Sci-Fi Robots Have A Conversation, Changing Shape As They Go [Video]

Gleaming black robot sculptures speak to one another across a room. What happens when humans get in the way?

VERSUS by David Letellier is a sound installation. Gleaming black, looking for all the world like a pair of robot flowers, two undulating sculptures sit opposite each other in a gallery. Each one has a speaker and a microphone. One of them produces a sound. The other records and analyzes the sound. And then it moves, based on what it hears; it also plays back what it heard “with the errors and disturbances caused by the reverberating space and the visitors.”


As the artist writes:

By intervening in this conversation, the viewer becomes an actor, as he degrades the communication by his presence and the noises he produces. As the panels move back and forth at a pace determined by the environmental sound, they create a non-immediate interaction, where the imperfections of reproduction are becoming creative elements.

It’s very much like a I Am Sitting in a Room for the robotic age. In that 1969 piece, Alvin Lucier recorded and played back the sound of a short spoken text in a reverberant room. He recorded the results to tape and played them again, until the resonant frequencies of the room had overpowered any semblance of a human voice. This was a meditation on sound in space and magnetic tape.

A version of that performance was done on YouTube by Patrick Liddell for the digital age. Instead of recording and re-recording a live performance, the artist encoded and re-encoded a video, starting with this and ending up with this:

Unlike its predecessor, there is no room with resonant frequencies, instead it’s in the non-space of lossy compression that the human identity is stripped away.

In VERSUS it’s the machines that are trying to talk and people are getting in the way. (A less generous analogy would be the Talking Carl Scream Fight.)


I’m curious about how the sculpture behaves with people in the room. The text references them, but video shows only an empty gallery. Will the cocktail chatter of the opening reception overpower the sound of the machines as they call out to each other across the room? Or will their humming, hissing exchange overpower the humans, keeping the cacophony at bay?

[Via Creative Applications]