Concept, design, costumes, and direction: Forrest Oliphant, Liisa Pesonen, Hannele Romppanen
Dancers: Helena Romppanen & Minja Mertanen

Impulse/Control is a game-based dance performance. The performance is based on two arcade controllers operated by the leaders, and two dancers — the Samurai Sisters. The control boxes trigger vibrating pressure in different parts of the dancers’ costumes. These vibration signals are like a push — the push is an impulse, a motivating force that invites the dancer to action. The false duality of social dance’s lead and follow is deconstructed in the performance. These roles are not black and white, as the followers have free will to improvise with the impulses. The rules and goals of play are malleable, so this game has infinite variations and outcomes.

Photos: Jere Saarelainen


The ideation of the costumes started one month before the Demo-day 5.12. in Muu Galleria.

In this point Forrest and Hannele had put already a lot of thought to the over all concept and how the garments should work with the dancers so I felt I was jumping in to quite ready thought project.

We had a meeting about the possible design and after that I felt that I had quite open hands for the look of the costumes, I got some amazing motivation from the site, gambling just gives me a lot of creativity.

For the vibration motors, we thought of making some kind of vests for the dancers that could be worn also by anyone in the audience. So because of this quite early the ideation went to asian type solutions with kimonos, hakamas and a lot of wrapping.

Also since the idea was to make the dancers wired to the control boxes, we already got the idea of making tales for the dancers.

For inspiration I looked for pictures of Samurais, Hakamas, agent bird lizards, artificial anatomy and games like Street Fighter and Pacman

I started looking for materials and making of the outfits on 21.11.

We decided to make the two dancers as Samurai Sisters. In this all of our thoughts of the concept and design connected really well. As colors we chose only black and white.


We were not too concerned by the static electricity since our electronics were so simplified so we had only artificial materials like polyester, lycra, mesh and light curtain.

For the vests I looked for materials at that would be very soft so that the vibration would not spread around the garments but that would also work as an armor. For the black outfit I found some neoprene-style fabric from the costume studio and for the white one I bought fabric that is used under tablecloth to keep it still. For both materials I did a lot of stitching with sewing machine to give more consistent look and so that I would be able to make stitches through all the material layers in the end when needed. The end result was very cool when the materials started to look like muscles.


The pattern making for the kimono-style vest was the most hardest part in making of the garments. I found some difficulties in making a fitting pattern for very small female dancers, but that could be tested also by the audience and by us ourselves.

We changed the boxes for the vibration motors from Kinder boxes to dental floss boxes cause they had better shape.

Anyways I had to put a lot of consideration so that the boxes would have enough space but still be pressed on the body and that they would not move during the performance. I made one prototype that was not yet wired but allowed dancers to start practicing with it.

We also did few changes to the patterns by the problems we noticed in the prototype.

We wanted to make the electronics removable from the outfit since it was easier to work that way in a short schedule and that any part could be changed in the last days if needed. Forrest could build the wiring and all the control parts and I could concentrate on the outfits. Luckily I also got help for sewing and cutting from Hannele, and our seamstress Anne.

In both of the vests we made holes for the LEDs of the vibration boxes. For attaching the boxes and to get the small LEDs through the holes we used velcro. Velcro was on the inside of the vests and also on the surface of each boxes around the LED. In the end velcro was very useful in many parts of the vests for adjusting and making it more wearable. In many parts of the inside of the vest I used construction that is familiar from sportwear.

In the end result I was very pleased with. The outfits were working really well and beautifully but we also got knowledge about what to do in another way.

Our performance in Muu Gallery was very beautiful and inspiring for designing more wearable electronics.

Impulse/Control progress

We came up with a title for our concept: Impulse/Control. I’m really happy how this project has me jumping from the wood, costume, and electronics workshops. We’re investing a lot of time and effort into the project, and we’re excited to see how it comes together.

Two boxes, new buzzers

Two control boxes are built. We found a different kind of plastic case from a dentist office for the buzzer enclosures.

One box is wired up.

One box is wired up.

a pile of diodes (instead of a microcontroller)

Close-up of the diode logic for multiple switches to control multiple buzzers.

Costume prototyping

Costume prototyping.

Dancer control construction progress

Monday, we finally got the joystick and buttons in the mail.

Joystick surgery

I’m really happy with the look and feel of the joystick and arcade buttons. One of the four directions wasn’t clicking every time, so I did a little joystick surgery. It is satisfying to be able to take apart a component with a few screws then immediately see how it works and how to fix it.

Control box 1

Here is the first control box. We still need to do the wiring inside.

Fabricating the pressure points

Thanks to the other class members who helped me get these plastic eggs out of their chocolate packaging. Each of these will be a vibration/light module to give directional impulses to the dancer.

who needs microcontrollers

Our concept has moved from dancer-controlling-dancer (which would be fun for dancers but maybe not suited for a performance context), to an arcade controller system. Since the arcade controller will be directly wired to the performer, we don’t need wireless communication or microcontrollers.

The joystick is four switches, and each direction controls two buzzers. It has been fun to appy programming logic to circuits… since I usually code Javascript this logic is lower level by several layers of abstraction.

One switch, two LED+vibration units:

haptic motion communication

My animation project in Media Lab involves a couple that dances together from opposite sides of the globe via robotic surrogates. Social dancers communicate lead and follow through momentum of the torso. Argentine tango’s lead and follow can be very subtle; a slight motion of the lead’s torso can send the follow’s leg in a dramatic arc.

I would like to develop a concept that would transmit this communication through motion impulses generated in clothing, instead of an external robot. Such a system could be valuable in the context of emotional communication over distance beyond text/audio/video.

Draper Space Suit Draper, with MIT, is developing a space suit that uses flywheels to simulate gravity. I think that the electronic component of a dance system could be a simplified version of this.

ahne glove Matti Niinimäki in SOPI research group made a glove with haptic feedback. His findings could be the base of our system.

There are artistic as well as practical potentials for such a system. A group of dancers could be lead by one dancer (or remote control box, for “human puppetry”). Or each dancer could be transmitting lead to the next one, depending on how the communication channels are set up. This could create some interesting feedback loops of human motion.

One practical use could be a haptic navigation system that gives directions with physical nudges in the correct direction.