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Tumbling Man

The “Tumbling Man” is a humanoid pneumatic robot that not only tumbles, but with the aid and cooperation of two participants can attain contorted poses,sit up, and play his body as a percussion instrument. The uncertain gestures of the robot possess a convincing anthropomorphic quality, creating empathy within the participant and viewer, as the robot appears to be like a new-born primitive.

The computer in the “Tumbling Man” chooses a certain set of limbs from each participant by which he will be controlled. In any given attempt, he may, for example, be controlled by the legs of one participant and the arms and neck of the other. This choice of which participant controls which limb of the “TumblingMan” changes over time requiring the participants to redefine their method of cooperation When there is no motion from the participants, as when they are donning the telemetry suits, the “Tumbling Man” creates his own unique actions based on the patterns of previous participants.

With this piece, we hope to eliminate the barrier between performer and audience. Audience members become performers, forced to cooperate with other, formerly passive, viewers. These new performers will interact with each other and the”Tumbling Man” on both a physical and emotional level The uncertainty of who controls what, creates the need for cooperation, in order to produce control.
In 1992, MacMurtrie received a grant from the NEA to present this collection of work in a single, coherent performance: The Robotic Opera. Mounted in collaboration with composer, Bruce Darby, hardware and software engineers, Rick Sayre and Phillip Robertson, performers Mark Steiger and Hanna Sims, and performance artist, Nao Bustamante, ARW set out to build several additional musical robots to interact with a score as called for by the operatic genre.

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