Nyloïd: impulsive organic mechanics


Recently rewarded with an Excellence Awards at Japan Media Arts Festival 2014, Nyloïd reveals itself as one of the most organic robotic performance never made, and as a truly fascinating experience to watch.

Obviously, to experiment the piece Nyloïd, most recent creation of Swiss duo Cod.Act - composed of brothers André and Michel Décosterd – has something immediately impressing. Huge tripod consisting of three nylon limbs of six meters in length animated by a sophisticated mechanical and sound devices, Nyloïd looks like a gesticulating and noisy robotised creature, gifted with a proper life and with a blatant formal dangerousness when you can observe its sprawling members tangling at full speed.

On a technical and organic plan, Nyloïd falls within the continuity of Cod.Act researches on mechanical devices that have the capacity to move in a natural, random and harmonious way. This approach notably led to the realisation of Cycloïd-E project, granted with Ars Electronica Distinction Award in 2010. This said, the degree of flexibility of the device takes here a previously unseen dimension, substituting tubular rotations ofCycloïd-E with a phenomenal fluidity of moves. “Nyloïd finds its organic display in deformation of material that makes it up”, André Décosterd explains. “Characteristic functioning of its intern structure, submitted to torsion, replaces the complex assemblage of articulated pieces [of Cycloïd-E]. This process explores the very nature of material and its molecular mechanical. We have tested the elasticity of several materials before to choose nylon for its faculty to find back its original shape after having endured several solicitations.

Cycloïd-E - Cod.Act  © Michel Décosterd

Extension of Language

Like its famous predecessor, Nyloïd claims to be as well a sound sculpture, in which all the musical device has been upgraded the same way to organically accompany physical torsion moves of the machine. “ForNyloïd, we have created a system of vocal synthesis based on a process of artificial voice made in 1980’s”, André Décosterd says. “This system, called LPC, works by physical modelling of phonatory gear. We have included a three-dimensional accelerometer in the head of Nyloïd along with three captors on the motors, to drive with high dynamic the numerous parameters of our synthesis. The sculpture reacts then instantaneously to the lower move by expressing ‘vocally’. According to its activity, the tone of the voice oscillates between human and electronic/robotic sounds.

Through this sound work on textures, glottal vibrations and physical spasms of the device, this is really a genuine language, both vocal and physical, that unfolds, “an ‘interpretation’ or an ‘extension’ of language”, as André Décosterd underlines it.

The most surprising is that the robotic device, on its augmented organic quest, looks sometimes guided by its own mood, urging the Brothers Décosterd to be permanently present when operating to watch for its potential tantrum. “First, our aim was to turn it into an installation”, André Décosterd recognizes. “Our control system allows memorising the three motors’ rotation and then to create programs. These ones can be recalled and all the move sequences in memory are then repeated more or less accurately, what means sometimes quite randomly. The point is that, during first tests at large scale, we realised that a certain position, that the device sometimes reaches, is irreversible. It gets stuck and needs our physical intervention to untangle.” 

An “animal” to train

During second representation at Théâtre du Grütli in Geneva last November, the ‘beast’ then suddenly twisted all its limbs, like an exhausted animal withdrawing into itself. “This is not something we are going to forget”, André Décosterd admits. “It was for us the most impressive performance we ever experiment with this device. But it forced us to change all the nylon bars that make the limbs of Nyloïd. All of them were deformed or broken. We had bad contacts in control system, and motors sometimes started when they wanted. It was impossible for us to overpower the ‘creature’. It was shaken with spasms. It twisted or tremendously raged.

Indeed, considering the dimensions of the machine, it doesn’t look that easy to show it without risks. “This is a quite complex project because it associates powerfulness, force and violence with meticulousness, precision and technological complexity”, André Décosterd insists. “We are still in a phase of tests. We bring continuously modifications and take lot of replacement parts when we transport it. But, next year, Nyloïd will be presented in several festivals. And progressively it will be easier to train it.

Laurent Catala


Nyloïd - Cod.Act 2013

Cycloïd-E - Cod.Act 2011