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A SoaPOPera for Laptops / A SoaPOPera for iMacs

A SoaPOPera for Laptops  A SoaPOPera for iMacs

G.H. Hovagimyan and Peter Sinclair collaborated to experiment with sound and speech software to make computers interact with each other and the people around them. This experiment resulted in two artworks; ‘A SoaPOPera for Laptops‘ and ‘A SoaPOPera for iMacs‘.

Begun in 1997, ‘A SoaPOPera for iMacs‘ consists of four iMacs with plastic wigs, sitting on furniture in a circle in a living room. The artwork uses voice recognition- and text-to-speech software as well as Max programming. There are 4 characters; Ralph, Princess, Kathy and Fred. They talk to each other about cars, sex, shopping, politics and food. They also burst into song at odd moments. The characters respond to each other via spoken keywords, uttered by the computers or the audience, that trigger responses thus affecting natural conversation. Often the words are misunderstood and the conversation takes off in bizarre directions. A video recording of the installation can
be viewed here.

A SoaPOPera for Laptops (2005) is only slightly different from the iMac version. It consists of four laptops on radio controlled cars. The laptops are mounted on custom made loudspeaker-trailers. This piece also uses voice recognition, text-to-speech and max programming. The four vehicles are essentially performers. The performance involves the four characters talking to each other or A SoaPOPera for iMacs/Laptopssinging. The laptops and the iMacs both depict human mouths on their screens.

Sinclair and Hovagimyan also perform with the characters by playing guitar or talking to them. A pitch tracking software allows the laptops to listen to a string of notes and sing along. The characters cars are controlled by perfomers. A video recording of a performance of A Soapopera for Laptops can be viewed here.

The artists created new content and programming structures for each performance. As a consequence there are several difference titles for this performance work denoting the different developments. The alternate titles are: ‘Exercises in Talking‘ and ‘Les Jaseurs‘. [1]

The iMacs and Laptops are ‘dressed up’ as caricatures of human beings. This can be seen as a parody of Jack Burnham’s perspective on robot aesthetics; “These new systems prompt us not to look at the ‘skin’ of objects, but at those meaningful relationships within and beyond their visible boundaries.” [2]


Relations to other artworks

In the realm of robot-to-robot interaction, A Soapopera for Laptops and A Soapopera for iMacs fit neatly into the branch of bot-to-bot dialogue. The roots of bot-to-bot dialogue lie in natural language artificial intelligence research, such as Joseph Weizenbaum’s ‘ELIZA’ (1966). [3]

Drawing on bot-to-bot dialogue, several artist have attempted to create a community of artificially intelligent bots that communicate with each other. A Soapopera for Laptops and A Soapopera for iMacs are one of the earliest attempts that generated notable attention. David Rokeby’s ‘n-Cha(n)t’ (2001) is a somewhat more refined attempt. The bots in this community share the complex linguistic database generated by the artist’s ongoing work, The Giver of Names (1991).

Ken Feingold’s ‘The Animal, Vegetable, Mineralness of Everything’ (2004) uses bot-to-bot dialogue to raise philosophical questions, by having three self-portrait humanoid heads debate about the origins of an unidentified object in front of them.

The artwork’s website can be found here.

More information about the artist, G.H. Hovagimyan, can be found here.



[1] Artworks website, <>

[2] Burnham, “Robot and Cyborg Art” excerpted in Edward Shanken, red. Art and Electronic Media. London: Phaidon, 2009: p. 247

[3] Edward Shanken, red. Art and Electronic Media. London: Phaidon, 2009: p. 40