“Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” Jacob asked upon finding out that the Orbitar was not working at the TED dress rehearsal just one day prior to the talk. Knowing that “I’m an idiot” was a truthful yet unhelpful answer (that wasn’t going to boost my already low morale), I resorted to “I don’t know”, and we set off that morning in a scramble. Natan, Jacob and I, a ragtag trio of artists/hackers, depleted of money, resources, and sleep, and having no clue if the thing I was giving a TED talk about was even going to work.
When we got there the event was in full swing, and we waited with the rest of the crowd for the current session to end. Our plan of attack? Sit in the front row and troubleshoot, literally during the other speakers presentations. As soon as the auditorium doors opened we grabbed the first row seats and unleashed a jungle of Orbitar cables and wires and routers. We had one hour to make the Orbitar work again, and as the lights dimmed for the next session, I reluctantly headed backstage and hoped by the grace of the poi gods, that when I returned only minutes before my speech, a miracle would occur. I went to the greenroom to get suited up with my mic and Orbitar glove, madly pacing and sputtering my speech. I could see the talks happening live on the monitor, and I often tried to catch a glimpse of my collaborators in the first row, hoping for some sign of progress. With my mic in place, I snuck back into the darkened auditorium just two speeches before mine, and crouched down next to Jacob and Natan. I stared up at the speaker on stage and drifted into a storm of nerves, almost unable to comprehend that that was about to be me, when suddenly I was jolted back to reality by Jacob whispering “Take that apart and replace it with this.” He was pointing to the module running the glove, which was attached to my belt. Uh…take it apart? Right now!? “We replaced and reprogrammed these modules, and are using a different router. It’s working.” I’m not sure if it was his matter-of-fact tone of voice, or that I had no other options, but I did what he said with complete faith and confidence, and by the grace of the poi gods (and mostly the wizardry that is Jacob), the Orbitar, was working.
And then, it was my turn. And I emerged from the audience to stand on that infamous red carpeted dot in all my ragtag cyborg glory. And I held the Orbitar up proudly. And I touched my forefinger to my thumb to trigger the start of the performance. And…nothing happened. I hit it again. And again. I looked down into the first row, panicked. I saw Natan unplug the TED sound system from the laptop and I heard the faint swells of the Orbitar coming from fmy laptop speakers. It was working. The TED sound system was not. And so, I boldly announced “This is a musical instrument, and I am not starting until I hear it”, and a swarm of TED event organizers and volunteers unfurled into the auditorium, checking every cable and every connection. And I stood there, unwavering, for many minutes. And suddenly, a rush of Orbitar sound filled the auditorium. And I began the performance as if nothing had happened.
Not flawless, but acceptable, I ended the first movement and launched into my speech. I had spent so much time envisioning myself on that very stage, looking out at that very crowd, that I felt completely at home. And the words flowed effortlessly as they had in my room hundreds of times before. And then, as I came to the first slide in my speech, I gestured toward the screen behind me. And…nothing happened. The screen stared back at me, blankly. I paused. I looked left at the gentleman who was supposed to be advancing my slides. He started back at me, blankly. And this time there was no swarm of TED event organizers and volunteers, it just simply wasn’t going to work. So I went on. And I had to ad lib a bit in the absence of the images, but I was making it work. And I arrived at the end of my speech confident again, and as I launched into my conclusion…the slides started to appear on the screen. Randomly. Just turn them off! I was dying to scream it. But I just kept going, catching random pictures of myself flitting about out of the corner of my eye. And right as I hit my dramatic, and very serious conclusion…the slide of my crushed laptop hit the screen and the crowd erupted in laughter. I suppose it’s funny, looking back. But in that moment, I was pissed. Actually, I’m still pissed. But there was nothing to be done, and so, I took a breath, and prepared for the final performance.
I touched my forefinger to my thumb again, and this time, the audio washed over the audience immediately. This was the final push. I just had to get through the performance, spin like I knew I could. Make music like I knew I could. Entrance the audience and show them how powerful the Orbitar really is. And I went full steam ahead, completely unaware that my microphone pack had come off my belt and was now dangling from its cord…unaware until, that is, I became tangled in it. I could feel the wires caught in my earring, I could see the pack hanging down between my legs, swinging wildly. And I just, stopped. I had to stop. With Orbitar Satellites hanging from my fingers, and one hand completely useless inside the glove that was triggering my performance, I began to carefully and methodically untangle myself the best I could. First I took off my earring, then I pulled the cords out from under my shirt, then I untangled the pack from my belt. Then I walked off that red carpeted dot, I set the earring and mic aside, took a breath, and stepped back on uninhibited and unafraid. I started to spin again, and a few shouts of glee came from the audience. And I finished the performance in a true flow state, all of the problems melting to some far away land, leaving just me, and the Orbitar. And when the poi stopped swinging and the audio faded to silence, the audience immediately erupted into a standing ovation of applause and cheers. I looked out at them with unfocused eyes, smiled and gave a slight bow, and proceeded to leave the stage and immediately start sobbing.