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Industry Talk

Tapis Magique: a choreomusical interactive carpet

Pressure-sensitive, knitted electronic textile carpet generates three-dimensional sensor data based on body gestures, drives an immersive sonic environment.

8th November 2021

Knitting Industry
 |  Cambridge, MA, USA

Technical Textiles

By Irmandy Wicaksono, MIT Media Lab

Ancient textiles have played a major role in the social, economic, and religious structures of communities around the world. Iconic, indigenous clothes are imbued with unique designs and patterns. Some are believed to have magical powers and designed to carry specific meanings and wishes. Often complementing traditional dance and music, these textiles amplify a sense of community, identity, and expression.

Motivated by the craftsmanship and connections of cultural textiles such as Javanese Batik or Balinese Ikat to their traditional performance arts, we began to apply an artistic and humanistic approach into technological textile design and merge new materials, sensing technologies, and digital fabrication with contemporary dance and music into one united and harmonious piece of object and performance. 

Tapis Magique is a pressure-sensitive, knitted electronic textile carpet that generates three-dimensional sensor data based on body postures and gestures and drives an immersive sonic environment in real-time. Demonstrating an organic and expressive relationship between choreography and music has been a never-ending feat in the performance arts, as seen in previous work by Cage and Cunningham, Horst and Graham, or Stravinsky and Balanchine. Our work unveils dancers' creative, unconventional possibilities of agency, intimacy, and improvisation over the music through a textile interface.

© Irmandy Wicaksono/MIT Media Lab

New smart materials and digital fabrication technologies have modernized and pushed forward textile design, fabrication, and applications. Textile's physical and functional properties can now be tuned at the resolution of a fibre, a loop structure, or a particle coating. These textiles can be fully customized from the micro to macro-scale and computationally designed and fabricated to form a seamless, heterogeneous, and multi-functional skin. Patterns, colours, texture, thickness, elasticity, breathability, conductivity, and other parameters can be engineered through fibre structures or material choices.

In this project, we utilized the additive manufacturing process of machine knitting and electrically conducting yarns to develop large-scale, interactive textile sensate surface. The tapis indeed not only serves for aesthetic, comfort, and insulation purposes, but is also augmented as a responsive skin that bridges the tactile-physical with the immersive-digital world.

The tapis design is composed of multi-layer knitted textiles. The top and bottom layers are orthogonal conductive line matrices knitted within a single operation using multi-material twisted yarns. The middle layer is a knitted piezo-resistive textile, a pressure-sensitive layer that interfaces with the conductive matrices to create a sensing grid. The dense geometrical patterns of the stars scattered around the brushstroke details in the tapis represent 1800 pressure-sensing pixels and are inspired by the galactic space. Parametric design transformed these patterns into a 3-D spatial illusion to illustrate the multi-dimensionality of the sensor data. 

The furry textures from the synthetic mink yarns provide a soft tactility for physical feedback and give an intimate and comforting feel of the tapis. The thermoplastic fibres were  then steamed to melt the multi-layer knitted textiles into one rigid surface, giving it structural reinforcements. In addition, the outer-facing textile glows in the dark from the luminous yarns, bringing out the starry effects for night performance.

VCV Rack Synthesizer Modules. © Don Derek Haddad

The knitted conductive lines are connected to a system hardware consisting of multiplexers, shift-registers, operational amplifiers, and microcontroller that sequentially reads each pressure sensing pixel and sends it to a computer. These pixels collectively generate continuous 3-D spatiotemporal sensor data mapped into MIDI streams to trigger and control discrete notes, continuous effects, and immersive soundscapes through science-inspired musical tools.

Several musical pieces were designed to invoke various emotions to inspire conversations between the choreographer and the instrument. Behind the scenes, runs a digital modular synthesizer made of several patches, each for a different type of performance. The incoming stream of MIDI data is first fed into quantizer modules that align the notes to major, minor, and pentatonic scales, as well as mystic chords. The sounds are then generated by a collection of subtractive, additive, and granular synthesizers. "Venus Sunrise", one of our performance pieces, as shown in the video above, presents a metaphorical celestial sound of the universe as the dancer is twirling around the stars, traveling through space and time.

Tapis Magique demonstrates the interplay between art and technology, highlighting the deep emotional link between contemporary textiles, dance, and music through the physical-digital connection. It provides a canvas for dancers and sound artists to modulate sound, perform and compose a musical piece based on choreography and vice versa; it also creates an auditory-gestural synesthetic environment that invites and encourages audiences to interact and express themselves with the tapis, experiencing a magical connection that stimulates the body and mind.

Watch the Tapis Magique video…

MIT Media Lab

The MIT Media Lab is a research laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, growing out of MIT's Architecture Machine Group in the School of Architecture. Its research does not restrict to fixed academic disciplines, but draws from technology, media, science, art, and design.

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