Bob Moyler image by bernhard winkler

The performance adventures and novelty acts of Bob Moyler and friends

Hacking The Android Circuit (2017)

Location: CCA-Glasgow, Scotaland
Words: Torch-rnn
Performance: The Robot and Bob (The iRobot 533, Bob Moyler, Susan Robertson, Andrew Scade)
Technician: John Pooley
Image: Ingrid Mur
Supported by Creative Scotland, University of Glasgow, National Library Scotland, CCA-Glasgow. An adaptation of 'The Android Circuit' by Tom McGrath. Permission for using original scripts was kindly given by the Tom McGrath Trust and Traverse Theatre

The Robot and Bob perform a unique cyborg adaptation of Tom McGrath’s science fiction play The Android Circuit, featuring a robot vacuum cleaner and live collaboration with artificial intelligence.

The Android Circuit is a science fiction comedy written by Scottish playwright Tom McGrath. During later discussions about the play, he described it as “a stab at something new” explaining that “It seemed that the theatre was lagging behind in its reflection of technology”. Hacking The Android Circuit confronts and builds upon McGrath’s vision of “man as a technological being”. The performance seeks to re-address notions of gender, entropy and what it means to be human and/or non-human. The Robot and Bob take pleasure in confusing boundaries and present a fresh vision of the technology/human hybrid. In the spirit of McGrath himself, The Robot and Bob take a stab at something new.

Collaborative cyborg performance is when humanoid performers work together with the non-humanoid (particularly technology) to explore the complexities of existence through theatrical means. This is achieved through live collaboration with artificial intelligence, humanoid and non-humanoid bodies connecting within a space and engaging with one and other through a shared network of physical and digital interactions. The notion of cyborg performance comes from Jennifer Parker-Starbucks’ Cyborg Theatre, which calls for a ‘non-linear’ approach to subject, object, abject, on the stage and asks for theatre to be “fluid, and multipule in its openness to the non-human elements in its midst”.

Torch-rnn is a recurrent neural network (rnn), a biologically inspired computer architecture that uses deep learning to train on a data set of text. It is then able to create new ‘samples’ of text character by character based upon the original input. The collaboration with Torch-rnn came after Bob read an article about a guy who had trained a computer to ‘watch’ the film bladerunner, and then recreate/remember it from a cognitive type of computer memory. This inspired him to look for somebody that was working in a similar way with text. Torch-rnn was created by Justin Johnson at MIT, it is a development of Char-rnn created by his lab mate Andrej Karpathy, found here:

Samples of text would be requested from Torch-rnn at the beginning of each new scene. The samples would be different every time, so the human performers had no idea what the text content of that scene would be. This helped to balance out the levels of control within the performance as the humanoid actors initiated most of the elements of control.

Variables such as the size of the network and the number of layers of deep learning that were used during training affected the results. A balance had to be found when training the models. If the model was trained too deep and too well, the result was a cut and paste effect. The effect would be similar to the three scripts being cut in to sections and placed in a bucket, picking samples out at random. The Robot and Bob wanted to allow for more creativity from Torch-rnn than that. If too much creativity was afford to the network however than the results would be impossible for the humanoid actors to translate/read and the audience to understand. After many training sessions a happy medium was agreed upon where the results were both creative and workable (although it was the humanoid actors only that agreed on this, more control).

It was impossible to collaborate in any meaningful way with the technology that satisfied all actors. It is impossible to know when technology is satisfied. The humanoid actors felt that the gaps left in the performance where the technology could change the outcome of any given action through contingency or coincidence would bring us closer to a meaningful collaboration. Coincidence is a phenomenon that can be shared with technology, or at least seem so from the humanoid actors being perspective.

An important decision that was made during the first rehearsals was regarding the character Astro. In an attempt to breakdown boundaries of gender it was agreed that the humanoid performers would each portray the character Astro. This would be executed on rotation at every scene change. The reason behind this decision was to portray Astro in a posthuman way which was akin to Donna Haraway’s boundary defying cyborg. The posthuman here refers to Rosi Braidotti’s nomadic subject that is “free from the empire of humanist man” .

During early rehearsals The Robot and Bob failed to notice the sub-conscious levels of control that the humanoid actors were placing on the performance. Through a wish to create a ‘polished’ piece of theatre, The Robot and Bob had neglected its collaborative relationship with technology. The problem is, technology does not know or care about creating theatre. These conflicts between wanting to produce theatre whilst at the same time collaborate equally with technology created a cognitive dissonance. It was decided that The Robot and Bob must take the route open to contingency, even though the humanoid actors felt uncomfortable.

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Above: Promotional flyer image, Hacking The Android Circuit, CCA-Glasgow
Design: Bob Moyler

Hacking The Android Circuit (2016)

Location: James Arnott Theatre, University of Glasgow, Scotland
Words: Torch-rnn
Performance: The Robot and Bob (The iRobot 533, Bob Moyler, Susan Robertson, Andrew Scade)
Technician: Tony Sweeton
Image: Bob Moyler
Created as part of MLitt Theatre Practices, University of Glasgow. An adaptation of 'The Android Circuit' by Tom McGrath. Permission for using original scripts was kindly given by the Tom McGrath Trust

Above: Original framing statement from Hacking The Android Circuit, University of Glasgow