Muzse: Andy Cavatorta on the Future of Wearables
Andy Cavatorta is a man who does not limit himself to one particular field. His work sees him functioning as an artist, an engineer, a musician, or even as a builder of Bjork‘s tour gear. Andy calls his style ‘anti-disciplinary,’ we see it as genius. After getting to know him at the MUZSE Style Lab, the collaboration between Milk and Intel, we spoke to Andy about his work as a sculptor of robots and a sonic explorer, as well as his thoughts on the current state of technological innovation and how it affects our art, culture, daily life, and the imminent path to wearable tech.
Tell us a little bit about you
My name is Andy Cavatorta. I’m a sculptor, I work with sound and robotics.
How did you get into that?
I had a bunch of different things I’d done in my life. In my early years I’d played in punk rock bands in NYC, and I just thought that music was what I was going to be doing with my life. But I moved to Boston, fell into the MIT diaspora, and I started running a lot of software professionally, I was kind of self taught. And I made a lot of robots. I would go home and I was tired of making things on screens, I wanted to make things in the physical world. I got tired of the virtual, it seemed inconsequential. At least to me, in terms of fun and engagement. So I started building robots at home at night, it seemed anti-social. But then I found it there were a bunch of people doing the same thing. When I first started making robots my friends thought that they should fight each other, but they were all very delicate. So I started focusing on moving them and figuring out ways for them to make sounds. This was much more fun and interesting.
So they’re like living instruments?
Yeah. Then I started to find more people interested in working with sound and robots, a group called Ensemble Robot, and that was pretty great. They were founded by a composer, Christine Southward. She was tired of doing laptop performances, she wanted to have something happen, for the music to be created physically. So I started working with those folks. We took a pretty serious new music approach, we would hire composers and session musicians and we would do these performances.
That influenced a lot of things that I did after. Things being sustainably interesting experiences. I’m still very much in a space where I’m not thinking about having the most clever concept for a piece. I’m thinking, how do I make this mean something for people? How do I make this last for a long time? I’m going to judge the value of pieces for the duration of which they’re compelling.
What’s the average day like in your space?
It’s chaos. It’s noisy. It leaks if it rains too much and none of us are considering leaving. We are just a collective of people who love to work together, and we come from all sorts of disciplines. But the thing we all have in common is we sort of dwell in this excitement of what is possible. We can never go back to a desk job.
So how do you describe yourself? Sculpture roboticist?
The thing about robotics that interests me is that it makes new things possible. I don’t like to do pieces about technology, it’s a vehicle. It’s changing the patterns of how we live right now, of how we make meaning. The experience is about polarity, it’s about giving not taking. In order to say something that feels meaningful or relevant we feel we have to say something new.
That leads me to ask you, how do you get meaning with devices we’re creating? Are they fads? Something meaningful?
My point of view is it’s not really about the devices itself. The thing with wearables is that you have this connection that you carry with you all the time. I think that when new media first emerged, what they usually contain first is an older form of media. Like films began as cameras pointing at a stage, theatre. It takes time for us to understand the potentials of a new media. With wearables, I think of it as the same phenomenon. I think we’re now starting to see what the true content, the most meaningful content, from all this technology is going to be. And I think it’s how connected we all are with each other. There’s been no backlash against the web because we’ve used it to give ourselves things we’ve always desired long before we’ve had to articulate it.
So you think wearables will help extend that even further?
I think that wearables, the reason you want to carry it with you, is partly access to information, but really it’s about how it connects to other people and this larger virtual world. We want to exist in both simultaneously. We want to be connected to way more people than we can have around us at any given time. And in that connection comes emotion, and with wearables we have it with us at all times.
You talk about Wearables and what they can do for our connected future. How is that future helped by an Intel?
I think we’re seeing a trend that reveals what we really want from wearable technology. We want the hardware to disappear. And we want to be continuously, effortlessly connected to each other and to whatever information is useful at the moment. And we probably want a few more things that are just over the horizon. Collaboration. Augmented reality to show invisible connections between people or between actions and consequences.
At this moment there’s a big tension between the physical and virtual worlds that we straddle. We see them as being in opposition, probably because current interfaces force us to divide our attention between the virtual and physical. They feel like two incompatible spaces. I’m interested in what happens when these sides become seamlessly integrated. There are a lot of predictions about computers embedded in the brain or under the skin. And I have trouble imagining choosing this for myself. But it’s one of the most obvious teleos for this trend.
Either way, we’re going to want a lot more computing power and sensors and networking taking up very little space. And it’s going to take an Intel to do it. A company with the resources and experience and willingness to invest in radical futures. They’ve done it before and I think it’s exciting that they’re heading up the exploration of wearables. I’m watching this space with Muzse closely.
Would you say that there is a ‘Wild West’ with hardware now? Anybody can kind of make something, is there a frontier still out there?
I think that’s definitely happening now. There are a lot of people who are pretty good electrical engineers, or even general purpose hackers, but anyone can just jump into it now. The world is changing so fast, and so many people are getting involved in this process of just creating things, imagining and creating things. And you see it in this proliferation of start-ups. When it comes down to wearables and apps and things like that, there’s a lot of social engineering going on, which to me is very interesting. I want to look through the hardware and software and think of how this changes the way we interact with people. It’s hard to explain to milennials that it’s unusual to basically stay in touch with every single person you’ve ever met for the rest of your life. It’s really a strange concept. And it’s that level of connection, this connectedness, that’s what we’re continuing to pursue.
To me, it seems like the goal with wearables is how to we connect further, how do we add more meaning in these connections.
It’s not the hardware and the software, it’s what we’re connected to on the other side of that. That’s what’s changing our lives. I’m loving these stories about kids in Sub-Saharan Africa who have connected to the Internet and are building generators and becoming electrical engineers. This is the cutting edge of stuff, and it’s going to make a huge impact on how we shape the world from here on out.
Photography by Mitchell Mclennan