The Gesturewriter

Zeitraum: 2019-12-02 - laufend
Format: writing utensil

The Gesturewriter is a unique tool for composing and performing text. The underlying concept is to understand writing utensils as performative instruments, similar to musical instruments! It is part of an ongoing investigation of the recombination and modification of obsolete media in order to open asynchronous connections to an anachronistic timeline.

Musicians and composers have a certain advantage in the exercise of their profession compared to poets and writers. This advantage is the ability to use the help of instruments for composing scores and to use the same instruments in the performance of those scores. Thereby the score as a carrier medium disappears in the background and the focus shifts to the interpretation of the score with the help of the instruments. Although poets and writers can use their voice to perform written text, the focus still stays on their carrier medium and their initial writing instrument. A hand, a typewriter or a computational word processor is missing!

The musical instrument theremin is known for its playability without physical contact. It can be controlled through the gestures of the left and right hand. A typewriter writes characters on a sheet of paper and is used as a writing medium to store text on paper. However, the Gesturewriter combines both the theremin’s gestural interaction and the typewriter’s storing ability. It forms an instrument that brings together performance and writing. The left antenna controls the typing speed, meaning that coming closer to it with one's left hand will speed up the typing. With the right antenna the performer can control the characters. The distance between the right hand and the right antenna is mapped to the alphabet. It should be noted that performing with a Gesturewriter needs training until a certain skill level is reached. Therefore, it is similar to learning to write by hand and mechanical or computational typing, but writing with a Gesturewriter opens up the possibility to perform written text like a musician.

In its current setup the Gesturewriter is made out of electronics, two antennas and a modified Erika 3004s typewriter. The first Gesturewriter used a Philips VW2000 made in Singapore by the Smith Corona Corporation in the late 1980s. The keyboard matrix is reversed engineered and routes to an optocoupler array that simulate the typing of a key. The optocoupler switches according to a controlled voltage input that the microcontroller receives from the antenna. The type speed is calculated with the input of the other antenna’s controlled voltage and mapped between 100ms and 2000ms.