Like many skill toy artists, Kate Riegle van West always dreamed of her poi making music. In the summer of 2010, in collaboration with engineer Robert Guyser and programmer Jordan Stefanelli, she began bringing this dream to fruition. They started by embedding accelerometers and gyroscopes inside the poi, so the poi could communicate with a computer about things like how fast they were going and where they were in their orbit. After lots of experimentation, and the addition of a set of gloves which the performer could use to trigger effects and parameter changes in real time, the first multimedia poi musical instrument was born.
Kate debuted the Orbitar at her MFA thesis exhibition in Chicago, and continued Orbitar experimentations after her post MFA move to Boston. Here the Orbitar became open source and the team picked up two new members, engineer Jacob Fenwick and musician / programmer Natan Wythe. Together they created a new performance for the Orbitar which was debuted at Kate’s TED talk about the Orbitar and the power of poi.
The Orbitar is not currently being worked on, as Kate is in New Zealand pursuing PhD research on the potential health benefits of poi, but the project is open source and she hopes to return to it after her PhD studies. The dream of Orbitar orchestras awaits! If you would like to learn more, please visit thewww.theorbitar.com.