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The “Ascent” - Emotive Cap Meets Barnum & Bailey

posted Jan 30, 2013, 10:02 PM by Ellen Pearlman

The “Ascent” - Emotive Cap Meets Barnum & Bailey

Emotiv Cap getting ready to launch on aerial rider

Yehuda Duenyas (AKA XXXY), a recent MFA graduate from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY has created a fantasmical contraption from the Emotive Cap called “The Ascent” that actually works! Taking his inspiration from angels lifting saints on their wings up to the heavens, he decided that your own brain waves could substitute, making his own quarter million dollar version of what it might feel like to go to heaven - except if you don’t concentrate, it won’t work.

In rehearsal minus the hoopla, fireworks and fanfare

It is described as a “transcendent journey that allows individuals to levitate 30-plus feet upward into the air through fields of intense sound and lighting via the power of their own focus and meditation.”  Initially a “rider” steps onto the “launch pad” and is rigged up into a series of pulley cables. In order for the cable to pull the rider higher, they have to keep focusing, yet the environment is full of stimuli designed to distract one’s focus - such as light and sound. The Emotiv Cap in this instance is mapping two brain states: alpha and theta waves.  When the alpha waves are highest during a meditative-like concentration, the apparatus lifts one higher and higher. If the rider does get to the top they are rewarded with a climatic release of music, smoke and light. This takes interactivity and relational aesthetics to a whole new level, one that puts Carsten Holler’s recent participatory show at the New Museum to shame.

Ascending to new heights

Yehuda is certainly not a n’er do well - he’s actually an accomplished actor and theater director who worked with Richard Foreman (of Ontological Hysteric fame) and Richard Maxwell. In older news stories he is described as making “art installation street theater” and was affiliated with Chashama. He is also afounding member of the OBIE award-winning theater collaborative, the National Theater of the United States. As a kid he wanted to design rides for Disneyland. I think his wish was granted.  

I was really curious about the man credited as being the major funder, Jeremy X. Halpern was, since he coughed up the major part of a quarter of a million dollars needed to make the piece. Apparently Duenyas had originally been Halpern’s intern. Halpern,  a singer, composer, and actor, loves “weirdos.”  He studied with the nota bene of the avant garde - Jerzy Grotowski, Jean Claude van Italie, and Julian Beck (of the Living Theater) among many others. Working with multi-media for a long time, he showcased “Satanic Cabarets” held at former strip clubs and  has his own “Weirdo TV” channel on Manhattan Cable. He shows his a nine minute video of his own “Ascent” on his website, which is not as fetching as all the pretty girls shown ascending towards heaven on Yehuda’s official site.

Satanic Cabaret - is this where you go if you don’t Ascend?

Michael Todd, the programing whiz who put it all together was quite forthcoming about how he pulled it off. He says Ascent uses  a  Stagetech Power Flyingsystem hooked up to a Nomad control board which issues and receives OSC messages through the network to a “C” program running Liblo patched into a MAX/MSP patch to control the lights and sounds. An iPad running OSC is used when they need to manually control the rigging system on and off. One Max patch controls audio, another Max patch controls lights, three separate “C” programs control the harness, and talk to the computer actually running the Emotiv. The Emotiv control suite talks to the Emotiv headset over Bluetooth, there is the “Mind Your OSC” Emotive OSC plug-in sending the data out through OSC. A  LabView program monitors the headset and tracks how well the “rider” is focusing. The Nomad control board software is controlomg the Stagetech software, and using an Ion lightboard connected to over Midi to control the MAX/MSP audio patch. In total there are over 10 programs running simultaneously for Ascent to function properly.

1938 version of Ascent with Frank Buck on top of elephant (pre-Emotive cap) and flanked on his right by John Ringling North of circus fame

Is the future of the art world immersive spectacle?

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