Musical Body Building

The "Musical Body Building" project, produced at San Francisco's "Exploratorium" in 1996 was a development of an earlier piece called "Une Heure d'Entrainement", built in collaboration with fellow artist Jean Claude Gagnieux and shown for the first time in 1989.
The idea was simply to recuperate the energy lost in body building activities and transform it for artistic purposes. Thus by gleaning design ideas from existing gym contraptions, we built an ensemble of musical machines running on muscle power. They included such inventions as: "Running in the wind" a moving floor which when set in motion produced a wind like noise as a resonator was scratched by a canvas belt, and at the same time powered a fan in front of the runner. Other machines functioned like hawaiian guitars, played giant accordion bellows, scratched records played cymbals, etc. This ensemble which superimposed the extreme activity of body building, unlikely objects and unusual sounds orchestrated through a mixing desk was presented as a performance piece in various different contexts ranging from a rock festival to the opening of a contemporary art museum.


In 1996 body building equipment had evolved considerably to include interactive interfaces designed to encourage the sportsman (or possibly to create the impression that he was getting his moneys worth) and my own work at that time had started to include digital media and programming techniques. When the Exploratorium invited me to show a body builder piece, I decided to develop a new digital-electronic-interactive version:
The performance used an analog to MIDI converter (i-cube) to capture the movements of gym machines and muscle pressure, via sensors attached to the machines and directly to the athlete's bodies. The data collected was then used to generate sounds via a Max patch.
Four machines, designed to develop different parts of the body are cramped onto a small stage. In the center, on a tiny podium, a bodybuilder adopts classical poses calculated to exhibit his muscles. The bracing of the bodybuilder's muscles triggers a chord, more or less harmonically complete depending on the pressure he exerted. The different parameters of the sound (pitch, amplitude, vibrato etc.) are modified by the actions of the surrounding machines, some also generate rhythmical sounds. A computer generated voice fills the role of coach offering encouragement which varies according to the captured data.