EVE OF DUST (2018)

Eve of Dust is an installation and collaborative performance between humans and a robot. The work draws on the possibilities and anxieties arising from the collaboration between humans and emerging intelligent systems embodied in the robot.


Eve of Dust is a collaborative performance and installation between a human and a robot. The artwork draws on both the possibilities and anxieties arising from the collaboration between humans and emerging intelligent systems personified in the robot. The artwork uses a Sawyer collaborative robot, an articulated 7-jointed robot arm that somewhat resembles a snake. The robot is able to be used in close proximity to humans, unlike most industrial robots, and will stop before causing physical harm. This enables human partners to physically interact with the robot to co-create a performance of dance and music.

The work has two modes: performance mode and interactive mode.

Performance mode is a collaborative duet between the robot and a professional dancer. Using a handheld VR controller to pick out points in space, the dancer is able to choreograph the robot’s movement in real time, in collaboration with the robot. The robot’s movements generate music in real time, with the rotation, position and motion of the robot determining pitch, rhythm, timbre etc. In this way, the dancer responds to and collaborates in both the robot’s movements and the generated music, creating a collaborative dance duet that is unique every performance.

In interactive mode, members of the public can play with the robot using a handheld VR controller to choreograph the robot’s movements which, as in performance mode, generates music in realtime. Inviting a playful interaction, people can collaborate with the robot to make a real time robot music and dance performance. People can respond to the robot movement and indeed will find it hard to remain passive in the unfolding duet that is unique to each person.


Technology in the arts has largely been seen as a tool for the creation of artworks by humans. This notion is being challenged as systems become more sophisticated and display abilities to generate works that can be construed as artistic in nature, often guided by human examples. Eve of Dust explores the development of human collaboration with artistically inclined machines, robots and systems in general.

Now systems are able to not only make cars but drive them as well, not just store images but recognise their contents and even diagnose ailments in people contained in those images, our relationship and future dependency on non-human systems is rapidly escalating. Eve of Dust is conceived to appeal to and challenge anyone interested in the future of work and leisure and our evolving relationship with increasingly capable systems. Eve Of Dust aims to fire the imaginations of all who witness it and engage them in thinking about our lives lived alongside increasingly capable machines.

At the same time, the development and exploration of autonomous computer-based artistic systems has a long history. As far back as 1975, Ann H. Murray identified the parallels between computer-generated art and high modernism, and speculated on the role of ’intuition’ in the creation of art. (Ann H. Murray, ‘Computer Graphics in Historical Perspective’, in Artist and Computer, Harmony Press, New York, 1975) Subsequently, Harold Arlen and Ray Kurzweil famously experimented in autonomous drawing machines. Much more recently, the acceptance has grown among people that machines are capable of making decisions, as per the self-driving cars mentioned above, the taste-making algorithms of online entertainment library services and facial recognition systems.

Nonetheless, these system remain confined to a role of subordinate, or even servant, to human desire. Importantly for our work, the concept of the autonomous production of art in the contemporary acceptation of autonomous machines has largely relied on a paradigm of copying artistic styles already promulgated by humans, or of modifying existing images in a purportedly ’artistic’ method. Both of these methods are often described as "human/ ai collaboration" but it is difficult see the AI contribution as anything other than a service role.

Similarly, Margo Apostolos, Margie Medlin, Gideon Obarzanek and Thomas Freundlich have all experimented with contemporary dance choreography in sometimes spectacularly interesting ways, but it may still be said that the role of the robot within such choreographies is sublimated to human affect.

We ourselves have always been interested in what might a genuine artistic collaboration between machine systems and humans be like. Thus, our works Reproduction, Recognition and Child in the Wild all explored various aspects of such a collaboration. In Eve of Dust, we explore what a collaboration between a dancer/choreographer and industrial robot might entail. It is an artwork generated from the congruence, interference and dialogue between the organic and the technological. Eve of Dust amalgamates human and robot movement dependency to enable a transformational co-creative process from the ensuing movement dialogue.

Eve of Dust also ponders the nature of knowledge exchange that underpins a relationship between two organisms or between an organism and its environment. How does information transform into knowledge? If knowledge is the formulation of patterns derived from a set of information then do current AI systems have knowledge? Humankind is creating new entities and opening up the frontier of knowledge to these new entities. Eve of Dust is an emergence of artistic exertion that reflects upon the dialogue between human and human creation.


Robots are often portrayed as antagonists or servants of humans, but Eve Of Dust invites people to consider a robot as a collaborator in the creation of art - in this case a music and dance work - rather than an industrial servant.

In the work, the movements of the robot are mapped within a 3-dimensional volume surrounding the robot. Each of it’s seven joints are monitored for rotation, speed and position within the 3D volume. Each of these parameters, 21 in total, determine various aspects of the musical system of Eve of Dust. This musical system is a custom-programmed granular synthesis system, based upon samples of the joints of the robot themselves. Each of the movement parameters described above determine in real-time various parameters of the granular synthesis system, such as rhythm, timbre, pitch, tempo, interval relation and so on.

This system becomes, then, a working demonstration of the radical modulability of digital data. Using a 3D graphics game engine (Unity3D) to construct a virtual environment “around” the real robot, Eve of Dust modulates the robot movements of real space into corresponding animations within the virtual environment, which then modulate into sonic information embedded within Unity3D’s game engine, all in real time.

This results in sound and music played in real time, effectively ’composed’ by the robot. This affects the dancer, who modulates their improvised choreography in response. An ongoing, real time affect cycle is consequently established between the dancer and robot, resulting in an original collaboration of dance and music.

The same thing occurs when audience members interact with the robot-as-installation, using a HTC Vive VR controller (like a 3D mouse) to pick out points in space around the robot, to which the robot moves its arm in response. The movements, since they are activating the same system as with the dancer, create sound and music in real time. The interactors, in response to both the music and movement quality of the robot, respond by intuitively choreographing a music and robotic dance piece in real time.

In so doing, interactors modulate their affective relationship with robots from a power relationship based in anxiety to a collaborative music and movement relationship of real time creation.