Pendulum Choir Japan Media Arts Festivalimage by Angela Salisbury | click to enlarge

One of the Grand Prize winners at this year’s Japan Media Arts Festival was a musical performance by a 9-man a cappella choir harnessed into hydraulic jacks. The Pendulum Choir combines human vocals with computer-controlled hydraulic choreography. Swiss artists André and Michel Décosterd wanted to create a new mechanical being, and perhaps make you feel a bit uneasy about it.

My initial reaction to a pendulum-swinging choir was a case of the giggles. It is amusing to see a group of grown men hanging from their toes. but the more I watched the performance the more I appreciated the beauty of it — the lack of collision, the vulnerability of the shakiness, and absurdity of the entire thing. It was lovely.

As the pendulum shakes and torques the singers, however, the hydraulic harnesses begin to conjure images of a torture device and made me feel uncomfortable for laughing. The pendulums do not swing as smoothly as you might expect, and the singers struggle for it. According to the artists’ website, the mechanics operate in real-time, sending pre-programmed movements based on the progression of the music. The program is designed to eliminate the possibility of a crash, but that doesn’t alleviate the feeling that they just might anyway.

The 16th Japan Media Arts Festival Exhibition of Winning Works is on display at the National Art Center, Tokyo until February 24th. Other venues in Roppongi are also hosting events this week, check this site for details.