srijeda, 1. siječnja 2014.

Sarah Angliss / Spacedog - Uncanny orchestra

Njezini muzički instrumenti su roboti.

Sarah Angliss and Her Disembodied Ventriloquist Robot Dummy, Hugo

By Nadja Sayej

The English electronic musician, composer and automatist Sarah Angliss is unlike most – among playing the musical saw and Theremin, she brings a 1930s disembodied ventriloquist robot onstage. Hugo, the robotized head of a ventriloquist’s dummy (named after the dummy in the 1945 British horror film Dead Night), is the mouthpiece of her vocal samples. Far more theatrical than the laptop-sampler-loop pedal formula of most electronic musicians, it was only a few years ago that Angliss began adding more instruments and machines to her live sets. She figured the stage act is more compelling when listeners have something to look at, too. Her performances really are unparalleled, in that sense. It comes across like spooky storytelling.
While Angliss began building musical stuff as a child in the 1970s, when she put together soundtracks on a cassette recorder, she studied engineering and robotics at university before going on to collaborate with sculptor king, Tim Hunkin, among many others.
Angliss also plays something called the Electric Lullaby on a polyphonic robotic carillon, which is inspired by a control panel in the Battersea Power Station in London – which is now being turned into million-dollar penthouses. The lullaby is written from a 1933 poem she discovered in the archives of the Electrical Association for Women, written by one of its members. Angliss ties together the past with the present like an old soul, snippets of similar archives pop up all the time.
As Angliss gears up for a gothic film show on December 14 with her band Spacedog, she will play a polyphonic, a robotic carillon (a bell-playing machine) and of course Hugo as part of a British Film Institute event (coincidentally, the dummy comes from the same vintage time of the century-old films). We spoke about darkness, dummies and goth. It gets weirder from hereon in.
Sarah Angliss and her band Spacedog perform with Hugo onstage during an award-winning Brighton Fringe festival performance. It is a homage to Stooky Bill, the ventriloquist sidekick of John Logie-Baird who appeared on the second television image ever in 1925.
Noisey: When did you start bringing Hugo onstage?
Sarah Angliss: I found Hugo around five years ago when I was a guest at a Magic Circle event. He was languishing under the table. An elderly magician had rescued him from his dead friend’s attic and was looking for a taker. At the time, I was seeking ways to give my act a more compelling physical presenceto break away from the laptop. I realized in an instant that I could make Hugo the mouthpiece for my vocal samples. I’ve robotized his strings and hooked up the motors up to a MaxMSP patch. This takes a vocal input and works out, in real-time, when his mouth should open and close. His inclusion in the act makes complete sense to me. Vocal sampling is itself a form of ventriloquyof throwing and altering voices and suggesting the inanimate can speak. I’ve always had a fascination with this art form and been trying to fathom what makes some dummies more disturbing than others. For instance, I’m drawn to their garish early stage makeup. It makes their features visible at the back of the auditorium but looks grotesque at close quarters. Ventriloquism has a dark and venerable history. It harks back to early notions of "gastromancy" (spirits speaking from the stomach) as anyone who was a fan of the late, great Ken Campbell will know. I think Hugo points up the strangeness of recorded sounds, decoupled from their human sources - an oddity we’ve become blasé about. Hugo is named after Hugo Fitch, the dummy in that superb British horror film Dead of Night.
Why is it just the head of Hugo and not the body?
When I met Hugo, he was disembodied. I played around with making him a body, using those little suits they sell for page boys. But they made him look like an undertaker’s mute. So I didn’t go any further down that alley. He just works as a disembodied head. His wooden housing was built by Colin Uttley, originally as a temporary measure. But we quickly discovered its thrown-together nature helped the performance - I think that’s because it lets you see the workings. I’d say I’m exploring the uncanny in my act. I’m thinking of the word in its sense that Jentsch and Freud used itDas Unheimlich, the familiar taking on a strange cast. There are many possible roots of this word, for instance it can mean "unhomely" or even "unhidden." I’m drawn to both these possibilities. We’re not used to seeing the guts of something as it operates, especially these days when so many mechanical actions have been replaced by virtual processing. I’ve found if I hide Hugo’s working parts to make him more tidy, people find him less disturbing. It’s curious.

What kind of archaic machines do you work with?
I perform with Theremin and with its unplugged alternative the musical sawan instrument with a surprisingly ethereal, eerie sound. I also play assorted baroque and renaissance instruments. You’ll often hear me on recorder and spinet. There’s lots of bell action. Sometimes I also use old tech such as the Edison phonograph and the Geiger counter. Once or twice, when given safety clearance, I’ve perform live with Geiger counter and "minor" radioactive sources. Many of my songs refer to strange early notions of technology or sample early machines. "Find Me," a recent collaboration with Belbury Poly (Ghost Box Study Series no 10), for example, uses words from a writer in 1900 who was imagining a future where you could call distant loved ones using a ‘ loud electromagnetic voice’ , something rather like a mobile phone. The B-side "Quiet Industry" cuts and splices the sounds of 19th century cotton mill machines to create a teetering, rhythmic piece.
Why are you drawn to darkness?
I’m not sure. It’s partly down to my musical tastes as a teenager. I was really into the darker English folksongs, such as the "Child Ballads." Here, themes such as murder, necromancy and so on are expressed through exquisitely beautiful, calming melodies. It’s the cognitive dissonance between the lyrics and the melody that really works, the way each undercuts the other. In my teens I had a serious illnesssepticemiaand there were some days where I lived with such a dissonance. For long periods, my own bedroom would seem fearful, there would be visitationshallucinationsand the dimensions of familiar objects seemed odd as I had a raging fever. Sometimes I wonder if I’m trying to fathom that feeling through sound. Or at least inviting others to feel it.
What is the "uncanny valley" you have referred to?
The uncanny valley is one aspect of uncanniness that gets a lot of press. Scientifically, it’s controversial. It’s a reference to that strangely unsettling feeling we have when we encounter objects, such as Hugo, that are very human-like but not human. Again, it’s down to the familiar seeming strange. Some people say objects in the "uncanny valley" are singularly disturbing, while others claim we grow accustomed to them over time. The uncanny valley is just a hypothesisit’s not based on any firm databut I do think it’s pointing at something, we’re just not quite sure what. So for now, I see the creation of uncanniness as an art rather than a science.

You also play the Ealing Feeder. What role does it play in the Electric Lullaby?
The Ealing Feeder is a 28-note polyphonic carillon (a bell-playing machine). I built it with Colin Uttley around five years ago and it features in most of my live shows. It’s named after a control panel in Battersea Power Station and we copied some of the styling from there. One of the songs it appears on is Spacedog’s The Electric Lullaby. This features a poem from around 1933, written by a member of the Electrical Association for Women. She was so thrilled by the electricity supply in her home, every night she would pass a small electric current through her baby to soothe him to sleep. And she wrote about this in her Electric Lullaby, a paean to domestic electricity. In Spacedog’s setting, we mix it with fragments of Long Lankin (Child Ballad 93). This is an early folksong about a malevolent creature who slips between the gaps in the window panes at night, finds your baby and pricks him all over with a pin. I loved the resonances between these two domestic invaders - one folkloric, another from the electrical archives.

What will you be playing at the upcoming Gothic concert you’re hosting? Have the films ever been shown? What will the tone and departure of the music be?
This is Vault: Music for Silent Gothic Treasures. An evening of live scores, written by some of my favorite electronic musicians. The music and films will be brought together for the first time in at BFI Southbank as part of the BFI’s nationwide project GOTHIC: The Dark Heart of Film. I’m composing a new live score for this event and will be joined by my band Spacedog, along with Exotic Pylon’s Time Attendant (Paul Snowdon) who will be supplying a new work on simmering, tabletop electronics. There will also be some extemporisations from Bela Emerson, a soloist who works with cello and electronics. Jon Brooks, composer of the haunting Music for Thomas Carnacki, will also be creating a studio piece for the event. Sourced by Bryony Dixon, the BFI’s curator of silent film, many of the short films we’re using are from the earliest years of the twentieth century. The Legende du fantôme (1908) and early split screen experiment Skulls Take Over (1901) are on the bill, along with the silent expressionist masterpiece The Fall of the House of Usher (US version, 1928) and more. The films are some of the strangest and most captivating things I’ve ever seenplayful, macabre, sometimes utterly unfathomable. It’s been thrilling to work with them and with such a brilliant ensemble of musicians who have the technique and sensitivity to create the most marvellous Gothic happening. We’re really grateful to the BFI for taking us on and to PRSF who have funded my new work

Tales Of The Uncanny: Sarah Angliss Interviewed
Stuart Huggett

Ahead of her BFI Gothic show, composer, inventor and sound historian Sarah Angliss talks to Stuart Huggett about uncanny presences in music, mechanics and song

(Photo by Tamsin Chapman)

"I cannot begin to express how weird it was to be a teenage girl in the early 80s, making things out of Meccano and tape and the Sinclair Spectrum. I always felt like a complete outsider."
I'm at home in Brighton, having tea in the fine company of Sarah Angliss, and she's telling me about growing up in Watford. As a roboticist and historian, she's used to discussing technical work, hosting lectures and presenting radio shows, but this afternoon marks the first time she's been asked about her music and that of her unique part-human/part-robot band Spacedog.
The human element of Spacedog is made up of Angliss (on an array of unusual and self-built instruments, including theremin, saw and a 28-bell carillon), her vocalist sister Jenny and percussionist Stephen Hiscock. Angliss' automata, such as Hugo the disembodied ventriloquist's dummy and Wolfgang the Kraftwerk-in-miniature drummer, are given equal status on stage, while the group's sole album to date, 2011's bizarre and sinister Juice For The Baby, brought on board such steampunk vaudeville guests as illusionist Derren Brown, The Chap magazine's Michael Attree and pith helmeted MC Professor Elemental.
More recently, Angliss has contributed birdsong recorder music to Moon Wiring Club's album Today Bread, Tomorrow Secrets and pieces for the related Down To The Silver Sea compilation. Spacedog, meanwhile, have just collaborated with Belbury Poly for Message & Method, the final 7” instalment in Ghost Box's Study Series. You can listen to a selection of Angliss' music via the Soundcloud embed below.
The day we chat, Angliss has been preparing 'Vault: Music For Silent Gothic Treasures' for the BFI's upcoming Hauntology weekend. The evening features Spacedog, electronic musician Time Attendant and cellist Bela Emerson performing a live score to rare, early Gothic film from the BFI archive. Additionally, Jon Brooks of The Advisory Circle contributes pre-recorded sounds for the show.
How do you feel about performing at the BFI under the Hauntology banner?
Sarah Angliss: It was great talking to (BFI Head of Events) Stuart Brown because his attitude was just, get over it. If you spoke to most people on the street they've never encountered the term before, it makes them curious. It's a bridge, it's pointing at something but we don't quite know what it is. Hauntology isn't like an algorithm for writing music, it's really a sensibility. It doesn't have to just be about Look Around You or about drones, it can be all sorts of things.
I actually do hauntology in the old Derrida sense of the word, the idea of things being possessed by the spirit of Marx. So I talk about nineteenth century technology and Marx and do music about it, and it's hilarious. The most unfashionable thing I do is with this very good friend of mine, Caroline Radcliffe, a fellow musician. We like to point out to people that the women's Lancashire clog dance is actually from the cotton mills. It's not a pastoral dance at all, it's an industrial dance, and the steps directly relate to the sounds of the mill. We created this piece where I'd done all the mill sounds and she was doing dance and we were presenting it almost like nineteenth century Kraftwerk, pointing out that they'd beat Kraftwerk and Detroit techno by about 90 years. That was our message, so that was like hauntology in the old sense.
But I genuinely don't have any strong feelings about what people call me. I've been doing what I've been doing for years and years, and I can think back to the roots of the music I do, which has people tell me has a certain uncanny, a certain haunted quality. That's all to do with things like my interests in cybernetics and early telecommunications and very early English folksong and the overlaps between them. The word 'uncanny' has more traction for me for all sorts of reasons. I'm really into uncanny in the sense that Jentsch and Freud were using it, in the sense of the familiar taking on a strange cast, the idea of something that at once feels familiar and at the same time unsettling. From my earliest days with folk songs like 'The Lankin' and '(The Wife Of) Usher's Well', I'm always mining that English folklore for instances of the uncanny. I'm endlessly fascinated by it.
What were your earliest musical experiences?
SA: Jenny and I have always performed together, and in Watford where we lived, just by complete fluke, there was a really progressive children's choir in the late 70s. We just happened to stumble into it. This club was teaching people by this eastern European method called the Kodály Method. It was just like an ordinary local children's choir but you didn't learn to read music, you learnt Solfège, like "do-re-mi”, so it was all done by ear. The best thing about it, apart from the fact that it gave you this really profound understanding of music before you could even read it, was that all the repertoire was from eastern Europe. It was all these Hungarian folk songs, so as kids all the songs Jenny and I sang were in really weird modalities like bitonal and Lydian. We had a taste for that type of music and that never really left us and sometimes in our set we'll sing a Hungarian folk song. People will think we're Hungarian and we'll be like, oh no, we just learnt that in North Watford.
I love bitonality, where you layer two completely unrelated keys on top of each other. They don't feel right but they do at the same time. In electronic music, when you've got a sampler, you're not thinking like somebody who writes a score. You're going, I don't know why but those two tunes just really work together. It's an electronic music trick and it's interesting that we got it through this really strange route.
Then the first time we actually went out performing would've been in the Watford Folk Club in the Pump House pub, as teenagers. We were just floor musicians, as they used to call them, and I think that's when I fell in love with English folk song. There's a beautiful cognitive dissonance in it where you get these songs that are so dark and yet are so exquisite. There's something really unsettling when you hear a song about necromancy, or about transfiguration from a human to a creature, and it's expressed through an exquisite melody. It's almost makes it more unsettling, because the beauty allows it to slip under your skin in a way it might not otherwise. I can't explain it but you know it when you feel it.
It was like a masterclass in performance going to those things as a kid because there were certain songs that everyone would sing. You'd see all the floor singers singing them and then you'd get an absolutely brilliant singer like Bob Stewart or somebody, and you just learnt how to deliver songs. You learnt about how to put narrative into music, how they managed to create that feeling of grace in the room where everybody was in the moment with the performer.
Where did your interest in electronic music come from?
SA: At the same time I was into folk music, they were putting Radiophonic Workshop stuff on the radio, and weirdly enough they appealed to me in the same way the folk club stuff did, in that they were very beautiful and very strange all at the same time. I can remember having one tape of a show my dad recorded for me, There Will Come Soft Rains, and I used to play it over and over again. It was [the Workshop's] Malcolm Clarke, from The Martian Chronicles [by Ray Bradbury] and it's about a house that looks after itself after the people have died [in a nuclear war]. They've been vaporised and they're a shadow on the wall and the house is still talking to them. I wouldn't even say it's the finest bit of Radiophonic work ever, but it was the thing that captured my imagination when I was that young.
I tried to look it up in the Watford Library and there was absolutely nothing on it. It was like a complete desert, except in the Groves Dictionary [Of Music And Musicians] there was this tiny photo which you could hardly make out, and it was of Daphne Oram and the Oramics machine. That kick-started the whole thing, where I went to study electroacoustics and got really into electronics and sound. Years later I was invited in by the Science Museum because they'd just acquired the Oramics machine. I got to see it and it was so emotional I had to hide behind the filing cabinet and compose myself. It was such a weird thing to see this thing I'd seen since I was a kid in this little grainy photo, and there it was in front of me.
What was making music with a Sinclair ZX Spectrum like?
SA: That was just at home. My dad ran a carpet shop and Jenny wrote a slogan for a carpet and we won a Spectrum. It's funny that there's all this nostalgia for 8-bit, but believe me, if you started on a Spectrum you don't have that much nostalgia for it. You're quite pleased to not have to use your lovely 64-bit or 32-bit computer. I have to admit it's upstairs and I do look at it sometimes, but I don't plug it in – I'm into early music, but I draw the line somewhere.
How does this connect with laptop music?
SA: It's almost like I see myself as a physical native because I wasn't born in the laptop age. I know that we've lost something, we've been sold a pup thinking that virtual is everything and it isn't. The laptop, and perhaps the sampler, is the default thing for taking over musical duties on stage because you can't do everything yourself. I was going out in about 2005 and doing little things on the laptop and it was a complete and utter turn off, and that's why I started putting things on the stage. They're almost physical analogues of what I'm trying to do on the computer.
So like the carillon bell rig, I haven't made it just to say 'Here's a weird bell rig'. I've made it because I want to have riffs in the same way a looping musician would want riffs, but I want it to have a physical presence. I want you to feel like you could reach out and touch it and I want you to feel the weird sympathetic vibrations between the bells, the slight shonkyness that you'd never get with even the best sample. People enjoy the fact that, good god, those look really thrown together, and are they actually gonna get through the act?
It's like watching a tightrope walker, because although there is a lot of jeopardy in laptop acts, you don't see those as a physical thing. That goes back to my interest in magic and music hall. I find myself getting cabaret bookings at burlesque and steampunk events and I'm always open for doing that sort of thing because you learn stuff from taking electronics out of the confines of the obvious venues and putting it in front of those audiences. It's actually quite humbling, because you realise that you need an awful lot of stagecraft to put across certain types of music and sometimes we forget about that.
Hugo (Photo by Tamsin Chapman)
How are your robots doing?
SA: There's a bit of argy bargy going on between Stephen, the human drummer, and Wolfgang, who I bought in while Stephen was away. He was on a long tour and I bought Wolfgang in, not knowing that the very day that I took him out Stephen had broken his arm. It looked a bit like, 'Oh you know you've broken your arm? Well I've got Wolfgang in now.'
But the main thing is Hugo, the head of a ventriloquist's dummy that I got from a Magic Circle event. He's really spooky and as soon as I saw him I realised that he was a way to give vocal samples a physical presence in the room. I thought, oh God, are people just going to think this is ridiculous? But strangely enough they go along with it. Some people find him comical, some people won't go to the gig because he's there, and some people ask to see him before we perform, to check him over. But I love him because he disrupts what you might expect when you see an electronic music thing.
It's not a clean, clinical, silver boxy type of show, it's got wires on display. Colin Uttley (actor and Spacedog collaborator) made the housing for Hugo and when I put the motors in I made sure you could see them. When we covered them over we found people weren't so spooked by him. Again, he's uncanny, and interestingly the word uncanny, unheimlich, has lots of different derivations, and one of them is unhidden. I really do think that when you show the physical workings of something like a speaking machine, it's spookier.
I'm interested in him because I'm interested in ventriloquism and the strangeness of a doppelganger speaking, which of course is what recorded sound is. Recorded sound is the doppelganger of the real sound. And it's as eerie as hell. If you go back to about 1890 and see what people were saying about recorded sound, they were obsessed with this idea of the recording of a person outliving them and it somehow blurring the boundaries between the living and the dead. And of course it does, because we listen to Elvis and we swoon over him, but he's just a pile of dust somewhere now. And I think we forget about how odd that is.

A selection of recent videos, including tests of my automata in action and songs from the Spacedog album Juice for the Baby (released December 2011):

The Ealing Feeder – mechanical bell rig (video: Roger Spy).

Loving the Machine – my talk for TEDx, Brighton, January 2011

Uncanny orchestra: Meet Sarah Angliss and her robotic bandmates

Sarah Angliss loves to spook her audience.
"It's an effect that I'm after," the Brighton based musician explains. "I like to gently unsettle people." Among her mechanised assistants are Edgar Allan, a "very trippy and Jungian" crow that sings Donna Summer songs in a sexy European drawl, and a 30s ventriloquist's dummy head called Hugo. "I've made his head, eyes and mouth move with Arduino-controlled servos and a voice trigger," she says. "We forget he's a doll. It feels barbaric now when I stick him in a box at the end of a show."
A classically trained musician, Angliss, 44, builds her shows around sound -- she originally devised her characters to allow her to be more adventurous with her compositions. "I thought: if I make a robot that can play the theremin, that will free me up to play my other instruments." The result was deconstructed baby doll Clara 2.0. "She takes a live feed of a musical note -- her pilot signal -- and automatically moves her dolly arm to alter the note she's playing on her theremin. Once or twice I've used Clara 2.0 with a mini webcam attached to a simple optical flow algorithm, and rigged her up so her head follows movements in the room."
The robots are preprogrammed with position data and puppeteered live by Angliss, using sliders on a plug-in control surface. "I've also written a simple patch that takes prerecorded vocals and uses them to control the puppet's mouth in real time," she says. "But sometimes I simply have someone with a mic behind the scenes who can extemporise."
This blend of sound and motion might take Angliss's creations into uncanny-valley territory, but "It's not about achieving complexity or realism with the robots," she says. "It's about presence. You only have to do a very small thing to create that."


Spacedog are known for their ethereal but singularly unsettling live performance, featuring theremin, vocals, percussion and Sarah Angliss' uncanny robotic creations. Spacedog's highly original live act reflects their obsessions with defunct machines, faded variety acts and the darkest European folklore.

Juice for the Baby (2011)

After years exclusively playing live, award winning human and robot band Spacedog release their debut album, a studio version of their sought-after live set.
Obsessed with defunct machines, faded variety acts and English folk tales, Spacedog are known for their eerie performance on vocals, theremin, saw and percussion, and for the ensemble of 'uncanny' robots which accompanies them live on stage


These days I rarely appear on stage without a robot by my side.
Fashioned from found objects, my robots have more the air of faded variety performers than high-tech machines. I’m aware this ragbag of automatic accompanists makes my act look out of place on the electronic music scene, where minimal movement, disembodied sound and deliberate anti-performance are very much in fashion. At first glance, the set seems to exist somewhere between experimental electronics and 1930s cabaret. Yet, when the robots move and become part of the performance, I hope any thoughts that this is a novelty act are dispelled.
My music has always played with notions of the uncanny (Unheimlich). It revels in lankins, revenants and fetches – those doppelgängers and other exotic creatures who slip into our dreams (and sometimes our homes) in English folklore. I love the resonances between these fictional, uncanny creatures and certain kind of robots: inanimate, homely objects which become rather unsettling when I use sensors and actuators to give them a primitive animacy. Thus, I find robots offer a compelling, physical analogue to the sound world I’m creating. Tightly coupled with the music, the robots’ actions draw people into the performance – I hope they make the performance more compelling and visceral. I’m glad the robots make the performance look rather peculiar, nothing like a typical laptop set. The audience can only fathom the set as it happens. I don’t have many video clips of my act as I really do feel you need to be in the room, with me and the robots, to get the full effect.

 The Ealing Feeder (polyphonic bell rig)

The line-up

Hugo - photo Tamsin ChapmanI started building robot performers around 2005 as I wanted to layer several sounds on stage and was seeking a more theatrical alternative to a laptop or loop pedal. My earliest robots were figurative. Hugo is the head of a ventriloquist’s doll, wired up and roboticised after he was spirited away from the attic of a dead magician. Wolfgang is a 1960s 1/4-sized mannequin who plays the drums. And Edgar Allan – who usually comes out on cabaret nights – is a crow with an interesting line in Jungian philosophy. These early robots are still part of the regular set. However, increasingly, I’m branching out and experimenting with roboticising other kinds of objects. The Ealing Feeder is a polyphonic carillon which I’ve built to play riffs at lighting speed on a set of 28 bells. And Ventricle is a blood-red handbag which beats in time with my heartbeat.

Ventricle – on display at Kinetica 2011

Technical details
Strictly speaking, when my robots are in their performance mode, they aren’t robots at all but automata as they are obeying preprogrammed routines. The possible exception here is theremin-playing doll Clara 2.0 who moves her hand in response to the note she’s making on her theremin and to the sound of her guide track. I work like this as I need to co-ordinate the robots’ actions with live vocal and instrumental performance on the stage. I control the robots in real-time using bespoke Max/MSP patches and a selection of microcontroller boards (whatever I’ve been able to extract from former exhibits), Arduinos, Phidgets and servo boards among them. I have various methods of triggering the robots during songs – and I use plenty of misdirection to keep the audience guessing about how the show is held together.
Wolfgang, Sarah Angliss' robot drummer (photo Agata Urbaniak)
Wolfgang, robot drummer (photo Agata Urbaniak)
Off stage, I like to give the robots some more slack now and then. For instance, I’ve hooked Hugo up to a webcam and and optical flow algorithm so he can follow people and objects around the room. And I’ve controlled the Ealing Feeder with a Geiger counter so it sonifies the radiation count in a room.
As feats of engineering, my robots are admittedly fairly simple. In fact, that’s the curious thing about stage robots: when they are seamlessly mixed with live performers, people tend to credit them with intelligence and intentions that they don’t possess. I doubt anyone would be half so impressed with such low-rent robotics if it was embodied in a virtual character on a screen. Somehow, we’ve become blasé about screen-based artificial life (thanks to the wonders of Pixar, Nintendo et al) – but we’re still wowed by a cheap ventriloquism act like Hugo, admittedly one that’s spiced up with dash of Arduino.
I’ve taken care of all the electronics, motors and coding of the robots.  The housings and mountings were built in partnership with Colin Uttley. We’ve made a modesty cover for Hugo’s motors but I rarely use it. In general, I’ve resisted the temptation to cover up the workings of the robots and make them as neat and tidy as the laptops they’ve replaced. The audience seem to find the robots more unsettling – uncanny – when they can see their motors, wires and levers. I think this may be partly down to the novelty of seeing some electromechnical devices on the stage. Perhaps this relates to the idea of the ‘unhidden’ (one interpretation of the word Unheimlich) – it’s disturbing to see the guts of a machine which seems to have some kind of animacy. I also think some scrappiness emphasises the robots’ identities as one-off, hacked objects. And it increases the sense of jeopardy – the anxiety over whether the robots will make it through the show. Perhaps this is cheating – but I like to think I’m working in the tradition of those old-school plate spinners who deliberately make the plates look a little too wobbly.

Popcorn – sampled on the Ealing Feeder

Early prototype of the Ealing Feeder, with Uncanny Valerie
Sarah Angliss and robotic ventriloquists' dummy Hugo - photo Gaynor Perry

Sarah Angliss is a musician …and robots are her instruments.
There‘s the robotic crow Edgar Allan, Hugo the singing ventriloquist’s dummy head, Clara 2.0 the baby doll that plays the theremin, and the Ealing Feeder, a 28-note, polyphonic, electromechanical carillon.
Sarah’s band Spacedog is renowned for its live performances featuring theremin, vocals, percussion, saw, laptop, and of course, robots.
Sarah is also a sound historian and she has been called in occasionally by BBC Radio 4 and the World Service to share her expertise on the phonograph and other early music machines.
You can keep up with all her activities at
Sarah Angliss is a composer, automatist and sound historian, fascinated with the uncanny (Das Unheimliche) - an idea she researches through her performance, her robotic creations and in the archives.
The uncanny is the familiar, presented in an unfamiliar form, something we find strangely compelling yet unsettling. It’s the voice message that remains after death, the ventriloquist’s dummy, the hyper-real video game character or the Doppelgänger of folklore.
At dConstruct, Sarah will consider how we can harness the uncanny to make digital experiences more compelling. She’ll also be exploring moments in history when technology, from phonographs to mobile phones, seemed to take on a peculiar caste - causing fault lines in our understanding of human identity.
According to Sarah, if you’re looking for the next revolution in telecommunications, go in search of the uncanny. -

Sarah Angliss is a composer, multi-instrumentalist and digital artist, specialising in live electronic music, interactive sound and robotics. She has an unusual combination of skills—in music, electroacoustics and robotics. Sarah is known for her theremin playing, her unusual approach to electronic music (which she uses to explore relationships between technology and European folklore) and for the robots she’s devised and built to accompany her live on stage. Sarah is also a sound historian and her research into the early history of sound technology often informs her compositions and live shows. Sarah performs solo and as part of the the human and robot trio Spacedog.

In autumn 2012, Sarah was commissioned by The National Theatre to compose an electronic score for The Effect, Lucy Prebble’s new play. In the last twelve months, Sarah has performed live at the Flatpack Festival, on MS Stubnitz; The Horse Hospital, Brighton Digital Festival; The Bath Festival; Lovebytes, Supersonix, dConstruct and many other events around the UK. She’s also performed live with her robotic instruments on national radio. Sarah recently collaborated with Moon Wiring Club and other artists on Down to the Silver Sea, an album on the Gecophonic label. Her trio Spacedog have just recorded a Study Series collaboration with Belbury Poly for Ghost Box (due for release in October 2013). In May, Sarah was awarded Most Groundbreaking Act of Brighton Festival and Fringe 2013.

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