Building a performer lighting/sensing system

For Synthesthetic, we would like to have a wearable system for showing coloured lights as well as sense movement. This could be attached to the percussionist or dancers and would allow us to use certain movement to affect sound and lights in the piece as well as for the sensation of colour to be applied directly to the performers bodies. In one of our early meetings we developed a system diagram of how this might work for the percussionist.

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More or less, the performer would wear a small battery-powered device that could communicate over a wifi network with a laptop. This device would have a movement sensor and continually send data to the computer. The device would also have a system of small lights that could be controlled remotely from the computer simultaneously with lights on the stage.

I’ve previously had some experience developing a similar system for Last Man to Die in 2010; at that time we used an Arduino powered by AA batteries and a long network cable, later updated to an Arduino Fio. Suffice it to say that the possibilities have changed dramatically since then!

After a bit of research, we settled on the Wemos D1 micro controller platform which includes WiFi on each board and can be powered by USB or a rechargeable battery. These are very inexpensive (about 5USD each) so I bought several to use with different kinds of performers.

For on-body lighting, I found out that you can get integrated RGB LEDs, sometimes called Neopixels, on “sewable” boards! These little guys are about 2cm across and could be sewn onto a costume or lightweight armbands.

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For sensing, I bought a couple of IMUs (Inertial Measurement Units), these are similar to the movement and orientation sensors in smartphones and game-controllers and should allow us to track the performers movements.

Finally, we started assembling some of the Wemos boards and lights to test them out!

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