed with Todd, tracked the movements—pitch and yaw—of players suspended in a custom-rigged harness, allowing players to soar through simulated landscapes. Duenyas said that that game (also called the “Infinity Simulator”) and the new platform are part of the same vision.

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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 5, Number 8, April 29, 2011
©2010 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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