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Tapis Magique: A Choreomusical Interactive Carpet

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. 

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 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.

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 (distributed in 15 MIDI Channels) 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 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.