Breathless in Hackney

Breathless Poster

Breathless is a performance created by Brendan Walker and the Mixed Reality Lab / Horizon, centered around a large motor controlled swing. The swing is controlled by the breathing of a person wearing a special breathing sensing gas mask (for more pictures of the gas masks see Aerial’s website). As the person inhales, a force is added to the swing mechanism in one direction, and as they exhale, in the other direction. This means that to swing higher, the rider must stay calm and breathe in sync with the natural pendulum motion of the swing. If they panic, the swing shudders and generally slows down (breathing directly out of sync stops the swing very quickly).

Brendan Walker on the swing

The first performance of Breathless was at Space Studios in Hackney, on October 14th 2010. At this performance, people were first fitted with a gas mask, and put on the swing. However, at this point, they were not controlling the swing – a spotlight was pointing down at a second person, sitting on a chair next to the ride. At the beginning of the ride, the ride was controlled by the breathing of the person on the chair. After a while however, the spotlight changed, to point at the rider of the swing, and their breathing was controlling the ride. All the while, both people are wearing the full face gas masks, which makes the whole experience a bit more claustrophibic and sinister.

This is part of our responsive / adaptive ride developments, and is the first ride that we have developed completely from scratch, from the breathing sensor masks, to the motor control, all the software in between (I developed the control software for the ride), and then the performance around it.

We published a paper about the gas masks at CHI 2011.