Generate / Degenerate

Miro Dance Theatre / Mlab, Philadelphia, 2009


Generate / Degenerate was created in response to a challenge: create a multi-media performance installation without using any power from the “grid.” Given the practical limitations, my design laboratory, Mlab, set out to develop creative design solutions and produce a captivating, visually active, multi-media performance. The design dealt with potentially uneven and fluctuating power sources, a challenging dynamic control over multi-media content, and limited resources due to a non-existent budget.


Inspired by the concept of human power, the design hoped to capture a sense of something both familiar and fleeting. We followed an interest in what qualities elicit visual nostalgia and became particularly interested in the uneven power provided by bicycle-powered generators. Rather than deriving energy directly from batteries, we discovered that using direct, peddled energy resembled the flicker of an old projector. To further explore what it meant to be “off the grid,” we looked to the past. Combining vintage, shellacked records on a hand-cranked Victrola and 35mm slides from the 1970s on antique projectors, we conjured up a ghostly performance from an era long since passed.


In building these bicycles, I mounted 100w wind-turbine generators directly under the back tires in order to keep the tire-to-rotor ratio high enough that we could manage our speed with ease. This was necessary to properly control the amount of power generated. Each bicycle had one single frame slide projector retro-fitted with a 12v incandescent lamp and a combination of halogen and LED MR16 lamps. The projectors and lamps were mounted to the handlebars of the stationary bikes so that they could easily follow the dancer or move the projection. Each bike was fitted with a voltmeter that indicated the amount of power generated by the peddler. The designer’s performance was an intricate series of cues that combined variations of slide projections and lighting. By putting ourselves on bicycles, we were able to control and manipulate our designs in real time through our own energetic peddling.




Choreography: Amanda Miller

Projection Design and Cycling: Tobin Rothlein

Lighting Design and Cycling: James Clotfelter

Bicycle Generator Design: James Clotfelter