Interactive Field in Tokyo
36 panels with stepping motors, 28 sensors, 2 computers, table 224 x 224cm
For a first impression see this animation made by Jost Muxfeldt while I was developing the project. I did not specify the exact movements of the rotating panels so Jost said he would choreograph something Cage-ian and he accurately predicted the tempo and precision of the finished installation.

In practice the movements of the panels are influenced by visitors: when people approach, the sensors detect their presence and analyse their numbers, their position, and their direction. The installation alternates between interaction and independence: -
The movements of the panels are accompanied by the tuned sounds of the stepping motors amplified by the panels which act as resonators. They are quite loud and people often look for loud-speakers under the table. ... but there aren't any! The sounds are produced acoustically by the controlled vibrations of the panels, which are quite similar in amplitude to the vibrations of a loudspeaker diaphragm. The pitch is determined by the speed of the motor and can be defined very precisely.

The following pictures show what happens when someone walks past the installation.

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The panels in their starting position following the previous move.

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A random selection of panels turn in the same direction (anti-clockwise) as the visitor moves around the table

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The remaining panels re-aligning themselves.

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All done; the panels are now re-aligned in their new position.
This is just one example of 10 possible kinds of reaction to a visitor. Most of the others are not as random as this.
ICC prize
Interactive Field was one of ten projects to be commissioned by the NTT InterCommunication Center (ICC) Tokyo as the result of an invited international competition for interactive art with 100 entries. It was shown at the ICC in their exhibition Interaction in 1999 and was awarded a prize by a new jury.

What they said:
Riches' work is simple but extremely polished. The movement of the panels responding precisely to the viewer's presence is like an abstract dance, and the sound is of unusually high quality for a work of this type. The work has a richness borne of asceticism which makes it more than qualified for the prize.

   Akira Asada Intercommunication Centre ICC, Tokyo

Martin Riches' Interactive Field explores interaction through the sculptural shapes that move according to the presence and actions of the viewer. With great wit and subtlety Riches treats these kinetic forms to a constantly shifting and moving choreography that reflects, interprets and represents the changing and shifting presence of the viewer in the space.

    John G. Hanhardt Senior Curator of Media Arts, Solomon Guggenheim Museum, NY

Martin Riches' work offers a tableau of soldier-like white panels that greet us austerely as we enter the room. The experience could be forbidding or even banal were it not for the uncanny dialogue that ensues. At times mischievous, at other times seemingly indifferent, the panels become the chorus that accompanies and leads us into the work, unfolding layers of variations.

   Louise Dompierre Executive director of the Art Gallery of Hamilton, Canada

At first, the work seems to have survived from the lost world of constructivism. But as we watch its apparently Agam-like manoeuvres, we come to realise, with the most delightful shock, that it is actually watching us. Not content with playing with us, flirting with our circumventions, it asserts its autonomy and transcends its Busby Berkeley choreography. The system is playing with us; the ghost in the machine is enjoying itself. It has taken on a life of its own.

   Roy Ascott Dean of San Francisco Art Institute, CA. Director of CAii-STAR

In 2008 Interactive Field was again shown at the ICC, this time for a year, in their exhibition Open Space. It has also been shown in a number of other places.

... most recently in September 2020 at Acud Kunst Haus, Berlin-Mitte as part of my double exhibition Knocking and Turning.


The control system was designed and built by Dipl. Ing. Manfred Fox, and Dipl. Ing. Thomas Berndt (Fox Engineering, Berlin). It includes 36 of their standard stepper motor driver boards, their interface and power supplies. The software was written by Dipl.Ing. Norbert Schaeffer. It runs on two computers in the same case; one running Turbo Pascal to drive the stepping motors, the other one ran Visual Basic to interpret the 28 passive IR movement sensors and perform the choreography. During a residency at the Burg Eisenhardt in the Mark Brandenburg I recycled Norbert's Visual Basic as Turbo Basic v1.0 and added some new dance routines. I also re-arranged the patch cables and interface cards to make the installation easier to install.

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